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Creating and Customizing Rails Generators

Rails generators are an essential tool if you plan to improve your workflow. With this guide you will learn how to create generators and customize existing ones.

In this guide you will:

This guide is about generators in Rails 3, previous versions are not covered.

1 First Contact

When you create an application using the rails command, you are in fact using a Rails generator. After that, you can get a list of all available generators by just invoking rails generate:

$ rails new myapp $ cd myapp $ rails generate

You will get a list of all generators that comes with Rails. If you need a detailed description of the helper generator, for example, you can simply do:

$ rails generate helper --help

2 Creating Your First Generator

Since Rails 3.0, generators are built on top of Thor. Thor provides powerful options parsing and a great API for manipulating files. For instance, let’s build a generator that creates an initializer file named initializer.rb inside config/initializers.

The first step is to create a file at lib/generators/initializer_generator.rb with the following content:

class InitializerGenerator < Rails::Generators::Base def create_initializer_file create_file "config/initializers/initializer.rb", "# Add initialization content here" end end

Our new generator is quite simple: it inherits from Rails::Generators::Base and has one method definition. Each public method in the generator is executed when a generator is invoked. Finally, we invoke the create_file method that will create a file at the given destination with the given content. If you are familiar with the Rails Application Templates API, you’ll feel right at home with the new generators API.

To invoke our new generator, we just need to do:

$ rails generate initializer

Before we go on, let’s see our brand new generator description:

$ rails generate initializer --help

Rails is usually able to generate good descriptions if a generator is namespaced, as ActiveRecord::Generators::ModelGenerator, but not in this particular case. We can solve this problem in two ways. The first one is calling desc inside our generator:

class InitializerGenerator < Rails::Generators::Base desc "This generator creates an initializer file at config/initializers" def create_initializer_file create_file "config/initializers/initializer.rb", "# Add initialization content here" end end

Now we can see the new description by invoking --help on the new generator. The second way to add a description is by creating a file named USAGE in the same directory as our generator. We are going to do that in the next step.

3 Creating Generators with Generators

Generators themselves have a generator:

$ rails generate generator initializer create lib/generators/initializer create lib/generators/initializer/initializer_generator.rb create lib/generators/initializer/USAGE create lib/generators/initializer/templates

This is the generator just created:

class InitializerGenerator < Rails::Generators::NamedBase source_root File.expand_path("../templates", __FILE__) end

First, notice that we are inheriting from Rails::Generators::NamedBase instead of Rails::Generators::Base. This means that our generator expects at least one argument, which will be the name of the initializer.

We can see that by invoking the description of this new generator (don’t forget to delete the old generator file):

$ rails generate initializer --help Usage: rails generate initializer NAME [options]

We can also see that our new generator has a class method called source_root. This method points to where our generator templates will be placed, if any, and by default it points to the created directory lib/generators/initializer/templates.

In order to understand what a generator template means, let’s create the file lib/generators/initializer/templates/initializer.rb with the following content:

# Add initialization content here

And now let’s change the generator to copy this template when invoked:

class InitializerGenerator < Rails::Generators::NamedBase source_root File.expand_path("../templates", __FILE__) def copy_initializer_file copy_file "initializer.rb", "config/initializers/#{file_name}.rb" end end

And let’s execute our generator:

$ rails generate initializer core_extensions

We can see that now a initializer named core_extensions was created at config/initializers/core_extensions.rb with the contents of our template. That means that copy_file copied a file in our source root to the destination path we gave. The method file_name is automatically created when we inherit from Rails::Generators::NamedBase.

4 Generators Lookup

When you run rails generate initializer core_extensions Rails requires these files in turn until one is found:

rails/generators/initializer/initializer_generator.rb generators/initializer/initializer_generator.rb rails/generators/initializer_generator.rb generators/initializer_generator.rb

If none is found you get an error message.

The examples above put files under the application’s lib because said directoty belongs to $LOAD_PATH.

5 Customizing Your Workflow

Rails own generators are flexible enough to let you customize scaffolding. They can be configured in config/application.rb, these are some defaults:

config.generators do |g| g.orm :active_record g.template_engine :erb g.test_framework :test_unit, :fixture => true end

Before we customize our workflow, let’s first see what our scaffold looks like:

$ rails generate scaffold User name:string invoke active_record create db/migrate/20091120125558_create_users.rb create app/models/user.rb invoke test_unit create test/unit/user_test.rb create test/fixtures/users.yml route resources :users invoke scaffold_controller create app/controllers/users_controller.rb invoke erb create app/views/users create app/views/users/index.html.erb create app/views/users/edit.html.erb create app/views/users/show.html.erb create app/views/users/new.html.erb create app/views/users/_form.html.erb invoke test_unit create test/functional/users_controller_test.rb invoke helper create app/helpers/users_helper.rb invoke test_unit create test/unit/helpers/users_helper_test.rb invoke stylesheets create public/stylesheets/scaffold.css

Looking at this output, it’s easy to understand how generators work in Rails 3.0 and above. The scaffold generator doesn’t actually generate anything, it just invokes others to do the work. This allows us to add/replace/remove any of those invocations. For instance, the scaffold generator invokes the scaffold_controller generator, which invokes erb, test_unit and helper generators. Since each generator has a single responsibility, they are easy to reuse, avoiding code duplication.

Our first customization on the workflow will be to stop generating stylesheets and test fixtures for scaffolds. We can achieve that by changing our configuration to the following:

config.generators do |g| g.orm :active_record g.template_engine :erb g.test_framework :test_unit, :fixture => false g.stylesheets false end

If we generate another resource with the scaffold generator, we can notice that neither stylesheets nor fixtures are created anymore. If you want to customize it further, for example to use DataMapper and RSpec instead of Active Record and TestUnit, it’s just a matter of adding their gems to your application and configuring your generators.

To demonstrate this, we are going to create a new helper generator that simply adds some instance variable readers. First, we create a generator:

$ rails generate generator my_helper

After that, we can delete both the templates directory and the source_root class method from our new generators, because we are not going to need them. So our new generator looks like the following:

class MyHelperGenerator < Rails::Generators::NamedBase def create_helper_file create_file "app/helpers/#{file_name}_helper.rb", <<-FILE module #{class_name}Helper attr_reader :#{plural_name}, :#{plural_name.singularize} end FILE end end

We can try out our new generator by creating a helper for users:

$ rails generate my_helper products

And it will generate the following helper file in app/helpers:

module ProductsHelper attr_reader :products, :product end

Which is what we expected. We can now tell scaffold to use our new helper generator by editing config/application.rb once again:

config.generators do |g| g.orm :active_record g.template_engine :erb g.test_framework :test_unit, :fixture => false g.stylesheets false g.helper :my_helper end

and see it in action when invoking the generator:

$ rails generate scaffold Post body:text [...] invoke my_helper create app/helpers/posts_helper.rb

We can notice on the output that our new helper was invoked instead of the Rails default. However one thing is missing, which is tests for our new generator and to do that, we are going to reuse old helpers test generators.

Since Rails 3.0, this is easy to do due to the hooks concept. Our new helper does not need to be focused in one specific test framework, it can simply provide a hook and a test framework just needs to implement this hook in order to be compatible.

To do that, we can change the generator this way:

class MyHelperGenerator < Rails::Generators::NamedBase def create_helper_file create_file "app/helpers/#{file_name}_helper.rb", <<-FILE module #{class_name}Helper attr_reader :#{plural_name}, :#{plural_name.singularize} end FILE end hook_for :test_framework end

Now, when the helper generator is invoked and TestUnit is configured as the test framework, it will try to invoke both MyHelper::Generators::TestUnitGenerator and TestUnit::Generators::MyHelperGenerator. Since none of those are defined, we can tell our generator to invoke TestUnit::Generators::HelperGenerator instead, which is defined since it’s a Rails generator. To do that, we just need to add:

# Search for :helper instead of :my_helper hook_for :test_framework, :as => :helper

And now you can re-run scaffold for another resource and see it generating tests as well!

6 Customizing Your Workflow by Changing Generators Templates

In the step above we simply wanted to add a line to the generated helper, without adding any extra functionality. There is a simpler way to do that, and it’s by replacing the templates of already existing generators, in that case Rails::Generators::HelperGenerator.

In Rails 3.0 and above, generators don’t just look in the source root for templates, they also search for templates in other paths. And one of them is lib/templates. Since we want to customize Rails::Generators::HelperGenerator, we can do that by simply making a template copy inside lib/templates/rails/helper with the name helper.rb. So let’s create that file with the following content:

module <%= class_name %>Helper attr_reader :<%= plural_name %>, <%= plural_name.singularize %> end

and revert the last change in config/application.rb:

config.generators do |g| g.orm :active_record g.template_engine :erb g.test_framework :test_unit, :fixture => false g.stylesheets false end

If you generate another resource, you can see that we get exactly the same result! This is useful if you want to customize your scaffold templates and/or layout by just creating edit.html.erb, index.html.erb and so on inside lib/templates/erb/scaffold.

7 Adding Generators Fallbacks

One last feature about generators which is quite useful for plugin generators is fallbacks. For example, imagine that you want to add a feature on top of TestUnit like shoulda does. Since TestUnit already implements all generators required by Rails and shoulda just wants to overwrite part of it, there is no need for shoulda to reimplement some generators again, it can simply tell Rails to use a TestUnit generator if none was found under the Shoulda namespace.

We can easily simulate this behavior by changing our config/application.rb once again:

config.generators do |g| g.orm :active_record g.template_engine :erb g.test_framework :shoulda, :fixture => false g.stylesheets false # Add a fallback! g.fallbacks[:shoulda] = :test_unit end

Now, if you create a Comment scaffold, you will see that the shoulda generators are being invoked, and at the end, they are just falling back to TestUnit generators:

$ rails generate scaffold Comment body:text invoke active_record create db/migrate/20091120151323_create_comments.rb create app/models/comment.rb invoke shoulda create test/unit/comment_test.rb create test/fixtures/comments.yml route map.resources :comments invoke scaffold_controller create app/controllers/comments_controller.rb invoke erb create app/views/comments create app/views/comments/index.html.erb create app/views/comments/edit.html.erb create app/views/comments/show.html.erb create app/views/comments/new.html.erb create app/views/comments/_form.html.erb create app/views/layouts/comments.html.erb invoke shoulda create test/functional/comments_controller_test.rb invoke my_helper create app/helpers/comments_helper.rb invoke shoulda create test/unit/helpers/comments_helper_test.rb

Fallbacks allow your generators to have a single responsibility, increasing code reuse and reducing the amount of duplication.

8 Changelog

Lighthouse Ticket

  • April 30, 2010: Reviewed by José Valim
  • November 20, 2009: First version by José Valim