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My goal is to write more idiomatic ruby when working with nested data structures. More specifically, I need to break my habit of looping through everything with .each and nested .eaches. Here's a simple example that illustrates this:

I have the following data structure which cannot be changed:

structure_hash = {
  "website"=> {
    "base"=>"luma.demo", 
    "custom_b2c_website"=>"homegoods.demo", 
  }, 
  "store_view"=> {
    "custom_store_view"=>"fr.homegoods.ca"
  }
}

I want to reshape this such that I return the data as an array of hashes like so:

structure_array = [
  {
    :scope=>"website", 
    :code=>"base", 
    :url=>"luma.demo"
  }, 
  {
    :scope=>"website", 
    :code=>"custom_b2c_website", 
    :url=>"homegoods.demo"
  },
  {
    :scope=>"store", 
    :code=>"custom_store_view", 
    :url=>"fr.homegoods.ca"
  }
]

I have achieved this with the following helper method with comments that illustrate the thought process I am trying to improve:

def get_vhost_data
    structure_hash = { ... } # The first hash above, etc.

    vhost_data = [] # We're returning an array, so initialize one

    # Loop through the containing hash.  Each key will be our scope, so we need to 
    # access that
    structure_hash.each do |scope, scope_hash|
      
        # We need to transform and add to the data in these hashes.
        scope_hash.each do |code, url|
        
        # Best to return a new hash to house the old values + the transformed ones
        demo_data = {}
        
        # The "scope" key from the outer hash needs to be changed conditionally
        demo_data[:scope] = scope == 'store_view' ? scope.gsub('store_view', 'store') : scope
        
        # The rest of the data is fine
        demo_data[:code] = code
        demo_data[:url] = url

        # Add the newly-created hash to the containing array
        vhost_data << demo_data
      end
    end

    # Return the containing array
    vhost_data
  end

What Smells?

As best I can tell, the following things are fishy:

  1. I shouldn't need to initialize an empty array -- surely .each_with_object?

  2. Nested .each here seems tedious -- is there a better way to think about what I'm trying to do that would result in something more idiomatic? For example, instead of resorting to "Okay, we need to go through each hash and..." is it more idiomatic to say: "Since you're only manipulating one of the keys of the outer hash, use a select instead? (Just an example, not sure that select does what I want, although it could also take care of creating the containing array...)

  3. Again, initializing the empty hash seems wrong -- .each_with_object again?

  4. Looping through a hash to create a new hash from the existing hash's content and add to it. At first I thought map would be better somehow, but in my limited understanding, .map takes existing elements and transforms them -- it doesn't add additional elements...

What I've Tried

So far, I've tried the following to address the code smells above:

def get_vhost_data_refactor
    structure_hash = {...}
    structure_hash.each_with_object([]) do |(scope, scope_hash), vhost_arr|
      scope_hash.each_with_object({}) do |(code, url), data_hash|
        data_hash[:scope] = scope == 'store_view' ? scope.gsub('store_view', 'store') : scope
        data_hash[:code] = code
        data_hash[:url] = url
        vhost_arr << data_hash
      end
    end
  end

which yields:

[
  {
    :scope=>"website", 
    :code=>"custom_b2c_website_3", 
    :url=>"sierra.demo"
  },
  {
    :scope=>"website",
    :code=>"custom_b2c_website_3", 
    :url=>"sierra.demo"
   },
   {
     :scope=>"store", 
     :code=>"custom_store_view", 
     :url=>"fr.homegoods.ca"
   }
]

This is close, but obviously, the .each_with_object combination doesn't loop through each of the inner hashes properly, and more importantly, even if it did work, it's not idiomatic; it just replaces nested .each with the slightly more helpful each_with_object.

Any advice on how I can solve this "the Ruby way" and any tips for questions to ask in order to think "the Ruby way" would be greatly appreciated.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to Code Review! The current question title, which states your concerns about the code, is too general to be useful here. Please edit to the site standard, which is for the title to simply state the task accomplished by the code. Please see How to get the best value out of Code Review: Asking Questions for guidance on writing good question titles. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 3, 2021 at 16:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! Updated as requested. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve K
    Jul 3, 2021 at 20:32
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Just riffing.... flatten structure_hash up front. Iterate the flattened hashes array to transform it. Nested .each becomes sequential. If anything is a Ruby idiom it's "everything is an object." and "objects work like you expect them to". That means plenty of helpful methods. - hmmm,... Consider a Class that can return its own flattened representation. Then, I suppose aVhost.flatten.transform call could have a default-value code block parameter. \$\endgroup\$
    – radarbob
    Jul 3, 2021 at 21:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I tried a few options but couldn't find a clean way to do this with flattening. You would really need to merge the top level into the second level while flattening. It would be easy enough to add this as a method if it was being used regularly but that seems unlikely \$\endgroup\$ Jul 12, 2021 at 16:19
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Something like: def flatten_hash(hash, subkey); hash.map { |k,v| v.dup.tap { |h| h[subkey] = k} } \$\endgroup\$ Jul 12, 2021 at 16:28

1 Answer 1

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I would agree with your 1st and 3rd points - initializing intermediate arrays and hashes is almost always a smell. with_object is one solution as is reduce/inject. each is definitely not very idiomatic Ruby.

Your second solution is much better. The reason it gives an odd result is because the data_hash is the same object for each iteration of the inner loop and you are just modifying it so the result is the last iteration of the loop.

I would say that this is exactly what map is for - it is still a kind of transformation. I don't know of any ways to select into the inner loop or avoid the nesting but I would use flat_map which does the map and then flattens out the result (you can try with just map to see what I mean)

Something like this:

structure_hash.flat_map do |scope, scope_hash|
  scope = 'store' if scope == 'store_view'
  scope_hash.map do |code, url|
    { 
      scope: scope,
      code:  code,
      url:   url,
    }   
  end
end
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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is great information, thanks! I'd forgotten that map, being a "souped up" each, allowed me to pull out the key (scope) and the inner hash at the same time. And, the use of flat_map saves me from using .flatten everywhere. I was trying all sorts of merge operations, and even thought of experimenting with reduce, too, but my fear was always sacrificing clarity for convention or idiom. I think the take-away here is that nesting is correct in this case, and your double map is the elegant approach. Thanks again. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve K
    Jul 6, 2021 at 21:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ After trying unsuccessfully to use a combination of flattening to arrays and then thinking about zip and splat to line them up and reduce inside of a single each, I still think the above answer is the cleanest solution. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve K
    Jul 8, 2021 at 13:38
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Note that the advice from radarbob's comment is still good advice: Ruby is an object-oriented language, not a hash-of-strings-to-hash-of-strings-to-strings-oriented language nor an array-of-hashes-of-symbols-to-strings-oriented language. I found that with proper domain modeling, all of these complex low-level-data-structure-manipulation problems go away because there are no complex low-level data structures anymore. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 10, 2021 at 10:37
  • 1
  • \$\begingroup\$ Absolutely, never meant to imply that the comment was not good advice, and I appreciate his taking the time to get me started in the right direction. @JörgWMittag, what I'm gathering from your comment and some of the examples you shared is that I need to alter the way I think about solving a problem. Instead of going directly to low-level structures, it's more ruby-esque to create an Object which is structured to match the data I have, is that what you're saying? (Your second SO example was particularly poignant). \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve K
    Jul 12, 2021 at 22:05

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