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= Active Record -- Object-relation mapping put on rails
Active Record connects business objects and database tables to create a persistable
domain model where logic and data are presented in one wrapping. It's an implementation
of the object-relational mapping (ORM) pattern[]
by the same name as described by Martin Fowler:
"An object that wraps a row in a database table or view, encapsulates
the database access, and adds domain logic on that data."
Active Record's main contribution to the pattern is to relieve the original of two stunting problems:
lack of associations and inheritance. By adding a simple domain language-like set of macros to describe
the former and integrating the Single Table Inheritance pattern for the latter, Active Record narrows the
gap of functionality between the data mapper and active record approach.
A short rundown of the major features:
* Automated mapping between classes and tables, attributes and columns.
class Product < ActiveRecord::Base; end automatically mapped to the table named "products", such as:
CREATE TABLE products (
id int(11) NOT NULL auto_increment,
name varchar(255),
...which again gives Product#name and Product#name=(new_name)
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActiveRecord/Base.html]
* Associations between objects controlled by simple meta-programming macros.
class Firm < ActiveRecord::Base
has_many :clients
has_one :account
belongs_to :conglomorate
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActiveRecord/Associations/ClassMethods.html]
* Aggregations of value objects controlled by simple meta-programming macros.
class Account < ActiveRecord::Base
composed_of :balance, :class_name => "Money",
:mapping => %w(balance amount)
composed_of :address,
:mapping => [%w(address_street street), %w(address_city city)]
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActiveRecord/Aggregations/ClassMethods.html]
* Validation rules that can differ for new or existing objects.
class Account < ActiveRecord::Base
validates_presence_of :subdomain, :name, :email_address, :password
validates_uniqueness_of :subdomain
validates_acceptance_of :terms_of_service, :on => :create
validates_confirmation_of :password, :email_address, :on => :create
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActiveRecord/Validations.html]
* Callbacks as methods or queues on the entire lifecycle (instantiation, saving, destroying, validating, etc).
class Person < ActiveRecord::Base
def before_destroy # is called just before Person#destroy
class Account < ActiveRecord::Base
after_find :eager_load, 'self.class.announce(#{id})'
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActiveRecord/Callbacks.html]
* Observers for the entire lifecycle
class CommentObserver < ActiveRecord::Observer
def after_create(comment) # is called just after Comment#save
Notifications.deliver_new_comment("", comment)
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActiveRecord/Observer.html]
* Inheritance hierarchies
class Company < ActiveRecord::Base; end
class Firm < Company; end
class Client < Company; end
class PriorityClient < Client; end
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActiveRecord/Base.html]
* Transactions
# Database transaction
Account.transaction do
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActiveRecord/Transactions/ClassMethods.html]
* Reflections on columns, associations, and aggregations
reflection = Firm.reflect_on_association(:clients)
reflection.klass # => Client (class)
Firm.columns # Returns an array of column descriptors for the firms table
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActiveRecord/Reflection/ClassMethods.html]
* Direct manipulation (instead of service invocation)
So instead of (Hibernate[] example):
long pkId = 1234;
DomesticCat pk = (DomesticCat) sess.load( Cat.class, new Long(pkId) );
// something interesting involving a cat...;
sess.flush(); // force the SQL INSERT
Active Record lets you:
pkId = 1234
cat = Cat.find(pkId)
# something even more interesting involving the same cat...
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActiveRecord/Base.html]
* Database abstraction through simple adapters (~100 lines) with a shared connector
ActiveRecord::Base.establish_connection(:adapter => "sqlite", :database => "dbfile")
:adapter => "mysql",
:host => "localhost",
:username => "me",
:password => "secret",
:database => "activerecord"
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActiveRecord/Base.html#M000081] and read about the built-in support for
MySQL[link:classes/ActiveRecord/ConnectionAdapters/MysqlAdapter.html], PostgreSQL[link:classes/ActiveRecord/ConnectionAdapters/PostgreSQLAdapter.html], SQLite[link:classes/ActiveRecord/ConnectionAdapters/SQLiteAdapter.html], Oracle[link:classes/ActiveRecord/ConnectionAdapters/OracleAdapter.html], SQLServer[link:classes/ActiveRecord/ConnectionAdapters/SQLServerAdapter.html], and DB2[link:classes/ActiveRecord/ConnectionAdapters/DB2Adapter.html].
* Logging support for Log4r[] and Logger[]
ActiveRecord::Base.logger =
ActiveRecord::Base.logger ="Application Log")
* Database agnostic schema management with Migrations
class AddSystemSettings < ActiveRecord::Migration
def self.up
create_table :system_settings do |t|
t.string :name
t.string :label
t.text :value
t.string :type
t.integer :position
SystemSetting.create :name => "notice", :label => "Use notice?", :value => 1
def self.down
drop_table :system_settings
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActiveRecord/Migration.html]
== Simple example (1/2): Defining tables and classes (using MySQL)
Data definitions are specified only in the database. Active Record queries the database for
the column names (that then serves to determine which attributes are valid) on regular
object instantiation through the new constructor and relies on the column names in the rows
with the finders.
# CREATE TABLE companies (
# id int(11) unsigned NOT NULL auto_increment,
# client_of int(11),
# name varchar(255),
# type varchar(100),
# )
Active Record automatically links the "Company" object to the "companies" table
class Company < ActiveRecord::Base
has_many :people, :class_name => "Person"
class Firm < Company
has_many :clients
def people_with_all_clients
clients.inject([]) { |people, client| people + client.people }
The foreign_key is only necessary because we didn't use "firm_id" in the data definition
class Client < Company
belongs_to :firm, :foreign_key => "client_of"
# CREATE TABLE people (
# id int(11) unsigned NOT NULL auto_increment,
# name text,
# company_id text,
# )
Active Record will also automatically link the "Person" object to the "people" table
class Person < ActiveRecord::Base
belongs_to :company
== Simple example (2/2): Using the domain
Picking a database connection for all the Active Records
:adapter => "mysql",
:host => "localhost",
:username => "me",
:password => "secret",
:database => "activerecord"
Create some fixtures
firm ="name" => "Next Angle")
# SQL: INSERT INTO companies (name, type) VALUES("Next Angle", "Firm")
client ="name" => "37signals", "client_of" =>
# SQL: INSERT INTO companies (name, client_of, type) VALUES("37signals", 1, "Firm")
Lots of different finders
# SQL: SELECT * FROM companies WHERE id = 1
next_angle = Company.find(1)
# SQL: SELECT * FROM companies WHERE id = 1 AND type = 'Firm'
next_angle = Firm.find(1)
# SQL: SELECT * FROM companies WHERE id = 1 AND name = 'Next Angle'
next_angle = Company.find(:first, :conditions => "name = 'Next Angle'")
next_angle = Firm.find_by_sql("SELECT * FROM companies WHERE id = 1").first
The supertype, Company, will return subtype instances
Firm === next_angle
All the dynamic methods added by the has_many macro
next_angle.clients.empty? # true
next_angle.clients.size # total number of clients
all_clients = next_angle.clients
Constrained finds makes access security easier when ID comes from a web-app
# SQL: SELECT * FROM companies WHERE client_of = 1 AND type = 'Client' AND id = 2
thirty_seven_signals = next_angle.clients.find(2)
Bi-directional associations thanks to the "belongs_to" macro
thirty_seven_signals.firm.nil? # true
== Philosophy
Active Record attempts to provide a coherent wrapper as a solution for the inconvenience that is
object-relational mapping. The prime directive for this mapping has been to minimize
the amount of code needed to build a real-world domain model. This is made possible
by relying on a number of conventions that make it easy for Active Record to infer
complex relations and structures from a minimal amount of explicit direction.
Convention over Configuration:
* No XML-files!
* Lots of reflection and run-time extension
* Magic is not inherently a bad word
Admit the Database:
* Lets you drop down to SQL for odd cases and performance
* Doesn't attempt to duplicate or replace data definitions
== Download
The latest version of Active Record can be found at
Documentation can be found at
== Installation
The prefered method of installing Active Record is through its GEM file. You'll need to have
RubyGems[] installed for that, though. If you have,
then use:
% [sudo] gem install activerecord-1.10.0.gem
You can also install Active Record the old-fashioned way with the following command:
% [sudo] ruby install.rb
from its distribution directory.
== License
Active Record is released under the MIT license.
== Support
The Active Record homepage is You can find the Active Record
RubyForge page at And as Jim from Rake says:
Feel free to submit commits or feature requests. If you send a patch,
remember to update the corresponding unit tests. If fact, I prefer
new feature to be submitted in the form of new unit tests.
For other information, feel free to ask on the rubyonrails-talk
( mailing list.