3 features from Rails 4.1 that I'm excited about08 Apr 2014
Rails 4.1 was just released this week and I already had a great experience trying out the release candidates on my latest project, so I decided to write a bit about my favorites features on this release and some things I have learned by using them so far.
Placing your configuration in a YAML file isn’t exactly a revolutionary feature, but the usage of the
config/secrets.yml file that comes with Rails 4.1 holds a more important idea: the promise of a default approach for environment aware custom configuration on Rails applications. Over the years the community created several ways to manage such configuration so every app out there deals with this differently, but now we can use the Rails default as a standard just like we do with the app folder or the routing patterns, taking the configuration madness outside the list of things to worry about when working with Rails. So instead of dealing with multiple YAML files or constants left out inside initializers, we can go with the
secrets.yml as the default for our apps.
Remember that you can place any kind of configuration - not just secrets like tokens or passwords - that need to be handled differently through your application environments, like API Endpoints or S3 bucket names. And for any gem maintainers out there, you can make your gem read these settings from the
secrets.yml automagically through an initializer block and maybe remove a configuration step from the gem setup. Adding this to Devise on this pull request was easier than I expected and I suggest you to try it out on your gems as well.
If you want to try to organize your configuration through the
secrets.yml without having to update to Rails 4.1 right now, Andrew White backported this feature on the rails-secrets gem for Rails 4.0 apps.
So, if you are dealing with some configuration mess or aren’t using something like dotenv for your application, I strongly suggest that you try to migrate your config to use the
secrets.yml file and see how it goes for your application.
2) Action Pack Variants
Variants are proving to be a great solution to render device specific views when mixed with any device detection solution like the useragent or browser gems, which you integrate quickly with just a
class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base before_action :set_variant private def set_variant if browser.tablet? request.variant = :tablet elsif browser.mobile? request.variant = :mobile else request.variant = :desktop end end end
Even though the main examples are dealing with User Agent sniffing, this feature can be used in any context where you want to have more control of which views are rendered by your application, like:
- A/B Testing different partials based on the user cookies.
- API versioning for your Jbuilder templates.
- Maintaining current and redesigned views for the same controller.
- Authorization aware views, like
In the end, Variants are just a way for you to have more control over how your views will be used by the app, helping you to remove boilerplate logic from your code and letting the framework handle it through a more elegant solution.
3) The improved cookies serializer
The changes on how Rails serializes cookies are a great improvement when it comes to security and stability of web apps. Before this, any object placed in the cookies Hash would be serialized (and deserialized) through
Marshal.load, which could possibly lead to remote code execution if an attacker got hold on your application secret.
Now this serializer is configurable through the
config.action_dispatch.cookies_serializer configuration option, and new apps will ship with a smarter default: a JSON serializer that won’t recreate complex objects besides Strings, Integers and other JSON data types. And for a smooth upgrade, you can use the
:hybrid serializer that will convert your existing marshalled cookies into JSON cookies, so this upgrade can be transparent for your application users.
This upgrade highlights a possible bad practice in our applications where we end up placing more complex objects in the session that can’t be completely restored by the JSON serializer, when we should be using more simple structures for the data stored in cookies. Thanks to a related issue reported on the Devise issue tracker we could simplify the gem code a bit, so instead of serializing
Time objects we could work with numbers.
So, when updating your application to use the
:hybrid serializer, don’t forget to do a double check of whatever kind of data the app stores in your users cookies and look for possible backwards incompatibility. And if you want to take a closer look on how this was implemented, be sure to check the related issues and pull requests on the Rails repo: #12881, #13692 and #13945.
Keeping up to date with the latest Rails changes
Following the activity on the Rails repository over GitHub helped a lot to understand better these features and the rationale behind their implementations, but going through all the commits and discussions on Issues and Pull Requests would demand a lot of your time. If you want some of the inside scoop but don’t have that much time to go through the Rails activity over the week, Godfrey Chan has put up a weekly digest about Rails named This Week in Rails. I suggest that you subscribe to the list and even check some of the previous editions on the archive page.
Try it yourself!
Take some time and upgrade one of your Rails 4 apps and try out some of the new features! I bet that some of them will help you improve your codebase or make your coworkers life a bit easier, and we are eager to hear from your experience with the 4.1 release.