These projects will give you a chance to actually build some forms, both using nearly-pure HTML and then graduating to using the helper methods that Rails provides.

Project: Bare metal forms and helpers

In this project, you’ll build a form the old fashioned way and then the Rails way.


Set up the Back end

You’ll get good at setting up apps quickly in the coming lessons by using more or less this same series of steps (though we’ll help you less and less each time):

  1. Build a new rails app (called “re-former”).
  2. Create a new Github repo and connect the remote to your local git repo. Check in and commit the initial stuff.
  3. Modify your README file to say something you’ll remember later, like “This is part of the Forms Project in The Odin Project’s Ruby on Rails Curriculum. Find it at
  4. Create and migrate a User model with :username, :email and :password.
  5. Add validations for presence to each field in the model.
  6. Create the :users resource in your routes file so requests actually have somewhere to go. Use the only: option to specify just the :new and :create actions.
  7. Build a new UsersController (either manually or via the $ rails generate controller Users generator).
  8. Write empty methods for #new and #create in your UsersController.
  9. Create your #new view in app/views/users/new.html.erb.
  10. Fire up a rails server in another tab.
  11. Make sure everything works by visiting http://localhost:3000/users/new in the browser.

HTML form

The first form you build will be mostly HTML (remember that stuff at all?). Build it in your New view at app/views/users/new.html.erb. The goal is to build a form that is almost identical to what you’d get by using a Rails helper so you can see how it’s done behind the scenes.

  1. Build a form for creating a new user. See the W3Schools page for forms if you’ve totally forgotten how they work. Specify the method and the action attributes in your <form> tag (use $ rails routes to see which HTTP method and path are being expected based on the resource you created). Include the attribute accept-charset="UTF-8" as well, which Rails naturally adds to its forms to specify Unicode character encoding.

    You don’t want to forget about safety, so make sure you provide the form with an authenticity token. If you don’t remember how to do so, go back to the Form Basics lesson and refresh your memory.

  2. Create the proper input tags for your user’s fields (email, username and password). Use the proper password input for “password”. Be sure to specify the name attribute for these inputs. Make label tags which correspond to each field.
  3. Submit your form and view the server output. You will see nothing happening, no error message, nothing. If you look at the network tab in your inspector or at your server log, you can see that a request was issued, but a response of 204 No Content is returned.
  4. That’s A-OK because it means that we’ve successfully gotten through our blank #create action in the controller (and didn’t specify what should happen next). Look at the server output. It should include the parameters that were submitted, looking something like:

    Started POST "/users" for at 2013-12-12 13:04:19 -0800
    Processing by UsersController#create as TURBO_STREAM
    Parameters: {"authenticity_token"=>"WUaJBOpLhFo3Mt2vlEmPQ93zMv53sDk6WFzZ2YJJQ0M=", "username"=>"foobar", "email"=>"", "password"=>"[FILTERED]"}

That looks a whole lot like what you normally see when Rails does it, right?

  1. Go into your UsersController and build out the #create action to take those parameters and create a new User from them. If you successfully save the user, you should redirect back to the New User form (which will be blank) and if you don’t, it should render the :new form again (but it will still have the existing information entered in it). You should be able to use something like:

    # app/controllers/users_controller.rb
    def create
      @user = params[:username], email: params[:email], password: params[:password])
        redirect_to new_user_path
        render :new, status: :unprocessable_entity
  2. Test this out – can you now create users with your form? If so, you should see an INSERT SQL command in the server log.
  3. We’re not done just yet… that looks too long and difficult to build a user with all those params calls. It’d be a whole lot easier if we could just use a hash of the user’s attributes so we could just say something like Let’s build it… we need our form to submit a hash of attributes that will be used to create a user, just like we would with Rails’ form_with method. Remember, that method submits a top level user field which actually points to a hash of values. This is easy to achieve, though – just change the name attribute slightly. Nest your three User fields inside the variable attribute using brackets in their names, e.g. name="user[email]".
  4. Resubmit. Now your user parameters should be nested under the "user" key like:

    Parameters: {"authenticity_token" => "WUaJBOpLhFo3Mt2vlEmPQ93zMv53sDk6WFzZ2YJJQ0M=", "user" =>{ "username" => "foobar", "email" => "", "password" => "[FILTERED]" } }
  5. You’ll get some errors because now your controller will need to change. But recall that we’re no longer allowed to just directly call params[:user] because that would return a hash and Rails’ security features prevent us from doing that without first validating it.
  6. Go into your controller and comment out the line in your #create action where you instantiated a ::new User (we’ll use it later).
  7. Implement a private method at the bottom called user_params which will permit and require the proper fields (see the Controllers Lesson for a refresher).
  8. Add a new ::new User line which makes use of that new allow params method.
  9. Submit your form now. It should work marvelously (once you debug your typos)!

Railsy forms with #form_tag

Now we’ll start morphing our form into a full Rails form using the #form_tag and #*_tag helpers. There’s actually very little additional help that’s going on and you’ll find that you’re mostly just renaming HTML tags into Rails tags.

  1. Comment out your entire HTML form. It may be helpful to save it for later on if you get stuck.
  2. Convert your <form> tag to use a #form_tag helper and all of your inputs into the proper helper tags via #*_tag methods. The good thing is that you no longer need the authentication token because Rails will insert that for you automatically. #form_tag is soft-deprecated as stated in the current Rails Guide. Have a look at the older documentation for Action View Form Helpers.
  3. See the Form Tag API Documentation for a list and usage of all the input methods you can use with #form_tag.
  4. Test out your form. You’ll need to change your #create method in the controller to once again accept normal top level User attributes, so uncomment the old line and comment out the newer one.
  5. You’ve just finished the first step.

Railsy-er forms with #form_with

#form_tag probably didn’t feel that useful – it’s about the same amount of work as using <form>, though it does take care of the authenticity token stuff for you. Now we’ll convert that into #form_with, which will make use of our model objects to build the form.

  1. Modify your #new action in the controller to instantiate a blank User object and store it in an instance variable called @user.
  2. Comment out your #form_tag form in the app/views/users/new.html.erb view (so now you should have TWO commented out form examples).
  3. Rebuild the form using #form_with and the @user from your controller. You’ll need to switch your controller’s #create method again to accept the nested :user hash from params.
  4. Play with the #input method options – add a default placeholder (like “” for the email field), make it generate a different label than the default one (like “Your user name here”), and try starting with a value already populated. Some of these things you may need to Google for, but check out the #form_with Rails API docs
  5. Test it out.


  1. Update your routes and controller to handle editing an existing user. You’ll need your controller to find a user based on the submitted params ID.
  2. Create the Edit view at app/views/users/edit.html.erb and copy/paste your form from the New view. Your HTML and #form_tag forms (which should still be commented out) will not work – they will submit the form as a POST request when you need it to be a PATCH (PUT) request (remember your $ rails routes?). It’s an easy fix, which you should be able to see if you attempt to edit a user with the #form_with form (which is smart enough to know if you’re trying to edit a user or creating a new one).
  3. Do a “view source” on the form generated by #form_with in your Edit view, paying particular attention to the hidden fields at the top nested inside the <form>. See it?
  4. Modify the top of your form view to display a list of the error messages that are attached to the failed model object when it fails validations. Recall the #errors and #full_messages methods.
  5. Save this project to Git and upload to GitHub.

Support us!

The Odin Project is funded by the community. Join us in empowering learners around the globe by supporting The Odin Project!