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Q&A: ActiveRecord Observers and You

Posted by Sat, 28 Apr 2007 22:28:00 GMT

Yesterday, I wrote a short post titled, Observers Big and Small, about using Observers in your Rails applications.

The following questions were raised in the comments.

When should I use an Observer?

Eric Allam asks…

“Why not just use ActiveRecord callback hooks instead of Observers? Are Observers more powerful or is it just a matter of preference?”

Eric, this is an excellent question. I’d say that a majority of the time, using the ActiveRecord callbacks in your models is going to work for your situation. However, there are times that you want the same methods to be called through callbacks. For example, let’s take a recent problem that we used an observer to solve.

Graeme is working on implementing Ferret into a project that we’re developing for a client. With the use of Ferret, we can index and later search through content over several objects into a format that makes sense for our implementation goals. Each time an object is created and updated, we have to update our Ferret indexes to reflect these changes. The most obvious location that we can call our indexing methods is in each models’ callbacks, but this violates the DRY[1] principle. So, we created an Observer, which observes each of the models that need these methods to be called. In fact, as far as we’re concerned, the fact that we’re indexing some of its data, is none of its business. We only want our models to be concerned with that they’re designed to be concerned about. We may opt to change our indexing solution in the future and we’d just need to rethink that at the Observer level and not change anything about the business logic in our models.

This is the sort of scenario when using an Observer makes great sense in your application.

Logging from an Observer

Adam R. asks…

“I’d also like the ability to use the logger from within an observer, but that’s another issue.”

I assume that you are referring to the logger method? I always forget to even use that method. I do know that the following works just fine in an Observer.


class IndexObserver < ActiveRecord::Observer
  observer Article, Editorial, BlogPost, ClassifiedAd

  def after_save(model)
    RAILS_DEFAULT_LOGGER.warn("Every single day. Every word you say. Every game you play. Every night you stay. I'll be watching you.")
    # execute something fun
  end
end  

This will output to your log file without any problem.

This reminded me of when I used to want to log from Unit Tests.

(few minutes later)

Okay, I just attempted to use logger from an Observer and you’re right… it doesn’t currently work. There is a simple fix though, just extend ActiveRecord::Observer to add a logger method like so and require it in config/environment.rb (much like I did in with unit tests).


# lib/observer_extensions.rb
class ActiveRecord::Observer
  def logger
    RAILS_DEFAULT_LOGGER
  end
end

This will give you a solution to that problem.


class FooObserver < ActiveRecord::Observer
  observer Foo

  def after_save(model)
    logger.warn("I wonder if the #{address.class} knows that I've been watching it all along?")
  end
end  

Observers Spy for Us

Most often, I look at Observers as being the guys that I hire to spy on my models. I don’t want my models to know that they’re being spied on and I’d like to keep it that way. They don’t solve all of our problems and it’s easy to overuse them. However, I have found several cases that they made a lot of sense and most of those cases have been where we’ve had the same things occurring in our model’s callbacks.

If you have other questions related to Observers, feel free to let me know. If you’re already using Observers, perhaps you could post a comment and/or blog post response with an example of when and how you use Observers in your Rails applications.

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