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= Action Pack -- On rails from request to response
Action Pack splits the response to a web request into a controller part
(performing the logic) and a view part (rendering a template). This two-step
approach is known as an action, which will normally create, read, update, or
delete (CRUD for short) some sort of model part (often backed by a database)
before choosing either to render a template or redirecting to another action.
Action Pack implements these actions as public methods on Action Controllers
and uses Action Views to implement the template rendering. Action Controllers
are then responsible for handling all the actions relating to a certain part
of an application. This grouping usually consists of actions for lists and for
CRUDs revolving around a single (or a few) model objects. So ContactController
would be responsible for listing contacts, creating, deleting, and updating
contacts. A WeblogController could be responsible for both posts and comments.
Action View templates are written using embedded Ruby in tags mingled in with
the HTML. To avoid cluttering the templates with code, a bunch of helper
classes provide common behavior for forms, dates, and strings. And it's easy
to add specific helpers to keep the separation as the application evolves.
Note: Some of the features, such as scaffolding and form building, are tied to
ActiveRecord[] (an object-relational
mapping package), but that doesn't mean that Action Pack depends on Active
Record. Action Pack is an independent package that can be used with any sort
of backend (Instiki[], which is based on an older version
of Action Pack, used Madeleine for example). Read more about the role Action
Pack can play when used together with Active Record on
A short rundown of the major features:
* Actions grouped in controller as methods instead of separate command objects
and can therefore share helper methods.
BlogController < ActionController::Base
def show
@customer = find_customer
def update
@customer = find_customer
@customer.attributes = params[:customer] ?
redirect_to(:action => "display") :
render(:action => "edit")
def find_customer() Customer.find(params[:id]) end
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionController/Base.html]
* Embedded Ruby for templates (no new "easy" template language)
<% for post in @posts %>
Title: <%= post.title %>
<% end %>
All post titles: <%= @post.collect{ |p| p.title }.join ", " %>
<% unless @person.is_client? %>
Not for clients to see...
<% end %>
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionView.html]
* Builder-based templates (great for XML content, like RSS)
xml.rss("version" => "2.0") do do
xml.description "Basecamp: Recent items"
xml.language "en-us"
xml.ttl "40"
for item in @recent_items
xml.item do
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionView/Base.html]
* Filters for pre and post processing of the response (as methods, procs, and classes)
class WeblogController < ActionController::Base
before_filter :authenticate, :cache, :audit
after_filter { |c| c.response.body = Gzip::compress(c.response.body) }
after_filter LocalizeFilter
def index
# Before this action is run, the user will be authenticated, the cache
# will be examined to see if a valid copy of the results already
# exists, and the action will be logged for auditing.
# After this action has run, the output will first be localized then
# compressed to minimize bandwidth usage
def authenticate
# Implement the filter with full access to both request and response
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionController/Filters/ClassMethods.html]
* Helpers for forms, dates, action links, and text
<%= text_field "post", "title", "size" => 30 %>
<%= html_date_select( %>
<%= link_to "New post", :controller => "post", :action => "new" %>
<%= truncate(post.title, 25) %>
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionView/Helpers.html]
* Layout sharing for template reuse (think simple version of Struts
class WeblogController < ActionController::Base
layout "weblog_layout"
def hello_world
Layout file (called weblog_layout):
<html><body><%= yield %></body></html>
Template for hello_world action:
<h1>Hello world</h1>
Result of running hello_world action:
<html><body><h1>Hello world</h1></body></html>
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionController/Layout/ClassMethods.html]
* Routing makes pretty urls incredibly easy
map.connect 'clients/:client_name/:project_name/:controller/:action'
Accessing /clients/37signals/basecamp/project/dash calls ProjectController#dash with
{ "client_name" => "37signals", "project_name" => "basecamp" } in params[:params]
From that URL, you can rewrite the redirect in a number of ways:
redirect_to(:action => "edit") =>
redirect_to(:client_name => "nextangle", :project_name => "rails") =>
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionController/Base.html]
* Javascript and Ajax integration.
link_to_function "Greeting", "alert('Hello world!')"
link_to_remote "Delete this post", :update => "posts",
:url => { :action => "destroy", :id => }
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionView/Helpers/JavaScriptHelper.html]
* Pagination for navigating lists of results.
# controller
def list
@pages, @people =
paginate :people, :order => 'last_name, first_name'
# view
<%= link_to "Previous page", { :page => @pages.current.previous } if @pages.current.previous %>
<%= link_to "Next page", { :page => } if %>
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionController/Pagination.html]
* Easy testing of both controller and template result through TestRequest/Response
class LoginControllerTest < Test::Unit::TestCase
def setup
@controller =
@request =
@response =
def test_failing_authenticate
process :authenticate, :user_name => "nop", :password => ""
assert flash.has_key?(:alert)
assert_redirected_to :action => "index"
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionController/TestRequest.html]
* Automated benchmarking and integrated logging
Processing WeblogController#index (for at Fri May 28 00:41:55)
Parameters: {"action"=>"index", "controller"=>"weblog"}
Rendering weblog/index (200 OK)
Completed in 0.029281 (34 reqs/sec)
If Active Record is used as the model, you'll have the database debugging
as well:
Processing WeblogController#create (for at Sat Jun 19 14:04:23)
Params: {"controller"=>"weblog", "action"=>"create",
"post"=>{"title"=>"this is good"} }
SQL (0.000627) INSERT INTO posts (title) VALUES('this is good')
Redirected to http://test/weblog/display/5
Completed in 0.221764 (4 reqs/sec) | DB: 0.059920 (27%)
You specify a logger through a class method, such as:
ActionController::Base.logger ="Application Log")
ActionController::Base.logger ="Application Log")
* Caching at three levels of granularity (page, action, fragment)
class WeblogController < ActionController::Base
caches_page :show
caches_action :account
def show
# the output of the method will be cached as
# ActionController::Base.page_cache_directory + "/weblog/show/n.html"
# and the web server will pick it up without even hitting Rails
def account
# the output of the method will be cached in the fragment store
# but Rails is hit to retrieve it, so filters are run
def update
List.update(params[:list][:id], params[:list])
expire_page :action => "show", :id => params[:list][:id]
expire_action :action => "account"
redirect_to :action => "show", :id => params[:list][:id]
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionController/Caching.html]
* Component requests from one controller to another
class WeblogController < ActionController::Base
# Performs a method and then lets hello_world output its render
def delegate_action
render_component :controller => "greeter", :action => "hello_world"
class GreeterController < ActionController::Base
def hello_world
render_text "Hello World!"
The same can be done in a view to do a partial rendering:
Let's see a greeting:
<%= render_component :controller => "greeter", :action => "hello_world" %>
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionController/Components.html]
* Powerful debugging mechanism for local requests
All exceptions raised on actions performed on the request of a local user
will be presented with a tailored debugging screen that includes exception
message, stack trace, request parameters, session contents, and the
half-finished response.
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionController/Rescue.html]
* Scaffolding for Active Record model objects
class AccountController < ActionController::Base
scaffold :account
The AccountController now has the full CRUD range of actions and default
templates: list, show, destroy, new, create, edit, update
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionController/Scaffolding/ClassMethods.html]
* Form building for Active Record model objects
The post object has a title (varchar), content (text), and
written_on (date)
<%= form "post" %>
...will generate something like (the selects will have more options, of
<form action="create" method="POST">
<input type="text" name="post[title]" value="<%= @post.title %>" />
<textarea name="post[content]"><%= @post.title %></textarea>
<b>Written on:</b><br/>
<select name='post[written_on(3i)]'><option>18</option></select>
<select name='post[written_on(2i)]'><option value='7'>July</option></select>
<select name='post[written_on(1i)]'><option>2004</option></select>
<input type="submit" value="Create">
This form generates a params[:post] array that can be used directly in a save action:
class WeblogController < ActionController::Base
def create
post = Post.create(params[:post])
redirect_to :action => "display", :id =>
{Learn more}[link:classes/ActionView/Helpers/ActiveRecordHelper.html]
* Runs on top of WEBrick, Mongrel, CGI, FCGI, and mod_ruby
== Simple example (from outside of Rails)
This example will implement a simple weblog system using inline templates and
an Active Record model. So let's build that WeblogController with just a few
require 'action_controller'
require 'post'
class WeblogController < ActionController::Base
layout "weblog/layout"
def index
@posts = Post.find(:all)
def display
@post = Post.find(params[:id])
def new
@post =
def create
@post = Post.create(params[:post])
redirect_to :action => "display", :id =>
WeblogController::Base.view_paths = [ File.dirname(__FILE__) ]
WeblogController.process_cgi if $0 == __FILE__
The last two lines are responsible for telling ActionController where the
template files are located and actually running the controller on a new
request from the web-server (like to be Apache).
And the templates look like this:
<%= yield %>
<% for post in @posts %>
<p><%= link_to(post.title, :action => "display", :id => %></p>
<% end %>
<b><%= post.title %></b><br/>
<b><%= post.content %></b>
<%= form "post" %>
This simple setup will list all the posts in the system on the index page,
which is called by accessing /weblog/. It uses the form builder for the Active
Record model to make the new screen, which in turn hands everything over to
the create action (that's the default target for the form builder when given a
new model). After creating the post, it'll redirect to the display page using
an URL such as /weblog/display/5 (where 5 is the id of the post).
== Examples
Action Pack ships with three examples that all demonstrate an increasingly
detailed view of the possibilities. First is blog_controller that is just a
single file for the whole MVC (but still split into separate parts). Second is
the debate_controller that uses separate template files and multiple screens.
Third is the address_book_controller that uses the layout feature to separate
template casing from content.
Please note that you might need to change the "shebang" line to
#!/usr/local/env ruby, if your Ruby is not placed in /usr/local/bin/ruby
Also note that these examples are all for demonstrating using Action Pack on
its own. Not for when it's used inside of Rails.
== Download
The latest version of Action Pack can be found at
Documentation can be found at
== Installation
You can install Action Pack with the following command.
% [sudo] ruby install.rb
from its distribution directory.
== License
Action Pack is released under the MIT license.
== Support
The Action Pack homepage is You can find
the Action Pack 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.
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