Posts tagged ‘development

Natural Resource: Avoiding ActiveAdmin


Natural Resource was born from frustrations experienced on legacy projects that used gems like ActiveAdmin to provide an admin interface for an app. For the very basics ActiveAdmin is great; it provides you a set of functionality out of the box that you don’t have to implement yourself.

Unfortunately, we are all aware that requirements change and functionality grows. ActiveAdmin forces you to extend it using its own concepts outside of standard Rails practices, sometimes going so far as to mix routing, controller and view details in the same file.

Rolling your own admin functionality?

After a frustrating few hours grappling with AA’s quirks, it’s easy to understand why someone would resort to rolling their own admin interface. Advanced admin features shouldn’t be any harder to implement than the rest of your app.

Secondly, it’s often hard to integrate large, opinionated admin gems because they try to blend authentication and/or authorisation logic with their own concepts. Whilst Natural Resource is also opinionated, it exists and performs in a very simple way and is easily overridden.

Enough talk - show me the code!

The following is a typical NR-based controller:

# Controller for generating and displaying Reports for orders received
class Admin::OrdersController < ApplicationController
  include AdminController
  include ReportDownloading

  resource :order

  def resource_scope
    Order.includes(:txns, line_items: [:product])

  def report_class

If we take the above to have authenticated our admin-user (via your own AdminController concern) then our view could look like this:

%h1 Order Report

= search_form_for [current_context, query] do |f|
  = f.input :user_email_cont, label: 'Recipient Email'
  = f.input :amount_cents_gt, label: 'Amount greater than'
  = f.button :submit, "Apply filters"
  = link_to 'Download report', [:download, current_context, :orders,
    q: params[:q])

    %th Order Reference
    %th Payment Method
    %th Recipient Name
    %th Amount
    %th Created At
  - resources.each do |resource|
      %td= resource.reference
      %td= resource.source_type.titleize
      %td= resource.amount.format
      %td= resource.created_at

= will_paginate resources

The above controller offers several helper methods:

  • current_context is a method defined to specify the area of the site you are in. It is used for consistently defining routes.
  • query is the Ransack search object used for defining simple querying using the Ransack syntax.
  • resource_scope is the initial scope of the objects scoped via its respective policy, i.e. policy_scope(resource_scope)
  • resources is the lazy-loaded, paginated result of applying the Ransack query across the resource_scope method.

In Summary

The main motivation behind Natural Resource is to be pragmatic. There are further extensions that can be made to it to allow auto-generating initial views if a sensible standard set can be decided upon without introducing too much overhead/complexity.

It provides a rich set of foundational functionality and tries its best to take a sensible modular, easily overridden approach to standardised components.

There is an NR example repo that contains a more detailed example, but nothing beats reading the source. The majority of functionality is only ~100 lines long. I will add to the NR example repository as we use NR at Terracoding, converting the git history to a series of steps you can follow in the README.

Rails Polymorphic Feed Caching

When building a social platform, we’re often required to build a feed of some sort, usually containing multiple types of content such as posts, photos, etc.

With this in mind, it’s usually best to have a FeedItem model with a polymorphic association for the different types of feed items. Let’s say:

class FeedItem < ActiveRecord::Base
  belongs_to :source, polymorphic: true
  has_many :comments

class Post < ActiveRecord::Base
  belongs_to :user
  has_one :feed_item, as: :source, dependent: :destroy

class Photo < ActiveRecord::Base
  belongs_to :user
  has_one :feed_item, as: :source, dependent: :destroy

This is all well and good, but when you come to eager-load associations on the collection to improve performance, this technique becomes problematic. This is where Rails Fragment Caching comes into play.

Fragment caching is a really useful tool in Rails to cache partials and collections so they are pulled straight from memory without needing to access the database (besides checking if new records exist or existing records have been updated).

In the view that includes our feed partial we have the following:

- cache(cache_key_for_user_feed_items(resource, params[:page])) do
  = render 'feed_items'
module FragmentCacheHelper
  def cache_key_for_user_feed_items(resource, page = 1)
    count = resource.feed_items.count
    max_updated_at = resource.feed_items.maximum(:updated_at).try(:utc)
      .try(:to_s, :number)

The FragmentCacheHelper generates a key for us to use. If the key differs when the next page is loaded, it will pull the records as usual and skip the cache. This works per page, so each page with will_paginate will also pull from the database if needs be.

This cuts down the database calls by only ever needing to check the count of the records for the user and the latest updated_at value.

Easy Retina Images with Carrierwave

We recently launched Dry July, a platform where people can raise funds for adults in Australia living with cancer.

When Dry July approached us, they emphasised that the majority of their traffic comes from smartphones and tablets. With the proliferation of “retina” mobile devices and Macs over the last few years, we wanted to selectively serve high-resolution images to keep things looking crisp for all users.

Almost every image on the Dry July platform, including for the customisable website theme, are uploaded through Carrierwave. That meant we could auto-generate multiple versions of an image on upload. In our uploader, we configured @2x and @3x versions for each version size:

# image_uploader.rb
version :small_3x do
  process resize_to_limit: [900, 900]

version :small_2x, from_version: :small_3x do
  process resize_to_limit: [600, 600]

version :small, from_version: :small_2x do
  process resize_to_limit: [300, 300]

version :thumb_3x, from_version: :small do
  process resize_to_limit: [150, 150]

version :thumb_2x, from_version: :thumb_3x do
  process resize_to_limit: [100, 100]

version :thumb, from_version: :thumb_2x do
  process resize_to_limit: [50, 50]

srcset, the HTML5 img attribute for serving multiple resolutions is thankfully widely supported these days. By adding this method to our application_helper.rb we could provide retina-capable image tags with ease:

# application_helper.rb
def retina_image_tag(uploader, version, options={})
  options[:srcset] ||=  (2..3).map do |multiplier|
                          name = "#{version}_#{multiplier}x"
                          if uploader.version_exists?(name) &&
                            source = uploader.url(name).presence
                            "#{source} #{multiplier}x"
                        end.compact.join(', ')

  image_tag(uploader.url(version), options)

# view.html.haml
= retina_image_tag user.avatar, :thumb


<img src="/users/avatars/thumb_me.jpg" srcset="/users/avatars/thumb_2x_me.jpg 2x, /users/avatars/thumb_3x_me.jpg 3x" />

Feel free to use the code above in your next project. And check out Dry July to see it in action!

Dynamic Rails App Theming

Themer UI

We started work on an exciting new project this week that requires a single Rails app to power multiple similar websites. The websites are all going to have the same features and basic structure but the client wanted to be able to customise colours, fonts and images for each site themselves.

To get our heads around the feature, we built a prototype app that provides a theme editing interface. You can try out the demo!

Themer UI

Technical Details

You include theme style rules in special comment blocks using color(), font(), and image_url() helpers:

body {
  /* defaults */
  background: white;
  color: black;
  font-family: sans-serif;

  /* THEME --------
  background-image: image_url(bg);
  color: color(text);
  font-family: font(body);
  -------- THEME */

Running rake theme:update will then generate a theme template from those comments at app/views/themes/show.css.erb.

Theme attributes can be easily added to the Theme model. The controller :show action is cached and the generated stylesheet is available at /theme.css to be included in the head of any page.

The theme editor presents a live preview by injecting styles into an iframe as the theme values are changed. This includes images, using the FileReader API to read them locally in Base64 before they are uploaded to the server.

To make sure override rules with missing values degrade gracefully, the app utilises browsers’ behaviour of ignoring any invalid rules whilst continuing to render the rest of the styles. This means any default styling can simply be included in the app’s main stylesheet (or anywhere you like).

Open Source

All of the source code is available on GitHub. Please fork and reuse the code as much as you like! Feel free to open an Issue on GitHub or you can reach us on Twitter @terracoding.

Terracoding - a team, a culture.

Here at Terracoding we take pride in the software we deliver.

When we first decided to dedicate ourselves to the company, we tried to sit down and come up with a series of values that best describe both ourselves and what we strive for as part of the software development process.

The following is my attempt to best summarise and explain these principles:

1. Speed is great, but take time to figure out what matters first

You should always strive to deliver software as quickly as possible, whilst making every effort to ensure the result is both correct and well tested.

We achieve the best result by correctly understanding the problem, and moving forward appropriately. Any effort to rush forward without understanding is typically repaid again with any future changes, however pragmatism is king and there are always exceptions.

2. The collective wisdom is greater

It is almost always worth getting a second opinion on any large decision.

As much as we may dislike the fact, we are all human and as such bound to make mistakes. No one person has the correct answer to every question immediately.

When it comes to major decisions, verify your solution with someone else to check you haven’t missed something. Don’t be scared to make decisions when necessary, but take into account input from others when it’s easy enough to do so.

Note: This typically refers to anything that affects others, and/or is hard to change/adapt further down the line.

3. We have strengths and weaknesses

Each team member has a different history and set of experiences. We should respect others for the experience they have, and the strengths and weaknesses cultivated as a result.

Along similar lines to 2, no one person is the best at everything. We should do our best to maximise the strength of the team, whilst simultaneously improving on our weaknesses.

We should not avoid tasks we are uncomfortable doing, instead we should seek input from those who are particularly proficient at them.

4. Keep an open mind

It is too easy to grip tightly to a decision or idea simply because it was ours. Keep an open mind when discussing with colleagues and clients, and make every effort to understand both someone else’s point and the reasoning behind it.

This will not only result in better decisions being made, but less arguments and butting of heads.

5. Check your ego at the door

You are not the work you produce, the decisions you make, or the code you write. Constructively criticise the work of others, as well as your own, and expect constructive criticism from others.

Do not take criticism of what you’ve done as a criticism/attack on yourself. Be proud of what you’ve done, and be willing to defend the reasoning behind your actions (keeping in mind 4).

Finally, try to never collapse a discussion into an argument, and always be willing to take a step back and put everything into perspective. We are a team and there is no benefit in a toxic environment.


  • There will always be exceptional situations.
  • Try to keep in mind that these are guiding principles and not strict rules to adhere to.
  • Pragmatism is king, be as flexible as possible to maximise the end result.

Post Archive