the programmer language,

Nov 21, 2010
Introducing Hijacker - spy on your ruby objects!

Ok, so yesterday I woke up with two things in mind: doing something with DRb, and doing something with metaprogramming (just for the lulz). So I first implemented a little spy pattern to spy on objects, classes and their instances, mixed it with DRb, and came up with the hijacker idea.

You can check out hijacker's source code in the Github repo.

So, let's get started. Hijacker is two things indeed: a server and a spy.

Hijacker: the spy

On the client side (your ruby code), hijacker is a utility that lets you spy on any object or class. (Spying on a class also implies spying on its instances, unless you override this behavior.) The first step is telling hijacker where to send its spy reports. This can be done at three levels: either globally...

Hijacker.configure do

  # Sets the DRb uri to which the reports are sent.
  # (Ideally, where your hijacker server listens)
  uri 'druby://localhost:8787'

...or specifying a different uri for a particular spied object...

             :uri => 'druby://localhost:9999')

...or specifying an uri for a particular spied object WITHIN a block:

                :uri => 'druby://localhost:8787') do
  # do something with my_object

What I mean for spying is registering every method call on the spied object, and reporting the method name, the arguments and the return value.

Every time any activity on a spied object is registered, it is immediately sent to the specified URI (may it be the global one, or specified by any other means). There, on that URI, a patient hijacker server is waiting...

Hijacker: the server

The hijacker server is fired up serving a particular handler, which will receive those spy reports and handle them somehow. For now the only handler implemented is Logger, so we start hijacker like this:

$ hijacker logger

And the server is started with the Logger handler! It will tell you the DRb uri you have to connect to from your ruby code.

The Logger handler receives the report and shows it in a colourful way, just like a nice logger is expected to.

Creative uses for the Logger handler

Ok, Logger is a very simple handler, but combined with the power of DRb and Hijacker, it can be quite useful! Imagine you have two sensitive classes in some ruby code, let's call them PaymentGateway and PlanUpgrader. To avoid clutter in our logging server output we could use hijacker like this:

# We are only spying on instances of PaymentGateway and
# sending their activity to druby://localhost:2222
             :only => :instance_methods,
             :uri => 'druby://localhost:2222')

# Let's spy on PlanUpgrader's class methods, which upgrade
# users' paid plans, and send the activity to a different
# hijacker logging server in druby://localhost:3333
             :only => :singleton_methods,
             :uri => 'druby://localhost:3333')

# If we had a veeery sensitive part of code where the user
# plan is sent some methods, we could spy *only* that part
# like this: (in this case the server uri is the global one)
Hijacker.spying(user.plan) do
  # do something else

Extending Hijacker with your own handlers!

What if you wanted a handler that calculates the average number of arguments sent to methods of a class? Or maybe keeping track of the mostly used object types as arguments, to see if you could replace them with more lightweight objects?

It is really easy to write your own handlers. Inside hijacker code, handlers live here:


They are autoloaded and automatically registered, so all you have to do is write them like this:

module Hijacker
  # You only have to subclass Hijacker::Handler...
  class MyHandler < Handler

    # You must implement a class method named cli_options
    # which must return a Trollop-friendly Proc, for
    # command-line options parsing.
    # These options can be accessed from within the
    # #handlemethod by calling the `opts` method.
    def self.cli_options {
        opt :without_foo,
            "Don't use foo to handle the method name"
        opt :using_bar,
            "Use bar as much as you can"

    # This is the most important method. This is what
    # is called every time a method call is performed
    # on a hijacked object. The received params look
    # like this:
    #   method    :foo
    #   args      [{:inspect => '3',
    #               :class => 'Fixnum'},
    #              {:inspect => '"string"',
    #               :class => 'String'}]
    #   retval    [{:inspect => ':bar',
    #               :class => 'Symbol'}]
    #   object    [{:inspect => '#<MyClass:0x003457>',
    #               :class => 'MyClass'}]
    def handle(method, args, retval, object)
      # Do what you want with these!


Try to think of creative uses of hijacker, write your own handlers and send them to me ZOMG I CAN HAZ MOAR HENDLARZ :3

Feel free to send me feedback on what do you think!