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Enumerations Mixin

Copyright (c) 2005 Trevor Squires Released under the MIT License. See the LICENSE file for more details.

What is this?:

The enumerations mixin allows you to treat instances of your ActiveRecord models as though they were an enumeration of values.

This is a modernization for use as a gem on Rails 3 of the original plugin by Trevor Squires located at

At it's most basic level, it allows you to say things along the lines of:

booking = => BookingStatus[:provisional])
booking.update_attribute(:status, BookingStatus[:confirmed])

Booking.find :first,
             :conditions => ['status_id = ?', BookingStatus[:provisional].id]

BookingStatus.all.collect {|status|, [,]}

See "How to use it" below for more information.


Simply add the gem to your Gemfile

gem 'enumerations_mixin'

Gem Contents

This package adds two mixins and a helper to Rails' ActiveRecord:

acts_as_enumerated provides capabilities to treat your model and its records as an enumeration. At a minimum, the database table for an acts_as_enumerated must contain an 'id' column and a 'name' column. All instances for the acts_as_enumerated model are cached in memory.

has_enumerated adds methods to your ActiveRecord model for setting and retrieving enumerated values using an associated acts_as_enumerated model.

There is also an ActiveRecord::VirtualEnumerations helper module to create 'virtual' acts_as_enumerated models which helps to avoid cluttering up your models directory with acts_as_enumerated classes.

How to use it


class BookingStatus < ActiveRecord::Base
  acts_as_enumerated  :conditions => 'optional_sql_conditions',
    :order => 'optional_sql_orderby',
    :on_lookup_failure => :optional_class_method

With that, your BookingStatus class will have the following methods defined:


Lookup the BookingStatus instance for arg. The arg value can be a 'string' or a :symbol, in which case the lookup will be against the field. Alternatively arg can be a Fixnum, in which case the lookup will be against the field.

The :on_lookup_failure option specifies the name of a class method to invoke when the [] method is unable to locate a BookingStatus record for arg. The default is the built-in :enforce_strict_literals which causes an exception to be raised when no record is found and the arg is a Fixnum or Symbol, otherwise it returns nil. There are also built-ins for :enforce_strict (raise and exception regardless of the type for arg) and :enforce_none which just returns nil.

The whole point of the :on_lookup_failure option is that I'm pretty opinionated that a) if the value can't be looked-up for a :symbol that I've passed, it's probably a typo so I want a big hint that something is wrong and b) it's likely that my opinion isn't shared by everyone so it should be configurable.


Returns an array of all BookingStatus records that match the :conditions specified in acts_as_enumerated, in the order specified by :order.

NOTE: acts_as_enumerated records are considered immutable. By default you cannot create/alter/destroy instances because they are cached in memory. Because of Rails' process-based model it is not safe to allow updating acts_as_enumerated records as the caches will get out of sync.

However, one instance where updating the models should be allowed is if you are using ActiveRecord Migrations.

Using the above example you would do the following:

BookingStatus.enumeration_model_updates_permitted = true
BookingStatus.create(:name => 'newname')


First of all, note that you could specify the relationship to an acts_as_enumerated class using the belongs_to association. However, has_enumerated is preferable because you aren't really associated to the enumerated value, you are aggregating it. As such, the has_enumerated macro behaves more like an aggregation than an association.

class Booking < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_enumerated  :status, :class_name => 'BookingStatus',
    :foreign_key => 'status_id',
    :on_lookup_failure => :optional_instance_method

By default, the foreign key is interpreted to be the name of your has_enumerated field (in this case 'status') plus '_id'. Additionally, the default value for :class_name is the camel-ized version of the name for your has_enumerated field. :on_lookup_failure is explained below.

With that, your Booking class will have the following methods defined:


Returns the BookingStatus with an id that matches the value in the Booking.status_id.


Sets the value for Booking.status_id using the id of the BookingStatus instance passed as an argument. As a short-hand, you can also pass it the 'name' of a BookingStatus instance, either as a 'string' or :symbol.


mybooking.status = :confirmed or mybooking.update_attribute(:status, :confirmed)

The :on_lookup_failure option in has_enumerated is there because (again) I'm opinionated about what should happen. By default, if booking.status_id contains an id that isn't a valid I just want booking.status to return nil rather than throw an exception. This ensures I can edit my Booking instances without having to put rescue blocks around all my booking.status calls. However, if I call booking.status = :bogus I want noisy hints about the bug.

Of course, you may not agree with that in which case you can specify an instance method to be called in the case of a lookup failure. The method signature is as follows:

your_lookup_handler(operation, name, name_foreign_key, acts_enumerated_class_name, lookup_value)

The 'operation' arg will be either :read or :write. In the case of :read you are expected to return something or raise an exception, while in the case of a :write you don't have to return anything.

Note that there's enough information in the method signature that you can specify one method to handle all lookup failures for all has_enumerated fields if you happen to have more than one defined in your model.


For the most part, your acts_as_enumerated classes will do nothing more than just act as enumerated.

In that case there isn't much point cluttering up your models directory with those class files. You can use ActiveRecord::VirtualEnumerations to reduce that clutter.

Copy virtual_enumerations_sample.rb to Rails.root/config/initializers/virtual_enumerations.rb and configure it accordingly.

See virtual_enumerations_sample.rb in the examples directory of this gem for a full description.