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Timestamping in Active Record models

Bartosz Pieńkowski
・2 min read

Recording a timestamp in order to mark that an event occurred to an object is a common practice when dealing with Active Record models. Active Record itself gives us a good example of such an approach. It automatically stores the time when a record was created or updated in the created_at and updated_at fields.

Similarly, we can create custom timestamp fields by adding datetime columns in the database. Yet in order to conveniently manage such fields, we would need to accompany each of them with a bunch of methods in the model class. The more timestamp fields we want to manage, the more methods we need. As a result, the model gets bigger and bigger.

That's where the active_record-events gem comes into play.

Using the gem

The gem provides us with the has_event macro which adds convenience methods on top of a datetime field.

Let's look at the following example. Assume we have a Task model with a completed_at field. Now, let's add the has_event macro inside the model class:

class Task < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_event :complete
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As a result, we get plenty of methods for managing the field without the need to define them explicitly.

task = Task.create!

task.completed? # => false


task.completed? # => true
task.completed_at # => Sun, 20 Dec 2020 16:54:11 UTC +00:00
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The generated methods allow us to check if a timestamp was recorded (task.completed?, task.not_completed?), record or overwrite a timestamp (task.complete, task.complete!), as well as record multiple timestamps at once (Task.complete_all).

Additionally, the macro defines two scope methods for retrieving objects with and without a recorded timestamp (Task.completed, Task.not_completed).

All of this can be achieved at the cost of a simple one-liner.

Generating a migration

Before we can record a timestamp, we need to add the completed_at column to the tasks table in our database. In order to do that, we could manually create a migration file, but it's much easier to use a generator provided by the gem:

$ rails generate active_record:event task complete
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This will create a necessary migration and insert a has_event statement into the corresponding model class.

# db/migrate/XXX_add_completed_at_to_tasks.rb

class AddCompletedAtToTasks < ActiveRecord::Migration[6.0]
  def change
    add_column :tasks, :completed_at, :datetime
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# app/models/task.rb

class Task < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_event :complete
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In more complex scenarios, you might consider using a state machine gem (e.g. aasm, workflow or statesman). Another alternative is ActiveRecord::Enum, which offers similar functionality with a different underlying mechanism.

This article was originally published on Planet Ruby as a part of the Ruby Advent Calendar series.

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