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arg-that provides a simple method to create an argument matcher in equality comparisons. This is particularly handy when writing a test to assert the equality of some complex data struct with another and only one component is difficult or unwise to assert exactly.


Typically, tests specify exactly what a result should be equal to. If the value of result were 5, then one would probably write an assertion like result.should == 5 and call it a day.

But sometimes:

  • You don't know exactly what the result is, and the part you don't know about doesn't matter a great deal
  • A looser specification is preferable to an exact one; suppose a looser specification sufficiently verifies the subject code is working, and greater specificity in the assertion would only serve to constrain changes to future implementation details


Suppose our subject returns a hefty hash of attributes following a save operation of a User entity. #=> {:name => "Bob", :age => 28, :email => "[email protected]" :created_at => 2013-07-18 21:40:58 -0400}

While authoring the test, we neither care much about the value of created_at, nor do we know how to specify it exactly. That means we can't just do this:

result =
expect(result).to eq(:name => "Bob", :age => 28, :email => "[email protected]" :created_at =>,7,18,21,40,58,"-04:00"))

This wouldn't work, because at runtime the value of created_at will, of course, differ.

So, one could do this:

result =
expect(result[:name]).to eq("Bob")
expect(result[:age]).to eq(28)
expect(result[:email]).to eq("[email protected]")

But now we've got three assertions when before we only had one. Alas, we no longer have a clear visual of the shape of the data being returned by save. Additionally, if the map grows with additional meaningful values in the future, this test would continue to pass by incident.

The arg_that matcher can save us this annoyance by retaining the more terse style of the first example, while retaining the liberal specification necessitated by the situation:

expect(result).to eqish(
  :name => "Bob",
  :age => 28,
  :email => "[email protected]",
  :created_at => arg_that { true }

Where arg_that { true } would literally pass any equality test. If there's something we want to constrain about the created_at value, we could do so. Perhaps a type check like arg_that { |arg| arg.kind_of?(Time) } would be more appropriate. Also, note that arg-that includes an RSpec matcher called eqish which is meant to be used in conjunction with the arg_that matcher. [Please refer to the bottom of this document for a discussion on why.]

The purpose of releasing something as simple as arg-that as a gem is to promote more intentionality about how specific any given equality assertion needs to be. The modus operandi of most Rubyists seems to be "always specify everything exactly, but if that gets hard, specify the remainder arbitrarily." And that's not terrific.


Here's how you'd use it in RSpec.

In your spec_helper.rb, you can make arg-that available to all of your examples by telling RSpec to include it:

require 'arg_that'

RSpec.configure do |config|

Once included, you can make more liberal assertions as you see fit, like so:

result = {
  :zip_code => 48176,
  :owner => "Fred Jim",
  :last_audit =>, 8, 12)

expect(result).to eqish(
  :zip_code => 48176,
  :owner => "Fred Jim",
  :last_audit => arg_that { |arg| arg >, 1, 1) }

In this way, the result will verify the two entries we want to specify exactly (zip_code and owner), but allows us the flexibility of only loosely specifying that we're okay with any value of last_audit so long as it was some time after January 1st, 2012.

what's up with this eqish matcher?

tl;dr whenever you use arg_that in an equality RSpec expectation, always use the eqish matcher or otherwise ensure that == is being called on the object containing the arg_that matcher

As mentioned above, the reason that arg-that includes a matcher called eqish is because of the nature of how equality (==) tests work in Ruby (and most other OOP languages). The object that receives the message "are you equal?" is responsible for determining whether some other thing this equal to it.

This works fine in most of our programs, because in almost every circumstance, two objects of the same type will adhere to the symmetric property of equality contract when asked whether one equals the other.

That is to say, if:

x = 5
y = 5

x == y #=> true
y == x #=> true

However, it's the very nature of matchers like arg_that to intentionally violate the symmetric property of equality. We do this because such tests are only concerned about partial equality. As a result, to serve the purpose of the test, it's important that the expected value be the object who is asked "are you equal?" to the object being interrogated by the test; if the actual value is asked the question, then our definition of partial equality will never be invoked!

This is a bit of a bummer, because RSpec (and most testing libraries) will invoke == on the actual value, and not the expected value. Therefore, if an asymmetric definition of equality is desired, == must be invoked on the expected value.

To work around this, arg_that includes an RSpec matcher (which is auto-defined if you include ArgThat in an RSpec.configure block) called eqish source. The implementation of eqish is literally to swap the order of actual == expected to expected == actual. In all other matters, it delegates to RSpec's built-in eq matcher.