Methods tap and itself in Crystal

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Method Object#tap in Crystal yields to the block and then returns self. Object#itself just returns self. Why do we need those methods? Let’s look at few examples.

Send itself to the chain

As expected all objects in Crystal return self with itself method:

p 10.itself   # 10
p "1".itself  # "1"
p :sym.itself # :sym
p true.itself # true

nil, collections and other objects are not exceptions:

p nil.itself                                 # nil
p [1, 2].itself                              # [1, 2]
p ({"1" => "2"} of String => String).itself  # {"1" => "2"}
p /1/.itself                                 # /1/
# ...

Moreover, itself returns exactly the same object, not a clone or newly created one, this is the same object. Here is a good example from official documentation:

str = "hello"
str.itself.object_id == str.object_id #=> true

So why do we need it if we can just type str instead of str.itself? It comes from the functional programming where you can create a chain of method calls that successively transform some data. Those transformations (map, filter, reject or whatever you need to do) may accept an object and return some new object by calling a method. And in that case, the simplest transformation is to return the object unmodified. Consider the following example:

# Group elements of array by it's values (by itself).
p [1,2,4,1,2,2,3].group_by {|x| x}  # {1 => [1, 1], 2 => [2, 2, 2], 4 => [4], 3 => [3]}

With itself we can rewrite it in a more elegant and readable way:

p [1,2,4,1,2,2,3].group_by &.itself # {1 => [1, 1], 2 => [2, 2, 2], 4 => [4], 3 => [3]}

Seems reasonable to have this method in standard library.

Tap into the block

tap method also returns self, but a main difference between tap and itself is that tap accepts a block. It other words x.itself is equivalent to x.tap{}. But if it accepts block, it could have another purpose. Take a look at the following:

class Team
  def initialize
    @players = [] of String

  def <<(player)
    @players << player

  def any?
    @players.each {|player| return true if yield player}

  def any?
    any? &.itself

team = do |t|
  t << "Player1"
  t << "Player2"
  t << "Player3"

p team.any?                          # true
p team.any? {|player| player =~ /2/} # true
p team.any? {|player| player =~ /4/} # false

This example uses both methods. itself (in any? method without a block) is used to pass itself to the block in any? method with the block. This is exactly how it is used in Crystal’s standard library in Enumerable and Iterator modules. tap is used to initialize data on object in a yielded block. From the example you can see that with tap you can highly improve a readability of your code. Moreover, tap returns self so you can chain another method after it.


itself and tap are very useful methods. They are similar but usually are used for different purposes. Using both of them will make it possible to improve readability and maintainability of your code.

Code for this post you may find on Github Gist.

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