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How to use railway-oriented business transactions to unclutter your Rails controllers

🗓 - ⏱ 8 minute read -

When your Rails app needs to handle multiple steps, your controllers’ methods can become a mess.

Don’t despair, though. You can delegate sequential steps to business transactions and Marie-Kondo those messy controllers. I’ll show you how.

Let’s keep in mind that business transactions are different from ActiveRecord transactions. Business transactions allow you to create a series of steps, each resulting in a Success or a Failure object. ActiveRecord transactions are about ensuring that several database operations work as a single unit and are all rollbacked if any error occurs.

In this tutorial, I’ll use the dry-transaction gem whose documentation is neat.

From clean to messy controllers in no time

Let’s start with coding a basic controller.

  class LeadsController < ApplicationController
    def new
      @lead = Lead.new
    end

    def create
      lead = Lead.create(lead_params)

      if lead.errors.any?
        lead = Lead.new(lead_params)
        render :new
      else
        redirect_to lead_path(lead)
      end
    end

    private

    def lead_params
      params.require(:lead).permit(
        :first_name, :last_name, :email
      )
    end
  end

Okay, so here’s a basic LeadsController. You have two actions: new and create. As you can see, the create method is straightforward:

But what if I want to do more? Let’s say I want to:

  class LeadsController < ApplicationController
    def new
      @lead = Lead.new
    end

    def create
      lead = Lead.create(lead_params)

      if lead.errors.any?
        lead = Lead.new(lead_params)
        render :new
      else
        # synchronize new lead to distant CRM
        MyDistantCrm.create_lead(lead)

        # send welcome sms and email to new lead
        MySmsProvider.welcome_sms(lead).deliver_now
        LeadMailer.welcome(lead).deliver_now

        # notify business developer
        BusinessDevelopperMailer.new_lead(lead).deliver_now

        # redirect new leads to their profile page
        redirect_to lead_path(lead)

      # rescue any error to avoid a 500 error
      rescue StandardError => exception
        flash[:error] = exception
      end
    end

    private

    def lead_params
      params.require(:lead).permit(
        :first_name, :last_name, :email
      )
    end
  end

As you can see, there are several new steps doing very different things. In a real-life app, we could do a lot more than that: create associations, generate SKU numbers, etc. The other thing is that all these steps are dependent on the lead being created without any errors. This puts a lot of stuff into an else branch. This is where business transactions can come in handy.

Let’s see how to do it.

Transactions to the rescue

Let’s set up dry-transaction and see how we can unclutter our controller.

Step 1: Install dry-transaction

Add this line to your application’s Gemfile:

  gem 'dry-transaction'

Then execute:

  bundle install

Step 2: General principles

Before we dive into moving parts of our LeadsController#create into a transaction, let’s look at a transaction file to see what’s what.

A business transaction is a series of operations where any can fail and stop the processing.

Each step is processed one at a time and must return either a Success or a Failure object.

  class Leads::Create < BaseTransaction
    # Here, I define the operation sequence
    tee :params
    step :create_lead

    # Here, I define each operation
    def params(input)
      @params = input.fetch(:params)
    end

    def create_lead(input)
      @lead = Lead.create(@params)

      if @lead.errors.any?
        Failure(error: @lead.errors.full_messages.join(' | '))
      else
        Success(input)
      end
    end
  end

Here are a few points to keep in mind:

Step 3: Move the controller’s logic into the transaction

Now, we can move parts of our LeadsController#create into a transaction.

My app’s architecture was:

  - app
    - controllers
      - application_controller.rb
      - leads_controller.rb

At the end of this tutorial, it’ll be:

  - app
    - controllers
      - application_controller.rb
      - leads_controller.rb
    - transactions
      - base_transaction.rb
      - leads
        - create.rb

Let’s build base_transaction.rb first.

  class BaseTransaction
    include Dry::Transaction

    def self.call(*args, &block)
      new.call(*args, &block)
    end
  end

def self.call(*args, &block) will allow us to call the transaction from our controllers with a hash of arguments.

I’ll start with the transaction we started earlier and I’ll move parts of our LeadsController#create into it.

  class Leads::Create < BaseTransaction
    tee :params
    step :create_lead
    step :create_distant_lead
    step :send_welcome_sms
    step :send_welcome_email
    step :notify_business_developper

    def params(input)
      @params = input.fetch(:params)
    end

    def create_lead(input)
      @lead = Lead.create(@params)

      if @lead.errors.any?
        Failure(error: @lead.errors.full_messages.join(' | '))
      else
        Success(input)
      end
    end

    def create_distant_lead(input)
      MyDistantCrm.create_lead(@lead)

      Success(input)
    rescue StandardError => exception
      Failure(error: exception)
    end

    def send_welcome_sms(input)
      MySmsProvider.welcome_sms(@lead).deliver_now

      Success(input)
    rescue StandardError => exception
      Failure(error: exception)
    end

    def send_welcome_email(input)
      LeadMailer.welcome(@lead).deliver_now

      Success(input)
    rescue StandardError => exception
      Failure(error: exception)
    end

    def notify_business_developper(input)
      BusinessDevelopperMailer.new_lead(@lead).deliver_now

      Success(input)
    rescue StandardError => exception
      Failure(error: exception)
    end
  end

All of my LeadsController#create steps are now in my transaction.

Each operation handles its own errors and return a Success or a Failure object.

For instance, if my MySmsProvider.welcome_sms(@lead).deliver_now returns an error, my transaction will not execute the next steps and will return a Failure so I know that something went wrong here.

Step 4: Call the transaction and handle its results

Now that all my steps are in my transaction, what should I do with my controller? We’ll start by calling the transaction.

  class LeadsController < ApplicationController
    def new
      @lead = Lead.new
    end

    def create
      Leads::Create.call(params: lead_params)
    end

    private

    def lead_params
      params.require(:lead).permit(
        :first_name, :last_name, :email
      )
    end
  end

Neat right?

Calling a transaction will run its operations in their specified order, with the output of each operation becoming the input for the next.

As I said before, a transaction either returns a Success or a Failure object. I can handle these results in the controller.

In our original controller, I would render the new form if the lead creation failed. On the other hand, if the creation succeeded, I’d redirect my new lead to its profile. Let’s do this now!

  class LeadsController < ApplicationController
    def new
      @lead = Lead.new
    end

    def create
      Leads::Create.call(lead_params) do |m|
        m.success do
          redirect_to lead_path(lead)
        end
        m.failure do |failure|
          lead = Lead.new(lead_params)
          render :new
        end
      end
    end

    private

    def lead_params
      params.require(:lead).permit(
        :first_name, :last_name, :email
      )
    end
  end

Now, my controller only handles calls to a grouped set of business operations. No more database operations mingling with sending out emails or redirection rules. There is some cohesiveness in the abstraction.

marie kondo

This is it!

Y’all go and checkout dry-transaction’s documentation and do not hesitate to read the source code for more magic!

Thank you Nicolas for your feedback and help with this post!

If you have any questions or if something is not clear enough, ping me on Twitter or create an issue on GitHub so we can make this tutorial better.

Next time, I’ll show you how to test your transactions with Rspec [update: it’s live! ✌️].

Cheers,

Rémi