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Easily and efficiently make your ActiveRecord models support hierarchies

README.md

Closure Tree

Closure_tree lets your ActiveRecord models act as nodes in a tree data structure

Common applications include modeling hierarchical data, like tags, page graphs in CMSes, and tracking user referrals.

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Substantially more efficient than ancestry and acts_as_tree, and even more awesome than awesome_nested_set, closure_tree has some great features:

See Bill Karwin's excellent Models for hierarchical data presentation for a description of different tree storage algorithms.

Table of Contents

Installation

Note that closure_tree only supports Rails 3.0 and later, and has test coverage for MySQL, PostgreSQL, and SQLite.

  1. Add this to your Gemfile: gem 'closure_tree'

  2. Run bundle install

  3. Add acts_as_tree to your hierarchical model(s). Make sure you add acts_as_tree *after any attr_accessible and self.table_name = lines in your model. Please review the available options you can provide.

  4. Add a migration to add a parent_id column to the model you want to act_as_tree. You may want to also add a column for deterministic ordering of children, but that's optional.

    class AddParentIdToTag < ActiveRecord::Migration
      def change
        add_column :tag, :parent_id, :integer
      end
    end
    

    Note that if the column is null, the tag will be considered a root node.

  5. Add a database migration to store the hierarchy for your model. By default the table name will be the model's table name, followed by "hierarchies". Note that by calling ```actsas_tree, a "virtual model" (in this case,TagHierarchy```) will be added automatically, so you don't need to create it.

    class CreateTagHierarchies < ActiveRecord::Migration
      def change
        create_table :tag_hierarchies, :id => false do |t|
          t.integer  :ancestor_id, :null => false   # ID of the parent/grandparent/great-grandparent/... tag
          t.integer  :descendant_id, :null => false # ID of the target tag
          t.integer  :generations, :null => false   # Number of generations between the ancestor and the descendant. Parent/child = 1, for example.
        end
    
        # For "all progeny of…" and leaf selects:
        add_index :tag_hierarchies, [:ancestor_id, :descendant_id, :generations],
          :unique => true, :name => "tag_anc_desc_udx"
    
        # For "all ancestors of…" selects,
        add_index :tag_hierarchies, [:descendant_id],
          :name => "tag_desc_idx"
      end
    end
    
  6. Run rake db:migrate

  7. If you're migrating from another system where your model already has a parent_id column, run Tag.rebuild! and your tag_hierarchies table will be truncated and rebuilt.

    If you're starting from scratch you don't need to call rebuild!.

Usage

Creation

Create a root node:

grandparent = Tag.create(:name => 'Grandparent')

Child nodes are created by appending to the children collection:

parent = grandparent.children.create(:name => 'Parent')

Or by appending to the children collection:

child2 = Tag.new(:name => 'Second Child')
parent.children << child2

Or by calling the "add_child" method:

child3 = Tag.new(:name => 'Third Child')
parent.add_child child3

Then:

grandparent.self_and_descendants.collect(&:name)
=> ["Grandparent", "Parent", "First Child", "Second Child", "Third Child"]

child1.ancestry_path
=> ["Grandparent", "Parent", "First Child"]

find_or_create_by_path

We can do all the node creation and add_child calls with one method call:

child = Tag.find_or_create_by_path(["grandparent", "parent", "child"])

You can find as well as find_or_create by "ancestry paths". Ancestry paths may be built using any column in your model. The default column is name, which can be changed with the :name_column option provided to acts_as_tree.

Note that any other AR fields can be set with the second, optional attributes argument, and as of version 4.2.0, these attributes are added to the where clause as selection criteria.

child = Tag.find_or_create_by_path(%w{home chuck Photos"}, {:tag_type => "File"})

This will pass the attribute hash of {:name => "home", :tag_type => "File"} to Tag.find_or_create_by_name if the root directory doesn't exist (and {:name => "chuck", :tag_type => "File"} if the second-level tag doesn't exist, and so on).

Moving nodes around the tree

Nodes can be moved around to other parents, and closure_tree moves the node's descendancy to the new parent for you:

d = Tag.find_or_create_by_path %w(a b c d)
h = Tag.find_or_create_by_path %w(e f g h)
e = h.root
d.add_child(e) # "d.children << e" would work too, of course
h.ancestry_path
=> ["a", "b", "c", "d", "e", "f", "g", "h"]

Nested hashes

hash_tree provides a method for rendering a subtree as an ordered nested hash:

b = Tag.find_or_create_by_path %w(a b)
a = b.parent
b2 = Tag.find_or_create_by_path %w(a b2)
d1 = b.find_or_create_by_path %w(c1 d1)
c1 = d1.parent
d2 = b.find_or_create_by_path %w(c2 d2)
c2 = d2.parent

Tag.hash_tree
=> {a => {b => {c1 => {d1 => {}}, c2 => {d2 => {}}}, b2 => {}}}

Tag.hash_tree(:limit_depth => 2)
=> {a => {b => {}, b2 => {}}}

b.hash_tree
=> {b => {c1 => {d1 => {}}, c2 => {d2 => {}}}}

b.hash_tree(:limit_depth => 2)
=> {b => {c1 => {}, c2 => {}}}

If your tree is large (or might become so), use :limit_depth.

Without this option, hash_tree will load the entire contents of that table into RAM. Your server may not be happy trying to do this.

HT: ancestry and elhoyos

Graph visualization

to_dot_digraph is suitable for passing into Graphviz.

For example, for the above tree, write out the DOT file with ruby:

File.open("example.dot", "w") { |f| f.write(Tag.root.to_dot_digraph) }

Then, in a shell, dot -Tpng example.dot > example.png, which produces:

Example tree

If you want to customize the label value, override the #to_digraph_label instance method in your model.

Just for kicks, this is the test tree I used for proving that preordered tree traversal was correct:

Preordered test tree

Available options

When you include acts_as_tree in your model, you can provide a hash to override the following defaults:

  • :parent_column_name to override the column name of the parent foreign key in the model's table. This defaults to "parent_id".
  • :hierarchy_table_name to override the hierarchy class name. This defaults to the singular name of the model + "Hierarchy", like TagHierarchy.
  • :hierarchy_table_name to override the hierarchy table name. This defaults to the singular name of the model + "hierarchies", like ```taghierarchies```.
  • :dependent determines what happens when a node is destroyed. Defaults to nullify.
    • :nullify will simply set the parent column to null. Each child node will be considered a "root" node. This is the default.
    • :delete_all will delete all descendant nodes (which circumvents the destroy hooks)
    • :destroy will destroy all descendant nodes (which runs the destroy hooks on each child node)
  • :name_column used by #find_or_create_by_path, #find_by_path, and ancestry_path instance methods. This is primarily useful if the model only has one required field (like a "tag").
  • :order used to set up deterministic ordering

Accessing Data

Class methods

  • Tag.root returns an arbitrary root node
  • Tag.roots returns all root nodes
  • Tag.leaves returns all leaf nodes
  • Tag.hash_tree returns an ordered, nested hash that can be depth-limited.
  • Tag.find_by_path(path, attributes) returns the node whose name path is path. See (#find_or_create_by_path).
  • Tag.find_or_create_by_path(path, attributes) returns the node whose name path is path, and will create the node if it doesn't exist already.See (#find_or_create_by_path).
  • Tag.find_all_by_generation(generation_level) returns the descendant nodes who are generation_level away from a root. Tag.find_all_by_generation(0) is equivalent to Tag.roots.
  • Tag.with_ancestor(ancestors) scopes to all descendants whose ancestor is in the given list.

Instance methods

  • tag.root returns the root for this node
  • tag.root? returns true if this is a root node
  • tag.child? returns true if this is a child node. It has a parent.
  • tag.leaf? returns true if this is a leaf node. It has no children.
  • tag.leaves is scoped to all leaf nodes in self_and_descendants.
  • tag.depth returns the depth, or "generation", for this node in the tree. A root node will have a value of 0.
  • tag.parent returns the node's immediate parent. Root nodes will return nil.
  • tag.children is a has_many of immediate children (just those nodes whose parent is the current node).
  • tag.child_ids is an array of the IDs of the children.
  • tag.ancestors is a ordered scope of [ parent, grandparent, great grandparent, … ]. Note that the size of this array will always equal tag.depth.
  • tag.ancestor_ids is an array of the IDs of the ancestors.
  • tag.self_and_ancestors returns a scope containing self, parent, grandparent, great grandparent, etc.
  • tag.self_and_ancestors_ids returns IDs containing self, parent, grandparent, great grandparent, etc.
  • tag.siblings returns a scope containing all nodes with the same parent as tag, excluding self.
  • tag.sibling_ids returns an array of the IDs of the siblings.
  • tag.self_and_siblings returns a scope containing all nodes with the same parent as tag, including self.
  • tag.descendants returns a scope of all children, childrens' children, etc., excluding self ordered by depth.
  • tag.descendant_ids returns an array of the IDs of the descendants.
  • tag.self_and_descendants returns a scope of self, all children, childrens' children, etc., ordered by depth.
  • tag.self_and_descendant_ids returns IDs of self, all children, childrens' children, etc., ordered by depth.
  • tag.hash_tree returns an ordered, nested hash that can be depth-limited.
  • tag.find_by_path(path) returns the node whose name path from tag is path. See (#find_or_create_by_path).
  • tag.find_or_create_by_path(path) returns the node whose name path from tag is path, and will create the node if it doesn't exist already.See (#find_or_create_by_path).
  • tag.find_all_by_generation(generation_level) returns the descendant nodes who are generation_level away from tag.
    • tag.find_all_by_generation(0).to_a == [tag]
    • tag.find_all_by_generation(1) == tag.children
    • tag.find_all_by_generation(2) will return the tag's grandchildren, and so on.
  • tag.destroy will destroy a node and do something to its children, which is determined by the :dependent option passed to acts_as_tree.

Polymorphic hierarchies with STI

Polymorphic models using single table inheritance (STI) are supported:

  1. Create a db migration that adds a String type column to your model
  2. Subclass the model class. You only need to add acts_as_tree to your base class:
class Tag < ActiveRecord::Base
  acts_as_tree
end
class WhenTag < Tag ; end
class WhereTag < Tag ; end
class WhatTag < Tag ; end

Please note that Rails (<= 3.2) doesn't handle polymorphic associations correctly if you use the :type attribute, so this doesn't work:

# BAD: ActiveRecord ignores the :type attribute:
root.children.create(:name => "child", :type => "WhenTag")

Instead, use either .add_child or children <<:

# GOOD!
a = Tag.create!(:name => "a")
b = WhenTag.new(:name => "b")
a.children << b
c = WhatTag.new(:name => "c")
b.add_child(c)

See issue 43 for more information.

Deterministic ordering

By default, children will be ordered by your database engine, which may not be what you want.

If you want to order children alphabetically, and your model has a name column, you'd do this:

class Tag < ActiveRecord::Base
  acts_as_tree :order => 'name'
end

If you want a specific order, add a new integer column to your model in a migration:

t.integer :sort_order

and in your model:

class OrderedTag < ActiveRecord::Base
  acts_as_tree :order => 'sort_order'
end

When you enable order, you'll also have the following new methods injected into your model:

  • tag.siblings_before is a scope containing all nodes with the same parent as tag, whose sort order column is less than self. These will be ordered properly, so the last element in scope will be the sibling immediately before self
  • tag.siblings_after is a scope containing all nodes with the same parent as tag, whose sort order column is more than self. These will be ordered properly, so the first element in scope will be the sibling immediately "after" self

If your order column is an integer attribute, you'll also have these:

  • The class method #roots_and_descendants_preordered, which returns all nodes in your tree, pre-ordered.

  • node1.self_and_descendants_preordered which will return descendants, pre-ordered.

  • node1.prepend_sibling(node2) which will

    1. set node2 to the same parent as node1,
    2. set node2's order column to 1 less than node1's value, and
    3. decrement the order_column of all children of node1's parents whose order_column is <>>= node2's new value by 1.
  • node1.append_sibling(node2) which will

    1. set node2 to the same parent as node1,
    2. set node2's order column to 1 more than node1's value, and
    3. increment the order_column of all children of node1's parents whose order_column is >= node2's new value by 1.
root = OrderedTag.create(:name => "root")
a = OrderedTag.create(:name => "a", :parent => root)
b = OrderedTag.create(:name => "b")
c = OrderedTag.create(:name => "c")

# We have to call 'root.reload.children' because root won't be in sync with the database otherwise:

a.append_sibling(b)
root.reload.children.collect(&:name)
=> ["a", "b"]

a.prepend_sibling(b)
root.reload.children.collect(&:name)
=> ["b", "a"]

a.append_sibling(c)
root.reload.children.collect(&:name)
=> ["b", "a", "c"]

b.append_sibling(c)
root.reload.children.collect(&:name)
=> ["b", "c", "a"]

Concurrency

Several methods, especially #rebuild and #find_or_create_by_path, cannot run concurrently correctly. #find_or_create_by_path, for example, may create duplicate nodes.

Database row-level locks work correctly with PostgreSQL, but MySQL's row-level locking is broken, and erroneously reports deadlocks where there are none. To work around this, and have a consistent implementation for both MySQL and PostgreSQL, with_advisory_lock is used automatically to ensure correctness.

If you are already managing concurrency elsewhere in your application, and want to disable the use of with_advisory_lock, pass :with_advisory_lock => false in the options hash:

class Tag
  acts_as_tree :with_advisory_lock => false
end

Note that you will eventually have data corruption if you disable advisory locks, write to your database with multiple threads, and don't provide an alternative mutex.

FAQ

Does this gem support multiple parents?

No. This gem's API is based on the assumption that each node has either 0 or 1 parent.

The underlying closure tree structure will support multiple parents, but there would be many breaking-API changes to support it. I'm open to suggestions and pull requests.

How do I use this with test fixtures?

Test fixtures aren't going to be running your after_save hooks after inserting all your fixture data, so you need to call .rebuild! before your test runs. There's an example in the spec tag_spec.rb:

  describe "Tag with fixtures" do
    fixtures :tags
    before :each do
      Tag.rebuild! # <- required if you use fixtures
    end

However, if you're just starting with Rails, may I humbly suggest you adopt a factory library, rather than using fixtures? Lots of people have written about this already.

There are many lock-* files in my project directory after test runs

This is expected if you aren't using MySQL or Postgresql for your tests.

SQLite doesn't have advisory locks, so we resort to file locking, which will only work if the FLOCK_DIR is set consistently for all ruby processes.

In your spec_helper.rb or minitest_helper.rb, add a before and after block:

before do
  ENV['FLOCK_DIR'] = Dir.mktmpdir
end

after do
  FileUtils.remove_entry_secure ENV['FLOCK_DIR']
end

Testing

Closure tree is tested under every valid combination of

  • Ruby 1.9.3 and Ruby 2.0.0
  • The latest Rails 3.1, 3.2, 4.0, and 4.1 branches, and
  • MySQL and PostgreSQL. SQLite works in a single-threaded environment.

Assuming you're using rbenv, you can use tests.sh to run the test matrix locally.

Parallelism is not tested with Rails 3.1.x due to this known issue.

Change log

See https://github.com/mceachen/closure_tree/blob/master/CHANGELOG.md

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