Guide to Rails Metal 515

Posted by mikong on February 03, 2009

  Writing a Rails Metal app can make you realize just how spoiled we’ve become with all the convenience that comes with Rails. Without the controller and view helpers, it can become a painful experience. Here’s a guide to help make it a better experience.

For this guide, we’re writing a Widget Refresher Metal app. Supposedly, the widget page of our Rails application gets called too much, and so we want to take advantage of Metal. Under our project’s app/metal folder, we create refresher.rb:

  class Refresher < Rails::Rack::Metal
      refresher =

  class RefresherApp
    def call(env)
      # refresh widget path: /widgets/:id/refresh
      if env["PATH_INFO"] =~ /^\/widgets\/(\d+)\/refresh/
        widget_id = $1
        prepare(env, widget_id)
        [404, { "Content-Type" => "text/html" }, "Not Found"]

    # to setup the environment
    def prepare(env, widget_id)

    # the heart of our Metal app
    def refresh

I like to create a separate class RefresherApp instead of just writing all of it inside the Refresher class (the one that extends from Rails::Rack::Metal). When your Metal app becomes more than just a trivial hello world app, you’ll be needing a bunch of methods calling each other. Since the call method in the Metal app is a class method, putting all the code in one class will require all these methods to be class methods as well. And I think that looks ugly. Feel free to stick it all in one class if you want. If you do, you can change the context to self so you don’t have to keep on defining each method as self.method:

  class Refresher < Rails::Rack::Metal

    # the methods in here are class methods
    class << self
      def call(env)

      def method


For the rest of the guide, we’re using my approach. Also, note that when developing a Metal app, you need to keep on restarting your server for your code changes to take effect.

Request and Session

To access the request and the parameters in it, you can use this code:

request =
params = request.params
params['mykey'] # String keys, so not params[:mykey]

As you can see, the keys will be of class String, not Symbol. Now for the session, you can get it from the environment:

session = env['rack.session']

We can move all these code into our prepare method. In addition, we can set the params[:id] (using a Symbol if you want), so that in our main refresh method, it would be like in a Rails controller. With the session, we can get the current user. We can also define other methods to make things more like writing code for a Rails controller. This is how it looks like:

  attr_reader :request, :session, :current_user

  def params

  def logged_in?

  def prepare(env, widget_id)
    @request =
    params[:id] = widget_id
    @session = env["rack.session"]
    @current_user = session[:user_id] ? User.find(session[:user_id]) : false

With these out of the way, we go into writing the code for the main method called refresh.

refresh and ActiveRecord

ActiveRecord works out of the box, no setup needed. Cool! Let’s say we just need to return the status of widget to the client side:

  def refresh
    @widget = Widget.find(params[:id])

    return [200, { "Content-Type" => "text/html" }, @widget.status]

We can also send javascript code, or other content types back to our client. Just make sure to set your content type properly. Let’s also add some simple checking if the user is logged in:

  def refresh
    @widget = Widget.find(params[:id])

    if logged_in?
      return [200, { "Content-Type" => "text/javascript" }, "Element.update('status', '#{@widget.status}');"]
      return [200, { "Content-Type" => "text/javascript" }, "Element.update('message', 'Must be logged in for widget status to refresh');"]

When returning more complex javascript however, it’s probably better to escape the newlines and the quotes or we’ll get parsing errors on the browser side. Rails provides a helper method called escape_javascript, but a Metal app doesn’t have access to helpers by default. So…

View Helpers

To use helpers in your Metal app, just include the modules you need:

  include ActionView::Helpers::JavascriptHelper # so escape_javascript works
  include WidgetsHelper # for example

I prefer to avoid including too much of these helpers though.

Request Forgery Protection

If the request is not a GET request, we may need to verify the authenticity token. Here’s one way to do it:

  def refresh
    # before everything else
    return redirect_to_widgets_response unless verified_request?

    # everything else

  def redirect_to_widgets_response
    return [302, { "Content-Type" => "text/html", "Location" => "/widgets" },
      "<html><body><a href=\"/widgets\">Redirecting...</a></body></html>"]

  # Based on Rails method of the same name but simplified, i.e. no need to check if:
  #   - protection is disabled
  #   - request method is :post
  #   - format is verifiable
  def verified_request?
    form_authenticity_token == params['authenticity_token']

  def form_authenticity_token
    session[:_csrf_token] ||= ActiveSupport::SecureRandom.base64(32)

More Challenges

There are other challenges you may encounter in writing your Rails Metal app. I have tried rendering a partial by directly using ERB but it’s too ugly to show here. And I’ve also struggled with performance. Not all business logic can simply be translated to a Metal app to be fast. It is recommended for very simple things only, or it may not be worth it. Anyway, I hope this guide clears up a few things. Also, if you have better ways of doing any of the above, feel free to post in the comments. Thanks!

Setting up your Ubuntu Server for Merb 493

Posted by mikong on November 27, 2008

I prepared a documentation about this for a company and I thought I might as well post it here (modified a bit). I had to make sure the setup worked from scratch so I tested it using Sun’s VirtualBox.

Table of Contents

  1. Ubuntu Server
  2. Package Manager: apt-get
  3. Ruby
  4. RubyGems
  5. Apache 2
  6. MySQL
  7. Merb + DataMapper (+ SQLite 3?)
  8. Phusion Passenger
  9. Deploy the Merb App

1. Ubuntu Server

This setup was tested on the Ubuntu Server OS Hardy Heron, the latest version with LTS as of writing. Go to the Ubuntu website to download the installer of the Ubuntu version you want, preferably the latest with LTS.

The following instructions may work in other Debian-based OSes because it relies mainly on the apt-get package manager.

2. Package Manager: apt-get

Attribution: The content of this section, Package Manager: apt-get, is copied from Configure the Package Manager section of this Slicehost wiki page.

Ubuntu’s package management is done through apt-get. But it starts out handicapped. You need to edit a configuration file to add some additional sources.

sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list

Uncomment these lines (remove the “# “; ignore if not commented out).

# deb hardy main restricted universe
# deb-src hardy main restricted universe
# deb hardy-security main restricted universe
# deb-src hardy-security main restricted universe

Now update the repository index and upgrade your built-in software:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade

3. Ruby

To install Ruby, execute the following in the server’s command line:

sudo apt-get install ruby1.8-dev ruby1.8 ri1.8 rdoc1.8 irb1.8 libreadline-ruby1.8 libruby1.8 libopenssl-ruby
sudo ln -s /usr/bin/ruby1.8 /usr/local/bin/ruby
sudo ln -s /usr/bin/ri1.8 /usr/local/bin/ri
sudo ln -s /usr/bin/rdoc1.8 /usr/local/bin/rdoc
sudo ln -s /usr/bin/irb1.8 /usr/local/bin/irb

4. RubyGems

First, install the essential tools for compiling:

sudo apt-get install build-essential

Then, install RubyGems (latest is version 1.3.1 as of writing; update the script if necessary):

mkdir sources; cd sources
tar zxvf rubygems-1.3.1.tgz
cd rubygems-1.3.1
sudo ruby setup.rb
cd ~
sudo ln -s /usr/bin/gem1.8 /usr/local/bin/gem
sudo gem update --system

5. Apache 2

To install Apache, simply execute the following in the server’s command line:

sudo apt-get install apache2

6. MySQL

To install MySQL:

sudo apt-get install mysql-server mysql-client

Note: During installation, specify the root password for the MySQL when it’s asked.

7. Merb + DataMapper (+ SQLite 3?)

Unfortunately, installing the latest version of Merb (1.0 as of writing) requires SQLite 3. So for the moment,

sudo apt-get install sqlite3 libsqlite3-dev

Then, to install Merb and make it work with MySQL:

sudo gem install merb
sudo apt-get install libmysqlclient15-dev
sudo gem install do_mysql

8. Phusion Passenger

To install Passenger, do the following (from Phusion Passenger’s install page):

  1. Open a terminal and type:
    sudo gem install passenger
  2. Type:
    sudo passenger-install-apache2-module

    And follow the instructions.

Re-run ‘passenger-install-apache2-module’ if you were asked to install other dependencies. For example, if you followed the instructions in this document, you will probably be asked to install development libraries of apache2, so:

sudo apt-get install apache2-prefork-dev
sudo passenger-install-apache2-module

After that, you will probably be asked to edit your Apache configuration file (see /etc/apache2/httpd.conf) to add the following (note that version numbers may vary):

LoadModule passenger_module /usr/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/passenger-2.0.3/ext/apache2/
PassengerRoot /usr/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/passenger-2.0.3
PassengerRuby /usr/bin/ruby1.8

Since a Merb app is a Rack-based Ruby application, check out section 4 (or “Deploying a Rack-based Ruby Application” section) of the Phusion Passenger User’s Guide. From section 4.2 (or “Deploying to a virtual host’s root” section),

Add a virtual host entry to your Apache configuration file. The virtual host’s document root must point to the application’s public folder. For example,

  <VirtualHost *:80>
    DocumentRoot /var/www/apps/my_app/public

Your Merb app needs to satisfy a certain directory layout for Passenger to work. This is described in section 4 of the User’s guide. In the root directory of your application, you need a public folder (which a standard Merb app should already have), a tmp folder (simply create an empty one), and a file containing the configuration detailed in section 4.5.4 of the User’s guide.

The Phusion Passenger User’s Guide is quite a comprehensive documentation. If you encounter any problems, be sure to check its other sections like the one on Troubleshooting. For example, if you have static assets (such as stylesheets) in your application’s public folder, you are likely to encounter the problem described in section 6.3.4. The solution is also there.

9. Deploy the Merb App

Basically, to get your Merb App to running you only need to do the following:

  1. Make sure the gem dependencies are satisfied by either installing the gems in your server, or freezing them in your app.
  2. Make sure your app satisfies the requirements of Passenger (i.e. tmp and public folders and file, see Phusion Passenger section above).
  3. Place a copy of the application in an appropriate directory such as /var/www/apps/my_app. Wherever it is, make sure that it is consistent with the specified directory in the Apache configuration file (see Phusion Passenger section above).
  4. Prepare your database: create it, configure your database.yml, and migrate your tables and data.
  5. Start your Apache server.
    sudo apache2ctl start

    Note that with Passenger, restarting your app is done by creating a restart.txt file in the Merb app’s tmp folder.

That should get you started. If you want more, there’s a great talk about Deploying a Merb App by Lindsay and you can download it from the MerbCamp videos page. It talks about freezing Merb and other gems, web servers, restarting your app, monitoring, configuration management, exception handling, and some other tips.

Custom rake tasks in Merb: Data Backup and Import 412

Posted by mikong on November 03, 2008

There are a lot of data import solutions in Rails, most of which depend on ActiveRecord. Since Merb supports ActiveRecord too, you can use those solutions in your Merb app. But I’m using DataMapper in my Merb app, so I had to look for another way.

This article shows how to create a simple rake task in a Merb + DataMapper project. It then talks about the Data Backup and Import rake tasks db:dump_data and db:load_data. I’ve added some notes for those with a Rails background.

A simple rake task

When I generated my Merb app, the lib folder wasn’t generated. It looked something like this:

  |--> app
  |--> autotest
  |--> config
  |--> doc
  |--> gems
  |--> merb
  |--> public
  |--> spec
  |--> Rakefile
  `--> tasks

The folder structure seems to suggest that you write your custom rake tasks under the tasks folder of your Merb app, but this is not the case. Read the Rakefile and you can see these 3 important details:

  • Add your custom tasks named file_name.rake in /lib/tasks.
  • The Merb environment is initialized to the MERB_ENV value, or ‘rake’ environment if MERB_ENV is not set.
  • To start the runner environment, in case you need access to your application’s classes, there is a task called :merb_env.

So the location is just like in Rails, i.e. in the lib/tasks folder. Try creating a custom.rake file in the lib/tasks folder and add the following:

  desc "Print all classes that include DataMapper::Resource."
  task :print_dm_resources => :merb_env do
    DataMapper::Resource.descendants.each do |resource|
      puts resource

The rake task above depends on the :merb_env task in order to access the application’s models. This is just like a rake task in Rails that depends on the :environment task. To run the task:

$ MERB_ENV=development rake print_dm_resources

Data Backup and Import

The following rake tasks are based off of the rake file provided in Tobias Lutke’s old blog post about migration between databases. I’ve translated it to work with Merb + DataMapper:

namespace :db do

  def interesting_tables
    DataMapper::Resource.descendants.reject! do |table|

  desc "Dump data from the current environment's DB."
  task :dump_data => :merb_env do
    dir = Merb.root_path("config/data/#{Merb.env}")

    interesting_tables.each do |table|
      puts "Dumping #{table}...""#{table}.yml", 'w+') { |f| YAML.dump(table.all.collect(&:attributes), f) }

  desc "Load data (from config/data/<environment>) into the current environment's DB."
  task :load_data => :merb_env do
    dir = Merb.root_path("config/data/#{Merb.env}")

    adapter = DataMapper.repository(:default).adapter

    interesting_tables.each do |table|
      table.transaction do |txn|
        puts "Loading #{table} data..."
        YAML.load_file("#{table}.yml").each do |fixture|
          adapter.execute("INSERT INTO #{} (#{fixture.keys.join(",")}) VALUES (#{fixture.values.collect {|value| adapter.send(:quote_column_value, value)}.join(",")})")

Add the above to your custom rake file. To dump the data from your development environment, run the following:

$ MERB_ENV=development rake db:dump_data

This will create the folder config/data/development if it doesn’t exist yet, and generate a ModelName.yml file for each of your models that included DataMapper::Resource. It is necessary to specify MERB_ENV, otherwise the environment will be initialized to the ‘rake’ environment and the folder config/data/rake will be created instead.

Then as you migrate your database to the latest version of your models, our database is cleared of its data (a side effect when using DataMapper’s automigrate):

$ rake db:automigrate

After migrating, we can just reload the data using our other rake task:

$ MERB_ENV=development rake db:load_data

If you were to use the sample process above, you might want to update the yaml files to handle the changes that happened with the migration. If there’s a new model, you can just create a new yaml file for it.

Here are some of the things you can do with the script:

  • change the path where the yaml files are stored
  • use a different file format for the data (quite a big change though)
  • edit interesting_tables method to exclude more models
  • clear tables before loading the data (this could be dangerous!)
  • create a task that depends on dump_data, automigrate, and load_data

I didn’t clear the tables before loading the data because I prefer that the rake task throw an error when I’m running it on a populated database.

There are probably better ways to approach this problem. In my case though, I just needed a quick solution to reload my data after running automigrate.

Basic User Signup with MerbAuth 508

Posted by mikong on October 27, 2008

It’s amazing how fast Merb has changed since I’ve dabbled with it early last month. I used the merb-auth plugin then and it was pretty ok, being familiar with the restful authentication plugin for Rails. But the merb-auth plugin is now obsolete, after only being introduced last June.

Enter MerbAuth

Daniel Neighman (aka hassox) gave a talk during MerbCamp on MerbAuth and MerbSlices and you can download his slides from his github account. There’s also a recipe in the Merb Wiki cookbook for an Authenticated Hello World using MerbAuth, so be sure to check those out before following the tutorial below.

MerbAuth Setup

As detailed in the Authenticated Hello World tutorial, MerbAuth is already in your Merb stack and you can use it right after:

  1. generating your merb app
  2. setting up your database, and
  3. creating a hello world controller

So you just add the authentication in your router or your controller and you’re good to go.

Basic User Signup

This tutorial will show how to add validations to your User model, prepare your Signup page, and setup your Users controller. There are comments along the way that explain basic Merb stuff to someone with a Rails background. It assumes your Merb app uses Datamapper for its ORM and ERb for its templating engine, the defaults when generating a new Merb app.


It may be a bit weird that the User model is almost empty, looking like this:

class User
  include DataMapper::Resource

  property :id,     Serial
  property :login, String

You don’t see it there, but MerbAuth already has your back for validating the presence of password, and making sure it’s confirmed with the password_confirmation field. But you probably want to add that the login is unique, and perhaps validate the length of your login and password.

class User
  include DataMapper::Resource

  property :id,     Serial
  property :login, String

  validates_length      :login,        :within => 3..40
  validates_is_unique :login
  validates_length      :password, :within => 4..40, :if => :password_required?

Those are all pretty basic. But it’s good to note that there’s a :password_required? inside MerbAuth that you can use here, just as you were able to in the old days of merb-auth plugin. Add other fields such as created_at, updated_at or email and add more validations as you see fit.

Signup page

Create a new.html.erb file under app/views/users:

<%= error_messages_for @user %>
<%= form_for @user, :action => url(:users) do %>
    <%= text_field :login, :label => "Login" %>
    <%= password_field :password, :label => "Password" %>
    <%= password_field :password_confirmation, :label => "Password Confirmation" %>
    <%= submit "Sign up" %>
<% end =%>

It’s very similar to Rails but there are subtle things to note here. First, we use ‘form_for’ because we have a user resource for the form fields, just like in Rails. If it were a custom form that’s not based off of a resource, we’d use ‘form’ (Merb’s counterpart to Rails’ ‘form_tag’). For Merb, it’s important that you don’t miss the = in the ‘<%= form_for … end =%>’ or you would only see a blank Signup page.

Second, we have the field helpers. We had text_control, password_control and submit_button in the old Merb but now, we have text_field, password_field and submit and I think the view looks better. These same helpers are used even if you’re using ‘form’ instead of ‘form_for’, unlike having to use a different set of *_tag helpers in Rails. Note also the :label option of the field helper.

Users controller

Run ‘merb-gen controller users’ or create a users.rb file under app/controllers:

class Users < Application

  def index

  def new
    only_provides :html
    @user =
    display @user

  def create(user)
    @user =
      redirect "/", :message => {:notice => "Signup complete"}
      message[:error] = "Signup failed"
      render :new


A Merb controller differs with a Rails one in a lot of ways and I’ll just comment on a few. Merb has render and display methods. Then, there’s the convenience of specifying a parameter to be stored in a variable in your action like in the create action above. In that case, the params[:user] is automatically stored in a local variable named user.

In Merb, your controller actions need to explicitly return something. If you remove ‘render’ in the index action above, it’ll be like returning nil as your response. Return a string, like “hello world” in the Authenticated Hello World example, and it sends that string as response to the client. If you need to return an XML representation of your object, it’s as easy as having the action return @object.to_xml.

Last thing to note, we call session.abandon! in our create action to clear the session, practically logging out the user. This method is provided by MerbAuth.


You may add the following to your router.rb file:

  resources :users
  match('/signup').to(:controller => 'users', :action => 'new')

That’s it!

I hope this makes a good companion to the Authenticated Hello World recipe, and does it’s job of showing what you can do next with MerbAuth while introducing some of the basic concepts in Merb. There’s more to MerbAuth than what we’ve covered here. You might want to check its RDoc. There’s even the concept of MerbAuth Strategy (see hassox’s MerbAuth slides) I haven’t explored yet.

Quick notes for setting up a secure remote Git repository 97

Posted by mikong on August 29, 2008

Toolman Tim wrote a good article about setting up a remote Git repository. It didn’t include the part of creating a git user, so I’ve created my own notes below. His article does offer more explanation on the setup so be sure to check it out.

Prepare the bare Git repo:

$ ssh
$ mkdir /var/git
$ mkdir /var/git/myapp.git
$ cd /var/git/myapp.git
$ git --bare init

Create your git user:

$ addgroup git
$ adduser -g git git
$ passwd git
$ chown -R git:git /var/git/myapp.git

Copy your local computer’s public key to the git user’s authorized keys:

$ vi ~/../git/.ssh/authorized_keys

Locate your git-shell:

$ which git-shell

And change your git user’s shell from /bin/bash to the git-shell path:

$ vi /etc/passwd

On your local computer, go to your project directory and point it to the remote server:

$ cd ~/dev/myapp
$ git remote add origin ssh://
$ git push origin master

To set the remote repository as the default branch to push and pull to (so you don’t have to specify “origin master” with every push, pull, etc), open your project’s Git config:

$ vi ~/dev/myapp/.git/config

And add the following:

  [branch "master"]
    remote = origin
    merge = refs/heads/master

And that’s all there is to it!

Programming and My Other Passion 11

Posted by mikong on July 24, 2008

I sometimes wanted to write an article about Go (board game) in this development blog, but I could never justify it. But now that a couple of Ruby/Rails blogs posted articles this year relating programming to Go, I finally have an excuse. :)

The first article is from the O’Reilly Ruby blog entitled “Ruby Conferences vs. Go Tournaments”. The other one is from the Rails Spikes blog, “Why programmers should play Go”, which Fabio Akita even translated to Portuguese (with additional notes) in his Akita on Rails blog. Check them out!

I was pleasantly surprised to find that these developers also have passions for both Go and programming and even went so far as comparing them. Previously, the only way I could think of linking the two was to create a Go program using Ruby. But now that I think about it, it seems like they’re connected on a deeper level.

Go and programming are my passions that take up most of my time. It has been a real struggle to balance the two. Every time I program too much, I would start to miss Go and do my best to find time for it. At times it’s the other way around. And then I just realized, I started to learn both Ruby and Go at about the same time (end of December 2006). I even joined the Philippine Ruby Users Group (PhRUG) and started the Philippine Go Association mailing list at about those times too. A coincidence? I THINK NOT!

If you don’t know Go, I encourage you to read about it. If you’re a fellow PhRUG member who knows Go and wants to play a game with me, or wants to learn it, you can send me an email through the group. Or just join our Go mailing list.

Metaprogramming Talk 63

Posted by mikong on May 22, 2008

I’d like to thank everyone who attended the Philippine Ruby Users Group (PHRUG) May ‘08 Meetup and listened to my over-2-hour talk on Metaprogramming. Thanks for the patience, for not sleeping (or not making it obvious), and for those wonderful questions. It’s tough discussing the object model of Ruby when terms are repeated like ‘the superclass of the metaclass of the Ninja class is the metaclass of the Object class’. I literally had a headache after the talk.


As I mentioned, my talk was largely based off of Dave Thomas’ “Metaprogramming” talk in QCon London ‘06 and Patrick Farley’s “Ruby Internals” talk in the MountainWest Ruby Conference (MWRubyConf) ‘08. Click on the links to see/download their presentations.

There are other talks related to metaprogramming in MWRubyConf ‘08 like those by Giles Bowkett, Jeremy McAnally, and Joe O’Brien. Or just go to the Confreaks site to check other cool talks on Ruby.

Coding Session

I had a problem with Ruby2Ruby.translate at one point in the coding session. I’ve just confirmed what was pointed out to me. Indeed, Ruby2Ruby couldn’t translate a class without a method definition. What you all wanted to see was what would this:

  module Taijutsu
    def punch
      puts 'punch'

  class Ninja
    include Taijutsu

look like when Ninja is translated using Ruby2Ruby. Here it is:

  class Ninja < Object
    def punch
      puts 'punch'

Unfortunately, Ruby2Ruby won’t show an include call, as a lot of you had hoped.


I’ve uploaded the pdf of my slides at the Files section of our PHRUG Google Group. But you might be better off watching the talks I mentioned above.

Minor note: I used back quotes in my slides to refer to singleton classes and metaclasses. I thought this was the standard but looks like it’s not. Patrick Farley used the normal single quotes before the names in his slides. The pickaxe book used single quotes after the class name (for metaclass) and ‘anon’ which means anonymous class (to refer to the singleton classes and include classes of modules).


Thanks again! If you enjoyed my talk, you might want to recommend me at Working with Rails. And you might want to check out this article by Ola Bini on Dynamically created methods in Ruby.

Ruby 1.9 Hash in Ruby 1.8 527

Posted by mikong on April 03, 2008

I’m learning about Ruby 1.9 features but I realized I won’t be able to use it in any of my projects. So I thought of an exercise where I learn Ruby metaprogramming by trying to implement some of Ruby 1.9’s new functionality. Aside from learning metaprogramming and Ruby 1.9, I’d also end up with a library that I can use in my Ruby 1.8 projects.

But first, let me introduce…

The new Hash

We have an alternative hash syntax in Ruby 1.9:

  # old way that still works in Ruby 1.9
  my_hash = { :a => 'apple', :b => 'banana' }

  # new way
  my_hash = { a: 'apple', b: 'banana' }

A nice addition in Ruby 1.9 is that the order in which you added the items to a hash is remembered and will be used when the hash is iterated.

There’s also a new class method try_convert where if you call


myobject’s to_hash method will be called to return a hash. If there’s no to_hash, nil will be returned.

And then we have these new instance methods (a few were simply borrowed from the Array class): assoc, compare_by_identity, compare_by_identity?, flatten, key and rassoc.

Trying Metaprogramming

Let’s first try to implement the try_convert class method. Luckily, Chris Wanstrath’s try() article gave us something we could use:

class Object
  #   @person ? :nil
  # vs
  #   @person.try(:name)
  def try(method)
    send method if respond_to? method

By building on his code above, we could do this:

class Hash
  def self.try_convert(obj)

Looking at that, I’m starting to think Ruby 1.9 should have included the try() method instead of providing try_convert(). But that’s beside the point of this exercise.

Let’s try the simple instance method flatten. The documentation said it converts the hash to an array, then invokes Array#flatten! on the result. So it seems to be simply this:

class Hash
  def flatten

But looking closer there’s actually a depth parameter (default is 1 - or so it seems but it behaves like -1 in my version of Ruby 1.9) demonstrated in the documentation’s example:

h = { feline: [ "felix", "tom"], :equine: "ed" }
h.flatten    # => [:feline, ["felix", "tom"], :equine, "ed"]
h.flatten(1) # => [:feline, ["felix", "tom"], :equine, "ed"]
h.flatten(2) # => [:feline, "felix", "tom", :equine, "ed"]

It turns out that the flatten and flatten! methods in Ruby 1.9 Array has also changed with a new level parameter. The default value of -1 makes it behave like the original (i.e. it recursively flattens the array). A level value of 0 performs no flattening and a level greater than zero flattens only to that depth (like the depth parameter in the Hash#flatten example above).

The flatten method we implemented above works fine. If you want the depth parameter, I’ve added it by first redefining the flatten method in Array, and then just calling that from the flatten method in Hash. You could head over to my GitHub repository to see the code. The simple project also implements some Ruby 1.9 Time class methods (sunday?, monday?, etc) using the method_missing trick. And I’ll continue to play around with Ruby 1.9 and metaprogramming so you could expect more Ruby 1.9 features in Ruby 1.8. The idea is not to port Ruby 1.9 to Ruby 1.8 (that would be crazy!), but to try stuff so some weird things may also crop up.

Grails and Rails 428

Posted by mikong on February 12, 2008

I didn’t like the idea of checking out Grails. I mean if I’m already a Rails developer, why bother checking a copycat. That’s why I’m surprised I found things I liked about it. But will I leave Ruby on Rails for it? This article is about my first impressions of Grails after reading the book Getting Started with Grails, sections of their online documentation and some Grails-related articles.

Some Good Stuff

After you run ‘grails run-app’ (the equivalent of ’script/server’ in Rails) you can access your application with the URL http://localhost:8080/app_name and get a ‘Welcome to Grails’ page. It’s a minor thing but I like having the application name in there. When you type your application URL by hand in the address bar and you’re shown the cached URLs, it looks more organized. Multiple Grails applications can run together without having to reconfigure URLs. The Welcome page also includes links to the index page of each of your controller so that’s another nice addition. (Note: The URLs to the other pages of a Grails application is accessed by appending controller/action/id to the URL, just like Rails.)

Grails ships with HSQLDB which makes playing with simple applications really easy. You can create your app at the start without thinking about the database. Of course, your data won’t persist this way because HSQLDB stores your data in memory, but I don’t really care about that when I’m just playing around. In Rails 2.0.2, the default DB was changed to SQLite3 so you don’t have to setup your database but you need SQLite3. In Grail’s HSQLDB, you only need Java which you should already have if you’re using Grails.

In Grails, models are ‘domain classes’. Grails domain classes remind me of DataMapper, the Ruby ORM. You list down the properties of the domain in the class, and the framework generates the table with these columns in the database. So instead of adding a column through a migration, just add a property in your domain class. You won’t need an Annotate Models plugin here.

And there are other nice things in Grails. Because Grails is on top of Java, you have i18n support out of the box. The Grails tag library is also a clean approach to views.

Some Bad Stuff

I have a few issues with Grails defaults. The first problem I had with Grails is that the generated DB columns are required or cannot be NULL. You need to declare in your domain class the columns that are optional. I don’t really get this because in most of the applications I’ve worked with, there are more optional columns than required ones. Also, I’m the type of Rails developer that avoids adding constraints in the DB unless I have to. If my application is the only thing that accesses my database, then I’ll put my constraints in one place, the application-side.

One of the many little things I like about Rails is if you have created_at and updated_at columns, they are automatically set when you save a record. You also have the timestamps method added in your generated model migration by default that adds these 2 columns. In Grails, you need to specify a createdAt property in your domain class, and set it manually to new Date().

In contrast to Rails, Grails controllers do not extend an application controller by default. It’s a minor thing but I would probably need to extend it manually for every Grails application I write, hypothetically speaking.

In Grails, you’re not supposed to need to restart your server when you make changes. But this is not entirely true. When you add static constraints to your domain classes, add new messages, or a new Java class, you still need to restart. For Java developers, it’s better than having to build and deploy a WAR file every time, but it’s still a bit irritating to me.

You can mix Java and Groovy in your Grails application. This can be good in a lot of ways but I think it can also be bad. Java developers working on a Grails application may be tempted to use their old, inefficient ways instead of taking the leap to Groovy. Or when Groovy doesn’t support a Java construct a Java developer is used to, you end up with verbose code, like the search implementation in the Getting Started with Grails book (see Working with Java Classes starting at page 63). This was particularly disturbing and made me think: if Java always has Groovy’s back, Groovy might depend on Java too much.

It’s Really the Syntax

My issues with Grails so far are minor but the thing for me is: Ruby/Rails syntax is just more beautiful than Java/Groovy/Grails syntax.

Mapping a has_many association in Rails:

  has_many :registrations

In Grails:

  static hasMany = [registrations:Registration]

Adding a before filter in your controller in Rails:

  before_filter :auth, :except => 'search'

In Grails:

  def beforeInterceptor = [action:this.&auth, except:['search']]

The end of Rails?

I won’t be surprised if Grails becomes more popular than Rails but only because Java is currently the most popular language in the industry (based on TIOBE). Grails is for Java developers who don’t want to leave their comfort zone. It offers something a lot better than the current Java web frameworks and that’s a good thing. But I like Rails better; I might only consider Grails if I have to integrate with Java. And I prefer Ruby over Groovy. Groovy is the dynamic language that looks like Java so that Java developers have an easier transition. That has a cost though, and one may be that it will never be as beautiful as Ruby.

Web Developer v2 6

Posted by mikong on December 31, 2007

As a web developer, it was a year full of changes. My OS for work before was Windows 2000, now it’s Mac OS X. I used Java and a proprietary web framework and now I mainly program with Ruby and Ruby on Rails. I used a proprietary javascript framework, and now Prototype. I primarily used Eclipse as my IDE, now I use TextMate (I used emacs for about a month). My database was Oracle, now it’s MySQL or PostgreSQL. From CVS to SVN, and recently using Git on personal projects. That’s changes to my OS, programming language, web framework, IDE, database and version control system. And here’s more…

From the waterfall software development model to agile software development. And from working with large teams (of 20 to 50 or more) for more than a year on each project to a small team (of 1 to 4) working on 2 week iterations (see Scrum). And as described in this older article, I switched my keyboard layout from QWERTY to Dvorak a few months back.

I didn’t test a year ago. Instead, I passed my code to software testers. I’ve heard of JUnit but never used it. Now, I’m learning BDD with RSpec.

There are also other changes like starting this development blog, participating in the Philippine Ruby Users Group, and contributing to Rails. Using newer releases like Ruby 1.9 (only for playing around though) and Rails 2.0 for my new projects. From Ubuntu Dapper to Gutsy (I skipped Edgy Eft and Feisty Fawn). Et cetera.

2007 was fun! And I’m curious how this article will look like a year from now. :)