Getting better mileage out of Active Record

Written by Luke Morton on 12th September 2015

In which I provide a few links to help scale the M in MVC, the ActiveRecord in rails.

The basis of this post comes from one tweet I read.

I saw this tweet by Brad and had a response that I commonly have to positions or declarations in the world of software engineering.

That's a bit extreme.

More and more I have this view. I feel rather mellow. That said, I responded on twitter almost a troll comment which immediately sinks me into having a view which again could be considered extreme.

Ah, isn't life full of ironic opportunities. Anyway...

People are still shipping products but I think Brad is right in a way. The more we introduce engineers to the world of web development via rails the more abstracted away from the concepts of the database they are. In the world of small business, the one I choose to operate in, roles aren't well defined. Full stack is about as defined as my role can get since on any given day I can be building out UI components with Sass/BEM/pieces, designing refund systems for Spree applications, setting up continuous delivery practices for new clients, writing chef recipes, finding new hires or writing blog posts. I didn't even mention databases here or the scaling of your models which are yet more skills required for generalists.

For small businesses and for people entering the world of rails (or whatever your framework) it's easy to become a generalist and suffer the consequences of becoming the master of none. We need to be mindful as our applications grow how to keep control of our ORMs.

Resources for getting along with your ORM

Brad wrote a follow up post which I recommend you go read now before continuing.

The author writes the common pitfalls of Active Record, statements of denial and provides some resources to how we might fix these problems. I'd like to add to the mix a bunch of resources I find useful for tackling these issues.

Tackling god objects with entities, data objects and repositories

Great article on how to break down models with a trip of patterns. Although this author introduces these concepts with the aid of a gem, I think we can achieve these patterns without any additional dependencies.

Learn from others

Piotr wrote a great piece on the things he's learnt whilst being a rails developer:

Use OO boundaries more efficiently

Alright, this is a plug to one of my blog posts at Made. It's on topic though and highlights how we might better use object oriented as well as functional programming practices to scale our models further.

Use data objects

Rather than leaning on complex models we can instead lean on hashes or hash like objects to transfer data around our applications.

Moar patterns

I hesistated in posting this one since it's yet another list of design patterns. Then again, this whole blog post is about links to design patterns so it's included for completeness.

I'm going to write in the future on how design patterns are introducing more problems to our applications through their blind use.

Avoid callbacks

By using Query and Command objects we can avoid the necessity for callbacks which are often a cause for confusing bugs.

Use SQL prepared statements in rails 5

It's getting easier to use straight up SQL in rails.

Avoid ActiveRecord

Use ROM.rb instead!!

Avoid rails

Use Lotus instead!!


Okay those last two links are more inspirational than aspirational. As engineers who chose shops that use rails, we won't be escaping Active Record or rails in general any time soon. Hopefully I've provided a few more links that can help you scale out your models and ORMs further.

I haven't however provided resources to how you can utilise the power of your database further. Or even learn as a rubyist how to be a DBA. One thing that came out of my education was database normalisation a concept some developers haven't heard of. Let the conversation continue...


Feel free to read some more thoughts or go back to the introduction.