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Extension for ActiveRecord models to manage synchronizing data in support/lookup tables across environments. Also provides the ability to directly reference and test for specific rows in these tables.



 Project Readme

Support Table Data

Continuous Integration Ruby Style Guide Gem Version

This gem provides a mixin for ActiveRecord support table models that allows you to load data from YAML, JSON, or CSV files and reference specific records more easily. It is intended to solve issues with support tables (also known as lookup tables) that contain a small set of canonical data that must exist for your application to work.

These kinds of models blur the line between data and code. You'll often end up with constants and application logic based on specific values that need to exist in the table. By using this gem, you can easily define methods for loading and comparing specific instances. This can give you cleaner code that reads far more naturally. You can also avoid defining dozens of constants or referencing magic values (i.e. no more hard-coded strings or ids in the code to look up specific records).


In the examples below, suppose we have a simple Status model in which each row has an id and a name, and the name can only have a handful of statuses: "Pending", "In Progress", and "Completed".

Now, we may have code that needs to reference the status and make decisions based on it. This will require that the table have the exact same values in it in every environment. This gem lets you define these values in a YAML file:

- id: 1
  name: Pending

- id: 2
  name: In Progress

- id: 3
  name: Completed

You can then use this mixin to match that data with your model:

class Status < ApplicationRecord
  include SupportTableData

  # Set the default location for data files. (This is the default value in a Rails application.)
  self.support_table_data_directory = Rails.root + "db" + "support_tables"

  # Add the data file to the model; you can also specify an absolute path and add multiple data files.
  add_support_table_data "statuses.yml"

Specifying Data Files

You use the add_support_table_data class method to add a data file path. This file must be a YAML, JSON, or CSV file that defines a list of attributes. YAML and JSON files should contain an array where each element is a hash of the attributes for each record. YAML and JSON file can also be defined as a hash when using named instances (see below). CSV files must use comma delimiters, double quotes for the quote character, and have a header row containing the attribute names.

One of the attributes in your data files will be the key attribute. This attribute must uniquely identify each element. By default, the key attribute will be the table's primary key. You can change this by setting the support_table_key_attribute class attribute on the model.

class Status < ApplicationRecord
  include SupportTableData

  self.support_table_key_attribute = :name

You cannot update the value of the key attribute in a record in the data file. If you do, a new record will be created and the existing record will be left unchanged.

You can specify data files as relative paths. This can be done by setting the SupportTableData.data_directory value. You can override this value for a model by setting the support_table_data_directory attribute on its class. In a Rails application, SupportTableData.data_directory will be automatically set to db/support_tables/. Otherwise, relative file paths will be resolved from the current working directory. You must define the directory to load relative files from before loading your model classes.

Named Instances

You can also automatically define helper methods to load instances and determine if they match specific values. This allows you to add more natural ways of referencing specific records.

Named instances are defined if you supply a hash instead of an array in the data files. The hash keys must be valid Ruby method names. Keys that begin with an underscore will not be used to generate named instances. If you only want to create named instances on a few rows in a table, you can add them to an array under an underscored key.

Here is an example data file using named instances:

  id: 1
  name: Pending
  icon: clock

  id: 2
  name: In Progress
  icon: construction

  id: 3
  name: Completed
  icon: heavy_check_mark

  - id: 4
    name: Draft

  - id: 5
    name: Deleted

The hash keys will be used to define helper methods to load and test for specific instances. In this example, our model defines these methods that make it substantially more natural to reference specific instances.

# These methods can be used to load specific instances.
Status.pending      # Status.find_by!(id: 1)
Status.in_progress  # Status.find_by!(id: 2)
Status.completed    # Status.find_by!(id: 3)

# These methods can be used to test for specific instances.
status.pending?     # == 1
status.in_progress? # == 2
status.completed?   # == 3

Helper methods will not override already defined methods on a model class. If a method is already defined, an ArgumentError will be raised.

You can also define helper methods for named instance attributes. These helper methods will return the hard coded values from the data file. Calling these methods does not require a database connection.

class Status < ApplicationRecord
  include SupportTableData

  named_instance_attribute_helpers :id

Status.pending_id     # => 1
Status.in_progress_id # => 2
Status.completed_id   # => 3

You can also use named instances to maintain associations between you models. In order to do this you'll need to implement a custom setter method.

class Group < ApplicationRecord
  include SupportTableData

  has_many :statuses

class Status < ApplicationRecord
  include SupportTableData

  belongs_to :group

  def group_name=(instance_name) = Group.named_instance(instance_name)

This then allows you to reference groups by instance name in the statuses.yml file:

# groups.yml
  id: 1
  name: Not Done

  id: 2
  name: Done

# statuses.yml
  id: 1
  name: Pending
  group_name: not_done

  id: 2
  name: In Progress
  group_name: not_done

  id: 3
  name: Completed
  group_name: done


You can use the companion support_table_cache gem to add caching support to your models. That way your application won't need to constantly query the database for records that will never change.

class Status < ApplicationRecord
  include SupportTableData
  include SupportTableCache

  add_support_table_data "statuses.yml"

  # Cache lookups when finding by name or by id.
  cache_by :name
  cache_by :id

  # Cache records in local memory instead of a shared cache for best performance.
  self.support_table_cache = :memory

class Thing < ApplicationRecord
  belongs_to :status

  # Use caching to load the association rather than hitting the database every time.
  cache_belongs_to :status

Loading Data

Calling sync_table_data! on your model class will synchronize the data in the database table with the values from the data files.


This will add any missing records to the table and update existing records so that the attributes in the table match the values in the data files. Records that do not appear in the data files will not be touched. Any attributes not specified in the data files will not be changed.

The number of records contained in data files should be fairly small (ideally fewer than 100). It is possible to load just a subset of rows in a large table because only the rows listed in the data files will be synced. You can use this feature if your table allows user-entered data, but has a few rows that must exist for the code to work.

Loading data is done inside a database transaction. No changes will be persisted to the database unless all rows for a model can be synced.

You can synchronize the data in all models by calling SupportTableData.sync_all!. This method will discover all ActiveRecord models that include SupportTableData and synchronize each of them. (Note that there can be issues discovering all support table models in a Rails application if eager loading is turned off.) The discovery mechanism will try to detect unloaded classes by looking at the file names in the support table data directory so it's best to stick to standard Rails naming conventions for your data files.

The load order for models will resolve any dependencies between models. So if one model has a belongs_to association with another model, then the belongs to model will be loaded first.

You need to call SupportTableData.sync_all! when deploying your application. This gem includes a rake task support_table_data:sync that is suitable for hooking into deploy scripts. An easy way to hook it into a Rails application is by enhancing the db:migrate task so that the sync task runs immediately after database migrations are run. You can do this by adding code to a Rakefile in your application's lib/tasks directory:

if Rake::Task.task_defined?("db:migrate")
  Rake::Task["db:migrate"].enhance do

Enhancing the db:migrate task also ensures that local development environments will stay up to date.


You must also call SupportTableData.sync_all! before running your test suite. This method should be called in the test suite setup code after any data in the test database has been purged and before any tests are run.


Add this line to your application's Gemfile:

gem "support_table_data"

Then execute:

$ bundle

Or install it yourself as:

$ gem install support_table_data


Open a pull request on GitHub.

Please use the standardrb syntax and lint your code with standardrb --fix before submitting.


The gem is available as open source under the terms of the MIT License.