One of my favorite parts of Rails is the router.

If you peek behind the curtain it has several interesting things going on. Some of these include:

  • Domain Specific Langage (DSL) for mapping routes to controller actions.
  • Builder pattern that constructs ruby objects from the DSL.
  • Registry for reflecting on said routes (e.g running rails routes)
  • Establishing a code organization convention that cuts across the entire framework.

There’s a ton to cover, and perhaps I will in future posts, but for this post, I want to focus on the last item.

A Problem of Perspectives

In my opinion, it’s very easy for Rails developers to fall into the thought process of:

  1. I have an ActiveRecord model named Foo
  2. I should make a FoosController
  3. All actions involving a Foo go into the FoosController

Ignoring the first point’s ActiveRecord assumption, since I think it deserves its own post…

I would argue the guides (arguably rightly) point you in this direction.

This is harmless at first. However, over time, this thought process can have huge impacts on the organization and discoverability of code in your application.

Let’s take a look at how this is eventually problematic and one of the tools we have available to us to help remedy.

A Humble Resource

resource :jedis

Here I define a “jedis” resource. As a result, Rails expects me to define a controller called JedisController located in app/controllers/jedis_controller.rb.

Also, each controller action is now expected to have a “view” located in a directory that corresponds with the resource:


Nested Resources

Eventually, your app gains a requirement where it will grow some sort of nesting. For instance, I imagine our jedis will need some lightsabers.

resources :jedis, only: [:index] do
  resources :lightsabers, only: [:show]

If you’re familiar with Rails, you’ll know that this code expects you to define JedisController and LightsabersController controller classes.

In addition, we gain a new directory app/views/lightsabers to house our lightsaber views. So far so good. One with the force and all that noise.

It’s a Trap!

If you’re anything like me, you’d agree that lightsabers are interesting in their own right. Perhaps we want to list all the lightsabers independently of the jedi that happens to wield them. Maybe they’ve been wielded by multiple jedi over time (tell me more!).

Goofy example aside, I’ve found wanting multiple perspectives of the same data to be a common pattern in large Rails apps.

Here’s one way you might try to accomplish this:

resources :jedis, only: [:index] do
  resources :lightsabers, only: [:show]
resources :lightsabers, only: [:index, :show]

This code expects the same controllers to be defined as before, but now we have two competing definitions of the show action.


This is problematic because two routes now map to the same controller endpoint. The last one wins. Confusion ensues.

What I’ve seen most people do at this point is break out of the CRUD methods and define a one-off action in the controller – or worse yet, add a if params[:jedi_id] condition.

With this decision, we begin to muddy the water of how our code is organized.

Our controller begins to wear multiple hats and we likely end up cramming many perspectives of a lightsaber into app/views/lightsabers.

Embracing Many Perspectives

What can we do to highlight the important semantic difference between a lightsaber as an independent resource versus a lightsaber in the context of the jedi that wields it?

resources :jedis, only: [:index] do
  resources :lightsabers, only: [:show], module: :jedis
resources :lightsabers, only: [:index, :show]

The only change I’ve made is that I’ve specified a module namespace of :jedis for the nested lightsabers resource. I specifically chose :jedis because it’s nested under the :jedis resource.

As a result, Rails now expects me to define 3 controllers:

  • JedisController located at app/controllers/jedis_controller.rb
  • LightsabersController located at app/controllers/lightsabers_controller.rb
  • Jedis::LightsabersControllers located at app/controllers/jedis/lightsabers_controllers.rb

This allows both LightsabersController and Jedis::LightsabersController to define their own show action, which of course have their own URL helpers: lightsabers_path and jedis_lightsabers_path, respectively.

Also, you now have an app/controllers/jedis directory and Jedis namespace to places all of the other resources that are from the perspective of a jedi.

As you may have guessed, this organizational pattern extends to the view as well. This is great since the way you display a lightsaber by itself vs in the context of a specific jedi may vary greatly (this holds true when rendering JSON in an API scenario as well!)

This may seem like a minor change at first, but in my experience, it can have a significant impact on how code is organized and discovered.

I’d recommend taking this approach for every nested resource. Interestingly, after taking this approach, I find little reason to break out of the default CRUD actions – just define a new controller!

A Parting Note

Over time, Rails has developed a specific interpretation of REST. Like anything, depending on your use case, it may not always suit your needs.

I’ve found the sweet spot to be server-rendered applications (gasp!) and APIs with concrete use-cases.

However, regardless of how you use the rails router, don’t fall into the trap of thinking your domain representations must be 1-1 with a controller.

Try utilizing module namespacing to better organize your code!