ReefPointsBlog

Rails Engines and Monkey Patching

Brian Cardarella

We've started extracting simple behavior into Rails Engines lately. An example of this is our Invitable engine. As you may have guessed, it adds invitation request support to an existing app. It's about 50% complete right now but for the purposes of this post it will act as the example.

As an engine it has a very slim Invitation model that only expects an email attribute. A client app we're currently building requires two additional attributes to be gathered: name and zipcode.

There is no need to overwrite the model, I just want to extend it. The cleanest thing to do is just monkey patch it.

Let's start with writing the spec of where I want the model to be (I am using ValidAttribute if the specs don't look familiar, I suggest you try it test spec your validations)

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require 'spec_helper'

describe Invitable::Invitation do
  it { should     have_valid(:name).when('Henry Ford') }
  it { should_not have_valid(:name).when(nil, '') }
  it { should     have_valid(:zipcode).when('02115') }
  it { should_not have_valid(:zipcode).when(nil, '', 'hello', '0211', '021156') }
end

To make this spec green there are two things that I have to do

  1. Add the name and zipcode columsn to the correct table
  2. Open up the class and add the proper validations on those attributes

The first is simple. I just create a new migration and add the columns to invitable_invitations.

The second is not so straight forward. If I open up the class in the client app and attempt to add the validations like so:

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module Invitable
  class Invitation
    validates :name, :zipcode, :presence => true
    validates :zipcode, :format => /^\d{5}$|^\d{5}-\d{4}$/
  end
end

The app will raise a NoMethodError exception complaining that validates is undefined. In the load path there are two app/models/invitable/invitation.rb files and the one in the app takes precendence over the one in the engine. This is fine because you might want to overwrite the model entirely, but in this case I want to extend it. So you must explicitly require the engine's model at the top of the app's model.

Thankfully the engine itself has a nice helper called_from that tracks its full path on the file system. In this example we access it with Invitable::Engine.called_from. This will point to the lib/invitable directory in the gem itself. Here is what I ended up with in the model:

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require File.expand_path('../../app/models/invitable/invitation', Invitable::Engine.called_from)

module Invitable
  class Invitation
    validates :name, :zipcode, :presence => true
    validates :zipcode, :format => /^\d{5}$|^\d{5}-\d{4}$/
  end
end

It's verbose and this could be better so let's clean that up.

In my engine I've added a spec to spec/lib/invitable/engine_spec.rb with the following (I'm using Mocha for the stubbing)

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require 'spec_helper'

describe Invitable::Engine do
  before { Invitable::Engine.stubs(:called_from).returns('/lib/invitable') }

  describe '.app_path' do
    it 'returns the path to the engine app directory' do
      Invitable::Engine.app_path.should eq '/app'
    end
  end

  describe 'controller_path' do
    it 'returns the path to the named engine controller' do
      Invitable::Engine.controller_path(:test_controller).should eq '/app/controllers/invitable/test_controller.rb'
    end
  end

  describe 'helper_path' do
    it 'returns the path to the named engine helper' do
      Invitable::Engine.helper_path(:test_helper).should eq '/app/helpers/invitable/test_helper.rb'
    end
  end

  describe 'mailer_path' do
    it 'returns the path to the named engine mailer' do
      Invitable::Engine.mailer_path(:test_mailer).should eq '/app/mailers/invitable/test_mailer.rb'
    end
  end

  describe 'model_path' do
    it 'returns the path to the named engine model' do
      Invitable::Engine.model_path(:test_model).should eq '/app/models/invitable/test_model.rb'
    end
  end
end

This looks good enough to me. Now to make it green I added the following to lib/invitable/engine.rb

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def self.app_path
  File.expand_path('../../app', called_from)
end

%w{controller helper mailer model}.each do |resource|
  class_eval <<-RUBY
    def self.#{resource}_path(name)
      File.expand_path("#{resource.pluralize}/invitable/\#{name}.rb", app_path)
    end
  RUBY
end

And now in the app model I can do the following

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require Inivitable::Engine.model_path :invitation

module Invitable
  class Invitation
    validates :name, :zipcode, :presence => true
    validates :zipcode, :format => /^\d{5}$|^\d{5}-\d{4}$/
  end
end

Nice and clean!

This simple pattern can be applied to the controllers, mailers, etc... any class you want to actually extend from the engine instead of overwrite entirely.

Finally, I'd like the address a question I'm sure some of you have. Why not subclass? For this engine the Invitable::InvitationsController is expecting a class of Invitation within the context of the Invitable module. So if I were to subclass

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class Inivtation < Inivitable::Invitation

You would then have to subclass the controller

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class InvitationsController < Invitable::InvitationsController

And because the InvitationsController is referencing InvitationMailer within the context of the Invitable module you would have to subclass the mailer

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class InvitationMailer < Invitable::InvitationMailer

Finally, because you've subclassed the controller the mount in routes.rb becomes meaningless. If you head down the subclass path you defeat the purpose of using the engine in the first place.