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Purpose

The purpose of ActiveModel::Serializers is to provide an object to encapsulate serialization of ActiveModel objects, including ActiveRecord objects.

Serializers know about both a model and the current_user, so you can customize serialization based upon whether a user is authorized to see the content.

In short, serializers replaces hash-driven development with object-oriented development.

Installing Serializers

For now, the easiest way to install ActiveModel::Serializers is to add this to your Gemfile:

gem "active_model_serializers", :git => "git://github.com/josevalim/active_model_serializers.git"

Then, install it on the command line:

$ bundle install

Creating a Serializer

The easiest way to create a new serializer is to generate a new resource, which will generate a serializer at the same time:

$ rails g resource post title:string body:string 

This will generate a serializer in app/serializers/post_serializer.rb for your new model. You can also generate a serializer for an existing model with the serializer generator:

$ rails g serializer post

ActiveModel::Serializer

All new serializers descend from ActiveModel::Serializer

render :json

In your controllers, when you use render :json, Rails will now first search for a serializer for the object and use it if available.

class PostsController < ApplicationController
  def show
    @post = Post.find(params[:id])
    render :json => @post
  end
end

In this case, Rails will look for a serializer named PostSerializer, and if it exists, use it to serialize the Post.

This also works with respond_with, which uses to_json under the hood. Also note that any options passed to render :json will be passed to your serializer and available as @options inside.

To specify a custom serializer for an object, there are 2 options:

1. Specify the serializer in your model:

class Post < ActiveRecord::Base
  def active_model_serializer
    FancyPostSerializer
  end
end

2. Specify the serializer when you render the object:

render :json => @post, :serializer => FancyPostSerializer

Arrays

In your controllers, when you use render :json for an array of objects, AMS will use ActiveModel::ArraySerializer (included in this project) as the base serializer, and the individual Serializer for the objects contained in that array.

class PostSerializer < ActiveModel::Serializer
  attributes :title, :body
end

class PostsController < ApplicationController
  def index
    @posts = Post.all
    render :json => @posts
  end
end

Given the example above, the index action will return

{
  "posts":
    [
      { "title": "Post 1", "body": "Hello!" },
      { "title": "Post 2", "body": "Goodbye!" }
    ]
}

By default, the root element is the name of the controller. For example, PostsController generates a root element "posts". To change it:

render :json => @posts, :root => "some_posts"

You may disable the root element for arrays at the top level, which will result in more concise json. To disable the root element for arrays, you have 3 options:

1. Disable root globally for in ArraySerializer. In an initializer:

ActiveModel::ArraySerializer.root = false

2. Disable root per render call in your controller:

render :json => @posts, :root => false

3. Create a custom ArraySerializer and render arrays with it:

class CustomArraySerializer < ActiveModel::ArraySerializer
  self.root = false
end

# controller:
render :json => @posts, :serializer => CustomArraySerializer

Disabling the root element of the array with any of the above 3 methods will produce

[
  { "title": "Post 1", "body": "Hello!" },
  { "title": "Post 2", "body": "Goodbye!" }
]

To specify a custom serializer for the items within an array:

render :json => @posts, :each_serializer => FancyPostSerializer

Getting the old version

If you find that your project is already relying on the old rails to_json change render :json to render :json => @your_object.to_json.

Attributes and Associations

Once you have a serializer, you can specify which attributes and associations you would like to include in the serialized form.

class PostSerializer < ActiveModel::Serializer
  attributes :id, :title, :body
  has_many :comments
end

Attributes

For specified attributes, a serializer will look up the attribute on the object you passed to render :json. It uses read_attribute_for_serialization, which ActiveRecord objects implement as a regular attribute lookup.

Before looking up the attribute on the object, a serializer will check for the presence of a method with the name of the attribute. This allows serializers to include properties beyond the simple attributes of the model. For example:

class PersonSerializer < ActiveModel::Serializer
  attributes :first_name, :last_name, :full_name

  def full_name
    "#{object.first_name} #{object.last_name}"
  end
end

Within a serializer's methods, you can access the object being serialized as either object or the name of the serialized object (e.g. admin_comment for the AdminCommentSerializer).

You can also access the scope method, which provides an authorization context to your serializer. By default, scope is the current user of your application, but this can be customized.

Serializers will check for the presence of a method named include_[ATTRIBUTE]? to determine whether a particular attribute should be included in the output. This is typically used to customize output based on scope. For example:

class PostSerializer < ActiveModel::Serializer
  attributes :id, :title, :body, :author

  def include_author?
    scope.admin?
  end
end

If you would like the key in the outputted JSON to be different from its name in ActiveRecord, you can use the :key option to customize it:

class PostSerializer < ActiveModel::Serializer
  attributes :id, :body

  # look up :subject on the model, but use +title+ in the JSON
  attribute :subject, :key => :title
  has_many :comments
end

If you would like direct, low-level control of attribute serialization, you can completely override the attributes method to return the hash you need:

class PersonSerializer < ActiveModel::Serializer
  attributes :first_name, :last_name

  def attributes
    hash = super
    if scope.admin?
      hash["ssn"] = object.ssn
      hash["secret"] = object.mothers_maiden_name
    end
    hash
  end
end

Associations

For specified associations, the serializer will look up the association and then serialize each element of the association. For instance, a has_many :comments association will create a new CommentSerializer for each comment and use it to serialize the comment.

By default, serializers simply look up the association on the original object. You can customize this behavior by implementing a method with the name of the association and returning a different Array. Often, you will do this to customize the objects returned based on the current user.

class PostSerializer < ActiveModel::Serializer
  attributes :id, :title, :body
  has_many :comments

  # only let the user see comments he created.
  def comments
    post.comments.where(:created_by => scope)
  end
end

As with attributes, you can change the JSON key that the serializer should use for a particular association.

class PostSerializer < ActiveModel::Serializer
  attributes :id, :title, :body

  # look up comments, but use +my_comments+ as the key in JSON
  has_many :comments, :key => :my_comments
end

Also, as with attributes, serializers will check for the presence of a method named include_[ASSOCIATION]? to determine whether a particular association should be included in the output. For example:

class PostSerializer < ActiveModel::Serializer
  attributes :id, :title, :body
  has_many :comments

  def include_comments?
    !post.comments_disabled?
  end
end

If you would like lower-level control of association serialization, you can override include_associations! to specify which associations should be included:

class PostSerializer < ActiveModel::Serializer
  attributes :id, :title, :body
  has_one :author
  has_many :comments

  def include_associations!
    include! :author if scope.admin?
    include! :comments unless object.comments_disabled?
  end
end

You may also use the :serializer option to specify a custom serializer class and the :polymorphic option to specify an association that is polymorphic (STI), e.g.:

  has_many :comments, :serializer => CommentShortSerializer
  has_one :reviewer, :polymorphic => true

Embedding Associations

By default, associations will be embedded inside the serialized object. So if you have a post, the outputted JSON will look like:

{
  "post": {
    "id": 1,
    "title": "New post",
    "body": "A body!",
    "comments": [
      { "id": 1, "body": "what a dumb post" }
    ]
  }
}

This is convenient for simple use-cases, but for more complex clients, it is better to supply an Array of IDs for the association. This makes your API more flexible from a performance standpoint and avoids wasteful duplication.

To embed IDs instead of associations, simply use the embed class method:

class PostSerializer < ActiveModel::Serializer
  embed :ids

  attributes :id, :title, :body
  has_many :comments
end

Now, any associations will be supplied as an Array of IDs:

{
  "post": {
    "id": 1,
    "title": "New post",
    "body": "A body!",
    "comments": [ 1, 2, 3 ]
  }
}

Alternatively, you can choose to embed only the ids or the associated objects per association:

class PostSerializer < ActiveModel::Serializer
  attributes :id, :title, :body

  has_many :comments, embed: :objects
  has_many :tags, embed: :ids
end

The JSON will look like this:

{
  "post": {
    "id": 1,
    "title": "New post",
    "body": "A body!",
    "comments": [
      { "id": 1, "body": "what a dumb post" }
    ],
    "tags": [ 1, 2, 3 ]
  }
}

In addition to supplying an Array of IDs, you may want to side-load the data alongside the main object. This makes it easier to process the entire package of data without having to recursively scan the tree looking for embedded information. It also ensures that associations that are shared between several objects (like tags), are only delivered once for the entire payload.

You can specify that the data be included like this:

class PostSerializer < ActiveModel::Serializer
  embed :ids, :include => true

  attributes :id, :title, :body
  has_many :comments
end

Assuming that the comments also has_many :tags, you will get a JSON like this:

{
  "post": {
    "id": 1,
    "title": "New post",
    "body": "A body!",
    "comments": [ 1, 2 ]
  },
  "comments": [
    { "id": 1, "body": "what a dumb post", "tags": [ 1, 2 ] },
    { "id": 2, "body": "i liked it", "tags": [ 1, 3 ] },
  ],
  "tags": [
    { "id": 1, "name": "short" },
    { "id": 2, "name": "whiny" },
    { "id": 3, "name": "happy" }
  ]
}

You can also specify a different root for the embedded objects than the key used to reference them:

class PostSerializer < ActiveModel::Serializer
  embed :ids, :include => true

  attributes :id, :title, :body
  has_many :comments, :key => :comment_ids, :root => :comment_objects
end

This would generate JSON that would look like this:

{
  "post": {
    "id": 1,
    "title": "New post",
    "body": "A body!",
    "comment_ids": [ 1 ]
  },
  "comment_objects": [
    { "id": 1, "body": "what a dumb post" }
  ]
}

NOTE: The embed :ids mechanism is primary useful for clients that process data in bulk and load it into a local store. For these clients, the ability to easily see all of the data per type, rather than having to recursively scan the data looking for information, is extremely useful.

If you are mostly working with the data in simple scenarios and manually making Ajax requests, you probably just want to use the default embedded behavior.

Customizing Scope

In a serializer, scope is the current authorization scope which the controller provides to the serializer when you call render :json. By default, this is current_user, but can be customized in your controller by calling serialization_scope:

class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base
  serialization_scope :current_admin
end
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