Ruby require_relative

Posted by Nick-Damico on August 19, 2017

I’ve learned so much in these past 3 months of school at Flatiron. Everyday, no matter if after work or early in morning on my days off, I login and start again on this path to becoming a web developer. To get to that goal of becoming a professional developer, I must learn and master these concepts and technologies that are part of that job.

I’m amazed with how much of this information that I’ve been able to learn, but unfortunately there are some concepts that I feel like my understanding of could be better. So i’ve made a list of these things and once a week try to do a ‘deep dive’ on one of those topics, maybe not to fully grasp it but to better understand it. One of those topics is require_relative and the best practices for requiring files in general since with Ruby there are a few different ways.


We first see the need for requiring files once we move away from having our code in just one file. It’s when our projects and apps start to grow that we need structure and a logical way of grouping our code into directories. It’s with these projects with multiple files that we find ourselves in need of some way to make our code ‘aware’ of the other code in our projects so that it can perform its tasks and functions.

We do that with require_relative and similar results can be accomplished with require and load methods too. How does require_relative work. Lets say we have a file that wants to instantiate an instance of a class, lets say a class of Car.

honda ="Honda")

If the Class of Car isn’t defined within this file, are we able to instantiate an instance of the Car class? The answer is No. We will receive an error msg of uninitialized constant Car (NameError).

Why is that? Well at the moment its because we haven’t defined a car Class! Let’s do that our first file is named app.rb, sounds good, and our next file will be named car.rb. This is what it looks like:

class Car	
	attr_accessor :name
	def	initialize(name=nil)
		@name = name

So now if we call Ruby app.rb what’s going to happen? Will honda hold an instance of Car? Nope! Once again we are receiving that constant Car (NameError). Before we had not defined a Class of Car and now we have in car.rb so why is that happening again?

Even though the (2) files share the same directory they still are unaware that the other exists. That ‘lack’ of connection is what is keeping app.rb from instantiating from the Car class, and this is why we need require_relative. So let’s add it too our app.rb file.

require_relative './car'

honda ="Honda")

Great! we are no longer receiving our (NameError) message and when we enter in the local variable of honda we get

 honda ="Honda")
 => #<Car:0x007fb28e1e4220 @name="Honda"> 

How does this work..

First we should take a second and talk about require, which is a method that also connects our files to one another. But in this situation it will not work and that is because it is connected to a global constant named $LOAD_PATH. When we require a file it looks into the array $LOAD_PATH which is an array of absolute file paths. And it fails because your current directory isn’t in that variable.

Now there is a way to store our current directory by manipulating the $LOAD_PATH, but there is a simpler way. And that is to follow the rule that Avi mentions in one of his lectures early on in the course when requiring our own files use require_relative and specify the file with a relative path from the directory in which you are calling it from.

A few tips:

  1. When requiring your own files stick to require_relative.
  2. Use require when specifying dependencies like gems
  3. ./ refers to your current directory
  4. ../ refers to your current directories parent directory.

Take Care, Nick D