Objects, Classes, and Instances

Learning Goals

  • Describe the difference between a class and an instance of that class
  • Define a class
  • Store state in instance variables defined in initialize
  • Provide access to state using attr_readers and attr_accessors
  • Use methods to provide behaviors to instances of a class
  • Create a new instance of a class and call methods on that instance


  • Class
  • Object
  • Instance
  • State
  • Attribute
  • Instance Variable
  • Behavior
  • Method

Warm Up

In your notebook brainstorm a type of object and specific instances of that object. Then brainstorm 3 different attributes for those objects and 3 different behaviors of those objects.

For example:

  • Type of object: Refrigerator
  • Specific instances:
    • Staff Fridge, Small Fridge in Student Kitchen, Large Fridge in Student Kitchen
  • Attributes:
    • Brand, Color, Temperature
  • Behaviors:
    • Add Food, Remove Food, Change Temperature

Classes in Ruby


In programming, a Class is something that models:

  1. State
  2. Behavior

State is what something is. Behavior is what something does. In the warm up, our Class was refrigerator. We modeled the state of a refrigerator by defining the attributes “brand”, “color”, and “temperature”. We modeled the behavior of a refrigerator by defining the methods “add food”, “remove food”, and “change temperature”.

An Instance or Object is a concrete representation of a Class. In the previous activity, “staff refrigerator” is a specific Instance of the Fridge Class. We can also say that “staff refrigerator” is a Fridge Object. Do not get confused by the terms Instance and Object. They mean the exact same thing (for now).

Think of a Class like a blueprint for a house and an Instance as an actual house. The blueprint is a just an idea of how the house should be built, and the house is the realization of that blueprint.


The syntax for defining a class is as follows:

class NameOfClass

So, for example, if we wanted to create a Dog class, we could do the following:

class Dog

Notice the use of UpperCamelCase for the class name.

Generally we will want to put more information in our classes to make them useful to us, but those two lines (even with no other information) will create a class.

Example - Class/Instance Syntax

Let’s follow a class example with a Unicorn class. I will create a directory in the classwork directory called objects_classes_and_instances. Within that directory, I’ll create a unicorn.rb file, and put the following information into that file. (You will take these same steps later for a different class😉)

# ~/turing/1module/classwork/objects_classes_and_instances/unicorn.rb
# Notice that `class` is lowercase while `NameOfClass` is UpperCamelCased.

class Unicorn

In the same objects_instances_and_classes directory, let’s create a runner.rb file and put the code below into that.

# ~/turing/1module/classwork/objects_classes_and_instances/runner.rb
require './unicorn'

unicorn_1 = Unicorn.new
unicorn_2 = Unicorn.new

require 'pry'; binding.pry

We can run the runner.rb file from the command line if we are inside of our objects_classes_and_instances directory by typing the following: ruby runner.rb.

When we run this file, our terminal should open up a pry session when it reads the line: binding.pry. Inside of that pry session, we’ll type unicorn_1 and hit return to see what the variable unicorn_1 is holding. Then, we’ll type unicorn_2 to see what that variable is holding.


  • How are those two things the same?
  • How are they different?

Attributes in Ruby Classes

Above we created a Unicorn class and then also created specific instances of the unicorn class that we held in the variables unicorn_1 and unicorn_2. Generally the objects we create will come from the same template, but each will be a unique object.

Take a look at these unicorns.

Each one is different in important ways. For example, each one has its own:

  • name
  • color

We can model these attributes in code by using instance variables. Generally we define these instance variables in a special method called initialize that is run every time a new instance of a class is created. Make sure to spell it correctly😬.


When we run Unicorn.new in Ruby, what actually happens? We can see from the last example that different Unicorn objects (or instances) are created. Other than that, nothing happens. If we want some specific code to run when we first create a new Unicorn, we need to tell Ruby what should happen when a new Unicorn instance (or object) is created. We do this with the initialize method.

class Unicorn
  def initialize
    #any code here will run each time a new instance is created


This method is run once and only once during an Object’s lifetime, when we call new. Other than that, initialize is like any other method where we can put Ruby code:

class Unicorn
  def initialize
    puts "A new Unicorn object has been created"


Modeling State with Attributes

The instances of the classes we’ve defined so far are basically useless. Aside from their object_id, there is nothing unique about these instances.

Remember, a class models State and Behavior. Let’s give our unicorn some state.

Example - Attributes

Let’s add some attributes to the Unicorn class. The @ symbol before a variable name indicates that it is an Attribute or Instance Variable. These two terms mean the exact same thing.

class Unicorn
  def initialize(name_parameter, color_parameter)
    @name       = name_parameter
    @color      = color_parameter

Because attributes are something we want to persist throughout an object’s lifetime, we typically define them inside the initialize method because we want them to exist as soon as the object is created.

We have now created a method class that will allow us to create many different instances of Unicorn, each one slightly different from the last. How do we do that in practice? Let’s update the runner file so that it includes the following:

unicorn_1  = Unicorn.new("Sparkle", "rainbow")

unicorn_2   = Unicorn.new("", "white")

require 'pry'; binding.pry

When we include the arguments to .new, Ruby will pass those arguments to the initialize method for us. Note that the arguments that we pass to new are order dependent. So, in the first example when we pass "Sparkle" as the first argument, we are saying that the name of the Unicorn we are creating is Sparkle. When we pass an empty string ("") the second time we call new we are saying that the Unicorn that we created doesn’t have a name.

What we have just done is a very common pattern. We gave our initialize method some arguments and we saved those arguments to instance variables. While this is a strong pattern, it is not a rule. For instance, you may want to set a variable in your initialize that has a default value that isn’t set using an argument:

class Unicorn
  def initialize(name, color)
    @name            = brand
    @color           = color
    @magical_powers  = []


Create an objects_classes_and_instances directory, then touch a person.rb file and a runner.rb file. Define a Person class in it and create instances of that class in your runner file.

Now, give your Person class some attributes that are set using arguments to initialize and some attributes that have default values. Make some instances of your Person class, and run you runner file.

Accessing Attributes

That’s all well and good, but what can we do with all these attributes that we’ve created? They’re no good to us if we can’t use them.

Generally, the way that we access information stored in a class is by sending it messages or calling methods on that class. We do that using . syntax.

Let’s run our runner file again and check to see what this returns:


We should get an error that says something about the method .name not existing (a no method error). The syntax here is correct, but we haven’t told our Unicorn class how to respond when it receives the message name.

We can do that with methods like the ones we’ve seen before, but attributes stored as instance variables are special. We can tell our class to provide access to them using attribute readers. Let’s do that now.

Example - Accessing Attributes

Let’s update our Unicorn class to include the lines below.

class Unicorn

  def initialize(name, color)
    @name            = name
    @color           = color
    @magical_powers  = []

  def name

  def color

  def magical_powers

Let’s run our runner file again and see if you can now call unicorn_1.name.

Now, I should be able to call unicorn_1.name and get back whatever was stored in the instance variable. But wow, this class is suddenly lengthy, harder to read, and has a lot of similar work happening. A method called name returns @name, color returns @color, etc. There’s a cleaner way to do the same thing:

class Unicorn
  attr_reader :name,

  def initialize(name, color)
    @name              = name
    @color             = color
    @magical_powers    = []

Let’s run our runner file again and see if you can still call unicorn_1.brand and the other attributes.

An important thing to remember is that although there is a special syntax for creating attr_readers, they are still just methods. Remember the error we got earlier was a no method error for name.


  • Create attr_readers for the attributes in your Person class.
  • Practice explaining to your what is happening under the hood with the attr_readers

Other Methods

We can also create other methods that will allow us to send other messages to our Unicorn class. For example, let’s say we wanted to add a magical power to our unicorn. We currently have a way to see what magical powers our unicorn has, but we don’t have any way to add to it. Let’s do that by creating a method called add_power that will add a power to the magical_powers array.

Define an add_power method that allows you to give your unicorn another magical power. Note that we can access the @magical_powers instance variable from anywhere within the class just by using the @ symbol.

class Unicorn
# ... attr_readers & initialize method

  def add_power(power)
    @magical_powers << power


Let’s update our runner file so that you:

  1. Create a new instance of Unicorn.
  2. Print the magical powers of that Unicorn.
  3. Add a power for that Unicorn, using the method you just created. You can represent a power as a String.
  4. Print the new powers of the Unicorn.


  • Create a have_birthday method for your Person class. This should increase the age of that person by 1.
  • Update your runner file in a similar fashion to steps 1-4 for your Person class.

Object Interaction

When we build more complex programs, we typically have many classes, and the instances of those classes interact in some way.

Example - Object Interaction

Instead of representing power as a String, let’s create a Power class to represent a power.

class Power
  attr_reader :name,

  def initialize(name, energy_required)
    @name = name
    @energy_required = energy_required

Let’s update our runner file to add Power objects to your unicorn.


Create a Book Class

Create a book class. Make sure that your book class with title, author, and genre attributes.

Once you’ve created your class, create a runner file that creates three separate instances of book and saves them to variables.

Check in with your partner that you’re in a similar place. Discuss an differences you have in your code.

Create a Library Class

Create a Library class. Add attributes as you wish, but the be sure to include a @collection instance variable that starts as an empty array.

Check in with your partner that you’re in a similar place. Discuss an differences you have in your code.

If you have time:

  • Add a add_book method that takes an instance of book and adds it to your collection.
  • Add a titles method that iterates over your collection of books and returns only their titles.
  • Add an authors method that iterates over your collection of books and returns the authors for each book. Can you make it so that it does not return any duplicate authors?
  • Pretty print: add a method that prints a table of books and authors that the library has. This will require some string manipulation to get a table to print with columns that line up.

Update your runner file to create a new library, add some books to the library, and print information about their collections.

Check for Understanding

On your own, answer the questions below.

  • Classes, instances, objects
    • What is a Class?
    • What is an Instance?
    • What is an Object?
    • How are these three things alike/different?
    • What code do you have to write to create a Class? What code do you have to write to create an instance?
    • What happens when a new instance is created?
  • Attributes & Methods
    • What is an attribute? How can we recognize an attribute?
    • What is a method? How do we write methods?
    • What are parameters? How do we add parameters to methods?
    • What is a return value? How do you know what the return value of a method is? Do all methods have return values?

If you are struggling a bit to answer any of these, take some time after this lesson to google or talk with a classmate. If you feel absolutely lost in these, set up a time to pair with a Mod2 student/mentor/instructor.

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