Hooray for ES6 modules on Rails Part 2: Testing

In my last post, I integrated modern JS into a Rails app with Browserify via Browserify-Rails gem, and getting started with writing specs in ES6 is just as easy.

1.) Set up Browserify-Rails via my last post

2.) Add teaspoon-jasmine gem to your gemfile

3.) Make sure Browserify is configured to load spec files

4.) Run “bundle install” from Rails console

5.) Run “bundle exec rails g teaspoon:install” from Rails console

6.) Import whatever class you are testing and use ES6 syntax!

7.) Run your specs in the browser at http://localhost:3000/teaspoon, or in the console via rake teaspoon



Hooray for ES6 modules on Rails Part 1: Getting Started

In my most recent project, I implemented Conway’s Game of Life using ES6 modules + Rails. With the help of Browserify via Browserify Rails, I was able to organize my code with node-flavored modules and compile them with Babelify for use in the browser.

It’s the first app I’ve built using modern javascript, and doing so was rewarding and a good primer for using ES6 with front-end frameworks like React moving forward (I did not use a front-end framework in this project).

Getting started with Browserify via Browserify Rails is super easy. If you don’t already have node installed, you can do so via Homebrew. Once node is installed, follow these directions to get up and running with ES6:

1.) Add “gem browserify-rails” to your gemfile

2.) Run “bundle install” from Rails console

3.) In application.rb, config Browserify to use Babelify to compile ES6

3.) Run “npm init” from Rails console to create a package.json file in Rails root. Add the following dependencies:

4.) Run “npm install browserify browserifyincremental babelify babelpresetes2015 save” from Rails console to install the required packages locally

5.) Start writing ES6 classes and export them for use in other classes (via import).

Example of exported Cell class:

Example of importing Cell class and using its initialize method in World class:

6.) Require all classes/modules in application.js

That’s it. You’re now ready to use modern JS in the browser and feel confident that you are current with the ever-changing JavaScript landscape.

Postscript: If you haven’t built Conway’s Game of Life before, I highly recommend getting started with this fantastic test-driven tutorial. And definitely solve the problems on your own when he gives you a challenge; you will learn a ton more that way and feel good about it. Note that this is a ruby tutorial and the game is displayed via the Gosu gem in the console. The ES6 stuff above is only applicable if you build the game in the browser.

The price of comfort

I am serving a ton of data to Angular for my app Graffito, like 3000 geocoded ‘graffiti incident’ reports from NYC Open Data via the SODA API. I use the data to plot markers on Google Maps, as well as overlay a heatmap with Heatmap.js.

Performance has always been an issue.

One way I’ve improved user experience is to plot the map only once, and use jQuery to toggle its visibility depending on the route. Angular’s UI-router has a nifty OnEnter callback to manage that gracefully.

Today, I focused on improving performance via comparing different query implementations –  JBuilder vs. customizing Rails’ as_json(options={}) method. JBuilder provides a DSL that can be used stand-alone or directly as an ActionView template language.

Let’s compare request times by descending order of duration.

I use rack-mini-profiler to audit performance. It creates a handy little window in your browser for assessing the performance of each query in the request with caching disabled.

JBuilder in a template (index.json.jbuilder):

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 3.25.11 PM

JBuilder as standalone DSL:

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 2.59.13 PM

as_json patch:

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 2.58.56 PM

Wow. The extra overhead JBuilder imposes on your app as a template language is huge – about 10 seconds more than customizing Rails’ as_json. The the time it takes to render index.json.jbuilder is impractical for my huge data set.

But even as a standalone language, JBuilder is slower by nearly one second. And this makes sense, JBuilder essentially wraps Rails in another language.

The argument for using JBuilder is comfort – a DSL is more semantic. But in my experience, that’s only when using it as a template language. As a standalone DSL, its less clear than Rails.

JBuilder introduces the unfamiliar class method encode, initializes a json object, and sets the graffito attributes to that object. It takes some brain power to figure that out, slowing down the development process.

It’s worth nothing that rails does all this too under the hood with Active Model Serialization. That’s why when we call super, it returns a json object. Both JBuider and Rails do it in O(n) time, but Rails does so more efficiently, without a DSL wrapper to slow everything down.

I’m glad I compared these approaches. For now, I’m sticking with plain Rails. Only when an API becomes super vast, with many levels of nesting, would I pick a semantic DSL like JBuilder, and even then, I’d only use it as a template language for smaller queries.


How to build an Arpeggiator

It’s been far too long since I blogged. I’ve been super immersed in my first job as a RoR developer at Custom Solutions Group and making music. As it turns out, I’m bringing my two most urgent passions, coding and songwriting, together.

For an upcoming performance at my friend’s salon in Brooklyn, NY, I’m weaving the leitmotif from the 1992 film Cape Fear into my set using an online synth and a simple script I wrote to introduce the theme.

The script relies on the js setTimeout() function to execute code after a delay of 950 milliseconds. The delay allows a note to continue playing until the next time the script fires.

After inspecting the synth’s source code, I discovered I could call its keyUp() and keyDown() functions to automate playback. The tricky part was tracking which notes to keyup or keydown, and when to use a delay between notes or not. To achieve seamless playback, I store the arpeggio notes in an array, and use the index to identify which note in the arpeggio should be keyed up or down; in other words, the current and previous note, or i and i-1.

As well, I use a counter, independent of any particular arpeggio, to measure total notes played. In this example, I limit the program to play 10 arpeggios consecutively for a total of 40 notes (see line 25), at which point the program terminates.

Most important, when the remainder of the counter % 4 is 0, the last note in the current arpeggio has been played (it will always be a multiple of 4). At that point, I reset the index to 0 and use a callback to restart the code and play the first note in the arpeggio without a delay to avoid a gap between arpeggios.

Here’s the code! Have fun and give it a try. Just follow the instructions up top. Coding gives you semi-super powers to do beautiful things.

Implementing Devise in Rails

Devise is Ruby gem and authentication solution for Rails. It is comprised of 10 modules that allow you to customize your process with options such as timeouts, lockouts, Omniauth, and database authentication. If you haven’t yet implemented simple user authentication in Rails on your own, it’s recommended that you do so before using Devise. Building authentication from scratch is a great way to learn the Rails framework. Here are two excellent resources to get you started:

I’m implemeting Devise with the help of Ryan Bates’ Railscast ‘Introducing Devise‘ and Devise’s Getting Started documentation (follow the latter link for basic installation steps).

After installing devise, you’ll generate a User model.

rails generate devise User

Once this command is executed, Devise will automatically create RESTful routes for you via devise_for :users in routes.rb (run rake routes from the command line to check all your nifty new routes.


If you aren’t familiar with RESTful routes, they are a web convention for naming routes semantically. In other words, the routes’ names communicate exactly what they are and where they are going. This is important stuff for keeping an app’s name spacing and flow clear and concise. For example, to access the sign up routes created by Devise, go to http://localhost:3000/users/sign_up. Note the first time you do this, if you get the error undefined method `registration_path’, try restarting your server. That should do the trick.

Next, it’s a good idea to add sign/sign out functionality to your nav bar because most users other than admins aren’t going to know the RESTful routes even exist. Head over to layout.html.erb and write your code. Note that the snippet below is borrowed from Ryan Bates’ Railscast ‘Introducing Devise‘. If you follow that link and scroll down you’ll see all sorts of code snippets.

Now that you’ve added sign-in/sign out functionality, you can customize which controller actions require authentication in your controller by adding a before_filter. For example, the following filter triggers a devise method that redirects to login for all actions except show and index.

You’ll probably want to generate your own views so you can customize the sign in pages to conform to your project’s style. No problem. Devise has a handy command for creating views.

rails generate devise:views

Customizing views is particularly important if you’re using a framework like Bootstrap so you can add the proper classes to sign-in/out forms. In my project, I added class container to my <div> tag and  form-signin-heading to my <h2> tag. You can explore Bootstrap examples here (just view source to see which classes are used).

Last, for my project, I wanted to limit access to CRUD actions, so I added an admin column to my users table.

rails generate migration add_admin_to_users admin:boolean

In my migration, I set the default value to false.

You can grant a user admin access in rails console by updating a users admin attribute to true, like so:


Throughout your project views, insert conditional logic to check whether a user is an admin before displaying creative or destructive CRUD actions.

I’m looking forward to learning more about Devise in the  coming days. Gems are great shortcuts, but the fun part is diving deep into the documentation and customizing them to meet your needs.

Exploring linked lists

I’ve been playing with new data structures lately in preparation for interviews. Up to this point, I’ve been parsing, traversing, and CRUDing the DOM, arrays, and hashes — all lovely arrangements — but there other data structures that deserve due consideration because of performance issues, i.e., the efficiency by which one can execute CRUD actions on a data structure.

Currently, Im studying how to manipulate linked lists. A linked list is a simple data structure consisting of a sequence of nodes. Each node only knows about its subsequent neighbor. You might ask, why would I want to choose a linked list if its memory of itself is so shortsighted? The answer lies in performance.


Compared with an array, it is much more efficient to insert or delete an element in a linked list because it can be done without reorganizing the entire data structure. You simply delete the link to the element you want to delete, or insert an element and shift the preceding node’s pointer to it (as well as point the new node to the previous node’s old neighbor).

On the flipside, arrays are much more efficient at selecting elements. If know the index of an element in an array you can immediately access it. To access a node in a linked list, you must traverse the list from the first position until you find it. In mathematical terms, we say that the access time for an array is O(1) and access time for a linked list is O(n).

Alas, in Ruby, there are no linked lists. So as a code challenge, I decided to build my own using Ruby classes and methods (partial credit to Katie Hoffman, an amazing, talented colleague who helped me whiteboard this problem the other day).

Having built Conway’s Game of Life in Ruby, I had a good idea of where to start from. Like a cell class that has knowledge of itself and its neighbors, I knew I needed a node class with similar intelligence.

Similarly, like a world class in Game of Life knows its two-dimensional geometry, I implemented a LinkedList class that knows itself as a straight line with a root position.

Next, within the LinkedList class, I built methods to add, find, and delete a node from the list.

To add an element to the end of the list, I built a method that sets the current position to the root of the list and takes one argument, the content of a new node. Knowing that the neighbor of the last cell is always nil, I built a loop to traverse the list UNTIL current.neighbor.nil? evaluates to true. In the meantime, with each loop I increment the position of current to the position of its neighbor. Once current.neighbor.nil? evaluates to true, the method sets the last node’s neighbor to the new_node created at the start of the method.

Likewise, to find a node in a list, I incremented the current node via an until loop. The delete method was trickier. That’s where my visual aid came in handy so I could keep track of both the current and previous positions in the list with each iteration. With deletion, its essential to store the previous node, because to delete its neighbor, you don’t actually delete its neighbor; instead, you delete the reference to its neighbor. To do that, you point previous to its neighbor’s neighbor, or the neighbor of the final current node in the loop.

Tricky stuff. Without a visual aide I would be totally lost.

P.S. Happy Graduation to all my Flatiron colleagues!

Associations in Rails

I’ve been focusing a ton on learning regex, and the results have been rewarding. I figure if I put the same energy into data modeling, I will be equally surprised with what I learn. I’m starting back at square one with a review of basic associations in Rails.

I’ll be using two Active Record resources, bunnies and carrots, and playing around with the different ways I can express possible relationships between the two, and add complexity to them. I’ll begin by demonstrating a basic belongs_to/has_many relationship between the models.

These associations would look something like this in the database:


In the belongs_to association, each carrot is assigned to exactly one bunny. To establish ownership of each carrot, we assign the bunny_id as the foreign key in the carrots table. In our Active Record model, carrot.rb, we establish the belongs to association via the following code:

But we’re not quite finished. Relationships are a two way street. In the table above, each carrot belongs to exactly one bunny. On the flipside, each rabbit can own zero or more carrots. To express this end of the relationship we must establish a “has_many” in rabbit.rb. The code looks like this:

Notice that the name of the model after has_many is pluralized in this case, which, conveniently, sounds correct. The has_many association tells our Rails application that each rabbit object can have zero or more carrots.

But what if we want each carrot to be shared among our rabbits? How would we go about expressing that relationship in Rails—where each rabbit has many carrots and each carrot has many rabbits. There are two ways to achieve this: has_many :through and has_many_and_belongs_to. I will demonstrate the has_many: through relationship because it allows you to create a model in your application that you can refer back to. has_many :through also lets you add columns to your join table. For a discussion on both options, see the Rails documentation on Associations.

Before generating the models in rails, let’s draw out the relationship we want to create.


We want to link our two tables in a new model/join table.

In the terminal we generate our models and migrations via..

rails g model carrot color:string
rails g model bunny name:string
rails g model community carrot_id:integer bunny_id:integer

Next we must re-establish our associations between carrots and bunnies via the new community model, back in carrot.rb, bunny.rb and community.rb:

The join table/model community.rb is at the center or carrots and rabbits. community.rb binds carrots to rabbits, and rabbits to carrots. After we run our migrations, this powerful new middleman will let us use Active Record Association methods to streamline access to our data. Our migrations look like this:

We run the migrations via rake db:migrate.

So let’s open the rails console and start to examine the power of the affinity we created between bunnies and carrots. We now have access to carrots via bunnies and bunnies via carrots.

Now let’s assign another bunny to a carrot. We’ll use the method find_by to locate the bunny Hakeem in the database.

The carrot with ID #9 is now bound to two bunnies, Jasper and Hakeem. Our has_many :through association allows us to access those buns from the carrot!