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From Ruby to Crystal: A Quick Look

In my dabbles into game development, I’ve loved the expressiveness of Ruby, but longed for the performance of a compiled language. (Anyone else in that boat?) I recently heard about a newer language that promised “The beauty of Ruby with the speed of C.” Its name is Crystal.

Crystal has been around since 2013 and made its first official release in 2014. Its standard library is quite complete and well-documented. Crystal is statically typed and has support for macros, type inference, union types, and a concurrency model based off Go (fibers and channels)—and best of all, it compiles down to native code.

It also comes with its own package manager, Shards (get it? crystal… shards) that allows for dependency tracking. Since it’s based on LLVM, it allows the use of some neat tools (like Instruments on OS X).

From its website, the primary design goals are to:

  • Have a similar syntax to Ruby (not 100% compatible)
  • Be statically type–checked with good type inference
  • Have compile-time evaluation/code generation
  • Compile to native code

To play around with Crystal, I decided to port over an A* path finding algorithm from Ruby to Crystal. This seemed like a large enough piece of code to get my feet wet in Crystal and allow meaningful benchmarks compared to Ruby. I’ve attached both versions of the code at the bottom of this post, but here are the main gotchas that I encountered while porting my A* code to Crystal:

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