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Chris Arcand

Ruby developer at Red Hat on the open source ManageIQ project. Spends too much money on keyboards and backpacking gear.

Minneapolis, MN

The Search For <Class:0x00000027b59290>

For the past many months on ManageIQ we’ve had a little phantom in our test output. One time when I saw it appear, I whipped out my safari camera and snapped a photo of this wild creature:

The creature in its natural environment

Whenever such phantom output appears in test output, 99% of my brain tells me “Meh. Schweet. Whatever.” The other 1% of my brain screams “YOU DARE RUIN THE PRETTY GREEN DOTS?!”

We’d spend a few minutes to try and find it every now and then with no success. We joked about it, thinking about who’d find it someday.

Programmatically finding something that writes to the output stream for your screen can be easy and can be very difficult. I once tried doing the following:

$stdout.singleton_class.send(:alias_method, :o_write, :write)

  /Class:0x/, # Our phantom
  # Other misc patterns I wanted to find:
  /may cause serious/,
  /Unrecognized arguments: port/,
  /there is already a transaction in progress/

class IO
  prepend {
    def write(*args)
      STDOUT_BLACKLIST.each do |pattern|
        if args.first =~ pattern
          $stdout.o_write("\n\nFOUND ONE!!!!!!!--->")
          $stdout.o_write("Here's the callstack:\n")
          caller.each do |line|

This rather hacky code does a few things: First, it aliases the write method on the singleton class of $stdout, a global variable in Ruby representing the current standard output (an IO object). It then prepends a custom IO#write, overriding the original method in the hierarchy to allow us to look at the things being written to it, do something with it (such as send it to the original standard output method, o_write…) and then call the original write in the hierarchy.

Note that the prepend that I do here affects the IO class entirely - meaning EVERY IO object, including ones that write to files, databases, etc is affected. Don’t do this unless you know what you’re signing up for, is what I’m saying.

As a friend of mine put when I showed him this:

“I feel like IO is hardly used in computering. :-p”

I decided to do this because RSpec does some interesting redirection of output and I was too lazy to track that down to the instance.

This code “works”. It correctly found some of blacklisted patterns I assigned above (some of them were gems outputting warning messages).

…except #<#<Class:0x00000027b59290>:0x00000034af7538>

What this tells us is that whatever is calling the thing outputting to the screen, it’s not being called within Ruby and is instead at the C level. No native Ruby solution (that I know of) will find it. /there is already a transaction in progress/ is an obvious message from native Postgresql, and that wasn’t found either.

To continue the hunt we’d have to dig deeper with tools such as DTrace. I’m not very familiar with the tool and would love to dig in more fully some day, but spending the effort just to find a random test output offender wasn’t exactly worth it at the time.

“Meh. Schweet. Whatever.”

Fast forward. Yesterday as Joe and I were pairing on some very tedious changes to the codebase and constantly starting long running test suites we decided to have a go at our phantom again.

We cheated a little bit, in my mind. We knew from seeing it so often which type of tests the output was coming from. Within a short time we had found the offending test, a view spec, by using the --documentation formatter in RSpec.

With a little puts debugging we narrowed it down to a call to render. What follows is a short read but took more time to truly understand than I’d care to admit.

Digging in to the view being rendered, we found the offending line in the view (HAML):

= check_box_tag(display, true, @record.display, :disabled => true)

Mmmk. That’s a call to ActionView in Rails.

Let’s look, do we do something awful and override this method somewhere in our app? Nope.

Where’s display coming from, anyway? I don’t see a reference to it in the code whatsoever. What happens when we call display at that moment in time?

Huh. It prints the offending message to the screen and returns nil. But really, where is display coming from? Why doesn’t it throw an error if its not defined?

Ah ha. As expected, this caller has to be at the C level as we thought. source_location Returns the Ruby source filename and line number containing this method or nil if this method was not defined in Ruby (i.e. native)

Well where the hell could display be coming from and why is the output obviously printing the current object we are-…


TIL: Object, the default root of all Ruby objects, has a method called #display which prints the current object to the screen (in our context, some anonymous object in ActionView testing).

Some fun with IRB:

Something tells me it was not intended that this be the value for the id attribute in this particular check box :)

We later found out that this code was copied from somewhere else that defines its own display variable:

- display = @record.set_data.key?(:display) ? @record.set_data[:display] : true
= check_box_tag(display, true, display, :disabled => true)

In our case, it should have been the string "display" but called display instead, and by sheer coincidence the word display in any Ruby object is a valid caller.


Thanks to Joe Rafaniello for joining me on this fun little hunt!

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