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Awesome Nested Fields

In Rails, you can create forms that have fields from nested models. For example, if a person has many phone numbers, you can easily create a form that receives data from the person and from a fixed number of phones. However, when you want to allow the person to insert multiple, indefinite phones, you're in trouble: it's much harder than it should be. Well, not anymore.


  1. Add the gem to your Gemfile.

    gem 'awesome_nested_fields'
  2. Run bundler to make sure the gem gets installed.

    bundle install
  3. Include the jquery.nested-fields.js file in your template (or in the pages that will use nested fields).

    <script src="/javascripts/jquery.nested-fields.js" type="text/javascript"></script>

Now you're ready to rock with nested models. Don't forget to include the javascript file after you've included jQuery. And don't worry because this file isn't on the public folder: it comes bundled into the gem.

Basic Usage


First, make sure the object that has the has_many or has_and_belongs_to_many relation accepts nested attributes for the collection you want. For example, if a person has_many phones, we'll have a model like this:

    class Person < ActiveRecord::Base
      has_many :phones
      accepts_nested_attributes_for :phones, allow_destroy: true

The accepts_nested_attributes_for is a method from Active Record that allows you to pass attributes of nested models directly to its parent, instead of instantiate each child object separately. In this case, Person gains a method called phones_attributes=, that accepts data for new and existing phones of a given person. The allow_destroy option enables us to also delete child objects. To know more about nested attributes, check out the ActiveRecord::NestedAttribute class.


The next step is set up the form view using the nested_fields helper method. It receives three parameters: the parent form builder, the association name and an optional hash of options (humm, a pun). Proceeding with the person/phones example, we can have a form like this:

    <%= form_for(@person) do |f| %>
      <% # person fields... %>

      <div class="container">
        <%= nested_fields(f, :phones) %>
      <a href="#" class="add">add phone</a>

      <% # more person fields... %>
    <% end %>

The nested_fields helper lists the phones this person has and also adds an empty template to the page for creating new phones. But where is the phone form? Well, awesome_nested_fields expects a partial with the association name in the singular (after all, the partial represents a single child object). In this case, it looks for the partial phone (we can change this name later). So, in the file _phone.html.erb, we can have:

    <fieldset class="item">
      <%= f.label :where %>
      <%= f.text_field :where %><br/>

      <%= f.label :number %>
      <%= f.text_field :number %>

      <a href="#" class="remove">remove</a>

      <%= f.hidden_field :id %>
      <%= f.hidden_field :_destroy %>

If you're paying attention, you noticed the key elements are marked with a special class name. We need this for the javascript code, so it knows what to do with each HTML element: the one that have the children must have the class container; each child must be marked with the class item; inside an item, the link for removal must have the class remove; and the link to add new items must have the class add. We can change the names later, but these are the default choices. Finally, don't forget to add the id field, as it is needed by AR to identify if this is an existing or a new element, and the _destroy field to activate deletion when the user clicks on the remove link.


This is the easiest part: just activate the nested fields actions when the page loads. We can put this in the application.js file (or in any other place that gets executed in the page):

    $(document).ready(function(e) {

Now enjoy your new nested model form!


awesome_nested_fields works only with Rails 3 and was tested with jQuery 1.5.0.


  • Write tests
  • Write awesome demos
  • Make sure it can degrade gracefully
  • Return and API object on JS to make interaction easier
  • Port JavaScript code to CoffeeScript


Copyleft (c) 2011 Lailson Bandeira ( See LICENSE for details.

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