Simply RESTful… “The missing action”

UPDATE 15/03/10: The debate continues…

The ideas in this article came about whilst I was test-driving the Simply RESTful plugin following DHH’s RailsConf keynote on the subject.

The philosophy

The first thing I came across whilst experimenting with Simply RESTful (which is great by the way), was that there is no real way of deleting items with javascript disabled. Since I am currently working on a project that needs to function on a variety of mobile devices, this instantly caused me concern.

I could think of a few ways to hack around this limitation, however I was sure there had to be a better way, hence this article. I wanted to keep the current javascript functionality but in addition have a clean non-javascript fallback.

Consider the following:

CRUD Form (GET request) POST action
(C)reate /products/new create
(R)ead /products/24 n/a
(U)pdate /products/24/edit update
(D)elete - destroy

There are three “state changing” actions in CRUD, they are the ‘create’, ‘update’ and ‘delete’. You will notice from the table above that all three have a POST action1, however only two have GET actions… why is this?

Now, you see that dash in the second column… that’s “the missing action”. There is no good reason why our ‘destroy’ action shouldn’t have a corresponding form action (GET request) also. Let me explain myself…

1 The HTTP actions are PUT, POST and DELETE, however in this implementation (due to the limitations of HTML) they are all technically POST’s.

Putting it into practice

So we give ‘destroy’ it’s missing action which will act as a confirmation of our post… and what shall we call this missing action? …why let’s call it delete.

If we fill in this missing piece in our RESTful Rails puzzle, all becomes clear:

CRUD Form (GET request) POST action
(C)reate /products/new create
(R)ead /products/24 n/a
(U)pdate /products/24/edit update
(D)elete /products/24/delete destroy

Our routes would look something like:

map.resource :product, :member => { :delete => :get }</pre>
In our controller would be:
<pre lang="ruby">def delete
  @product = Product.find(params[:id])
end

def destroy
  Product.find(params[:id]).destroy if request.delete?
  redirect_to product_url
end

Our delete.rhtml would look like this:
<pre><h1>Are you sure you wish to delete ?</h1></pre>

Slight complication…

Update (13 Oct 2007): This has been fixed in more recent versions or Rails.

Now comes the slight complication… we want the javascript POST to /projects/24 to function as normal, however if javascript is disabled we want to request /projects/24;delete.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could specify a fallback (non-javascript) href in the link_to helper, something that I’ve pondered with on many occasions. Unfortunately the link_to helper doesn’t let you override the href attribute (currently it adds a second one instead), until now.

Enter iq_noscript_friendly plugin which fixes this shortfall (I also have this as a Rails patch however the ticketing system on Trac is currently broken).

Install the plugin using:

./script/plugin install http://svn.soniciq.com/public/rails/plugins/iq_noscript_friendly/

In our listing view (index.rhtml) we are now able to do the following:

link_to 'Delete', product_url(product),
          :confirm => 'Are you sure?',
          :method => 'delete',
          :href => delete_product_url(product)

Ideally you would just give the link a class of “delete” and use unobtrusive javascript to make it do the delete request.

Beautiful.

Summary

By adding “the missing action”, we are able to POST as usual (using javascript) to ‘destroy’ but gracefully fallback to our ‘delete’ form when javascript is not available. Besides, why shouldn’t ‘destroy’ get it’s own form action… ‘create’ has ‘new’ and ‘update’ has ‘edit’?

Now to make this whole thing even better, lets make it part of the convention. ‘delete’ should default to GET and therefore negate the need for :member => { :delete => :get } in our routes.rb… DHH?

I would love to hear peoples comments on this technique as I’m using it for everything now and it works a treat.

Com’on… use “the missing action”, be kind to those without javascript, and lets make it the convention!

Rock on RESTfulness.