Sample rails application intro
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This is a sample, and simple Ruby on Rails Application used by Ryan Schmukler to introduce others to the Ruby on Rails Framework.

What it Does

The application we are building will serve as a way for people to vote for ideas about which topic they would like to hear a talk on next.

Additional Resources

This guide is by no means comprehensive. Below see a list of additional resources I would recommend checking out.

Important Rails Directories and Files:

  • app/assets - Where your JS/CSS/Images go
  • app/[controllers||models||views] - Where your controller/model/view code goes
  • config/database.yml - Handles configuration of databases. Default is a SQLite database in a local file.
  • config/routes.rb - Handles mapping requests to controller actions.
  • config/application.rb - General config file loaded in all environments
  • config/environments/development.rb - configuration file for when in development mode
  • config/environments/production.rb - configuration file for when in in production mode
  • Gemfile - Used by bundler to set dependencies for your application
  • public/* - used to serve static assets (404, static HTML, etc.)
  • vendor/assets/* - where other people's JS/CSS/Images go (eg. jQuery)

Application Steps

1) Getting Started

Create the Application

Start by using the rails command to generate a new application. It follows the general syntax:

rails new <app_name>

We will use:

 rails new voter -T

This will create a new rails application with the standard files. The -T flag simply skips including the test suite. There is are a lot of files generated when we do this. See above for some of the most important.

Fire up the server

Let's check out rails! We can start the server by running:

rails server

and then visiting http://localhost:3000

Delete the default index.html

Right now we see a splash page. Let's get rid of it.

rm public/index.html

Checkout app/views/layouts/application.html.erb

application.html.erb is the default layout for new rails applications. Layouts are views that embed other views within them. They generally include things you want on every page such as a navbar or logo. Lets set some defaults.

<div class="topbar">
  <div class="topbar-inner">
    <h1>Voter App</h1>
<div class="content">
	<%= yield %>

2) Create Some Talks

Generate the Talk Resource

Because we want to be able to vote on the next talk, we will need to want an object to store potential talks in the database. In this case we will create a talk resource with a title and description.

rails g resource talk

Generating a resource automatically generates the following files:

  • app/models/talk.rb - Talk model file
  • _db/migrate/create_talks.rb - Talk database migration file. Takes care of applying the schema changes to the DB
  • app/controllers/talks_controller_ - Talk controller
  • app/views/talks - views directory for controller actions
  • app/assets/javascripts/ - coffeescript file for related CoffeeScript
  • app/assets/stylesheets/talks.css.scss - SCSS for related CSS

It also adds the following line to routes.rb

resources talks

To see what that line does, run:

rake routes

We see that rails has taken care of creating some RESTful routes and mapping them to controller actions (methods):

    talks GET    /talks(.:format)          {:action=>"index", :controller=>"talks"}
          POST   /talks(.:format)          {:action=>"create", :controller=>"talks"}
 new_talk GET    /talks/new(.:format)      {:action=>"new", :controller=>"talks"}
edit_talk GET    /talks/:id/edit(.:format) {:action=>"edit", :controller=>"talks"}
     talk GET    /talks/:id(.:format)      {:action=>"show", :controller=>"talks"}
          PUT    /talks/:id(.:format)      {:action=>"update", :controller=>"talks"}
          DELETE /talks/:id(.:format)      {:action=>"destroy", :controller=>"talks"}

While we are in the routes.rb file lets also set the default action to the talks index.

root :to => 'talks#index'

To apply the schema changes to the database, run the following:

rake db:migrate

Let's also set up some validations on the Talk model. We want to make sure that we have both a title and description before saving to the database.


class Talk < ActiveRecord::Base
  validates_presence_of :title
  validates_presence_of :description

Create some Views

Talks controller index action

Using RESTful standards, we want this view to display a list of all of the talks available. This is the main view when visiting and then visiting http://localhost:3000/talks

We want to pass a variable of all of the talks, called @talks, to the view for rendering. Using the output of rake routes above we can see that we need to edit the index method of app/controllers/talks_controller.rb


def index
  @talks = Talk.all

The Talk object is defined in app/models/talk.rb. By simply extending the ActiveRecord::Base class it inherits the Talk.all method and will pull all database records.

Talks index view

To edit the view, we simply edit a view file with the same name as the action. In this case app/views/talks/index.html.erb


<h1>Available Talks</h1>
<div class="talks">
  <%= render @talks %>

We use the render command to tell the application to render a partial. A partial is something that we would like to keep in a separate file to make it easy to modify and adhere to DRY principles. All partials start with an _. The render command will automatically look for a partial of the same name as the variable passed to it. In this case, it will look for a partial named app/views/talks/_talk.html.erb. Let's write it now


<div class="talk">
  <h2><%= talk.title %></h2>
  <p><%= talk.description %></p>

The render command used above automatically iterates over all of the Talk objects in @talks and passes them into the partial with the instance variable talk. This is because rails uses conventions over configuration. In reality it is actually a shorthand for the following:

<%= render :partial => "talk", :collection => @talk, :as => :talk %>

Talks new and create actions

We want a way to add talks to the database. We will now create such a view. RESTful standards dictate that this goes in the talks#new and talks#create actions. New is the action to enter data, while create is the action that actually happens when we submit the data


def new
  # Present a new instance of a Talk model to the view
  @talk =

def create
  @talk =[:talk])
    flash[:notice] = "Successfully added talk!"
    flash[:alert] = "Invalid talk. Please check and try again!"

If the save succeeds we take the client black to the talks index action, otherwise we redraw the new screen with a warning message. The flash allows us to pass messages back to the client. It is cleared every request. Let's go ahead and modify the application layout to display flash messages.


<div class="content">
  <% if flash[:alert] %>
    <div class="alert"><%= flash[:alert] %></div>
  <% end %>
  <% if flash[:notice] %>
    <div class="notice"> <%= flash[:notice] %></div>
  <% end %>
  <%= yield %>

Talks new view

We will use the helper method form_for to help generate an HTML form. By using RESTful standards, it knows that it should submit a POST request to the path given in rake routes for the given model.


<h1>New Talk</h1>
<%= form_for @talk do |f| %>
  <div class="control-group">
    <%= f.label :title %><br />
    <%= f.text_field :title %>
  <div class="control-group">
    <%= f.label :description %><br />
    <%= f.text_field :description %>
  <%= f.submit %>
<% end %>
<%= link_to '<-- Back', talks_path %>

Lets also add a link to the new talk path to the index view


<%= link_to "New Talk", new_talk_path %>
<div class="talks">
  <%= render @talks %>

Deleting talks

Maybe we will want to delete talks. To do this, lets create a link to destroy the talk in the talk partial


<div class="talk">
  <%= link_to 'x', talk_path(talk), :method => :delete, :class => 'destroy' %>

Lets also create the appropriate controller action.


def destroy
  flash[:alert] = "Talk successfully destroyed!"
  redirect_to talks_path

3) Voting

Now it is time to add voting functionality to the site.

Generate a vote model

Lets start by creating a vote model. We will create votes in the database. This would allow us to see when votes were casted, and eventually perhaps tie them to a user model (we will not be covering that today!)

rails g model Vote talk_id:integer

Next, lets apply the database schema changes by running rake db:migrate

Set up Vote Associations

We want a vote to belong to a talk, as served by the talk_id column. Rails makes this dead simple, and handles the SQL queries for us. Take that join statements!

We will also add a method to Talk which gives us the vote count for a given talk. Lastly, we will add a method to Talk to create a vote. It is worth noting that if the vote object was going to be something we wanted RESTful operations for, it is likely we'd want to make a seperate controller.


class Vote < ActiveRecord::Base
   belongs_to :talk


class Talk < ActiveRecord::Base
  validates_presence_of :title
  validates_presence_of :description

  has_many :votes

  def vote_count

  def cast_vote!
    Vote.create(:talk_id =>

Set up a vote route

Next, lets make it so that there is a route for casting a vote. To do this, we will need to use a block and create a nested route under the talk resource. This follows good REST principles, as we want to PUT to localhost:3000/talks/:id/vote to cast a vote.


resources :talks do
  put 'vote' => 'talks#vote', :as => 'vote'

Running rake routes will show us this new route.

talk_vote PUT    /talks/:talk_id/vote(.:format) {:action=>"vote", :controller=>"talks"} 

Create a vote action

We will need to add an action to the talk controller for the vote. We will use the session to store a vote to prevent users from voting more than once. Please note that this is not actually secure. A user could just clear their cookies and vote again. Don't do it!

def vote
  if session[:voted] and session[:voted] >= 2
    flash[:alert] = "Sorry you've already voted. Thanks though!"
    flash[:notice] = "Vote successfully counted!"
    if session[:voted].blank?
      session[:voted] = 1
      session[:voted] += 1
  redirect_to talks_path

Modify the Talk Partial

Now we want to update the talk partial to show us the vote count on a given talk. We also want to make the partial a link to cast a vote.


<%= link_to 'x', talk_path(talk), method: :delete, class: 'destroy' %>
<%= link_to talk_vote_path(talk), method: :put, class: 'vote' do %>
  <div class="talk">
    <p class="vote-count"><%= talk.vote_count %></p>
    <h2><%= talk.title %></h2>
    <p><%= talk.description %></p>
<% end %> 

4) Let's Deploy it!

Introducing Heroku

Heroku makes deploying rails applications dead simple! Simply visit [their site] ( and sign up. I will now show how to deploy on Heroku.

Install the Heroku Gem

First we need to install the heroku gem and Postgres database adapter. We also need to move the sqlite gem to development mode only. Make sure you take out the line that has it as just a general gem. Edit your Gemfile to add the following lines:

group :development do
  gem 'sqlite3'

gem 'heroku'
gem 'pg' # Postgresql adapter - used by Heroku

Then run bundle install to have bundler install the gems

Set up a Git repository (if you don't have one already)

Next we need to create a repository for heroku to use. If you don't know what Git is... You're on Github... figure it out. Run the following commands:

git init .
git add .
git commit -m "Initial Commit"

Create a heroku app and deploy!

heroku create -s cedar <name>

Grab the URL for your application out of the output.

Creating voterapp... done, stack is cedar |
Git remote heroku added 

In this case, it is

Next push to the heroku repository, and migrate your database.

git push heroku master
heroku run rake:db migrate

Now visit the URL given in your output above. You can checkout more at [Heroku's Site] (

That's all folks!