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Context pattern

This gem gives you the scaffolding needed to easily use the Context Pattern in your Ruby on Rails application

What is the context pattern?

The context pattern provides a way of thinking about and writing Rails applications that results in better code that is easier to maintain. This is done through the introduction of a new category of object known as a Context Object.

A Context Object is responsible for interpreting the current state of the request, providing the context for a controller to do its work, and defining an interface that may be referenced by views. Every request has exactly one context object associated with it. This context is built up throughout the life cycle of a request.

If you have never encountered the context pattern before, you should read the explanatory blog post to get a thorough understanding of the motivations behind and benefits of this code pattern, examples of before and after code, and a thorough explanation of how everything works.

This README is intended to provide a reference for those who are already somewhat familiar with the context pattern.

Setting up the gem

To use this gem, you need to do two things:

  1. Require it in your Gemfile:

    gem 'context-pattern'
  2. Add the following two lines to your ApplicationController:

    include Context::Controller
    helper Context::BaseContextHelper

Simple example

The example below is a simple one that is used to demonstrate various facets of how this gem and the context pattern work. Suppose we have an online bookstore and are looking at a BooksController#show action. We want to retrieve the logged in user from the session and the book being viewed from the params. We use a decorator to provide some functionality around showing the user's name (this is contrived, but demonstrative).

class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base
  include Context::Controller
  helper Context::BaseContextHelper

  before_action :set_application_context

  def set_application_context
    extend_context :Application, params: params, session: session

class BooksController < ApplicationController
  def show
    extend_context :BookShow

class ApplicationContext < Context::BaseContext
  view_helpers :current_user

  attr_accessor :session, :params

  def current_user
    User.find_by(id: session[:user_id])
  memoize :current_user

class BookShowContext < Context::BaseContext
  view_helpers :book

  decorate :current_user, decorator: UserPresenter, memoize: true

  def book
  memoize :book

class UserPresenter < SimpleDelegator
  def abbreviated_name
    "#{first_name} #{last_name[0]}"

View file:

Hi, <%= current_user.abbreviated_name %>.
Here is information about <%= book.title %>

Basic components of using the gem

  • All context classes must inherit from Context::BaseContext
  • To add a context to the context stack, use extend_context. Usage example:
    extend_context :Foo, arg1: 1, arg2: 2
    # The above is equivalent to adding the following object to the context stack:
    # 1, arg2: 2)
  • If you want to be able to provide arguments when initializing a context as in the example above, your context class needs to use attr_accessor to declare those attribute names.
  • A context object has access to all public methods already defined in the context stack. It does not have access to any non-public methods used by other objects in the context stack.
  • The order in which you add to the context stack is important. While a context object can reference public methods from earlier in the context stack, it can not make reference to public methods from objects added later to the context stack.
  • Controllers have access to all public methods defined anywhere in the context stack.
  • Views have access to all public methods in the context stack that are declared to be view_helpers.
  • Methods do not necessarily need to be defined in the same context in which they are declarated to be view_helpers. But a method must be available to the context in which it is declared to be a view helper. This means the method must either be defined in that context or in a context that is already part of the context stack at the time.
  • A context can not overwrite a public method that is already defined in the context stack. Trying to do so will cause a Context::MethodOverrideError exception to be raised.
  • The decorate declaration provides a way to get around the above restriction in situations where we reasonably wish to decorate or present an object already available in the context stack. This declaration may be used as follows:
    class BlahContext < Context::BaseContext
      # Suppose `foo` is a public method already available in the context stack
      decorate :foo, decorator: FooDecorator, args: [:bar, :baz], memoize: true
      # The above is functionaly equivalent to the code below:
      # def foo
      #, bar: bar, baz: baz)
      # end
      # memoize :foo
      def bar; end
      def baz; end
  • You can reference application routes in your context objects. Context::BaseContext includes Rails.application.routes.url_helpers. You can also use link_to within your contexts.

Best practices for usage

The following suggestions are not requirements for using this gem, but bits of advice that have been pulled together from using the context pattern across the WegoWise codebase over a period of five years.

  • You should have something like an ApplicationContext that takes params, session, etc. as arguments on initialization. The example in this README shows a simple version of this. If you do this, all later contexts will have access to the params, which will greatly simplify things.
  • Aside from ApplicationContext, you should almost never need to provide any arguments to a context when initializing it via extend_context. This means those contexts shouldn't make use of attr_accessor. There may be some exceptions, but generally speaking a context should be able to figure out everything it needs from params and methods already available via the context stack.
  • If you find yourself wanting to override methods from earlier contexts in ways that do not follow the decorator pattern, this is a sign you are not thinking about your code properly. Sometimes this may simply be a matter of having different method names for different concepts, Other times it may mean that your contexts are conceptually ambiguous.
  • It is a best practice to add a comment at the top of each context file stating in plain language what the context is for the usage of that object. This should not need to be more than a couple short sentences. If you are having difficulty doing this, it may be a sign that you are trying to do too much within a single context object.
  • memoize is made available via the memoizer gem, which is a dependency of this gem. It is a best practice to memoize all view helpers that do any sort of work, and to memoize objects that use the decorate declaration.

How to test context objects

To be filled in soon.


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