Ruby on Rails Exchange, London

Last Friday, a couple of us from “SonicIQ”:http://www.soniciq.com went to the first “RoR eXchange hosted by Skills Matter”:http://www.skillsmatter.com/rorexchange.
It was a great day with some interesting talks from:
* Chad Fowler
* Tom Locke
* Paul Battley
* James Cox
* Damien Tanner
* Ben Griffiths
* Eleanor McHugh
h3. Chad Fowler – Quick and -Dirty- Clean: Well factored Rails
Chad kicked off with a talk on “Quick and -Dirty- Clean: Well factored Rails”. For me it was one of those talks where you think “If only I heard this 6 months ago!”. The reason I say this is that a great deal of what he was talking about, we now implement on a day-to-day basis, but we have gotten there the hard way through making the mistakes that he mentions.
He talks about never using instance variables in views, I love that someone has confirmed this as I find it generally bad practice. For a while now we have been replacing them with helpers giving much more flexibility when the controller logic changes.
One great point that was made, was that SQL should never be used in controllers, not even in :order options. I have to admit, in the past I have done this a lot but the suggestion of custom finders in the model are a much better alternative and it keeps with the whole “Skinny Controller, Fat Model”:http://weblog.jamisbuck.org/2006/10/18/skinny-controller-fat-model idea.
One thing I really must get into the habit of using are association proxies for has_many and such like. Chad showed some great examples of this.
I like one phrase that Chad came up with… “Bare Model Finds” which made me chuckle. What he was getting at was something like an account based site where everything should be found via the given account i.e. @account.projects.find(:all)

as opposed to a “Bare Model Find” of Project.find(:all, :conditions => [‘account_id = ?’, @account.id])

The main points I have taken away from this talk (which I am also going to put in a large poster on the office wall) are the folowing:
* No instance variables in views
* No SQL in controllers
* No more than 4 lines in controller actions
h3. Tom Locke – Experiments with Very Rapid Development in Rails
Tom gave a demo of his “Hobo”:http://hobocentral.net/blog/ project which is very similar to a plugin we use in-house (which also may go open source at some point).
One thing I like about Hobo is the incremental nature of the “dryml” views, meaning that you can override certain elements in a default view bit-by-bit, i.e. if you just want a different header for a certain page you don’t need to create a duplicate of the view and change it, you only need to redefine certain elements of the page.
I completely agree with Tom’s views on generators, although he was slightly more diplomatic than I would have been. I am going to be slightly controversial and say that I really don’t like generators except for creating stub files. What happens if you have an authentication system generator which you have used in 50 projects and you suddenly find a security hole?? …You now have to go back through those 50 projects to fix it! [end generator rant]
h3. Paul Battley – Rerouting Rails
Paul attempted to explain how he believes the rails routing system should be re-written. I could see a lot of merit in what he was saying, however I don’t believe it lent itself very well to this type of presentation.
h3. James Cox – Managing a high performance rails app without tearing your hair out
James gave some great tips on easy ways to increase the overall performance of Rails apps. We are in the process of configuring a new server so these tips came at a good time.
h3. Damien Tanner – Extend your Rails application using Domain Specific Languages
Damien explained a roundtrip his company went on with DLS’s explaining that they are great in certain situations but can be taken too far or overused. In the example he gave, it turned out that the DSL he created was overkill for the business problem he was trying to solve.
h3. Ben Griffiths – Are your tests working for you?
For me, this and Chad’s were the presentations that made the trip to London worth while. I am ashamed to say that until now, I have not gotten into TDD (I’ve been using Rails for over a year and a half). It’s not through lack of trying but with clients constantly on your back to get projects out the door, it’s all to easy to dive straight into coding the application and neglecting the tests.
He started with a comparison between testing and the film Predator. This sounds like a strange comparison however it really helped to illustrate the need for a good set of tests.
My main problem with tests were “what do I test?” and “my fixtures need too much maintenance!”. I breathed a sigh of relief when Ben suggested not using fixtures at all as maintaining a load of fixtures really turned me off testing.
This was a great talk and I could bang on for hours on the benefits of testing with Ben’s techniques and his whole take on modular design but I’ll save that for another post. As a side-note, I have been doing TDD ever since this talk.
h3. Eleanor McHugh – Where’s my SQL? Platform-independent database design using Migrations
Eleanor gave some examples of how migrations could be extended with plugins. A lot of the examples she gave were based on what has been implemented in Hobo. There were some interesting points in the talk although my concentration levels were frayed by this point.
h3. Group Discussion
The main point of discussion was views. I think everyone was in agreement that something needs to change with the way Rails handles it’s views. I personally believe that they should be purposefully limiting so that it is hard to do bad things in the view. I am looking forward to seeing views taken to the next level and believe that there will be some large changes before 2.0 based on the comments during this discussion.
h3. After Party
The guys at “Skills Matter”:http://www.skillsmatter.com put on the first 100 drinks at “Liquid” – a Japanese-themed bar. We had a chance to mingle and discuss a few of the points that we forgot to ask after the talks.
Thanks to all the speakers, all in all a great day out.
Videos of some of the talks are now “available online”:http://skillsmatter.com/menu/479. Also, my colleague “Andy”:http://darkliquid.co.uk has blogged about his take on the day: “Part 1”:http://darkliquid.co.uk/2007/2/10/ruby-on-rails-exchange, “Part 2”:http://darkliquid.co.uk/2007/2/11/ruby-on-rails-exchange-part-2.

Back from the dead

Wow, I can’t believe it’s almost three months since my last post. Got a few interesting things going on at the moment so hopefully this will prompt me to blog some more.

New web-based GTD productivity application

Finally I can mention it. At SonicIQ we’ve been working on a web-based “GTD”:http://davidco.com application. Today the teaser site went live at “propelr.com”:http://www.propelr.com.
If you are are into “GTD”:http://davidco.com, life hacks or productivity in general head over to “propelr.com”:http://www.propelr.com. for a sneak peek!

Maintaining database column order with migrations

If you’re anything like me, you like to keep database columns in a reasonably logical order. In my case I generally keep primary keys as the first column, then content columns, then special usage columns, then foreign keys e.g.

id
name
description
created_on
updated_on
account_id

Now, say I added a ‘slug’ column with a migration:

def self.up
  add_column "projects", "slug", :string
end

That’s fine, I have my new column but it’s after my foreign keys:

id
name
description
created_on
updated_on
account_id
slug

What’s it doing down there? I want it after the ‘name’ column! …wouldn’t it be nice if you could specify an :after option for add_column.
We can make this possible by monkey patching the add_column method at the top of our migration file (I will make this into a plugin when I get time):

module ActiveRecord
  module ConnectionAdapters # :nodoc:
    module SchemaStatements
      def add_column(table_name, column_name, type, options = {})
        add_column_sql = "ALTER TABLE #{table_name} ADD #{quote_column_name(column_name)} #{type_to_sql(type, options[:limit], options[:precision], options[:scale])}"
        after_column = options.delete(:after)
        add_column_options!(add_column_sql, options)
        add_column_sql << " AFTER #{after_column}" if after_column
        execute(add_column_sql)
      end
    end
  end
end

This lets us do the following:

def self.up
  add_column "projects", "slug", :string, :after => 'name'
end

Which gives us:

id
name
slug
description
created_on
updated_on
account_id

Much better… this may seem a little petty, however as your tables get more and more columns it makes things much easier to follow.
Please note: I have only tested this with MySQL
h4. Update: this is now a plugin and can be “downloaded here”:http://svn.soniciq.com/public/rails/plugins/iq_migration_extensions/

CSS and JS directories in Rails

One thing that annoyed me when I first started using Rails at 0.14 was that I was forced to put my .css files in a ‘stylesheets’ directory and my .js files in a ‘javascripts’ directory.
Previous to Rails I would put .css files in a ‘css’ directory and .js files in a ‘js’ directory (call me old fashioned). I use the following code in my application helper to allow me to do this:

module ApplicationHelper
  def javascript_path(source) compute_public_path(source, 'js', 'js') end
  def stylesheet_path(source) compute_public_path(source, 'css', 'css') end
end

Just incase anyone else has the same niggle.
*Update 29-11-08:* for Rails 2.2, see new post.

Disabling plugin code in generators/migrations

I have found on numerous occasions that I need to disable certain plugin functionality if running a generator / rake db:migrate etc.
An easy way to disable certain functionality follows:

def method_that_shouldnt_be_run_in_migrations_or_generators
  # Return if we are using a generator or migrations
  script = File.basename($0)
  return if (script == 'generate') || (script == 'rake' && ARGV[0] =~ /migrate$/)
end

TheLucid Typo theme (Phase 2)

I have had a great deal of interest in TheLucid Typo theme over the past few months.
I am planning a revamp in the near future to fix the outstanding IE bugs and to generally tidy things up. I have wanted to do this for a while but due to work commitments have not had time.
I would like invite anyone who is using the theme, or thinking of using the theme to post suggestions and bug reports here.
h3. What I am currently planning:
* Cookie containing fixed/fluid state.
* Comment styling.
* Separate color versions in addition to the switcher version.
* Numerous browser fixes.

A break down in communication

We (“SonicIQ”:http://www.soniciq.com) have just completed our second office move in 5 months. Hopefully this one will be slightly more long term.
We had to get the BT man out today as our new phone line hasn’t been working for the past two days (and subsequently our internet connection). The poor guy was scratching his head as to what the problem could be…
BT sold us a “Feature Line” however what they neglected to tell us was that one of the “features” was that you have to dial 9 to get an outside line. It turns out that this was the problem all along!! As for the internet connection the router was set to PPPoE instead of PPPoA, this would have worked from the beginning also.
It’s ironic, the lack of communication a national communications company has… they failed to mention it in the correspondence and it was not mentioned during any of the sales calls.

Problem: link_to_remote with :method => :delete in Safari

I have just come up against a really frustrating issue with link_to_remote in Safari. What makes it more frustrating is the Rails dev site being down making it impossible to submit a ticket.
When setting :method => :delete on the link_to_remote helper, Safari sends a GET request rather than a DELETE. Firefox is fine with it.


no route found to match "/projects/13;delete" with {:method=>:get}

If anyone knows of a way to fix this I would be most grateful.

Handy Subversion Rake task

Just read a post from “David”:http://david.planetargon.us at “Planet Argon”:http://planetargon.us/ showing a way to “add un-added files”:http://david.planetargon.us/articles/2006/07/28/i-love-shell-scripting in your Subversion working copy.
I have made this into a simple rake task:

namespace :svn do
  desc "Adds all files with an svn status flag of '?'"
  task(:add_new) { `svn status | awk '/\\?/ {print $2}' | xargs svn add` }
end

Just drop this code in a file called subversion.rake inside the tasks directory. Now you can run rake svn:add_new which will add all new files with an svn status flag of ‘?’ in your working copy.