What does %w(array) mean?

0 votes
asked Aug 13, 2009 by dane-oconnor

I'm looking at the documentation for FileUtils. I'm confused by the following line:

FileUtils.cp %w(cgi.rb complex.rb date.rb), '/usr/lib/ruby/1.6'

What does the %w mean? Can you point me to the documentation?

8 Answers

0 votes
answered Aug 13, 2009 by sepp2k

%w(foo bar) is a shortcut for ["foo", "bar"]. Meaning it's a notation to write an array of strings separated by spaces instead of commas and without quotes around them. You can find a list of ways of writing literals in zenspider's quickref.

0 votes
answered Aug 13, 2009 by evan-meagher

%W and %w allow you to create an Array of strings without using quotes and commas.

0 votes
answered Aug 13, 2009 by mike-woodhouse

I think of %w() as a "word array" - the elements are delimited by spaces.

There are other % literals:

  • %r() is another way to write a regular expression.
  • %q() is another way to write a single-quoted string (and can be multi-line, which is useful)
  • %Q() gives a double-quoted string
  • %x() is a shell command
  • %i() gives an array of symbols (Ruby >= 2.0.0)
  • %s() turns foo into a symbol (:foo)

I don't know any others, but there may be some lurking around in there...

0 votes
answered Aug 23, 2011 by eraden

There is also %s that allows you to create any symbols, for example:

%s|some words|          #Same as :'some words'
%s[other words]         #Same as :'other words'
%s_last example_        #Same as :'last example'

Since Ruby 2.0.0 you also have:

%i( a b c )   # => [ :a, :b, :c ]
%i[ a b c ]   # => [ :a, :b, :c ]
%i_ a b c _   # => [ :a, :b, :c ]
# etc...
0 votes
answered Jan 30, 2014 by mark-at-zark-studios

Though it's an old post, the question keep coming up and the answers don't always seem clear to me, so, here's my thoughts:

%w and %W are examples of General Delimited Input types, that relate to Arrays. There are other types that include %q, %Q, %r, %x and %i.

The difference between the upper and lower case version is that it gives us access to the features of single and double quotes. With single quotes and (lowercase) %w, we have no code interpolation (#{someCode}) and a limited range of escape characters that work (\\, \n). With double quotes and (uppercase) %W we do have access to these features.

The delimiter used can be any character, not just the open parenthesis. Play with the examples above to see that in effect.

For a full write up with examples of %w and the full list, escape characters and delimiters, have a look at "Ruby - %w vs %W – secrets revealed!"

0 votes
answered Jan 13, 2015 by itsnikolay

Excerpted from the documentation for Percent Strings at http://ruby-doc.org/core/doc/syntax/literals_rdoc.html#label-Percent+Strings:

Besides %(...) which creates a String, the % may create other types of object. As with strings, an uppercase letter allows interpolation and escaped characters while a lowercase letter disables them.

These are the types of percent strings in ruby:
...
%w: Array of Strings

0 votes
answered Sep 15, 2017 by pjammer

I was given a bunch of columns from a CSV spreadsheet of full names of users and I needed to keep the formatting, with spaces. The easiest way I found to get them in while using ruby was to do:

names = %( Porter Smith
Jimmy Jones
Ronald Jackson).split('\n')

This highlights that %() creates a string like "Porter Smith\nJimmyJones\nRonald Jackson" and to get the array you split the string on the "\n" ["Porter Smith", "Jimmy Jones", "Ronald Jackson"]

So to answer the OP's original question too, they could have wrote %(cgi\ spaeinfilename.rb;complex.rb;date.rb).split(';') if there happened to be space when you want the space to exist in the final array output.

0 votes
answered Sep 15, 2017 by raj-mishra

Instead of %w() we should use %w[]

According to Ruby style guide:

Prefer %w to the literal array syntax when you need an array of words (non-empty strings without spaces and special characters in them). Apply this rule only to arrays with two or more elements.

# bad
STATES = ['draft', 'open', 'closed']

# good
STATES = %w[draft open closed]

Use the braces that are the most appropriate for the various kinds of percent literals.

[] for array literals(%w, %i, %W, %I) as it is aligned with the standard array literals.

# bad
%w(one two three)
%i(one two three)

# good
%w[one two three]
%i[one two three]

For more read here.

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