Neglected ActiveRecord Features

As Rails developers, we’re constantly using ActiveRecord, but are mostly using the same subset of methods and features it provides. Some of its lesser known and lesser used features could help you write cleaner code in the future and delight your co-workers. So let’s dive right in!


> user_ids = User.limit(5).pluck(:id)
  (0.5ms) SELECT "users"."id" FROM "users" ORDER BY "users"."name" ASC LIMIT 5
=> [856, 857, 858, 850, 852]

Instead of calling map on ActiveRecord objects, use pluck if you only need a list of attributes. It avoids building ActiveRecord model objects and is a lot more efficient for larger collections.

Array Arguments

> Post.where(:user_id => user_ids).count
  (5.2ms) SELECT COUNT(* ) FROM "posts" WHERE "posts"."user_id" IN (856, 857, 858, 850, 852)
=> 286

You can provide an array argument for the where clause, which is translated to an SQL IN.

Where and Not

> Post.count
  (0.6ms)  SELECT COUNT(* ) FROM "posts"
=> 1120
> Post.where(:category => 'rails').count
  (0.8ms)  SELECT COUNT(* ) FROM "posts"  WHERE "posts"."category" = 'rails'
=> 295
> Post.where.not(:category => 'rails').count
  (0.9ms)  SELECT COUNT(* ) FROM "posts"  WHERE ("posts"."category" != 'rails')
=> 825

Using where.not will test for inequality, where you might have used where('category != ?', 'rails') in the past. This was introduced with Rails 4.0.


> date_start =, 1, 1)
=> Tue, 01 Jan 2013
> date_end =, 2, 1)
=> Fri, 01 Feb 2013
> puts Post.where(:published_on => date_start..date_end).to_sql
SELECT "posts".* FROM "posts"  WHERE ("posts"."published_on" BETWEEN '2013-01-01' AND '2013-02-01')

Where clauses also support ranges. In the example above we see a ruby date range that gets elegantly translated to SQL BETWEEN syntax.


> puts Post.unscoped.order(:published_on => :asc).to_sql
SELECT "posts".* FROM "posts"   ORDER BY "posts"."published_on" ASC
=> nil
> puts Post.unscoped.order(:published_on => :desc).to_sql
SELECT "posts".* FROM "posts"   ORDER BY "posts"."published_on" DESC
=> nil

Instead of the using the order argument with a string as order("published_on DESC"), you can simply pass a hash.

Discarding From The Chain

> puts Post.unscoped.order(:published_on => :desc).except(:order).to_sql
SELECT "posts".* FROM "posts"

With the expect syntax you can get rid of clauses to the ActiveRecord relation that were added before. This could come in handy if you’re given a base scope that is valid for all cases except yours and avoids throwing away any other modifications to the relation.

The Null Relation

> Post.none.where(:category => "rails")
=> []

This feature might look like non-sense at first. The none clause makes sure that whatever clause is added to the relation, the result will always be empty. Again, this might make sense if you are provided with a relation and have to return one again. Say now we have a case where the current query is not valid due to permission constraints. Adding the none clause makes sure that whatever relation modification follows, the final query will not hit the database and will be empty.


post = Post.readonly.first
post.title = "Don't change me!"!

The readonly clause makes sure that a relation cannot be modified. This might make sense if you pass an object to any code that is not yours (e.g. a library) and want to make sure that the object is not modified.


So that’s it. I hope you can use some of these tricks to not only make your code faster and more elegant, but also more readable.