How to Tell Your Ruby Program to Stop Running Early

How do you stop a Ruby program early?

Normally a program will run until it’s done processing all the instructions.

Or until it raises an exception that doesn’t get handled.

But if you’re writing a Ruby program that doesn’t need to be running all the time, you may want to stop your program early for one reason or another.

You can do this with the exit method.

How does this exit method work?

Let’s talk about that!

Different Ways to Stop a Program

When you call exit your program won’t stop immediately.

This is what happens:

Ruby raises a SystemExit exception which gives other parts of your program a chance to clean up.

You can run this code to see a demonstration:

rescue SystemExit
  p 123

This prints 123 before exiting.

If you want your program to skip this clean-up process, you can use exit!.

Here’s an example:

rescue SystemExit
  p 123

Notice how this won’t print 123 before the program ends.

You can also use another method.

It’s called abort.

With this method you can provide an error message.

Like this:

abort "No Bacon Left"

Which is the same as:

warn "No Bacon Left!"
exit 1

The warn method prints an error message to standard error.

But what is this 1 argument for exit?

That’s the next topic of discussion!

Understanding Status Codes

When a program ends, not just a Ruby program but ANY program, it leaves a status code behind.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • A status code of 0 means the program ended normally
  • Other status codes (not 0) are used to signal an error condition
  • The effect of returning a non-zero status code depends on your current environment

This is helpful because the operating system, or regular programs, can use this status code for monitoring, logging & even automatically restarting a failed program.

In Linux you can use echo $? to find out the exit status code of the last program.

Let’s go back to Ruby:

When you call exit the status code is 0 by default.

You can pass another status code as an argument.

That’s why when you call abort the status code is set to 1, the abort method is used to signal an error.

Stopping A Loop

If you don’t want to stop a whole program but just a loop, then you have to use something different.

You can use the break keyword:

while 1 == 1

This also works inside blocks, not just while loops.

Exiting A Method

Ruby methods end naturally on their last line of code.

If you would like to exit earlier…

Use the return keyword.


def apples
  return "I had my two apples today"


This code never gets to "bacon" because of the early return.

Bonus: Stopping An Infinite Loop

It happens.

Sometimes you forget to increase a counter & produce an infinite loop.

To make your program stop you can press a key combination:



You have learned about the exit method in Ruby, the abort method, exit status codes, and how to break out of a loop.

Don’t forget to share this article so more people can enjoy it.

Thanks for reading! 🙂