The router is the doorman of your application. When an HTTP request arrives from the user’s browser, it needs to know which controller action (method) should be run. Should we display the “new user” webpage? Should we edit an existing user with whatever data got sent along?
The Router is basically just a matching service. It looks at the HTTP verb (GET, POST, PUT, DELETE) and the URL that is being requested and matches it with the appropriate controller action to run. It’s a pretty simple function but an essential one. If it can’t find a route that matches the request, your application will throw an error.
The other handy thing that goes on when a request enters your application is that Rails grabs all the parameters that came with it and makes them available for you in a special hash called
params that you can later use in your controller. That’s good for things like form submissions so that you later can use that form data to create or modify objects.
If you open the routes file in your Rails app (located in
config/routes.rb), you’ll see a link to the Rails Guides routing section. This resource does a good job of explaining how it works, so you’re never in much danger of losing your way.
Lots of training courses and tutorials kind of gloss over routes, and they seem quite easy in hindsight, but when learning Rails it’s easy to get hung up on what exactly is going on. Luckily, typing
$ rails routes into the command line will give you an output of all the routes that are available to your application. In this section we’ll go into what’s actually happening with this file.
By the end of this lesson, you should be able to do the following:
- Configure a root route.
- Configure RESTful routes for a resource.
- Configure customized routes for a resource.
- Name and describe the 7 RESTful controller actions.
- Obtain a list of all possible routes your current Rails application provides you with.
- Apply helper methods to create a navigation link on your webpage.
The most important (and simplest) route in your file is the root URL… where should users be deposited when they land on
http://supercutekittenphotos.com? Just tell Rails which controller and action to map that route to, and it is so:
root to: "kittens#index" #kittens controller, index action (method)
Remember, when we say “action” we really mean “the method inside the controller that is called that”, e.g. the
index action is just the
index method that’s defined in the KittensController*
If you recall our earlier discussion about REST, there are basically seven main types of actions that you can (and should) do to a “resource”, or an object like a blog post or user… something with its own database model. From that discussion, they are:
- GET all the posts (aka “index” the posts)
- GET just one specific post (aka “show” that post)
- GET the page that lets you create a new post (aka view the “new” post page)
- POST the data you just filled out for a new post back to the server so it can create that post (aka “create” the post)
- GET the page that lets you edit an existing post (aka view the “edit” post page)
- PUT the data you just filled out to edit the post back to the server so it can actually perform the update (aka “update” the post)
- DELETE one specific post by sending a delete request to the server (aka “destroy” the post)
The highlighted words correspond to standard Rails controller actions!
Each of these represents a “RESTful” route, and so it makes sense that you’ll need a way to write these in your Router file so the requests they represent are actually routed to the proper action of your controller (in this case, the “Posts” controller). One way to write them out would be the long way:
get "/posts", to: "posts#index" get "/posts/new", to: "posts#new" get "/posts/:id", to: "posts#show" post "/posts", to: "posts#create" # usually a submitted form get "/posts/:id/edit", to: "posts#edit" put "/posts/:id", to: "posts#update" # usually a submitted form delete "/posts/:id", to: "posts#destroy"
Each of these routes is basically a Ruby method that matches that particular URL and HTTP verb with the correct controller action. Two things to notice:
- The first key thing to notice is that several of those routes submit to the SAME URL… they just use different HTTP verbs, so Rails can send them to a different controller action. That trips up a lot of beginners.
- The other thing to notice is that the “id” field is prepended by a colon… that just tells Rails “Look for anything here and save it as the ID in the params hash”. It lets you submit a GET request for the first post and the fifth post to the same route, just a different ID:
/posts/1 # going to the #show action of the PostsController /posts/5 # also going to the #show action of PostsController
You will be able to access that ID directly from the controller by tapping into the params hash where it got stored.
Rails knows you want to use those seven actions all the time… so they came up with a handy helper method which lets you do in one line what we just wrote in seven lines in our resources file:
# in config/routes.rb ... resources :posts ...
That’s it. That is a Ruby method which basically just outputs those seven routes we talked about before. No magic. You see it a whole lot, now you know what it does.
With that above line in our routes file, what do our routes look like? If you type
$ rails routes on the command line, it’ll output all the routes your application knows, which look like:
edit_post GET /posts/:id/edit(.:format) posts#edit
You can see the incoming HTTP verb and URL in the middle columns, then the controller action they map to on the right, which should all be quite familiar because you just wrote it in the routes file. The
(.:format) just means that it’s okay but not required to specify a file extension like
.doc at the end of the route… it will just get saved in the
params hash for later anyway. But what’s on the leftmost column? That’s the “name” of the route.
There are a lot of situations where you want to be able to retrieve the URL for a particular route, like when you want to show navigation links on your webpage (do NOT hard code the URLS, because you’ll be out of luck when you decide to change the URLs and have to manually go in and change them yourself). Rails gives you a helper method that lets you create links called
link_to, but you’ll need to supply it with the text that you want to show and the URL to link it to.
link_to "Edit this post", edit_post_path(3) # don't hardcode 3!
We’re jumping a little bit ahead, but in this case, the second argument is supposed to be a path or a URL, so we use the path helper method to generate that.
edit_post_path(3) will generate the path
Rails automatically generates helper methods for you which correspond to the names of all your routes. These methods end with
path, as in
edit_post_path(3), will generate just the path portion of the URL, which is sufficient for most applications.
url will generate the full URL.
Any routes which require you to specify an ID or other parameters will need you to supply those to the helper methods as well (like we did above for edit). You can also put in a query string by adding an additional parameter:
post_path(3, :referral_link => "/some/path/or/something")
:referral_link parameter would be available in your
params hash in your controller in addition to the normal set of parameters.
Just to drive home that routes correspond directly to controller actions, a very simple sample controller which would fulfill the above routes generated by
resources :posts might look like:
# in app/controllers/posts class PostsController < ApplicationController def index # very simple code to grab all posts so they can be # displayed in the Index view (index.html.erb) end def show # very simple code to grab the proper Post so it can be # displayed in the Show view (show.html.erb) end def new # very simple code to create an empty post and send the user # to the New view for it (new.html.erb), which will have a # form for creating the post end def create # code to create a new post based on the parameters that # were submitted with the form (and are now available in the # params hash) end def edit # very simple code to find the post we want and send the # user to the Edit view for it(edit.html.erb), which has a # form for editing the post end def update # code to figure out which post we're trying to update, then # actually update the attributes of that post. Once that's # done, redirect us to somewhere like the Show page for that # post end def destroy # very simple code to find the post we're referring to and # destroy it. Once that's done, redirect us to somewhere fun. end end
Remember that you can run
$ rails routes in the project directory to see all of the routes with their corresponding controllers and actions.
Sometimes you just don’t want all seven of the RESTful routes that
resources provides. Easy, either specify just the ones you want using
only or just the ones you DON’T want using
resources :posts, only: [:index, :show] resources :users, except: [:index]
Of course, you don’t have to do everything the RESTful way. You probably should, but there are times that you want to make up your own route and map it to your own controller action. Just follow the examples we gave at the top for RESTful routes:
get '/somepath', to: 'somecontroller#someaction'
… of course, the
config/routes.rb comments should be helpful to you here as well.
You should have a good sense of what’s going on in the routes file by now but probably also have plenty of questions. The Rails Guides to the rescue!
This section contains helpful links to other content. It isn’t required, so consider it supplemental.
This section contains questions for you to check your understanding of this lesson. If you’re having trouble answering the questions below on your own, review the material above to find the answer.
- What is the purpose of the Rails router?
- How do you assign the root route of your application in the router?
- Assuming we have no knowledge of the HTTP-verb, which 3 RESTful controller actions could be triggered by the
- How can you assign all of the RESTful routes for a resource - excluding the destroy-route - in just one line?
- How would you create a link in your app (without hardcoding), that directs you to
- Which Chrome extension can you use to simulate HTTP-requests with an API?