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Ruby on Rails ActiveRecord

Creating a Model manually

While using scaffolding is a fast and easy if you are new to Rails or you are creating a new application, later it can be useful just to do it on your own ato avoid the need to go through the scaffold-generated code to slim it down (remove unused parts, etc.).

Creating a model can be as simple as creating a file under app/models.

The most simple model, in ActiveRecord, is a class that extends ActiveRecord::Base.

class User < ActiveRecord::Base

Model files are stored in app/models/, and the file name corresponds to the singular name of the class:

# user

# SomeModel

The class will inherit all the ActiveRecord features: query methods, validations, callbacks, etc.

# Searches the User with ID 1

Note: Make sure that the table for the corresponding model exists. If not, you can create the table by creating a Migration

You can generate a model and it's migration by terminal from the following command

rails g model column_name1:data_type1, column_name2:data_type2, ...

and can also assign foreign key(relationship) to the model by following command

rails g model column_name:data_type, model_name:references

Creating a Model via generator

Ruby on Rails provides a model generator you can use to create ActiveRecord models. Simply use rails generate model and provide the model name.

$ rails g model user

In addition to the model file in app/models, the generator will also create:

  • the Test in test/models/user_test.rb
  • the Fixtures in test/fixtures/users.yml
  • the database Migration in db/migrate/XXX_create_users.rb

You can also generate some fields for the model when generating it.

$ rails g model user email:string sign_in_count:integer birthday:date

This will create the columns email, sign_in_count and birthday in your database, with the appropriate types.

Creating A Migration

Add/remove fields in existing tables

Create a migration by running:

rails generate migration AddTitleToCategories title:string

This will create a migration that adds a title column to a categories table:

class AddTitleToCategories < ActiveRecord::Migration[5.0]
  def change
    add_column :categories, :title, :string

Similarly, you can generate a migration to remove a column: rails generate migration RemoveTitleFromCategories title:string

This will create a migration that removes a title column from the categories table:

class RemoveTitleFromCategories < ActiveRecord::Migration[5.0]
  def change
    remove_column :categories, :title, :string

While, strictly speaking, specifying type (:string in this case) is not necessary for removing a column, it's helpful, since it provides the information necessary for rolling it back.

Create a table

Create a migration by running:

rails g CreateUsers name bio

Rails recognizes the intent to create a table from the Create prefix, the rest of the migration name will be used as a table name. The given example generates the following:

class CreateUsers < ActiveRecord::Migration
  def change
    create_table :users do |t|
      t.string :name
      t.string :bio

Notice that the creation command didn't specify types of columns and the default string was used.

Create a join table

Create a migration by running:

rails g CreateJoinTableParticipation user:references group:references

Rails detects the intent to create a join table by finding JoinTable in migration name. Everything else is determined from the names of the fields you give after the name.

class CreateJoinTableParticipation < ActiveRecord::Migration
  def change
    create_join_table :users, :groups do |t|
      # t.index [:user_id, :group_id]
      # t.index [:group_id, :user_id]

Uncomment the necessary index statements and delete the rest.


Notice that the example migration name CreateJoinTableParticipation matches the rule for table creation: it has a Create prefix. But it did not generate a simple create_table. This is because migration generator (source code) uses a first match of the following list:

  • (Add|Remove)<ignored>(To|From)<table_name>

  • <ignored>JoinTable<ignored>

  • Create<table_name>

Introduction to Callbacks

A callback is a method that gets called at specific moments of an object's lifecycle (right before or after creation, deletion, update, validation, saving or loading from the database).

For instance, say you have a listing that expires within 30 days of creation.

One way to do that is like this:

class Listing < ApplicationRecord
  after_create :set_expiry_date


  def set_expiry_date
    expiry_date = + 30.days
    self.update_column(:expires_on, expiry_date)

All of the available methods for callbacks are as follows, in the same order that they are called during the operation of each object:

Creating an Object

  • before_validation
  • after_validation
  • before_save
  • around_save
  • before_create
  • around_create
  • after_create
  • after_save
  • after_commit/after_rollback

Updating an Object

  • before_validation
  • after_validation
  • before_save
  • around_save
  • before_update
  • around_update
  • after_update
  • after_save
  • after_commit/after_rollback

Destroying an Object

  • before_destroy
  • around_destroy
  • after_destroy
  • after_commit/after_rollback

NOTE: after_save runs both on create and update, but always after the more specific callbacks after_create and after_update, no matter the order in which the macro calls were executed.

Create a Join Table using Migrations

Specially useful for has_and_belongs_to_many relation, you can manually create a join table using the create_table method. Suppose you have two models Tags and Proyects, and you'd like to associate them using a has_and_belongs_to_many relation. You need a join table to associate instances of both classes.

class CreateProjectsTagsJoinTableMigration < ActiveRecord::Migration
  def change
    create_table :projects_tags, id: false do |t|
      t.integer :project_id
      t.integer :tag_id

The actual name of the table needs to follow this convention: the model which alphabetically precedes the other must go first. Project preceds Tags so the name of the table is projects_tags.

Also since the purpose of this table is to route the association between the instances of two models, the actual id of every record in this table is not necessary. You specify this by passing id: false

Finally, as is convention in Rails, the table name must be the compound plural form of the individual models, but the column of the table must be in singular form.

Manually Testing Your Models

Testing your Active Record models through your command line interface is simple. Navigate to the app directory in your terminal and type in rails console to start the Rails console. From here, you can run active record methods on your database.

For example, if you had a database schema with a Users table having a name:string column and email:string, you could run:

User.create name: "John", email: "[email protected]"

Then, to show that record, you could run:

User.find_by email: "[email protected]"

Or if this is your first or only record, you could simply get the first record by running:


Using a model instance to update a row

Let's say you have a User model

class User < ActiveRecord::Base

Now to update the first_name and last_name of a user with id = 1, you can write the following code.

user = User.find(1)
user.update(first_name: 'Kashif', last_name: 'Liaqat')

Calling update will attempt to update the given attributes in a single transaction, returning true if successful and false if not.

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