In Ruby On Rails By Leigh Halliday August 20, 2015 Leigh Halliday

Exploring some string methods

I'm working with an API which requires a phone number to be in the format 555-555-5555. As much as you want your users to enter it in that format, they won't always do that... even with placeholder text showing the correct format.

To make their lives easier I want to attempt to convert whatever they enter into the correct format as long as I can accurately guess/assume that what they entered can be converted.


  • 1112223333
  • (555) 123-1234
  • 123 123 1234
  • 1-123-123-1234
  • 111.222.3333

If they enter something I can't correctly convert, I'll leave it as is and provide the user with a validation error (For example: 123-123-1234 x123, 123fffa, nothing).

The plan

How I plan to do this is through a series of transformations.
1. Remove all non-digit (0 - 9) characters, replacing them with an empty string.
2. If it is 11 chars long and begins with 1, return the string minus the beginning 1.
3. If it is 10 chars long, insert dashes (-) after the 3rd and 6th numbers.

The code

Below is the code which follows the plan of attempting to convert the given phone number into the correct format.

class NormalizePhone
  def self.normalize(phone)
    # Replace any non-numbers with ""
    temp = phone.to_s.gsub(/[^0-9]*/, "")

    # If 11 digits long and first digit is 1, remove it
    if temp.size == 11 && temp.start_with?("1")
      temp = temp[1..(temp.size - 1)]

    # Re-insert dashes if 10 digits long
    if temp.size == 10
      phone = temp.insert(3, "-").insert(7, "-")


Exploring the methods used

Let's take a quick look at the different String methods used to make this code work.


gsub is a great method which looks for a pattern (regular expression) and replaces ALL instances of that pattern with your replacement string. This differs from the sub method which only replaces the first instance found.

"(555) 123-1234".gsub(/[^0-9]*/, "") # 5551231234

Start with?

Next I'm going to use the start_with? method to find out if the phone number begins with a "1". If it does and if it is also 11 chars in length, I'll assume that I can chop off what would be the country code (we are dealing with North American phone numbers here).

"11231231234".start_with?("1") # true


To chop off the "1" from the beginning of the String I'll use the slice method. This is similar to substring in other languages but a bit more powerful because you can pass in a variety of options. I'll be passing in start and length values.

temp = "11231231234"
temp.slice(1, temp.length - 1) # "1231231234"


If I see that the phone number is now 10 digits long, I'll assume it is correct and add in the - chars which come after the 3rd and 6th numbers. To do this I will use the insert method.

"1112223333".insert(3, "-").insert(7, "-") # "111-222-3333"


Here are some tests to ensure that our code works correctly.

describe NormalizePhone do

  it "123-123-1234 stays valid" do
    expect(NormalizePhone.normalize("123-123-1234")).to eq("123-123-1234")

  it "1231231234 converts correctly" do
    expect(NormalizePhone.normalize("1231231234")).to eq("123-123-1234")

  it "(123) 123-1234 converts correctly" do
    expect(NormalizePhone.normalize("(123) 123-1234")).to eq("123-123-1234")

  it "123.123.1234 converts correctly" do
    expect(NormalizePhone.normalize("123.123.1234")).to eq("123-123-1234")

  it "nothing remains as is" do
    expect(NormalizePhone.normalize("nothing")).to eq("nothing")

  it "1231231234567 remains as is" do
    expect(NormalizePhone.normalize("1231231234567")).to eq("1231231234567")

  it "123-123-1234 x123 remains as is" do
    expect(NormalizePhone.normalize("123-123-1234 x123")).to eq("123-123-1234 x123")


And the output:


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7 examples, 0 failures