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Demystifying Metaprogramming: Understanding the Basics

Metaprogramming is a technique in programming where code is written to generate or manipulate other code or to modify the behaviour of a program at runtime. This allows for greater flexibility and adaptability and can make code easier to maintain and reuse. Metaprogramming is used in many programming languages, including Python, Ruby, JavaScript, and Lisp, and is often associated with object-oriented programming. The whole paradigm is broad and can’t be summarized in a single blog. This blog aims to introduce the concept and show its basic usage in various languages. The readers are advised to go deeper into it in their preferred language.


The origins of metaprogramming can be traced back to the development of Lisp in the 1950s. Lisp was one of the first programming languages to support the creation of new functions and data structures at runtime, which gave it a high degree of flexibility and extensibility. Later, the concept of metaprogramming was popularized by Smalltalk, a programming language developed in the 1970s, which introduced the idea of sending messages to objects at runtime.

In modern programming languages, metaprogramming can take many forms, including dynamic code generation, dynamic method invocation, and reflection.

  • Dynamic code generation involves creating code at runtime, either by using code templates or by programmatically constructing code.
  • Dynamic method invocation involves calling a method that is not known at compile time but is determined at runtime.
  • Reflection involves querying and modifying the internal structure of a program at runtime, such as examining the type of an object or the attributes of a class.

Use cases:

One of the main use cases for metaprogramming is to create more flexible and adaptable software. Metaprogramming can be used to create reusable code libraries that can be customized for different applications.

Here are some of the use cases:

  • By generating code programmatically, developers can avoid writing repetitive or error-prone code, and can create more abstract and expressive code.
  • Metaprogramming can also be used to encapsulate complex implementation details, making code easier to understand and maintain.
  • Metaprogramming can be used to improve performance and reduce memory usage. By generating code at runtime, developers can optimize code for specific use cases or hardware configurations.

Here are some examples of metaprogramming in JavaScript, Python, and Ruby:


JavaScript is a language that allows for some forms of metaprogramming, but not as much as other languages like Ruby. One way to achieve metaprogramming in JavaScript is by using the eval() function, which can execute a string of JavaScript code as if it were part of the original program.

const code = 'console.log("Hello, world!");';
eval(code); // Output: "Hello, world!"
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Another example is using the Function() constructor to dynamically create a new function:

const add = new Function('a', 'b', 'return a + b;');
console.log(add(2, 3)); // Output: 5
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Python is a language that supports a wide range of metaprogramming techniques. One example is using decorators, which are functions that modify the behavior of other functions:

def my_decorator(func):
    def wrapper():
        print("Before the function is called.")
        print("After the function is called.")
    return wrapper

def say_hello():

say_hello()  # Output: "Before the function is called.", "Hello!", "After the function is called."
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Ruby is a language that strongly supports metaprogramming, with features like dynamic method creation, method aliasing, and class modification.

One example is using method_missing, which is a special method that gets called when an object receives a message it doesn’t understand. This can be used to dynamically create new methods:

class MyClass
  def method_missing(name, *args)
    if name.to_s.start_with?('say_')
      self.class.send(:define_method, name) do
        puts "You called the method #{name} with arguments #{args}."
      send(name, *args)

obj =
obj.say_hello("world") # Output: "You called the method say_hello with arguments ["world"]."
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Another example is using the class_eval method to modify the behavior of a class at runtime:

class MyClass
  def say_hello
    puts "Hello!"

MyClass.class_eval do
  alias_method :old_say_hello, :say_hello
  def say_hello
    puts "Before saying hello..."
    puts "After saying hello."

obj =
obj.say_hello() # Output: "Before saying hello...", "Hello!", "After saying hello."
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Overall, metaprogramming is a powerful technique that can be used to create more flexible, adaptable, and maintainable software. While it can be complex and require careful design, metaprogramming can provide significant benefits in many programming contexts.

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