Read my latest article: 8 things I look for in a Ruby on Rails app (posted Thu, 06 Jul 2017 17:59:00 GMT)

Active Record, I <3 U but I still trust my database server (a tiny bit more)

Posted by Fri, 19 Aug 2005 02:20:00 GMT

While working on a portion of my book, I found myself in ./script/console and was seeing some weird issues when I would use has_many and belongs_to.

Let’s take two simple models.

<pre>
class Order < ActiveRecord::Base
  belongs_to :customer
end

class Customer < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_many :orders
end
</pre>
</code>

After a few test records...

<code>
<pre>
test_dev=# SELECT * FROM customers;  
 id |      name      
----+----------------
  1 | Robby
  2 | Nigel
  3 | Linus
(3 rows)

test_dev=# SELECT * FROM orders;
 id | customer_id | amount 
----+-------------+--------
  1 |           1 |  12.00
  2 |           3 |  12.00
(2 rows)
</pre>
</code>

Nothing completely crazy going on, right?

<typo:code lang="ruby">
Loading development environment.
>> Customer.destroy(3)
=> {"name"=>"Linus", "id"=>"3"}
>>     

=# SELECT * FROM orders;
 id | customer_id | amount 
----+-------------+--------
  1 |           1 |  12.00
  3 |           3 |  12.00
(2 rows)

Wait a minute! I just deleted a customer with an id of 3!

So, what is wrong with this scenario? Can you think of any potential problems that could occur from data like this? The record has a customer_id for a customer that does not exist. This is why we have relational databases in the first place, right? :-)

Here is something that I learned today that I was unaware of. Active Record allows you to pass the has_method declaration the option :dependent.

class Customer < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_many :orders, :dependent => true
end

What is this option? Well, according to the AR documentation, “:dependent – if set to true all the associated object are destroyed alongside this object. May not be set if :exclusively_dependent is also set.”

In a nutshell, this works like ON DELETE CASCADE does in PostgreSQL. So, it will through and delete the orders associated with the customer that I was attempting to destroy.

Up until today, I hadn’t broken myself out of the habit of using the built-in constraints/triggers of PostgreSQL. So, as soon as I did, this issue came up and I learned about :dependent.

test_dev# \d orders
                                Table "public.orders" 
   Column    |     Type      |                       Modifiers                        
-------------+---------------+--------------------------------------------------------
 id          | integer       | not null default nextval('public.orders_id_seq'::text)
 customer_id | integer       | 
 amount      | numeric(10,2) | 
Indexes:
    "orders_pkey" PRIMARY KEY, btree (id)
Foreign-key constraints:
    "orders_customer_id_fkey" FOREIGN KEY (customer_id) REFERENCES customers(id)

test_dev=# ALTER TABLE orders DROP CONSTRAINT orders_customer_id_fkey;
ALTER TABLE 

RobbyOnRails:~/Programming/footest robbyrussell$ ./script/console 
Loading development environment.
>> cust = Customer.create(:name => 'Jim')
=> #<Customer:0x275373c @new_record_before_save=true, @new_record=false, @attributes={"name"=>"Jim", "id"=>5}, @errors=#<ActiveRecord::Errors:0x274fa88 @base=#<Customer:0x275373c ...>, @errors={}>>
>> cust.orders.create(:amount => '25.00')
=> #<Order:0x274991c @new_record=false, @attributes={"id"=>4, "amount"=>"25.00", "customer_id"=>5}, @errors=#<ActiveRecord::Errors:0x2746dfc @base=#<Order:0x274991c ...>, @errors={}>>
>>                

test_dev=# SELECT * FROM orders;
 id | customer_id | amount 
----+-------------+--------
  1 |           1 |  12.00
  3 |           4 |  29.00
  4 |           5 |  25.00
(3 rows)

As you can see, I put myself into the hands of Active Record when I ran the DROP CONSTRAINT. Then I tried running the code at the top of the post… and it didn’t work.

According to the docs, if you use :dependent => true, it should delete the foreign table records. If not, it should set the value of the foriegn key field to NULL in the foreign table.

Basically, perform these two SQL queries:
UPDATE orders SET customer_id = NULL WHERE customer_id = 17; 

DELETE FROM customers  WHERE id = 17;

Then, the records are still in the database for those orders, but the customer is deleted. There are arguments for and against doing this sort of thing… but the ability to have the option is always nice. In any event, Active Record would not run the first query,it was just deleting from the customers table. Without my constraint, no error would be returned from PostgreSQL and I started to get some bad data.

Imagine showing a list of orders and trying to display the customer name associated with an order that has no linking customer. Doh! If Active Record sets the customer_id to NULL we can at least have some logic to work with this without having to run some fun SQL queries to figure out which orders do and dont have customers. (we want our applications to have clean data!)

Anyhow… Was this a bug? Should Active Record know to update the records to NULL in this case? I figured that is should be handling this task, especially since it was handling cascading deletes when you passed :dependent => true.

However, I didn’t want to prematurely post a bug report, so I began asking around on #rubyonrails (irc.freenode.net). People made a bunch of suggestions as to how to work around it. I could add a before_destroy method in my model, track the bug down, (re)add an ON DELETE trigger to my table (hah), etc. So, I decided that I would see if I could track down what happens when has_many is used for a model upon #destroy.

After a while of digging and making some tests, I posted a patch and a bug report. (please disregard my first patch… it did not work! heh)

Now that I figured this out, I am going to happy add my constraints back to my tables and go back to playing around. This reminded me of a post I had a few months ago when I mentioned that I thought it was best to put some constraints and logic in the database. I also agree that constraints should be put in the abstraction layer, but we cannot always put all faith in our code either. A few levels of checks doesn’t hurt. :-)

This was a fun little riddle that I took on today. The moral of the story? If you have the ability to use the builtin referential integrity features of PostgreSQL and those other databases, it might be a good idea to do so. Things get overlooked, people login to the database in many ways, and from different programs.

UPDATE: DHH responded to this post and provided a link which discusses Application Database versus Integrated Database

It should be noted that there is an important distinction between the two methods. When I said, “Things get overlooked, people login to the database in many ways, and from different programs” I was basically describing Integration Database. However, I was also thinking of the possibility of someone opening up their MySQL or PostgreSQL GUI and manually removing a record in plain SQL. According to Application Database, the moment that you do that, you basically break this model and cannot expect your application to be fully responsible for the problems that may or may not occur. At this point, you would need to look at your application in terms of Integration Database. Please do correct me if I am wrong on this. :-)

However, with this scenario, my first attempt to move to relying on AR had a minor hiccup, but it was an easy enough fix.

By performing the following command, I am moving towards an Integration Database pattern and that should be recognized when taking this into consideration.

ALTER TABLE orders ADD CONSTRAINT orders_customers_id_fkey 
    FOREIGN KEY (customer_id) REFERENCES customers (id) MATCH FULL; 

Okay, back to work!

Once again. Use constraints! (if you can)

... and thanks to DHH for providing the link and motivating me to make a note of this in my entry.

Typo on PostgreSQL

Posted by Sun, 13 Mar 2005 21:02:00 GMT

As Typo only supported SQLite and MySQL so far, I submitted a PostgreSQL schema file for the project. This new blog is running on PostgreSQL 8.0 and Rails!

I am going to use this blog to follow my Rails-related projects..and post tips and tricks!

Cheers

UPDATE Links have been updated as the original typo svn/trac is gone.

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