Rolling with Ruby on Rails
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Let's Write Code

We'll create an online collaborative cookbook for holding and sharing everyone's favorite recipes. We want our cookbook to:

  • Display a list of all recipes.
  • Create new recipes and edit existing recipes.
  • Assign a recipe to a category (like "dessert" or "soup").

You can create your cookbook application in any directory you like, but I used c:\rails\cookbook. All paths used in this article assume this base directory path. If you choose a different location, be sure to make the necessary adjustments as you see application paths in this article.

If you like, you can download the complete Rails cookbook example and follow along. If you do this, look in the cookbook/db/ directory for a file to use to rebuild the database.

Creating an Empty Rails Web Application

Rails is both a runtime web app framework and a set of helper scripts that automate many of the things you do when developing a web application. In this step, we will use one such helper script to create the entire directory structure and the initial set of files to start our cookbook application.

  1. Open a command window and navigate to where you want to create this cookbook web application. I used c:\rails.
  2. Run the command:

    rails cookbook

    This will create a cookbook subdirectory containing a complete directory tree of folders and files for an empty Rails application.

A newly created Rails application directory
Figure 6. A newly created Rails application directory

Testing the Empty Web Application

A Rails web application can run under virtually any web server, but the most convenient way to develop a Rails web application is to use the built-in WEBrick web server. Let's start this web server and then browse to our cookbook application.

  • In your open command window, move into the cookbook directory.
  • Run the command:

    ruby script\server

    to start the server (Figure 7).

  • Now open your browser and browse to You should see something like Figure 8. [Editor's note: Unless you're following along with the article, these links probably won't work for you. Don't panic-- is a special address reserved for the local machine.]

starting the WEBrick server
Figure 7. Starting the WEBrick server

Leave the command window open and the web server running, as we will be using it as we proceed.

the Rails default page
Figure 8. The Rails default page

A Rails Application's Directory Structure

Rails tries very hard to minimize the number of decisions you have to make and to eliminate unnecessary work. When you used the rails helper script to create your empty application, it created the entire directory structure for the application (Figure 9). Rails knows where to find things it needs within this structure, so you don't have to tell it. Remember, no configuration files!

a Rails application directory structure
Figure 9. A Rails application directory structure

Most of our development work will be creating and editing files in the c:\rails\cookbook\app subdirectories. Here's a quick rundown of how to use them.

  • The controllers subdirectory is where Rails looks to find controller classes. A controller handles a web request from the user.
  • The views subdirectory holds the display templates to fill in with data from our application, convert to HTML, and return to the user's browser.
  • The models subdirectory holds the classes that model and wrap the data stored in our application's database. In most frameworks, this part of the application can grow pretty messy, tedious, verbose, and error-prone. Rails makes it dead simple!
  • The helpers subdirectory holds any helper classes used to assist the model, view, and controller classes. This helps to keep the the model, view, and controller code small, focused, and uncluttered.

Controllers and URLs

In a moment, we will create our cookbook database and begin developing our application. First, it's important to understand how controllers work in Rails and how URLs map into (and execute) controller methods.

Controller classes handle web requests from the user. The URL of the request maps to a controller class and a method within the class. How does this work?

Leave your existing command window open with the web server running, open a second command window, and navigate to the application's base directory, c:\rails\cookbook. It will look like Figure 10, at least in a moment.

the cookbook controller directory
Figure 10. The cookbook controller directory

We will use another Rails helper script to create a new controller class for us. In the command window, run the command:

ruby script\generate controller MyTest

This will create a file named my_test_controller.rb containing a skeleton definition for the class MyTestController.

In the c:\rails\cookbook\controllers directory, right-click on this file and choose Edit. The file should resemble Figure 11.

Figure 11. Editing MytestController

What happens if you browse to something that you know does not exist? Try Figure 12 shows the results.

Browsing to an unknown controller
Figure 12. Browsing to an unknown controller

That's not too surprising. Now try, shown in Figure 13.

Browsing to the new controller
Figure 13. Browsing to the new controller

Hmmm. Now that's different. The Mytest part of the URL maps to the newly created controller. Now it seems that Rails tried to find an action named index in this controller but couldn't.

Let's fix that. Add an index method to your controller class as in Figure 14.

the index method of MytestController
Figure 14. The index method of MytestController

Refresh your browser, and you should now see something more like Figure 15.

the result of the index method
Figure 15. The result of the index method

You will have the same results with, too.

Let's add another action to the controller just to make sure you have the idea. Add the dilbert method from Figure 16.

the dilbert method
Figure 16. The dilbert method

Now browse to and you'll see something like Figure 17.

the output of the dilbert method
Figure 17. The output of the dilbert method

I think you have the idea.

Let's create our database now and work on some real pieces of our cookbook application.

Creating the Cookbook Database

It's time to create the cookbook database and tell Rails how to find it. (This is the only configuration that you will find in Rails.)

  1. Start MySQL-Front and log in to your locally running MySQL instance (localhost) as root, using an empty password. You should see something like Figure 18.

    Figure 18. MySQL-Front

  2. There are two existing databases, mysql and test. Create a new database named cookbook. Execute the menu command Database>New>Database... and enter the database name cookbook, as Figure 19 illustrates.

    creating a new database
    Figure 19. Creating a new database

    Click Ok to create the database.

  3. To tell Rails how to find the database, edit the file c:\rails\cookbook\config\database.yml and change the database name to cookbook. Leave the username as root and the password empty. When you finish, it should look something like Figure 20.

    The database.yml configuration file
    Figure 20. The database.yml configuration file

Rails lets you run in development mode, test mode, or production mode, using different databases. This application uses the same database for each.

Editor's note: A recent change in Rails requires that you restart the webserver, or else Rails will never see the new database and the subsequent steps will fail. Hit Ctrl-C or close the window as appropriate and relaunch the web server at this point.

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