Clean Ruby codebases

I enjoy reading code. Even the smallest snippet from a distant corner of an obscure library or plugin could be enough to spark a new idea, and at the very least it might evoke interest, repulsion (usually when reading my old code), or simply teach me something new.

As the saying goes, code is read much more often than it is written. It takes many years of experience to write great code, and nobody gets there without having read a lot of it.

I started writing code before JavaScript became popular, when learning HTML meant copying the contents of your favourite website’s source code and tweaking it to fit your purpose. New websites introduce new HTML tags and CSS rules, long before the prominence of w3schools.

Naturally I became a bit stuck when I started learning server-side languages. At the time I couldn’t really afford the books; I really wanted to sample everything and see what sticks.

Reading code I couldn’t understand became regular, even nuking several OS installs during my frivolous experimentations didn’t stop me. I learned to appreciate clean, well-written code before I could really write it myself. GitHub eventually came along to make this experience effortless.

When speaking to new developers I have a few examples I use to demonstrate what I appreciate as well-readable Ruby code. There’s a level of subjectivity to this of course, but for me, clean code:

  • Is straightforward and obvious
  • Is easy to digest
  • Generally follows common style best-practices
  • Is well structured
  • Avoids too much magic/metaprogramming
  • Contains comments only where they are helpful

So, without further ado, here are a few of my favourites:


Sidekiq is a library for processing background jobs. It’s pretty much considered the go-to tool for Ruby and Rails developers who want to store their queue data in Redis. What is a fairly complex piece of software is written so well that it basically holds your hand along the way.


Sequel is a database toolkit for Ruby. It’s a strong replacement for ActiveRecord and is my ORM of choice for non-Rails projects. It’s 12 years old and was one of the first Ruby libraries I ever encountered.


Oga is an XML/HTML parser written in Ruby (crazy, right?). Whilst Oga is no longer maintained, it remains a good example of nice-to-read code.


Hanami is a young Ruby web framework. It’s designed to combat the extreme bloat that Ruby on Rails introduces with its “everything including the kitchen sink” approach. The project is split into smaller pieces making it easy to digest and poke around.


HTTP is my go-to Ruby library for making HTTP requests. It’s fast, easy to use (who on earth remembers the net/http syntax?), and with a lack of “magic” code, it’s really easy to understand what’s happening under the hood.