Active Record in Rails

July 19, 2021   • rails

Rails makes extensive use of the active record pattern, which was introduced by Martin Fowler in his book Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture. This post tries to summarize my understanding of the pattern in the context of a Rails application.

An active record represents an object that wraps a row in a database table, encapsulates the database access, and adds domain logic on the data.

Active Record is responsible for handling business-domain logic, validating the data, and managing persistent storage to a database. It allows you to easily create, read, update, and delete data from the database without writing SQL statements.

To create an Active Record, create a Ruby class that extends ApplicationRecord, which itself extends from ActiveRecord::Base class.

class Post < ApplicationRecord

Rails uses convention over configuration, and a class named Post will automatically map to a database table named posts. Each instance of Post will represent a row in the posts table, and the attributes on the Post class will map to columns in the posts table. By default, Active Record will use an integer column named id as the primary key for the table.

Class to Table Mapping

If you want to override the default Rails conventions to use different names, you can use the table_name and primary_key attributes.

class Post < ApplicationRecord
  self.table_name = "articles"
  self.primary_key = "p_id"

Query methods return an ActiveRecord::Relation, a chainable object that is lazy evaluated against the database only when the actual records are needed. This is similar to Linq in C#.

Rails also inserts two columns named created_at and updated_at that automatically get set to the current date and time when the record is created and updated, respectively.

Active Record automatically creates methods on your models, allowing you to read and manipulate the data stored in the database.

1. Create

post = Post.create(title: "first post", body: "hello world")

The create method creates and saves a new record in the database. You can also instantiate an object without saving it using the new method.

post =
post.title = "second post"
post.body = "hello, again!"

To save the record, call

Both create and new methods take a block that yields the newly created object.

post = do |p| = "third post"
  p.body = "hello, hello!"

2. Read

You can access the data in the database using one of the many query methods provided by Active Record.

# Fetch all posts 
posts = Post.all

# Fetch the first post
post = Post.first

# Find the post with the given id
post = Post.find_by(id: 3)

3. Update

Once you fetch an Active Record object using a query, you can update it by modifying its attributes and calling save method to persist the changes in the database.

post = Post.first
post.title = "First Post"

# Shorthand using the update method
post.update(title: "First Post")

4. Delete

Similar to update, you can delete an Active Record instance from the database by calling the destroy method on it. It removes the record from the database.

post = Post.first

# Delete all posts with the title "test"
Post.destroy_by(title: "test")

# Delete all posts

Macro Methods

These are usually placed at the top of the class, adding run-time behavior to the class, in the form of instance variables and methods. These methods provide a readable DSL which makes it easy to understand how the class is configured.

The has_many method adds new associations to the Post class.

class Post < ApplicationRecord
  has_many :comments

The attribute method allows you to add a new attribute and specify its type and default value.

class Post < ApplicationRecord
  attribute :category, :string, default: 'note'