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A helper for creating declarative interfaces in controllers

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Note: Version 2.3.x will be the last series of releases that support Rails 3.x and Ruby 1.8/1.9. Starting with version 3.0, Decent Exposure will only support Rails 4.0 and above, and Ruby 2.0 and above.

Mad Decent

Rails controllers are the sweaty armpit of every rails app. This is due, in large part, to the fact that they expose their instance variables directly to their views. This means that your instance variables are your interface... and that you've broken encapsulation. Instance variables are meant to be private, for Science's sake!

What decent_exposure proposes is that you go from this:

class Controller
  def new
    @person = Person.new(params[:person])
  end

  def create
    @person = Person.new(params[:person])
    if @person.save
      redirect_to(@person)
    else
      render :new
    end
  end

  def edit
    @person = Person.find(params[:id])
  end

  def update
    @person = Person.find(params[:id])
    if @person.update_attributes(params[:person])
      redirect_to(@person)
    else
      render :edit
    end
  end
end

To something like this:

class Controller
  expose(:person)

  def create
    if person.save
      redirect_to(person)
    else
      render :new
    end
  end

  def update
    if person.save
      redirect_to(person)
    else
      render :edit
    end
  end
end

And your views from this:

@person.email

To simply this:

person.email

In your forms, instead of this:

= form_for @person do |f|
  ...

To this:

= form_for person do |f|
  ...

decent_exposure makes it easy to define named methods that are made available to your views and which memoize the resultant values. It also tucks away the details of the common fetching, initializing and updating of resources and their parameters.

That's neat and all, but the real advantage comes when it's time to refactor (because you've encapsulated now). What happens when you need to scope your Person resource from a Company? Which implementation isolates those changes better? In that particular example, decent_exposure goes one step farther and will handle the scoping for you (with a smidge of configuration) while still handling all that repetitive initialization, as we'll see next.

Even if you decide not to use decent_exposure, do yourself a favor and stop using instance variables in your views. Your code will be cleaner and easier to refactor as a result. If you want to learn more about this approach, I've expanded on my thoughts in the article A Diatribe on Maintaining State.

Environmental Awareness

Well, no it won't lessen your carbon footprint, but it does take a lot of cues from what's going on around it...

decent_exposure will build the requested object in one of a couple of ways depending on what the params make available to it. At its simplest, when an id is present in the params hash, decent_exposure will attempt to find a record. In absence of params[:id] decent_exposure will try to build a new record.

Once the object has been obtained, it attempts to set the attributes of the resulting object. Thus, a newly minted person instance will get any attributes set that've been passed along in params[:person]. When you interact with person in your create action, just call save on it and handle the valid/invalid branch. Let's revisit our previous example:

class Controller
  expose(:person)

  def create
    if person.save
      redirect_to(person)
    else
      render :new
    end
  end
end

Behind the scenes, decent_exposure has essentially done this:

person.attributes = params[:person]

In Rails, this assignment is actually a merge with the current attributes and it marks attributes as dirty as you would expect. This is why you're simply able to call save on the person instance in the create action, rather than the typical update_attributes(params[:person]).

An Aside

Did you notice there's no new action? Yeah, that's because we don't need it. More often than not actions that respond to GET requests are just setting up state. Since we've declared an interface to our state and made it available to the view (a.k.a. the place where we actually want to access it), we just let Rails do it's magic and render the new view, lazily evaluating person when we actually need it.

A Caveat

Rails conveniently responds with a 404 if you get a record not found in the controller. Since we don't find the object until we're in the view in this paradigm, we get an ugly ActionView::TemplateError instead. If this is problematic for you, consider using the expose! method to circumvent lazy evaluation and eagerly evaluate whilst still in the controller.

Usage

In an effort to make the examples below a bit less magical, we'll offer a simplified explanation for how the exposed resource would be queried for (assuming you are using ActiveRecord).

Obtaining an instance of an object:

expose(:person)

Query Explanation

id present? Query
true Person.find(params[:id])
false Person.new(params[:person])

Obtaining a collection of objects

expose(:people)

Query Explanation

Query
Person.scoped

Scoping your object queries

Want to scope your queries to ensure object hierarchy? decent_exposure automatically scopes singular forms of a resource from a plural form where they're defined:

expose(:people)
expose(:person)

Query Explanation

id present? Query
true Person.scoped.find(params[:id])
false Person.scoped.new(params[:person])

How about a more realistic scenario where the object hierarchy specifies something useful, like only finding people in a given company:

expose(:company)
expose(:people, ancestor: :company)
expose(:person)

Query Explanation

person id present? Query
true Company.find(params[:company_id]).people.find(params[:id])
false Company.find(params[:company_id]).people.new(params[:person])

Further configuration

decent_exposure is a configurable beast. Let's take a look at some of the things you can do:

Specify the model name:

expose(:company, model: :enterprisey_company)

Specify the parameter accessor method:

expose(:company, params: :company_params)

Specify the finder method:

expose(:article, finder: :find_by_slug)

Specify the parameter key to use to fetch the object:

expose(:article, finder_parameter: :slug)

Setting a distinct object for a single action

There are times when one action in a controller is different from the rest of the actions. Rather than putting conditional logic in your exposure block, a better approach is the use the controller's setter methods:

expose(:articles) { current_user.articles }
expose(:article)

def index
  self.articles = Article.all
end

Getting your hands dirty

While we try to make things as easy for you as possible, sometimes you just need to go off the beaten path. For those times, expose takes a block which it lazily evaluates and returns the result of when called. So for instance:

expose(:environment) { Rails.env }

This block is evaluated and the memoized result is returned whenever you call environment.

Using the Default decent_exposure Goodness

If you don't want to go too far off the beaten path, the value of the default exposure can be easily obtained inside of your custom block. The block will receive a proxy object that you can use to lazily evaluate the default decent_exposure logic. For example:

expose(:articles) {|default| default.limit(10) }

This allows you to customize your exposures, without having to redo all of the built-in logic decent_exposure gives you out of the box.

Custom strategies

For the times when custom behavior is needed for resource finding, decent_exposure provides a base class for extending. For example, if scoping a resource from current_user is not an option, but you'd like to verify a resource's relationship to the current_user, you can use a custom strategy like the following:

class VerifiableStrategy < DecentExposure::Strategy
  delegate :current_user, :to => :controller

  def resource
    instance = model.find(params[:id])
    if current_user != instance.user
      raise ActiveRecord::RecordNotFound
    end
    instance
  end
end

You would then use your custom strategy in your controller:

expose(:post, strategy: VerifiableStrategy)

The API only necessitates you to define resource, but provides some common helpers to access common things, such as the params hash. For everything else, you can delegate to controller, which is the same as self in the context of a normal controller action.

Customizing your exposures

For most things, you'll be able to pass a few configuration options and get the desired behavior. For changes you want to affect every call to expose in a controller or controllers inheriting from it (e.g. ApplicationController, if you need to change the behavior for all your controllers), you can define an decent_configuration block:

class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base
  decent_configuration do
    strategy MongoidStrategy
  end
end

A decent_configuration block without a :name argument is considered the "default" configuration for that controller (and it's ancestors). All things considered, you probably only want to change the strategy in a default. Nonetheless, you can pass any configuration option you can to an individual exposure to the decent_configuration block.

If you don't want a specific configuration to affect every exposure in the given controller, you can give it a name like so:

class ArticleController < ApplicationController
  decent_configuration(:sluggable) do
    finder :find_by_slug
    finder_parameter :slug
  end
end

And opt into it like so:

expose(:article, config: :sluggable)

Usage with Rails 4 (or strong_parameters plugin)

If you're using Rails 4 or strong_parameters, add the following to your ApplicationController:

class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base
  decent_configuration do
    strategy DecentExposure::StrongParametersStrategy
  end
end

Then, when you'd like parameters to be assigned to a model, add the attributes option to your exposure:

class FooController < ApplicationController
  expose(:foo, attributes: :foo_params)

  private
  def foo_params
    params.require(:foo).permit(:bar, :baz)
  end
end

In the example above, foo_params will only be called on a PUT, POST or PATCH request.

Testing

Controller testing remains trivially easy. The shift is that you now set expectations on methods rather than instance variables. With RSpec, this mostly means avoiding assign and assigns.

describe CompaniesController do
  describe "GET index" do

    # this...
    it "assigns @companies" do
      company = Company.create
      get :index
      assigns(:companies).should eq([company])
    end

    # becomes this
    it "exposes companies" do
      company = Company.create
      get :index
      controller.companies.should eq([company])
    end
  end
end

View specs follow a similar pattern:

describe "people/index.html.erb" do

  # this...
  it "lists people" do
    assign(:people, [ mock_model(Person, name: 'John Doe') ])
    render
    rendered.should have_content('John Doe')
  end

  # becomes this
  it "lists people" do
    view.stub(people: [ mock_model(Person, name: 'John Doe') ])
    render
    rendered.should have_content('John Doe')
  end

end
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