How `has_many :through` works

This article is deprecated.I've marked this article as deprecated. It is either because the gem or plugin discussed in this article is no longer maintained, or I've changed my opinion on it. This article is here only as an historic reference.

Many to Many Relationships with Extra Data, Part I

Everybody probably read about has_many :through relations. With one simple command you can do some amazing stuff. Consider the following:

class User < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_many :subscriptions
  has_many :newsletters, :through => :subscriptions

class Subscription < ActiveRecord::Base
  belongs_to :user, :dependent => :destroy
  belongs_to :newsletter, :dependent => :destroy

class Newsletter < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_many :subscriptions
  has_many :users, :through => :subscriptions
  has_many :old_users, :through => :subscription, :conditions => 'age > 60'

Now you'll see that having a nice name for the join model is important for keeping it readable. From personal experience I really need to repeat that: It is important to give a good name to your join model. You might be tempted to use the default way of calling has_and_belongs_to_many. That would be newsletter_users. It would be incredibly annoying to have to refer to that name all the time, confusing and ugly.

Anyway, with this in place you can do nice stuff like: current_user.newsletters or @my_mag.old_users. It's cool, but still very elementary. And though you can do much more than this, there are still some loose ends. Sometimes you'll want to have the subscription, because you'll want to update it, or destroy it, or whatever. Here is one of many solutions:

class Newsletter < ActiveRecord::Base

  # amongst all the other stuff

  # find the subscription, call it like this:
  #   @newsletter.subscription_by(current_user).created_at
  def subscription_by(user)

  # Creates a new subscription or updates the one already there, with the given attributes
  def save_subscription_for(user, attributes = {})
    s = self.subscription_by(user) || => user)


There is more and more elegant ways to do this. I'll get back to you on that. Leave any suggestions in the comments.

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