Rails is a wonderful library. It’s a framework that is opinionated and requires some footwork on the developers part. One such issue is returning nil when the return type is an object. Returning nill doesn’t provide the view enough information about what actions to take and leads to complex whack-a-mole scenarios.

The solution to this problem is to introduce a NullObject into the application. There are null object libraries already available, but they are so dead simple to write that it’s not necessary to use one. For example, it would be trivial to declare this basic NullObject.

class NullObject
def to_s
""
end

def method_missing(*args, &block)
self
end
end

object = NullObject.new
object.this.doesnt.exist #=> <NullObject>


This is extremely handy when query objects are used.

## Maybes

Maybes are really handy. It’s similar to the #try method that is in Rails.

user.try(:non_existent_method, NullObject.new) #=> <NullObject>


Instead, when the foreign key is not set, the method will return the NullObject.

class User < ActiveRecord::Base
belongs_to :subscription

def subscription
self.subscription_id? ? super : NullObject.new
end
end


This allows us to use the null object while still providing the original ActiveRecord functionality.

user = User.find(1)
user.subscription #=> <NullObject>
user.subscription.product #=> <NullObject>
user.subscription_id = 1
user.subscription #=> <Subscription>
user.subscription.product #=> <Product>


## Falsiness

An issue that will be encountered is testing the falsiness of a NullObject. The following will not work:

obj = NullObject.new

unless obj
# Never executes
puts "I'm true"
end


A work around that should be used is defining nil? on an instance of NullObject.

class NullObject
def to_s; ""; end
def nil?; true; end

def method_missing(*args, &block)
self
end
end

obj = NullObject.new

if obj.nil?
puts "I'm true"
end


This makes the code readable at a glance. When if some_val is used then it can be confusing at first and one must recall the old Perl style of programming. In Perl nil and null were equivalent to FALSE.

The final NullObject that I ended up using looks like the following:

# app/models/null_object.rb
class NullObject
def initialize(*methods, &block); end
def to_s; ""; end
def to_str; ""; end
def to_i; 0; end
def to_f; 0.0; end
def to_c; 0.to_c; end
def to_r; 0.to_r; end
def to_a; []; end
def to_ary; []; end
def to_h; {}; end
def nil?; true; end
def present?; false; end
def empty?; true; end
def !; true; end
def blank?; true; end

# @return [NullObject]
def tap
yield(self)
self
end

# @return [NullObject]
def method_missing(*args, &block)
self
end
end


## Custom Null Objects

This goes hand to hand with the “Maybes” section of this article. When trying to clean up view code conditionals, this is a great opportunity to use a NullObject specific to the model expected.

class NullSubscription < NullObject
def product
NullProduct.new
end

def active?
false
end
end


haml app/views/users/index.html.haml

• @users.each do |user| %tr %td= user.email %td= user.subscription.active? ? ‘Subscribed’ : ‘Not Subscribed’ 

The benefit of returning a null object instead of nil is that crazy if checks wont be necessary in view code or model code. The ultimate goal of a NullObject is to get it to behave like the object it is trying to imitate. This adds predictability to the application and makes testing much easier.

## Resources

I’m trying to migrate my models to be dumb data bags that have some useful state altering methods. I’ve found that using query objects, I was able to reduce the complexity of some of my models and controllers.

## The Problem

My User model is gigantic. It’s well over 600 LOC, and it’s growing at a scary rate. Testing is becoming a nightmare because of all the methods. A few methods I have realized, I could remove completely and extract them into query objects.

# app/models/user.rb
class User < ActiveRecord::Base
# ...

def self.search text
where {
(users.email.like "%#{text}%") |
(users.username.like "%#{text}%") |
(users.first_name.like "%#{text}%") |
(users.last_name.like "%#{text}%")
}
end

# ...
end


Now this method isn’t exactly all that complicated but my User model is rittled with these methods. They are just there to be used by the controller like so:

# app/controllers/users_controller.rb
class UsersController < AuthorizedController
def index
@users = User.search(params[:q]).page(params[:page])
end
end


All that method does, is execute a query. It doesn’t alter the state of any model. This could be extracted out into its own class and be isolated enough that testing becomes very simple.

## The Solution

The solution is simple, kill The Batman. First, I need a query class. When creating query classes, keep in mind that you need to interact with ActiveRecord::Relation objects. This will allow for the query objects to be chained and used again later.

# app/queries/user_search_query.rb
class UserSearchQuery
# @param [ActiveRecord::Relation] relation
def initialize relation=User.scoped
@relation = relation
end

# @param [String] text
def search text
@relation.where {
(users.email.like "%#{text}%") |
(users.username.like "%#{text}%") |
(users.first_name.like "%#{text}%") |
(users.last_name.like "%#{text}%")
}
end

# @param [String] text
def self.search text
new.search(text)
end
end


Second I need to replace the call to User.search from the UsersController

# app/controllers/users_controller.rb
class UsersController < AuthorizedController
def index
@users = UserSearchQuery.search(params[:q]).page(params[:page])
end
end


Now looking at this, it is easy to say, “Well that didn’t change much”, but it did. I can remove the old method from the User model, and reduce the complexity a little bit by doing this.

## Chaining

Here is an example of chaining some queries together

# app/queries/new_users_query.rb
class NewUsersQuery
# @param [ActiveRecord::Relation] relation
def initialize relation=User.scoped
@relation = relation
end

def today date=DateTime.now
between(date.beginning_of_day, date.end_of_day)
end

def last_seven_days
date = DateTime.now.begninning_of_day
between(date - 7.days, date.end_of_day)
end

def between starting, ending
@relation.where {
(users.created_at >= starting) &
(users.created_at < ending)
}
end
end


Now this may sound a little dumb, but this is merely just an example.

query = UserSearchQuery.new(NewUsersQuery.today)
query.search('someone').each do |user|
NotificationMailer.welcome(user).deliver
end


## References

Recently I’ve been playing with Ruby’s class_eval and define_method to append methods to an object. Meta programming is something new for me and I had a problem that would benefit from using some of Ruby’s cool features.

## The Problem

There was a model that had 6 fields that needed to be generated at some point in time. Some fields had to be unique and others had to be generated a bit differently. Here is a contrived example of what I was doing:

class User < ActiveRecord::Base
def generate_api_token
begin
self.api_token = SecureRandom.urlsafe_base64(32)
end while self.class.exists?(api_token: self.api_token)
self.api_token
end

def generate_new_password
self.password = SecureRandom.urlsafe_base64(16)
end
end

class Widget < ActiveRecord::Base
def generate_slug
begin
self.slug = SecureRandom.urlsafe_base64(32)
end while self.class.exists?(slug: self.slug)
self.slug
end
end


If these generators are spread across multiple models, it will cloud the source code and a test will need to be written for every generator. If we utilized shared examples, there wouldn’t be a need to write a test for every single generator.

## The Goal

In the end, I wanted an easy to read DSL. Adding more DSL to a class can mean a “code smell”, however in this case, I do not think it is a code smell.

# app/models/some_model.rb
class SomeModel < ActiveRecord::Base
include Generatable

generatable :some_field,   lambda { SecureRandom.hex(32) }
generatable :unique_field, lambda { SecureRandom.hex(32) }, unique: true
end

s = SomeModel.new
s.generate_some_field #=> some 32 character string
s.generate_unique_field #=> some 32 character unique string


### The pros

• Easy to read
• Easy to figure out where generatable is being loaded from
• Compact
• Testing becomes easier (more on this later)

### The cons

• Can’t use the model in the lambda
• Adds to model complexity
• Lose some control on testing (more on this later)

## Solution

This is a perfect case where ActiveSupport::Concern applies. This is functionality that multiple models can utilize and thus, should be put into a mixin and included to those models. My initial implementation only made a simple generator but, it does show how class_eval works and is an easy example to grok.

# app/models/concerns/generatable.rb
module Generatable
extend ActiveSupport::Concern

module ClassMethods
# @param [String] field the name of the field you want to generate
# @param [Proc] generator the lambda or Proc that you wish to use as the
#   generator
# @param [Hash] options
# @option options :unique
# @return [void]
def generatable field, generator, options={}
field = field.to_s
class_eval do
define_method "generate_#{field}" do
self.send("#{field}=", generator.call)
end
end
end
end

end


The next requirement I had to fulfill was generating unique values. This took a little bit more thought.

# app/models/concerns/generatable.rb
module Generatable
extend ActiveSupport::Concern

module ClassMethods
# @param [String] field the name of the field you want to generate
# @param [Proc] generator the lambda or Proc that you wish to use as the
#   generator
# @param [Hash] options
# @option options :unique
# @return [void]
def generatable field, generator, options={}
field = field.to_s

if options[:unique]
class_eval do
define_method "generate_#{field}" do
begin
self.send("#{field}=", generator.call)
end while self.class.exists?(field.to_sym => self.send(field))
self.send(field)
end
end
else
class_eval do
define_method "generate_#{field}" do
self.send("#{field}=", generator.call)
end
end
end
end
end

end


This isn’t exactly pretty. Infact, one could argue that this is a bit difficult to follow due to the if options[:unique] statement. Another possible solution could be to break this up into three methods like so:

# app/models/concerns/generatable.rb
module Generatable
extend ActiveSupport::Concern

module ClassMethods
# Appends a generator
# @param [String] field the name of the field you want to generate
# @param [Proc] generator the lambda or Proc that you wish to use as the
#   generator
# @param [Hash] options
# @option options :unique
# @return [void]
def generatable field, generator, options={}
if options[:unique]
generatable_unique field, generator
else
generatable_simple field, generator
end
end

# Append a unique generator
# @param [String] field the name of the field you want to generate
# @param [Proc] generator the lambda or Proc that you wish to use as the
#   generator
def generatable_unique field, generator
field = field.to_s
class_eval do
define_method "generate_#{field}" do
begin
self.send("#{field}=", generator.call)
end while self.class.exists?(field.to_sym => self.send(field))
self.send(field)
end
end
end

# Append a simple generator
# @param [String] field the name of the field you want to generate
# @param [Proc] generator the lambda or Proc that you wish to use as the
#   generator
def generatable_simple field, generator
field = field.to_s
class_eval do
define_method "generate_#{field}" do
self.send("#{field}=", generator.call)
end
end
end
end

end


## Testing

Earlier I mentioned that this makes testig easier and then followed up with a loss of control in the tests. The Generatable module will need to be tested in some fashion, whether it is directly testing it via including it on a dummy model or making a shared example where the test would have it_behaves_like somewhere.

Testing a module directly:

# Module Testing
module Say
extend ActiveSupport::Concern
def hello
"hello"
end
end

class DummyClass
include Say
end

describe Say do
let(:dummy_class) { DummyClass }
let(:dummy) { dummy_class.new }

it "get hello string" do
dummy_class.hello.should == "hello"
end
end

# spec/support/shared_examples/generatable_fields.rb
shared_examples 'generatable fields' do |field|
describe "#generate_#{field}" do
subject { described_class.new }

it "should change #{field}" do
expect {
subject.send("generate_#{field}")
}.to change(subject, field.to_sym)
end
end
end

# spec/models/user_spec.rb
describe User do
include_examples 'generatable fields', :api_token
include_examples 'generatable fields', :password
end


## Resources

One day I found myself riding in a car with my family and it was a long road trip, with little to no internet and realized that my tests required internet connectivity. I was also heavily dependent upon code examples that I could find.

I’ve been absolutely horrible with testing my code. I would write code, test it out in the ruby console and then push it live. It felt like I was moving fast. I was being agile. Wrong! Testing is necessary in order to succeed. Often I would push code and do the good ole’ cowboy code em’ up. This is a horrible idea, don’t do that.

## Stubs And Mocks

I’ve seen arguments for and against the use of stubs and mocks. I like mocks and stubs. I do think they are useful, and they have their place. Many people find themselves over stubbing and over mocking. This can lead to brittle tests.

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. Abraham H. Maslow

Corey Haines has a good presentation called Yay Mocks!. Definitely worth the time to watch.

Using stubs and mocks in a restrained fashion will result in maximum payoff. I attempted to stub and mock everything in a controller unit test. This turned out to be a hellish nightmare to maintain. I did discover some cool logical control flow that I could utilize. I could force CanCan to raise exceptions and cause some fun errors in the controller.

# spec/controllers/threads_controller.rb
describe ThreadsController do

describe '#create' do
context 'when a user is signed in' do
before { sign_in user }
context 'and is authorized' do
before { controller.stub(:authorize!).and_return(true) }
context 'and the thread is created' do
before do
post :create, thread: {title: 'Some Title'}
end
it { should respond_with 302 }
it { should set_the_flash[:success] }
it 'should create the thread' do
expect(Thread.count).to eq(1)
end
end

context 'and the thread is not created' do
before do
Thread.any_instance.stub(:valid?).and_return(false)
post :create, thread: {title: 'Some Title'}
end
it { should respond_with 200 }
it { should set_the_flash[:error] }
it 'should not create a thread' do
expect(Thread.count).to eq(0)
end
end
end

context 'and is not authorized' do
before do
controller.stub(:authorize!).and_raise(CanCan::AccessDenied)
post :create, thread: {title: 'Some Title'}
end
it { should respond_with 403 }
it { should set_the_flash[:error] }
it 'should not create a thread' do
expect(Thread.count).to eq(0)
end
end
end

context 'when a user is not signed in' do
before { post :create, thread: {title: 'Some Title'} }
it { should respond_with 403 }
end
end

end


Testing permissions should not apply to controller tests. This ia a boundary and should be stubbed. You can unit test your permissions in another set of tests, but they do not belong in the controller test.

## Boundaries

I strongly urge you to watch Boundaries by Gary Bernhardt. Understanding where an object’s boundaries lie, is key for test isolation. Ruby has a nice open class principle that allows for stubing and mocking. Earlier I pointed out that in a controller permissions were considered a boundary.

## No Internet

Now for the fun story. I had no internet on my laptop while we traveled down the highway. I was writing code and then realized I should run my tests real quick to ensure I didn’t cause a massive problem. What I found out to my surprise is that more than half of our test suite failed, due to the need to talk to a 3rd party API. Ooops.

All I had was my phone and even then all I had was spotty coverage. I remembered seeing the two videos mentioned above, and thought to myself, “This is similar to what TDD is right?” I was right, as I went through and looked at why the tests were failing, I noticed that they were failing in places that were difficult to test. On top of the areas difficult to test, it was often over stepping boundaries.

I used my phone to look up RSpec Mocks and tried out a few examples to make sure I understood what was going on.

foo = double('User')
foo.stub(:update_attributes).and_return(true)

it 'should return true' do
expect(foo.update_attributes({:garbage => 'in'})).to eq(true)
end


## Revelation

And when the test greened up, a sudden grin appeared on my face. I realized that I could do anything. I have never once been happy about testing in Java or PHP and I couldn’t help but be really excited when I started seeing some tests come up green.

I started to stub and mock places where I was making calls to an API. Many of these tests, I simulated errors that could be encountered while interacting with the API.

I realized that there were parts of our application that were extremely difficult to isolate. This was indicative of “code smell”. I wrote some tests on how I wanted the peices to interact, then made the peices interact to make the tests green.

Being able to simulate errors from the API was a HUGE help. It allowed me to see potential errors and handle them appropriately rather than show a big ole’ 500 error page to our customer.

## Resources

Here is a list of resources that I utilize all the time. In fact, they are bookmarked and I often visit them.

I have been hard at work over my birthday to now. I’ve spent the better part of 20 hours with my dad working on my new standing desk. Where I was working before was extremely cluttered and an upgrade to my life was needed.

I wasn’t able to take pictures from the initial start of the project, due to us having to do multiple things at once before Home Depot closed. However, after we settled down, I had Amanda come out and take pictures as we were working on the desk.

We built the desk using Oak tongue and groove boards. My parents finished an interior remodel of their house about two years ago. A lot of oak boards were left over and my dad suggested we use it instead of buying a new sheet of Birch.

I hate glossy polyurethane. Even a satin finish still bothers me some. For me wood isn’t supposed to be reflective. I opted for a Matte finish with a Dark Walnut stain.

Staining was probably the best feeling in the world. I was so close to being done!

After three layers of polyurethane and some serious tender love and care. I took it home with me to assemble! This table is super heavy due to all the Oak that we used.

Feels great now that I have this completed!