Allows support for polymorphic has_many :through relations with ActiveRecord
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Polymorph provides a dead simple interface for providing some limited functionality for polymorphic has_many :through relations. Why would we use this?

Say we have a schema like this:

class Discussion
  has_many :comments

class Comment
  belongs_to :discussion
  belongs_to :participant, polymorphic: true

class User
  belongs_to :comment, as: :participant

class Robot
  belongs_to :comment, as: :participant

Sure would be cool here to call discussion.participants, and get back an ActiveRecord::Relation that we could play with, which had both Users and Robots in it. But, if we try this in rails:

ActiveRecord::HasManyThroughAssociationPolymorphicSourceError: Cannot have a has_many :through association


But with Polymorph, we can write a line of code like this:

polymorph :participants, through: :comments, source_types: [:users, :robots], fields: [:id, :name]

And get a polymorphic ActiveRecord::Relation back:

#<ActiveRecord::AssociationRelation [
  #<User  id: 1, name: "Fry">,
  #<User  id: 2, name: "Leela">,
  #<Robot id: 1, name: "Bender">

This means we can do some quite cool things we weren't able to before, like:

# get the names of all participants
# count the number of participants
# notify all discussion participants!)
# or generally any other nice duck-typed OO operations you'd care to name
discussion.participants.each { |p| DiscussionMailer.announce(p) if p.wants_emails? }


Add this line to your application's Gemfile:

gem 'activerecord-polymorph'

And then execute:

$ bundle

Or install it yourself as:

$ gem install polymorph


Polymorph does one thing and one thing only, and that is define the polymorph method on ActiveRecord::Base.

Available options:

  • through: (required) The name of the relation you'd like to construct
  • source_types: (required) A list of classes that could be returned by this polymorphic relationship
  • fields: (optional, default: [:id]) A list of fields the polymorphic classes have in common (these are also the fields which you can do 'where' queries on)
  • through_class: (optional) The name of the class the relationship reaches through. Is inferred by through by default.
  • source_column: (optional) The name of the polymorphic association columns (ie, this is the 'participant' in participant_type and participant_id). Inferred from the relation name by default.

So, as a default, we could write

polymorph :participants, through: :comments, source_types: [:users, :robots]

Which would work perfectly if we're reaching for Users and Robots through Comments, and Users and Robots don't share any field names.

If Users and Robots share a 'name' field, we write:

polymorph :participants, through: :comments, source_types: [:users, :robots], fields: [:id, :name]

If we want to call these 'participants', but our database columns are already set to 'commenter_id' and 'commenter_type', we can invoke the source_column method:

polymorph :participants, through: :comments, source_types: [:users, :robots], source_column: :commenter

If the ruby class cannot be inferred by the 'through' option, we can point it to the right place with through_class:

polymorph :participants, through: :comments, source_types: [:users, :robots], through_class: Comments::Base

NB that this relation has somewhat limited support for further querying! Currently, we support count, pluck, and simple where clauses on common keys:

discussion.participants.count # => 3
discussion.participants.pluck(:name) # => ["Fry, Leela", "Bender"]
discussion.participants.where(name: "Bender") # => #<ActiveRecord::Relation [ #<Robot id: 1, name: "Bender" ]>

Using additional things like joins or where clauses for columns that aren't shared by the source tables will probably end in pain. I am open to extending this in the future, but it works for what I need it for for now. :D

I built this so that I could use it in Loomio. Please use it if you think it's helpful; and I'm happy to hear about any troubles you come across.


To install this gem onto your local machine, run bundle exec rake install. To release a new version, update the version number in version.rb, and then run bundle exec rake release, which will create a git tag for the version, push git commits and tags, and push the .gem file to


Bug reports and pull requests are welcome on GitHub at This project is intended to be a safe, welcoming space for collaboration, and contributors are expected to adhere to the Contributor Covenant code of conduct.


The gem is available as open source under the terms of the MIT License.