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Getting Started with Rails

This guide covers getting up and running with Ruby on Rails. After reading it,
you should be familiar with:

  • Installing Rails, creating a new Rails application, and connecting your application to a database
  • The general layout of a Rails application
  • The basic principles of MVC (Model, View Controller) and RESTful design
  • How to quickly generate the starting pieces of a Rails application


WARNING. This Guide is based on Rails 3.1. Some of the code shown here will not
work in earlier versions of Rails.

Guide Assumptions

This guide is designed for beginners who want to get started with a Rails
application from scratch. It does not assume that you have any prior experience
with Rails. However, to get the most out of it, you need to have some
prerequisites installed:

  • The Ruby language version 1.8.7 or higher

TIP: Note that Ruby 1.8.7 p248 and p249 have marshaling bugs that crash Rails
3.0. Ruby Enterprise Edition have these fixed since release 1.8.7-2010.02
though. On the 1.9 front, Ruby 1.9.1 is not usable because it outright segfaults
on Rails 3.0, so if you want to use Rails 3 with 1.9.x jump on 1.9.2 for smooth

Rails is a web application framework running on the Ruby programming language.
If you have no prior experience with Ruby, you will find a very steep learning
curve diving straight into Rails. There are some good free resources on the
internet for learning Ruby, including:

What is Rails?

Rails is a web application development framework written in the Ruby language.
It is designed to make programming web applications easier by making assumptions
about what every developer needs to get started. It allows you to write less
code while accomplishing more than many other languages and frameworks.
Experienced Rails developers also report that it makes web application
development more fun.

Rails is opinionated software. It makes the assumption that there is a “best”
way to do things, and it’s designed to encourage that way – and in some cases to
discourage alternatives. If you learn “The Rails Way” you’ll probably discover a
tremendous increase in productivity. If you persist in bringing old habits from
other languages to your Rails development, and trying to use patterns you
learned elsewhere, you may have a less happy experience.

The Rails philosophy includes several guiding principles:

  • DRY – “Don’t Repeat Yourself” – suggests that writing the same code over and over again is a bad thing.
  • Convention Over Configuration – means that Rails makes assumptions about what you want to do and how you’re going to
    d o it, rather than requiring you to specify every little thing through endless configuration files.
  • REST is the best pattern for web applications – organizing your application around resources and standard HTTP verbs
    i s the fastest way to go.

The MVC Architecture

At the core of Rails is the Model, View, Controller architecture, usually just
called MVC. MVC benefits include:

  • Isolation of business logic from the user interface
  • Ease of keeping code DRY
  • Making it clear where different types of code belong for easier maintenance

A model represents the information (data) of the application and the rules to
manipulate that data. In the case of Rails, models are primarily used for
managing the rules of interaction with a corresponding database table. In most
cases, each table in your database will correspond to one model in your
application. The bulk of your application’s business logic will be concentrated
in the models.


Views represent the user interface of your application. In Rails, views are
often HTML files with embedded Ruby code that perform tasks related solely to
the presentation of the data. Views handle the job of providing data to the web
browser or other tool that is used to make requests from your application.


Controllers provide the “glue” between models and views. In Rails, controllers
are responsible for processing the incoming requests from the web browser,
interrogating the models for data, and passing that data on to the views for

The Components of Rails

Rails ships as many individual components. Each of these components are briefly
explained below. If you are new to Rails, as you read this section, don’t get
hung up on the details of each component, as they will be explained in further
detail later. For instance, we will bring up Rack applications, but you don’t
need to know anything about them to continue with this guide.

  • Action Pack
    • Action Controller
    • Action Dispatch
    • Action View
  • Action Mailer
  • Active Model
  • Active Record
  • Active Resource
  • Active Support
  • Railties
Action Pack

Action Pack is a single gem that contains Action Controller, Action View and
Action Dispatch. The “VC” part of “MVC”.

Action Controller

Action Controller is the component that manages the controllers in a Rails
application. The Action Controller framework processes incoming requests to a
Rails application, extracts parameters, and dispatches them to the intended
action. Services provided by Action Controller include session management,
template rendering, and redirect management.

Action View

Action View manages the views of your Rails application. It can create both HTML
and XML output by default. Action View manages rendering templates, including
nested and partial templates, and includes built-in AJAX support. View
templates are covered in more detail in another guide called Layouts and

Action Dispatch

Action Dispatch handles routing of web requests and dispatches them as you want,
either to your application or any other Rack application. Rack applications are
a more advanced topic and are covered in a separate guide called Rails on

Action Mailer

Action Mailer is a framework for building e-mail services. You can use Action
Mailer to receive and process incoming email and send simple plain text or
complex multipart emails based on flexible templates.

Active Model

Active Model provides a defined interface between the Action Pack gem services
and Object Relationship Mapping gems such as Active Record. Active Model allows
Rails to utilize other ORM frameworks in place of Active Record if your
application needs this.

Active Record

Active Record is the base for the models in a Rails application. It provides
database independence, basic CRUD functionality, advanced finding capabilities,
and the ability to relate models to one another, among other services.

Active Resource

Active Resource provides a framework for managing the connection between
business objects and RESTful web services. It implements a way to map web-based
resources to local objects with CRUD semantics.

Active Support

Active Support is an extensive collection of utility classes and standard Ruby
library extensions that are used in Rails, both by the core code and by your


Railties is the core Rails code that builds new Rails applications and glues the
various frameworks and plugins together in any Rails application.


Rest stands for Representational State Transfer and is the foundation of the
RESTful architecture. This is generally considered to be Roy Fielding’s doctoral
thesis, Architectural Styles and the Design of Network-based Software
. While
you can read through the thesis, REST in terms of Rails boils down to two main

  • Using resource identifiers such as URLs to represent resources.
  • Transferring representations of the state of that resource between system components.

For example, the following HTTP request:

DELETE /photos/17

would be understood to refer to a photo resource with the ID of 17, and to
indicate a desired action – deleting that resource. REST is a natural style for
the architecture of web applications, and Rails hooks into this shielding you
from many of the RESTful complexities and browser quirks.

If you’d like more details on REST as an architectural style, these resources
are more approachable than Fielding’s thesis:

Creating a New Rails Project

If you follow this guide, you’ll create a Rails project called blog, a
(very) simple weblog. Before you can start building the application, you need to
make sure that you have Rails itself installed.

TIP: The examples below use # and $ to denote terminal prompts. If you are using Windows, your prompt will look something like c:\source_code>

Installing Rails

In most cases, the easiest way to install Rails is to take advantage of RubyGems:

Usually run this as the root user:

  1. gem install rails

TIP. If you’re working on Windows, you can quickly install Ruby and Rails with
Rails Installer.

Creating the Blog Application

The best way to use this guide is to follow each step as it happens, no code or
step needed to make this example application has been left out, so you can
literally follow along step by step. If you need to see the completed code, you
can download it from Getting Started

To begin, open a terminal, navigate to a folder where you have rights to create
files, and type:

$ rails new blog

This will create a Rails application called Blog in a directory called blog.

TIP: You can see all of the switches that the Rails application builder accepts
by running
rails new -h.

After you create the blog application, switch to its folder to continue work
directly in that application:

$ cd blog

In any case, Rails will create a folder in your working directory called
blog. Open up that folder and explore its contents. Most of the work in
this tutorial will happen in the app/ folder, but here’s a basic
rundown on the function of each folder that Rails creates in a new application
by default:

File/Folder Purpose
Gemfile This file allows you to specify what gem dependencies are needed for your Rails application. See section on Bundler, below.
README This is a brief instruction manual for your application. You should edit this file to tell others what your application does, how to set it up, and so on.
Rakefile This file locates and loads tasks that can be run from the command line. The task definitions are defined throughout the components of Rails. Rather than changing Rakefile, you should add your own tasks by adding files to the lib/tasks directory of your application.
app/ Contains the controllers, models, views and assets for your application. You’ll focus on this folder for the remainder of this guide.
config/ Configure your application’s runtime rules, routes, database, and more. Rack configuration for Rack based servers used to start the application.
db/ Shows your current database schema, as well as the database migrations. You’ll learn about migrations shortly.
doc/ In-depth documentation for your application.
lib/ Extended modules for your application (not covered in this guide).
log/ Application log files.
public/ The only folder seen to the world as-is. Contains the static files and compiled assets.
script/ Contains the rails script that starts your app and can contain other scripts you use to deploy or run your application.
test/ Unit tests, fixtures, and other test apparatus. These are covered in Testing Rails Applications
tmp/ Temporary files
vendor/ A place for all third-party code. In a typical Rails application, this includes Ruby Gems, the Rails source code (if you install it into your project) and plugins containing additional prepackaged functionality.

Configuring a Database

Just about every Rails application will interact with a database. The database
to use is specified in a configuration file, config/database.yml. If you open
this file in a new Rails application, you’ll see a default database
configuration using SQLite3. The file contains sections for three different
environments in which Rails can run by default:

  • The development environment is used on your development computer as you interact manually with the application.
  • The test environment is used to run automated tests.
  • The production environment is used when you deploy your application for the world to use.
Configuring an SQLite3 Database

Rails comes with built-in support for SQLite3, which is
a lightweight serverless database application. While a busy production
environment may overload SQLite, it works well for development and testing.
Rails defaults to using an SQLite database when creating a new project, but you
can always change it later.

Here’s the section of the default configuration file
(config/database.yml) with connection information for the development

adapter: sqlite3
database: db/development.sqlite3
pool: 5
timeout: 5000

NOTE: In this guide we are using an SQLite3 database for data storage, because
it is a zero configuration database that just works. Rails also supports MySQL
and PostgreSQL “out of the box”, and has plugins for many database systems. If
you are using a database in a production environment Rails most likely has an
adapter for it.

Configuring a MySQL Database

If you choose to use MySQL instead of the shipped SQLite3 database, your
config/database.yml will look a little different. Here’s the development

adapter: mysql2
encoding: utf8
database: blog_development
pool: 5
username: root
socket: /tmp/mysql.sock

If your development computer’s MySQL installation includes a root user with an
empty password, this configuration should work for you. Otherwise, change the
username and password in the development section as appropriate.

Configuring a PostgreSQL Database

If you choose to use PostgreSQL, your config/database.yml will be customized
to use PostgreSQL databases:

adapter: postgresql
encoding: unicode
database: blog_development
pool: 5
username: blog

Configuring an SQLite3 Database for JRuby Platform

If you choose to use SQLite3 and using JRuby, your config/database.yml will
look a little different. Here’s the development section:

adapter: jdbcsqlite3
database: db/development.sqlite3

Configuring a MySQL Database for JRuby Platform

If you choose to use MySQL and using JRuby, your config/database.yml will look
a little different. Here’s the development section:

adapter: jdbcmysql
database: blog_development
username: root

Configuring a PostgreSQL Database for JRuby Platform

Finally if you choose to use PostgreSQL and using JRuby, your
config/database.yml will look a little different. Here’s the development

adapter: jdbcpostgresql
encoding: unicode
database: blog_development
username: blog

Change the username and password in the development section as appropriate.

TIP: You don’t have to update the database configurations manually. If you look at the
options of the application generator, you will see that one of the options
is named —database. This option allows you to choose an adapter from a
list of the most used relational databases. You can even run the generator
repeatedly: cd .. && rails new blog —database=mysql. When you confirm the overwriting
of the config/database.yml file, your application will be configured for MySQL
instead of SQLite.

Creating the Database

Now that you have your database configured, it’s time to have Rails create an
empty database for you. You can do this by running a rake command:

$ rake db:create

This will create your development and test SQLite3 databases inside the
db/ folder.

TIP: Rake is a general-purpose command-runner that Rails uses for many things.
You can see the list of available rake commands in your application by running
rake -T.

Hello, Rails!

One of the traditional places to start with a new language is by getting some
text up on screen quickly. To do this, you need to get your Rails application
server running.

Starting up the Web Server

You actually have a functional Rails application already. To see it, you need to
start a web server on your development machine. You can do this by running:

$ rails server

This will fire up an instance of the WEBrick web server by default (Rails can
also use several other web servers). To see your application in action, open a
browser window and navigate to http://localhost:3000.
You should see Rails’ default information page:

Welcome Aboard screenshot

TIP: To stop the web server, hit Ctrl+C in the terminal window where it’s
running. In development mode, Rails does not generally require you to stop the
server; changes you make in files will be automatically picked up by the server.

The “Welcome Aboard” page is the smoke test for a new Rails application: it
makes sure that you have your software configured correctly enough to serve a
page. You can also click on the About your application’s environment link to
see a summary of your application’s environment.

Say “Hello”, Rails

To get Rails saying “Hello”, you need to create at minimum a controller and a
view. Fortunately, you can do that in a single command. Enter this command in
your terminal:

$ rails generate controller home index

TIP: If you get a command not found error when running this command, you
need to explicitly pass Rails rails commands to Ruby: ruby
\path\to\your\application\script\rails generate controller home index

Rails will create several files for you, including
app/views/home/index.html.erb. This is the template that will be used to
display the results of the index action (method) in the home controller.
Open this file in your text editor and edit it to contain a single line of code:

<h1>Hello, Rails!</h1>

Setting the Application Home Page

Now that we have made the controller and view, we need to tell Rails when we
want “Hello Rails” to show up. In our case, we want it to show up when we
navigate to the root URL of our site,
http://localhost:3000, instead of the “Welcome Aboard”
smoke test.

The first step to doing this is to delete the default page from your

$ rm public/index.html

We need to do this as Rails will deliver any static file in the public
directory in preference to any dynamic content we generate from the controllers.

Now, you have to tell Rails where your actual home page is located. Open the
file config/routes.rb in your editor. This is your application’s routing
which holds entries in a special DSL (domain-specific language) that tells
Rails how to connect incoming requests to controllers and actions. This file
contains many sample routes on commented lines, and one of them actually shows
you how to connect the root of your site to a specific controller and action.
Find the line beginning with root :to, uncomment it and change it like the

Blog::Application.routes.draw do

  1. You can have the root of your site routed with “root”
  2. just remember to delete public/index.html.
    root :to => “home#index”

The root :to => “home#index” tells Rails to map the root action to the home
controller’s index action.

Now if you navigate to http://localhost:3000 in your
browser, you’ll see Hello, Rails!.

NOTE. For more information about routing, refer to Rails Routing from the
Outside In

Getting Up and Running Quickly with Scaffolding

Rails scaffolding is a quick way to generate some of the major pieces of an
application. If you want to create the models, views, and controllers for a new
resource in a single operation, scaffolding is the tool for the job.

Creating a Resource

In the case of the blog application, you can start by generating a scaffolded
Post resource: this will represent a single blog posting. To do this, enter this
command in your terminal:

$ rails generate scaffold Post name:string title:string content:text

The scaffold generator will build several files in your application, along with some
folders, and edit config/routes.rb. Here’s a quick overview of what it creates:

File Purpose
db/migrate/20100207214725_create_posts.rb Migration to create the posts table in your database (your name will include a different timestamp)
app/models/post.rb The Post model
test/fixtures/posts.yml Dummy posts for use in testing
app/controllers/posts_controller.rb The Posts controller
app/views/posts/index.html.erb A view to display an index of all posts
app/views/posts/edit.html.erb A view to edit an existing post
app/views/posts/show.html.erb A view to display a single post
app/views/posts/new.html.erb A view to create a new post
app/views/posts/_form.html.erb A partial to control the overall look and feel of the form used in edit and new views
app/helpers/posts_helper.rb Helper functions to be used from the post views
app/assets/stylesheets/scaffolds.css.scss Cascading style sheet to make the scaffolded views look better
app/assets/stylesheets/posts.css.scss Cascading style sheet for the posts controller
app/assets/javascripts/ CoffeeScript for the posts controller
test/unit/post_test.rb Unit testing harness for the posts model
test/functional/posts_controller_test.rb Functional testing harness for the posts controller
test/unit/helpers/posts_helper_test.rb Unit testing harness for the posts helper
config/routes.rb Edited to include routing information for posts

NOTE. While scaffolding will get you up and running quickly, the code it
generates is unlikely to be a perfect fit for your application. You’ll most
probably want to customize the generated code. Many experienced Rails developers
avoid scaffolding entirely, preferring to write all or most of their source code
from scratch. Rails, however, makes it really simple to customize templates for
generated models, controllers, views and other source files. You’ll find more
information in the Creating and Customizing Rails Generators &

Running a Migration

One of the products of the rails generate scaffold command is a database
. Migrations are Ruby classes that are designed to make it simple to
create and modify database tables. Rails uses rake commands to run migrations,
and it’s possible to undo a migration after it’s been applied to your database.
Migration filenames include a timestamp to ensure that they’re processed in the
order that they were created.

If you look in the db/migrate/20100207214725_create_posts.rb file (remember,
yours will have a slightly different name), here’s what you’ll find:

class CreatePosts < ActiveRecord::Migration
def change
create_table :posts do |t|
t.string :name
t.string :title
t.text :content

t.timestamps end end


The above migration creates a method name change which will be called when you
run this migration. The action defined in that method is also reversible, which
means Rails knows how to reverse the change made by this migration, in case you
want to reverse it at later date. By default, when you run this migration it
will creates a posts table with two string columns and a text column. It also
creates two timestamp fields to track record creation and updating. More
information about Rails migrations can be found in the Rails Database

At this point, you can use a rake command to run the migration:

$ rake db:migrate

Rails will execute this migration command and tell you it created the Posts

== CreatePosts: migrating ============
— create_table(:posts)
→ 0.0019s
== CreatePosts: migrated (0.0020s) ===========

NOTE. Because you’re working in the development environment by default, this
command will apply to the database defined in the development section of your
config/database.yml file. If you would like to execute migrations in other
environment, for instance in production, you must explicitly pass it when
invoking the command: rake db:migrate RAILS_ENV=production.

Adding a Link

To hook the posts up to the home page you’ve already created, you can add a link
to the home page. Open app/views/home/index.html.erb and modify it as follows:

Hello, Rails!

<%= link_to “My Blog”, posts_path %>

The link_to method is one of Rails’ built-in view helpers. It creates a
hyperlink based on text to display and where to go – in this case, to the path
for posts.

Working with Posts in the Browser

Now you’re ready to start working with posts. To do that, navigate to
http://localhost:3000 and then click the “My Blog”

Posts Index screenshot

This is the result of Rails rendering the index view of your posts. There
aren’t currently any posts in the database, but if you click the New Post link
you can create one. After that, you’ll find that you can edit posts, look at
their details, or destroy them. All of the logic and HTML to handle this was
built by the single rails generate scaffold command.

TIP: In development mode (which is what you’re working in by default), Rails
reloads your application with every browser request, so there’s no need to stop
and restart the web server.

Congratulations, you’re riding the rails! Now it’s time to see how it all works.

The Model

The model file, app/models/post.rb is about as simple as it can get:

class Post < ActiveRecord::Base

There isn’t much to this file – but note that the Post class inherits from
ActiveRecord::Base. Active Record supplies a great deal of functionality to
your Rails models for free, including basic database CRUD (Create, Read, Update,
Destroy) operations, data validation, as well as sophisticated search support
and the ability to relate multiple models to one another.

Adding Some Validation

Rails includes methods to help you validate the data that you send to models.
Open the app/models/post.rb file and edit it:

class Post < ActiveRecord::Base
validates :name, :presence => true
validates :title, :presence => true,
:length => { :minimum => 5 }

These changes will ensure that all posts have a name and a title, and that the
title is at least five characters long. Rails can validate a variety of
conditions in a model, including the presence or uniqueness of columns, their
format, and the existence of associated objects.

Using the Console

To see your validations in action, you can use the console. The console is a
command-line tool that lets you execute Ruby code in the context of your

$ rails console

TIP: The default console will make changes to your database. You can instead
open a console that will roll back any changes you make by using rails console

After the console loads, you can use it to work with your application’s models:

>> p = => “A new post”)
=> #<Post id: nil, name: nil, title: nil,
content: “A new post”, created_at: nil,
updated_at: nil>
=> false
>> p.errors
=> #<OrderedHash { :title=>[“can’t be blank”,
“is too short (minimum is 5 characters)”],
:name=>[“can’t be blank”] }>

This code shows creating a new Post instance, attempting to save it and
getting false for a return value (indicating that the save failed), and
inspecting the errors of the post.

When you’re finished, type exit and hit return to exit the console.

TIP: Unlike the development web server, the console does not automatically load
your code afresh for each line. If you make changes to your models while the
console is open, type reload! at the console prompt to load them.

Listing All Posts

The easiest place to start looking at functionality is with the code that lists
all posts. Open the file app/controllers/posts_controller.rb and look at the
index action:

def index
@posts = Post.all

respond_to do |format| format.html # index.html.erb format.json { render :json => @posts } end


Post.all calls the Post model to return all of the posts currently in the
database. The result of this call is an array of posts that we store in an
instance variable called @posts.

TIP: For more information on finding records with Active Record, see Active
Record Query Interface

The respond_to block handles both HTML and JSON calls to this action. If you
browse to http://localhost:3000/posts.json,
you’ll see a JSON containing all of the posts. The HTML format looks for a view
in app/views/posts/ with a name that corresponds to the action name. Rails
makes all of the instance variables from the action available to the view.
Here’s app/views/posts/index.html.erb:

Listing posts

<% @posts.each do |post| >

<% end %>

Name Title Content
<= > <= post.title > <= post.content > <= link_to ‘Show’, post > <= link_to ‘Edit’, edit_post_path(post) > <= link_to ‘Destroy’, post, :confirm => ‘Are you sure?’, :method => :delete %>

<%= link_to ‘New post’, new_post_path %>

This view iterates over the contents of the @posts array to display content
and links. A few things to note in the view:

  • link_to builds a hyperlink to a particular destination
  • edit_post_path and new_post_path are helpers that Rails provides as part of RESTful routing. You’ll see a variety of these helpers for the different actions that the controller includes.

NOTE. In previous versions of Rails, you had to use <%=h %> so
that any HTML would be escaped before being inserted into the page. In Rails
3.0, this is now the default. To get unescaped HTML, you now use <%= raw %>

TIP: For more details on the rendering process, see Layouts and Rendering in

Customizing the Layout

The view is only part of the story of how HTML is displayed in your web browser.
Rails also has the concept of layouts, which are containers for views. When
Rails renders a view to the browser, it does so by putting the view’s HTML into
a layout’s HTML. In previous versions of Rails, the rails generate scaffold
command would automatically create a controller specific layout, like
app/views/layouts/posts.html.erb, for the posts controller. However this has
been changed in Rails 3.0. An application specific layout is used for all the
controllers and can be found in app/views/layouts/application.html.erb. Open
this layout in your editor and modify the body tag:

<!DOCTYPE html>

<%= stylesheet_link_tag “application” >
<= javascript_include_tag “application” >
<= csrf_meta_tags %>

<%= yield %>

Now when you refresh the /posts page, you’ll see a gray background to the
page. This same gray background will be used throughout all the views for posts.

Creating New Posts

Creating a new post involves two actions. The first is the new action, which
instantiates an empty Post object:

def new
@post =

respond_to do |format| format.html # new.html.erb format.json { render :json => @post } end


The new.html.erb view displays this empty Post to the user:

New post

<%= render ‘form’ %>

<%= link_to ‘Back’, posts_path %>

The <%= render ‘form’ %> line is our first introduction to partials in
Rails. A partial is a snippet of HTML and Ruby code that can be reused in
multiple locations. In this case, the form used to make a new post, is basically
identical to a form used to edit a post, both have text fields for the name and
title and a text area for the content with a button to make a new post or update
the existing post.

If you take a look at views/posts/_form.html.erb file, you will see the

<%= form_for(post) do |f| %> <% if @post.errors.any? %> <div id="errorExplanation"> <h2><%= pluralize(post.errors.count, “error”) > prohibited this post from being saved:

    < @post.errors.full_messages.each do |msg| >
  • <= msg >

  • < end %>

<% end %>
<%= f.label :name %>
<%= f.text_field :name %>
<%= f.label :title %>
<%= f.text_field :title %>
<%= f.label :content %>
<%= f.text_area :content %>
<%= f.submit %>

<% end %>

This partial receives all the instance variables defined in the calling view
file, so in this case, the controller assigned the new Post object to @post
and so, this is available in both the view and partial as @post.

For more information on partials, refer to the Layouts and Rendering in

The form_for block is used to create an HTML form. Within this block, you have
access to methods to build various controls on the form. For example,
f.text_field :name tells Rails to create a text input on the form, and to hook
it up to the name attribute of the instance being displayed. You can only use
these methods with attributes of the model that the form is based on (in this
case name, title, and content). Rails uses form_for in preference to
having you write raw HTML because the code is more succinct, and because it
explicitly ties the form to a particular model instance.

The form_for block is also smart enough to work out if you are doing a New
or an Edit Post action, and will set the form action tags and submit
button names appropriately in the HTML output.

TIP: If you need to create an HTML form that displays arbitrary fields, not tied
to a model, you should use the form_tag method, which provides shortcuts for
building forms that are not necessarily tied to a model instance.

When the user clicks the Create Post button on this form, the browser will
send information back to the create method of the controller (Rails knows to
call the create method because the form is sent with an HTTP POST request;
that’s one of the conventions that I mentioned earlier):

def create
@post =[:post])

respond_to do |format| if format.html { redirect_to(@post, :notice => ‘Post was successfully created.’) } format.json { render :json => @post, :status => :created, :location => @post } else format.html { render :action => “new” } format.json { render :json => @post.errors, :status => :unprocessable_entity } end end


The create action instantiates a new Post object from the data supplied by the
user on the form, which Rails makes available in the params hash. After
successfully saving the new post, create returns the appropriate format that
the user has requested (HTML in our case). It then redirects the user to the
resulting post show action and sets a notice to the user that the Post was
successfully created.

If the post was not successfully saved, due to a validation error, then the
controller returns the user back to the new action with any error messages so
that the user has the chance to fix the error and try again.

The “Post was successfully created.” message is stored inside of the Rails
flash hash, (usually just called the flash) so that messages can be carried
over to another action, providing the user with useful information on the status
of their request. In the case of create, the user never actually sees any page
rendered during the Post creation process, because it immediately redirects to
the new Post as soon Rails saves the record. The Flash carries over a message to
the next action, so that when the user is redirected back to the show action,
they are presented with a message saying “Post was successfully created.”

Showing an Individual Post

When you click the show link for a post on the index page, it will bring you
to a URL like http://localhost:3000/posts/1. Rails interprets this as a call
to the show action for the resource, and passes in 1 as the :id parameter.
Here’s the show action:

def show
@post = Post.find(params[:id])

respond_to do |format| format.html # show.html.erb format.json { render :json => @post } end


The show action uses Post.find to search for a single record in the database
by its id value. After finding the record, Rails displays it by using

<%= notice %>

Name: <%= %>

Title: <%= @post.title %>

Content: <%= @post.content %>

<%= link_to ‘Edit’, edit_post_path(@post) > |
<= link_to ‘Back’, posts_path %>

Editing Posts

Like creating a new post, editing a post is a two-part process. The first step
is a request to edit_post_path(@post) with a particular post. This calls the
edit action in the controller:

def edit
@post = Post.find(params[:id])

After finding the requested post, Rails uses the edit.html.erb view to display

Editing post

<%= render ‘form’ %>

<%= link_to ‘Show’, @post > |
<= link_to ‘Back’, posts_path %>

Again, as with the new action, the edit action is using the form partial,
this time however, the form will do a PUT action to the PostsController and the
submit button will display “Update Post”

Submitting the form created by this view will invoke the update action within
the controller:

def update
@post = Post.find(params[:id])

respond_to do |format| if @post.update_attributes(params[:post]) format.html { redirect_to(@post, :notice => ‘Post was successfully updated.’) } format.json { render :json => {}, :status => :ok } else format.html { render :action => “edit” } format.json { render :json => @post.errors, :status => :unprocessable_entity } end end


In the update action, Rails first uses the :id parameter passed back from
the edit view to locate the database record that’s being edited. The
update_attributes call then takes the rest of the parameters from the request
and applies them to this record. If all goes well, the user is redirected to the
post’s show view. If there are any problems, it’s back to the edit view to
correct them.

Destroying a Post

Finally, clicking one of the destroy links sends the associated id to the
destroy action:

def destroy
@post = Post.find(params[:id])

respond_to do |format| format.html { redirect_to posts_url } format.json { head :ok } end


The destroy method of an Active Record model instance removes the
corresponding record from the database. After that’s done, there isn’t any
record to display, so Rails redirects the user’s browser to the index view for
the model.

Adding a Second Model

Now that you’ve seen how a model built with scaffolding looks like, it’s time to
add a second model to the application. The second model will handle comments on
blog posts.

Generating a Model

Models in Rails use a singular name, and their corresponding database tables use
a plural name. For the model to hold comments, the convention is to use the name
Comment. Even if you don’t want to use the entire apparatus set up by
scaffolding, most Rails developers still use generators to make things like
models and controllers. To create the new model, run this command in your

$ rails generate model Comment commenter:string body:text post:references

This command will generate four files:

  • app/models/comment.rb – The model
  • db/migrate/20100207235629_create_comments.rb – The migration
  • test/unit/comment_test.rb and test/fixtures/comments.yml – The test harness.

First, take a look at comment.rb:

class Comment < ActiveRecord::Base
belongs_to :post

This is very similar to the post.rb model that you saw earlier. The difference
is the line belongs_to :post, which sets up an Active Record association.
You’ll learn a little about associations in the next section of this guide.

In addition to the model, Rails has also made a migration to create the
corresponding database table:

class CreateComments < ActiveRecord::Migration
def change
create_table :comments do |t|
t.string :commenter
t.text :body
t.references :post

t.timestamps end add_index :comments, :post_id end


The t.references line sets up a foreign key column for the association between
the two models. And the add_index line sets up an index for this association
column. Go ahead and run the migration:

$ rake db:migrate

Rails is smart enough to only execute the migrations that have not already been
run against the current database, so in this case you will just see:

== CreateComments: migrating =============
— create_table(:comments)
→ 0.0017s
== CreateComments: migrated (0.0018s) ========

Associating Models

Active Record associations let you easily declare the relationship between two
models. In the case of comments and posts, you could write out the relationships
this way:

  • Each comment belongs to one post
  • One post can have many comments

In fact, this is very close to the syntax that Rails uses to declare this
association. You’ve already seen the line of code inside the Comment model that
makes each comment belong to a Post:

class Comment < ActiveRecord::Base
belongs_to :post

You’ll need to edit the post.rb file to add the other side of the association:

class Post < ActiveRecord::Base
validates :name, :presence => true
validates :title, :presence => true,
:length => { :minimum => 5 }

has_many :comments


These two declarations enable a good bit of automatic behavior. For example, if
you have an instance variable @post containing a post, you can retrieve all
the comments belonging to that post as the array @post.comments.

TIP: For more information on Active Record associations, see the Active Record

Adding a Route for Comments

As with the home controller, we will need to add a route so that Rails knows
where we would like to navigate to see comments. Open up the
config/routes.rb file again, you will see an entry that was added
automatically for posts near the top by the scaffold generator, resources
, edit it as follows:

resources :posts do
resources :comments

This creates comments as a nested resource within posts. This is another
part of capturing the hierarchical relationship that exists between posts and

TIP: For more information on routing, see the Rails Routing from the Outside

Generating a Controller

With the model in hand, you can turn your attention to creating a matching
controller. Again, there’s a generator for this:

$ rails generate controller Comments

This creates six files and one empty directory:

  • app/controllers/comments_controller.rb – The controller
  • app/helpers/comments_helper.rb – A view helper file
  • test/functional/comments_controller_test.rb – The functional tests for the controller
  • test/unit/helpers/comments_helper_test.rb – The unit tests for the helper
  • app/views/comments/ – Views of the controller are stored here
  • app/assets/stylesheets/comment.css.scss – Cascading style sheet for the controller
  • app/assets/javascripts/ – CoffeeScript for the controller

Like with any blog, our readers will create their comments directly after
reading the post, and once they have added their comment, will be sent back to
the post show page to see their comment now listed. Due to this, our
CommentsController is there to provide a method to create comments and delete
SPAM comments when they arrive.

So first, we’ll wire up the Post show template
(/app/views/posts/show.html.erb) to let us make a new comment:

<%= notice %>

Name: <%= %>

Title: <%= @post.title %>

Content: <%= @post.content %>

Add a comment:

<%= form_for([@post,]) do |f| >

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

<%= f.label :body %>
<%= f.text_area :body %>
<%= f.submit %>

<% end %>

<%= link_to ‘Edit Post’, edit_post_path(@post) > |
<= link_to ‘Back to Posts’, posts_path %> |

This adds a form on the Post show page that creates a new comment, which will
call the CommentsController create action, so let’s wire that up:

class CommentsController < ApplicationController
def create
post = Post.find(params[:post_id]) @comment = @post.comments.create(params[:comment]) redirect_to post_path(post)

You’ll see a bit more complexity here than you did in the controller for posts.
That’s a side-effect of the nesting that you’ve set up; each request for a
comment has to keep track of the post to which the comment is attached, thus the
initial find action to the Post model to get the post in question.

In addition, the code takes advantage of some of the methods available for an
association. We use the create method on @post.comments to create and save
the comment. This will automatically link the comment so that it belongs to that
particular post.

Once we have made the new comment, we send the user back to the original post
using the post_path(@post) helper. As we have already seen, this calls the
show action of the PostsController which in turn renders the show.html.erb
template. This is where we want the comment to show, so let’s add that to the

<%= notice %>

Name: <%= %>

Title: <%= @post.title %>

Content: <%= @post.content %>


<% @post.comments.each do |comment| >

<= comment.commenter %>

Comment: <%= comment.body %>

<% end %>

Add a comment:

<%= form_for([@post,]) do |f| >

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

<%= f.label :body %>
<%= f.text_area :body %>
<%= f.submit %>

<% end %>

<%= link_to ‘Edit Post’, edit_post_path(@post) > |
<= link_to ‘Back to Posts’, posts_path %> |

Now you can add posts and comments to your blog and have them show up in the
right places.


Now that we have Posts and Comments working, if we take a look at the
app/views/posts/show.html.erb template, it’s getting long and awkward. We can
use partials to clean this up.

Rendering Partial Collections

First we will make a comment partial to extract showing all the comments for the
post. Create the file app/views/comments/_comment.html.erb and put the
following into it:

Commenter: <%= comment.commenter %>

Comment: <%= comment.body %>

Then in the app/views/posts/show.html.erb you can change it to look like the

<%= notice %>

Name: <%= %>

Title: <%= @post.title %>

Content: <%= @post.content %>


<%= render @post.comments %>

Add a comment:

<%= form_for([@post,]) do |f| >

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

<%= f.label :body %>
<%= f.text_area :body %>
<%= f.submit %>

<% end %>

<%= link_to ‘Edit Post’, edit_post_path(@post) > |
<= link_to ‘Back to Posts’, posts_path %> |

This will now render the partial in app/views/comments/_comment.html.erb once
for each comment that is in the @post.comments collection. As the render
method iterates over the @post.comments collection, it assigns each
comment to a local variable named the same as the partial, in this case
comment which is then available in the partial for us to show.

Rendering a Partial Form

Lets also move that new comment section out to it’s own partial, again, you
create a file app/views/comments/_form.html.erb and in it you put:

<%= form_for([@post,]) do |f| >

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

<%= f.label :body %>
<%= f.text_area :body %>
<%= f.submit %>

<% end %>

Then you make the app/views/posts/show.html.erb look like the following:

<%= notice %>

Name: <%= %>

Title: <%= @post.title %>

Content: <%= @post.content %>


<%= render @post.comments %>

Add a comment:

<%= render “comments/form” %>

<%= link_to ‘Edit Post’, edit_post_path(@post) > |
<= link_to ‘Back to Posts’, posts_path %> |

The second render just defines the partial template we want to render,
comments/form, Rails is smart enough to spot the forward slash in that
string and realize that you want to render the _form.html.erb file in
the app/views/comments directory.

The @post object is available to any partials rendered in the view because we
defined it as an instance variable.

Deleting Comments

Another important feature on a blog is being able to delete SPAM comments. To do
this, we need to implement a link of some sort in the view and a DELETE action
in the CommentsController.

So first, let’s add the delete link in the
app/views/comments/_comment.html.erb partial:

Commenter: <%= comment.commenter %>

Comment: <%= comment.body %>

<%= link_to ‘Destroy Comment’, [, comment], :confirm => ‘Are you sure?’, :method => :delete %>

Clicking this new “Destroy Comment” link will fire off a DELETE
to our CommentsController, which can then use
this to find the comment we want to delete, so let’s add a destroy action to our

class CommentsController < ApplicationController

def create @post = Post.find(params[:post_id]) @comment = @post.comments.create(params[:comment]) redirect_to post_path(@post) end def destroy @post = Post.find(params[:post_id]) @comment = @post.comments.find(params[:id]) @comment.destroy redirect_to post_path(@post) end


The destroy action will find the post we are looking at, locate the comment
within the @post.comments collection, and then remove it from the
database and send us back to the show action for the post.

Deleting Associated Objects

If you delete a post then its associated comments will also need to be deleted.
Otherwise they would simply occupy space in the database. Rails allows you to
use the dependent option of an association to achieve this. Modify the Post
model, app/models/post.rb, as follows:

class Post < ActiveRecord::Base
validates :name, :presence => true
validates :title, :presence => true,
:length => { :minimum => 5 }
has_many :comments, :dependent => :destroy


If you were to publish your blog online, anybody would be able to add, edit and
delete posts or delete comments.

Rails provides a very simple HTTP authentication system that will work nicely in
this situation.

In the PostsController we need to have a way to block access to the various
actions if the person is not authenticated, here we can use the Rails
http_basic_authenticate_with method, allowing access to the requested
action if that method allows it.

To use the authentication system, we specify it at the top of our
PostsController, in this case, we want the user to be authenticated on every
action, except for index and show, so we write that:

class PostsController < ApplicationController

http_basic_authenticate_with :name => “dhh”, :password => “secret”, :except => :index
  1. GET /posts
  2. GET /posts.json
    def index
    @posts = Post.all
    respond_to do |format|
  3. snipped for brevity

We also only want to allow authenticated users to delete comments, so in the
CommentsController we write:

class CommentsController < ApplicationController

http_basic_authenticate_with :name => “dhh”, :password => “secret”, :only => :destroy def create @post = Post.find(params[:post_id])
  1. snipped for brevity

Now if you try to create a new post, you will be greeted with a basic HTTP
Authentication challenge

Basic HTTP Authentication Challenge

Building a Multi-Model Form

Another feature of your average blog is the ability to tag posts. To implement
this feature your application needs to interact with more than one model on a
single form. Rails offers support for nested forms.

To demonstrate this, we will add support for giving each post multiple tags,
right in the form where you create the post. First, create a new model to hold
the tags:

$ rails generate model tag name:string post:references

Again, run the migration to create the database table:

$ rake db:migrate

Next, edit the post.rb file to create the other side of the association, and
to tell Rails (via the accepts_nested_attributes_for macro) that you intend to
edit tags via posts:

class Post < ActiveRecord::Base
validates :name, :presence => true
validates :title, :presence => true,
:length => { :minimum => 5 }

has_many :comments, :dependent => :destroy has_many :tags accepts_nested_attributes_for :tags, :allow_destroy => :true, :reject_if => proc { |attrs| attrs.all? { |k, v| v.blank? } }


The :allow_destroy option on the nested attribute declaration tells Rails to
display a “remove” checkbox on the view that you’ll build shortly. The
:reject_if option prevents saving new tags that do not have any attributes
filled in.

We will modify views/posts/_form.html.erb to render a partial to make a tag:

<% %> <%= form_for(post) do |post_form| >
< if post.errors.any? %> <div id="errorExplanation"> <h2><%= pluralize(post.errors.count, “error”) > prohibited this post from being saved:

    < @post.errors.full_messages.each do |msg| >
  • <= msg >

  • < end %>

<% end %>
<%= post_form.label :name %>
<%= post_form.text_field :name %>
<%= post_form.label :title %>
<%= post_form.text_field :title %>
<%= post_form.label :content %>
<%= post_form.text_area :content %>


<%= render :partial => ‘tags/form’, :locals => {:form => post_form} %>
<%= post_form.submit %>

<% end %>

Note that we have changed the f in form_for(@post) do |f| to post_form to
make it easier to understand what is going on.

This example shows another option of the render helper, being able to pass in
local variables, in this case, we want the local variable form in the partial
to refer to the post_form object.

We also add a at the top of this form, this is to make
sure there is a new tag ready to have it’s name filled in by the user. If you do
not build the new tag, then the form will not appear as there is no new Tag
object ready to create.

Now create the folder app/views/tags and make a file in there called
_form.html.erb which contains the form for the tag:

<%= form.fields_for :tags do |tag_form| >

<= tag_form.label :name, ‘Tag:’ >
<= tag_form.text_field :name %>

<% unless tag_form.object.nil? || tag_form.object.new_record? %>
<%= tag_form.label :_destroy, ‘Remove:’ %> <%= tag_form.check_box :_destroy %>
<% end %>

<% end %>

Finally, we will edit the app/views/posts/show.html.erb template to
show our tags.

<%= notice %>

Name: <%= %>

Title: <%= @post.title %>

Content: <%= @post.content %>

Tags: <%= { |t| }.join(", ") %>


<%= render @post.comments %>

Add a comment:

<%= render “comments/form” %>

<%= link_to ‘Edit Post’, edit_post_path(@post) > |
<= link_to ‘Back to Posts’, posts_path %> |

With these changes in place, you’ll find that you can edit a post and its tags
directly on the same view.

However, that method call { |t| }.join(", ") is
awkward, we could handle this by making a helper method.

View Helpers

View Helpers live in app/helpers and provide small snippets of reusable
code for views. In our case, we want a method that strings a bunch of objects
together using their name attribute and joining them with a comma. As this is
for the Post show template, we put it in the PostsHelper.

Open up app/helpers/posts_helper.rb and add the following:

module PostsHelper
def join_tags(post) { |t| }.join(", ")

Now you can edit the view in app/views/posts/show.html.erb to look like

<%= notice %>

Name: <%= %>

Title: <%= @post.title %>

Content: <%= @post.content %>

Tags: <%= join_tags(@post) %>


<%= render @post.comments %>

Add a comment:

<%= render “comments/form” %>

<%= link_to ‘Edit Post’, edit_post_path(@post) > |
<= link_to ‘Back to Posts’, posts_path %> |

What’s Next?

Now that you’ve seen your first Rails application, you should feel free to
update it and experiment on your own. But you don’t have to do everything
without help. As you need assistance getting up and running with Rails, feel
free to consult these support resources:

Rails also comes with built-in help that you can generate using the rake command-line utility:

  • Running rake doc:guides will put a full copy of the Rails Guides in the doc/guides folder of your application. Open doc/guides/index.html in your web browser to explore the Guides.
  • Running rake doc:rails will put a full copy of the API documentation for Rails in the doc/api folder of your application. Open doc/api/index.html in your web browser to explore the API documentation.

Configuration Gotchas

The easiest way to work with Rails is to store all external data as UTF-8. If
you don’t, Ruby libraries and Rails will often be able to convert your native
data into UTF-8, but this doesn’t always work reliably, so you’re better off
ensuring that all external data is UTF-8.

If you have made a mistake in this area, the most common symptom is a black
diamond with a question mark inside appearing in the browser. Another common
symptom is characters like “ü” appearing instead of “ü”. Rails takes a number
of internal steps to mitigate common causes of these problems that can be
automatically detected and corrected. However, if you have external data that is
not stored as UTF-8, it can occasionally result in these kinds of issues that
cannot be automatically detected by Rails and corrected.

Two very common sources of data that are not UTF-8:

  • Your text editor: Most text editors (such as Textmate), default to saving files as
    UTF-8. If your text editor does not, this can result in special characters that you
    enter in your templates (such as é) to appear as a diamond with a question mark inside
    in the browser. This also applies to your I18N translation files.
    Most editors that do not already default to UTF-8 (such as some versions of
    Dreamweaver) offer a way to change the default to UTF-8. Do so.
  • Your database. Rails defaults to converting data from your database into UTF-8 at
    the boundary. However, if your database is not using UTF-8 internally, it may not
    be able to store all characters that your users enter. For instance, if your database
    is using Latin-1 internally, and your user enters a Russian, Hebrew, or Japanese
    character, the data will be lost forever once it enters the database. If possible,
    use UTF-8 as the internal storage of your database.


  • April 26, 2011: Change migration code from up, down pair to change method by Prem Sichanugrist
  • April 11, 2011: Change scaffold_controller generator to create format block for JSON instead of XML by Sebastian Martinez
  • August 30, 2010: Minor editing after Rails 3 release by Joost Baaij
  • July 12, 2010: Fixes, editing and updating of code samples by Jaime Iniesta
  • May 16, 2010: Added a section on configuration gotchas to address common encoding problems that people might have by Yehuda Katz
  • April 30, 2010: Fixes, editing and updating of code samples by Rohit Arondekar
  • April 25, 2010: Couple of more minor fixups by Mikel Lindsaar
  • April 1, 2010: Fixed document to validate XHTML 1.0 Strict by Jaime Iniesta
  • February 8, 2010: Full re-write for Rails 3.0-beta, added helpers and before_filters, refactored code by Mikel Lindsaar
  • January 24, 2010: Re-write for Rails 3.0 by Mikel Lindsaar
  • July 18, 2009: Minor cleanup in anticipation of Rails 2.3.3 by Mike Gunderloy
  • February 1, 2009: Updated for Rails 2.3 by Mike Gunderloy
  • November 3, 2008: Formatting patch from Dave Rothlisberger
  • November 1, 2008: First approved version by Mike Gunderloy
  • October 16, 2008: Revised based on feedback from Pratik Naik by Mike Gunderloy (not yet approved for publication)
  • October 13, 2008: First complete draft by Mike Gunderloy (not yet approved for publication)
  • October 12, 2008: More detail, rearrangement, editing by Mike Gunderloy (not yet approved for publication)
  • September 8, 2008: initial version by James Miller (not yet approved for publication)
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