Scope refers to the reach or visibility of variables. Different types of variables have different scoping rules. We'll be talking chiefly about two types: global and local variables.

Global scope and global variables

We're starting with the scope that's used least often, but which you need to be aware of: global scope, meaning scope that covers the entire program. Global scope is enjoyed by global variables. Global variables are distinguished by starting with a dollar-sign ($) character. They are available everywhere in your program. Global variables never go out of scope. However, global variables are used very little by experienced programmers (except perhaps a few of the built-in ones).

Built-in global variables

The Ruby interpreter starts up with a fairly large number of global variables already initialized. These variables store information that's of potential use anywhere and everywhere in your program. For example, the global variable $0 contains the name of the file Ruby is executing. The global $: (dollar sign followed by a colon) contains the directories that make up the path Ruby searches when you load an external file. $$ contains the process id of the Ruby process. And there are more.

Local scope

Note: Do not worry if you do not understand this, right now.
You can tell by looking at a Ruby program where the local scopes begin and end, based on a few rules:

  • The top level (outside of all definition blocks) has its own local scope.
  • Every class or module definition block (class, module) has its own local scope, even nested class/module definition blocks.
  • Every method definition (def) has its own local scope.

Note: The Ruby Logo is Copyright (c) 2006, Yukihiro Matsumoto. I have made extensive references to information, related to Ruby, available in the public domain (wikis and the blogs, articles of various Ruby Gurus), my acknowledgment and thanks to all of them. Much of the material on and in the course at is drawn primarily from the Programming Ruby book, available from The Pragmatic Bookshelf.