Reduce your table width and migration overhead by moving non-indexed columns to a separate metadata column.
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Has Metadata Column -- Keep your tables narrow

Author Tim Morgan
Version 1.1.2 (Sep 3, 2013)
License Released under the MIT License.


So you're wondering why it is you need to make, test, schedule, and deploy a whole nother migration just to add one more freeform "Favorite Music"-type column to your users model? Wish there were an easier way?

There is! Combine all of those "about me," "favorite music," etc. type fields into one JSON-serialized TEXT column, and now every model can have schemaless, migration-free data.

If you're interested in moving your metadata out to another table (or database) entirely, consider using HasMetadata.

This gem does use some "metaprogramming magic" to make the metadata fields appear like first-class fields, for purposes of validation and easy access. If this is unsettling to you, I recommend using my gem JsonSerialize instead, as it does not get its little fingers all up in ActiveRecord's business.

(Why yes, I do have a gem for a every use case!)

h2. Installation

Important Note: This gem is only compatible with Ruby 1.9 and Rails 4.0.

Merely add the gem to your Rails project's Gemfile:

gem 'has_metadata_column'


The first thing to think about is what columns to keep. You will need to keep any indexed columns, or any columns you perform lookups or other SQL queries with. You should also keep any frequently accessed columns, especially if they are small (integers or booleans). Good candidates for the metadata column are the TEXT- and VARCHAR-type columns that you only need to render a page or two in your app.

You'll need to add a TEXT column to your model to store the metadata. You can call it what you want; metadata is assumed by default.

t.text :metadata

Next, include the HasMetadataColumn module in your model, and call the has_metadata_column method to define the schema of your metadata. You can get more information in the {HasMetadataColumn::ClassMethods#has_metadata_column} documentation, but for starters, here's a basic example:

class User < ActiveRecord::Base
  include HasMetadataColumn
    about_me:  { type: String, length: { maximum: 512 } },
    birthdate: { type: Date, presence: true },
    zipcode:   { type: Number, numericality: { greater_than: 9999, less_than: 10_000 } }

As you can see, you pass field names mapped to a hash. The hash describes the validation that will be performed, and is in the same format as a call to validates. In addition to the EachValidator keys shown above, you can also pass a type key, to constrain the Ruby type that can be assigned to the field. You can only assign types that can be JSON-serialized: strings, numbers, arrays, hashes, dates/times, booleans, and nil.

Each of these fields (in this case, about_me, birthdate, and zipcode) can be accessed and set as first_level methods on an instance of your model:

user.about_me #=> "I was born in 1982 in Aberdeen. My father was a carpenter from..."

... and thus, used as part of form_for fields:

form_for user do |f|
  f.text_area :about_me, rows: 5, cols: 80

... and validations.

The only thing you can't do is use these fields in a query, obviously. You can't do something like User.where(zipcode: 90210), because that column doesn't exist on the users table.

... Unless you use PostgreSQL 9.2, and define your metadata column as type json. Support for that is coming...