Ruby Science


Inheritance is a common method of reuse in object-oriented software. Ruby supports single inheritance using subclasses and multiple inheritance using Mixins. Mixins can be used to package common helpers or provide a common public interface.

However, mixins have some drawbacks:

  • They use the same namespace as classes they’re mixed into, which can cause naming conflicts.
  • Although they have access to instance variables from classes they’re mixed into, mixins can’t easily accept initializer arguments, so they can’t have their own state.
  • They inflate the number of methods available in a class.
  • They’re not easy to add and remove at runtime.
  • They’re difficult to test in isolation, since they can’t be instantiated.


  • Methods in mixins that accept the same parameters over and over.
  • Methods in mixins that don’t reference the state of the class they’re mixed into.
  • Business logic that can’t be used without using the mixin.
  • Classes that have few public methods except those from a mixin.
  • Inverting dependencies is difficult because mixins can’t accept parameters.


In our example application, users can invite their friends by email to take surveys. If an invited email matches an existing user, a private message will be created. Otherwise, a message is sent to that email address with a link.

The logic to generate the invitation message is the same regardless of the delivery mechanism, so this behavior is encapsulated in a mixin:

# app/models/inviter.rb
module Inviter
  extend ActiveSupport::Concern

  included do
    include AbstractController::Rendering
    include Rails.application.routes.url_helpers

    self.view_paths = 'app/views'
    self.default_url_options = ActionMailer::Base.default_url_options


  def render_message_body
    render 'invitations/message'

Each delivery strategy mixes in Inviter and calls render_message_body:

# app/models/message_inviter.rb
class MessageInviter < AbstractController::Base
  include Inviter

  def initialize(invitation, recipient)
    @invitation = invitation
    @recipient = recipient

  def deliver

Although the mixin does a good job of preventing duplicated code, it’s difficult to test or understand in isolation, it obfuscates the inviter classes, and it tightly couples the inviter classes to a particular message body implementation.



Mixins are a form of inheritance. By following composition over inheritance, you’ll be less likely to introduce mixins.

Reserve mixins for reusable framework code like common associations and callbacks, and you’ll end up with a more flexible and comprehensible system.

Ruby Science

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