Kevin C. Olbrich, Ph.D.

Project page: http://github.com/olbrich/ruby-units

Monthly Downloads: 53,513
Programming language: Ruby
License: MIT License
Tags: Scientific     Utilities     Math     Unit Conversion    
Latest version: v2.3.1

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Ruby Units

Maintainability CodeClimate Status FOSSA Status

Kevin C. Olbrich, Ph.D.

Project page: http://github.com/olbrich/ruby-units


Many technical applications make use of specialized calculations at some point. Frequently, these calculations require unit conversions to ensure accurate results. Needless to say, this is a pain to properly keep track of, and is prone to numerous errors.


The 'Ruby units' gem is designed to simplify the handling of units for scientific calculations. The units of each quantity are specified when a Unit object is created and the Unit class will handle all subsequent conversions and manipulations to ensure an accurate result.


This package may be installed using:

gem install ruby-units

or add this to your Gemfile

gem 'ruby-units'


unit = Unit.new("1")                 # constant only
unit = Unit.new("mm")                # unit only (defaults to a scalar of 1)
unit = Unit.new("1 mm")              # create a simple unit
unit = Unit.new("1 mm/s")            # a compound unit
unit = Unit.new("1 mm s^-1")         # in exponent notation
unit = Unit.new("1 kg*m^2/s^2")      # complex unit
unit = Unit.new("1 kg m^2 s^-2")     # complex unit
unit = Unit.new("1 mm")              # shorthand
unit = "1 mm".to_unit                # convert string object
unit = object.to_unit                # convert any object using object.to_s
unit = Unit.new('1/4 cup')           # Rational number
unit = Unit.new('1+1i mm')           # Complex Number


  1. only 1 quantity per unit (with 2 exceptions... 6'5" and '8 lbs 8 oz')
  2. use SI notation when possible
  3. spaces in units are allowed, but ones like '11/m' will be recognized as '11 1/m'.

Unit compatibility

Many methods require that the units of two operands are compatible. Compatible units are those that can be easily converted into each other, such as 'meters' and 'feet'.

unit1 =~ unit2                  #=> true if units are compatible
unit1.compatible?(unit2)        #=> true if units are compatible

Unit Math

Unit#+()      # Add. only works if units are compatible
Unit#-()      # Subtract. only works if units are compatible
Unit#*()      # Multiply.
Unit#/()      # Divide.
Unit#**()     # Exponentiate.  Exponent must be an integer, can be positive,  negative, or zero
Unit#inverse  # Returns 1/unit
Unit#abs      # Returns absolute value of the unit quantity.  Strips off the  units
Unit#ceil     # rounds quantity to next highest integer
Unit#floor    # rounds quantity down to next lower integer
Unit#round    # rounds quantity to nearest integer
Unit#to_int   # returns the quantity as an integer

Unit will coerce other objects into a Unit if used in a formula. This means...

Unit.new("1 mm") + "2 mm"  == Unit.new("3 mm")

This will work as expected so long as you start the formula with a Unit object.

Conversions & Comparisons

Units can be converted to other units in a couple of ways.

unit.convert_to('ft')             # convert
unit1 = unit >> "ft"              # convert to 'feet'
unit >>= "ft"                     # convert and overwrite original object
unit3 = unit1 + unit2             # resulting object will have the units of unit1
unit3 = unit1 - unit2             # resulting object will have the units of unit1
unit1 <=> unit2                   # does comparison on quantities in base units, throws an exception if not compatible
unit1 === unit2                   # true if units and quantity are the same, even if 'equivalent' by <=>
unit1 + unit2 >> "ft"             # converts result of math to 'ft'
(unit1 + unit2).convert_to('ft')  # converts result to 'ft'

Any object that defines a to_unit method will be automatically coerced to a unit during calculations.

Text Output

Units will display themselves nicely based on the display_name for the units and prefixes. Since Unit implements a Unit#to_s, all that is needed in most cases is:

"#{Unit.new('1 mm')}"  #=> "1 mm"

The to_s also accepts some options.

Unit.new('1.5 mm').to_s("%0.2f")  # "1.50 mm".  Enter any valid format
                                  #   string.  Also accepts strftime format
Unit.new('1.5 mm').to_s("in")     # converts to inches before printing
Unit.new("2 m").to_s(:ft)         # returns 6'7"
Unit.new("100 kg").to_s(:lbs)     # returns 220 lbs, 7 oz
Unit.new("100 kg").to_s(:stone)   # returns 15 stone, 10 lb

Time Helpers

Time, Date, and DateTime objects can have time units added or subtracted.

Time.now + Unit.new("10 min")

Several helpers have also been defined. Note: If you include the 'Chronic' gem, you can specify times in natural language.

Unit.new('min').since(DateTime.parse('9/18/06 3:00pm'))

Durations may be entered as 'HH:MM:SS, usec' and will be returned in 'hours'.

Unit.new('1:00')     #=> 1 h
Unit.new('0:30')     #=> 0.5 h
Unit.new('0:30:30')  #=> 0.5 h + 30 sec

If only one ":" is present, it is interpreted as the separator between hours and minutes.


[Unit.new('0 h')..Unit.new('10 h')].each {|x| p x}

works so long as the starting point has an integer scalar

Math functions

All Trig math functions (sin, cos, sinh, hypot...) can take a unit as their parameter. It will be converted to radians and then used if possible.


Ruby-units makes a distinction between a temperature (which technically is a property) and degrees of temperature (which temperatures are measured in).

Temperature units (i.e., 'tempK') can be converted back and forth, and will take into account the differences in the zero points of the various scales. Differential temperature (e.g., Unit.new('100 degC')) units behave like most other units.

Unit.new('37 tempC').convert_to('tempF')   #=> 98.6 tempF

Ruby-units will raise an exception if you attempt to create a temperature unit that would fall below absolute zero.

Unit math on temperatures is fairly limited.

Unit.new('100 tempC') + Unit.new('10 degC')   # '110 tempC'.to_unit
Unit.new('100 tempC') - Unit.new('10 degC')   # '90 tempC'.to_unit
Unit.new('100 tempC') + Unit.new('50 tempC')  # exception (can't add two temperatures)
Unit.new('100 tempC') - Unit.new('50 tempC')  # '50 degC'.to_unit (get the difference between two temperatures)
Unit.new('50 tempC')  - Unit.new('100 tempC') # '-50 degC'.to_unit
Unit.new('100 tempC') * scalar                # '100*scalar tempC'.to_unit
Unit.new('100 tempC') / scalar                # '100/scalar tempC'.to_unit
Unit.new('100 tempC') * unit                  # exception
Unit.new('100 tempC') / unit                  # exception
Unit.new('100 tempC') ** N                    # exception

Unit.new('100 tempC').convert_to('degC')  #=> Unit.new('100 degC')

This conversion references the 0 point on the scale of the temperature unit

Unit.new('100 degC').convert_to('tempC')  #=> '-173 tempC'.to_unit

These conversions are always interpreted as being relative to absolute zero. Conversions are probably better done like this...

Unit.new('0 tempC') + Unit.new('100 degC') #=> Unit.new('100 tempC')

Defining Units

It is possible to define new units or redefine existing ones.

Define New Unit

The easiest approach is to define a unit in terms of other units.

Unit.define("foobar") do |foobar|
  foobar.definition   = Unit.new("1 foo") * Unit.new("1 bar")   # anything that results in a Unit object
  foobar.aliases      = %w{foobar fb}                   # array of synonyms for the unit
  foobar.display_name = "Foobar"                        # How unit is displayed when output
Redefine Existing Unit

Redefining a unit allows the user to change a single aspect of a definition without having to re-create the entire definition. This is useful for changing display names, adding aliases, etc.

Unit.redefine!("cup") do |cup|
  cup.display_name  = "cup"

Useful methods

  1. scalar will return the numeric portion of the unit without the attached units
  2. base_scalar will return the scalar in base units (SI)
  3. units will return the name of the units (without the scalar)
  4. base will return the unit converted to base units (SI)

Storing in a database

Units can be stored in a database as either the string representation or in two separate columns defining the scalar and the units. Note that if sorting by units is desired you will want to ensure that you are storing the scalars in a consistent unit (i.e, the base units).

Namespaced Class

Sometimes the default class 'Unit' may conflict with other gems or applications. Internally ruby-units defines itself using the RubyUnits namespace. The actual class of a unit is the RubyUnits::Unit. For simplicity and backwards compatibility, the ::Unit class is defined as an alias to ::RubyUnits::Unit.

To load ruby-units without this alias...

require 'ruby_units/namespaced'

When using bundler...

gem 'ruby-units', require: 'ruby_units/namespaced'

Note: when using the namespaced version, the Unit.new('unit string') helper will not be defined.


Configuration options can be set like:

RubyUnits.configure do |config|
  config.separator = false

Currently there is only one configuration you can set:

  1. separator (true/false): should a space be used to separate the scalar from the unit part during output.


Performance vs. Accuracy

Ruby units was originally intended to provide a robust and accurate way to do arbitrary unit conversions. In some cases, these conversions can result in the creation and garbage collection of a lot of intermediate objects during calculations. This in turn can have a negative impact on performance. The design of ruby-units has emphasized accuracy over speed. YMMV if you are doing a lot of math involving units.


FOSSA Status

*Note that all licence references and agreements mentioned in the Ruby Units README section above are relevant to that project's source code only.