After the last episode where database switching was discussed, a number of listeners reached out with thoughts. In particular, one listener gave a reproducible example of how to make things better. Chris talks about why he always moves errors to the left, and Steph gives a hot take where she admits that she is not a fan of hackathons and explains why.
Steph and Chris also share exciting Bike Shed show news in that we now have transcripts for each episode, and tackle another listener question asking, "How do you properly implement a multi-step form in a boring Rails way?” Chris talks about his experiences with multi-step forms and gives his own hot take on refactoring: he doesn't until he feels pain!
CHRIS: Happy Friday or whatever day it happens to be in your future situation.
STEPH: Happy day. [chuckles]
CHRIS: Happy day or night. I'm sorry, I'm done. [laughter]
STEPH: Shut up. [laughs]
Hello and welcome to another episode of The Bike Shed, a weekly podcast from your friends at thoughtbot about developing great software. I’m Steph Viccari.
CHRIS: And I’m Chris Toomey.
STEPH: And together, we're here to share a bit of what we've learned along the way. Hey, Chris, happy Friday. How's your week been?
CHRIS: Happy Friday to you as well. My week's been good. It's been busy. I am taking next week off for a quick vacation. So it’s that…I think I've talked about this every time before I go on a vacation on the podcast, that focusing lens that going on vacation gives you. I want to make sure everything's buttoned up and ready to hand off, and I'm not going to be blocking anyone. And so, I always like the clarity that that brings. Because a lot of times I can look at well, there are infinity things to do, how do I pick? And now I'm like, no, but really, if I'm going to be gone for a week, I must pick. And so yeah, I'm now very excited to lean into vacation mode and relax for a bit.
STEPH: Yeah, that's awesome. I hear you. I always go into that same mode pre-vacation.
CHRIS: But in tech news, after the most recent episode that was released where we talked about the database switching stuff, a number of listeners were very kind and reached out with some thoughts. In particular, Dan Ott is one listener who reached out not only with just some generic thoughts, but he also gave a reproducible example of how to make things slightly better. So the particular thing that a few folks honed in on was the idea that I was describing the feeling of in production; we can occasionally run into these ActiveRecord read-only errors, which is a case where you have a GET request that happens to try to create or update a record. And as a result, you're going to get this ActiveRecord read-only because you're using the follower database, which has a read-only connection. All of that is fine, but ideally, we would want to catch those before production. We want to catch them in development. And broadly, the issue that we have here is that in production, our system is running in a different way. It's running with two different database connections, one for read-only, one for writing, and that's different than in development, where we're running with a single connection.
As an interesting thing, a lot of the stuff that I see on the internet is about using SQLite in development and then Postgres in production. And so that's an example of development production parity that we've really...I think thoughtbot is definitely a place that I internalize this very strongly. But you've got to have the same database, and especially because it's relatively straightforward to run Postgres locally, I'm always going to be running the same version of the database locally as in production. But in this case, I'm now getting this differentiation. And so what Dan and a handful of other folks highlighted was you can actually reproduce this functionality in development mode with a fun little trick where you end up creating a secondary connection to your development database, but you mark it as replica:true. And so, by doing that, Rails will establish a read-only connection. And then, all of the behavior that you configure for production can also be run in development. So now, as you're building out a new feature, and if you happen to implement a GET request that does some side effect in the database, that'll blow up in development as opposed to production, which is very exciting.
STEPH: Yeah, that’s awesome. I love that Dan reached out and shared this example with us. I actually haven't read through all of the details just yet. In fact, I just opened it up, and I started going through it, and there's a lot of really...it looks like a lot of great notes here and a really nice example that walks you through how to have that production parity locally. So this is really neat. I appreciate Dan sending this to us.
CHRIS: Yeah, this is a wonderful little artifact actually that’s interesting just in and of itself. We'll certainly include a link in the show notes to the gist that Dan shared. What's interesting...I think I knew of this, but I've never actually seen it before. This is a single-file Rails application, which is a very novel concept, but it's got a bundler/inline call at the very top. And then there's an inline gemfile block, and then a set of requires to pull in the relevant Rails stuff. And then it configures the database connection, configures a single controller or actually a handful of controllers, it looks like, and then it renders inline HTML. And so it has all of the pieces. And I didn't realize that at first, but then I pulled it down and I just ran it locally. So it’s just Ruby and then the file that this just represents, and suddenly I had a reproducible Rails app. I believe this is used in reporting issues to Rails so you can get the minimum reproducible test case. And that's why this works is, I think, the Rails core team, over time, has pushed on any of the edges that wouldn't have worked and made it so that this is possible. But it's a really neat little thing where it's this self-contained example. And so running this file just via Ruby does all of this stuff, installs everything that's necessary. And then, you can click around in the very minimal HTML page that it provides and see the examples of the edges that it's hitting. And again, this is in development mode, so it's pushing on that. But yeah, it's both a really interesting tip as to how to work with this and a really interesting way to communicate that tip—so double points to Gryffindor, aka Dan Ott.
STEPH: Double points to Gryffindor. I love it.
CHRIS: I’m cool. [laughs]
STEPH: That's very charming. [laughs] I've never seen anything like this either, in terms of one file that then can reproduce and run in a Rails app. Agreed, double points to Gryffindor, aka Dan.
CHRIS: Aka Dan.
STEPH: [chuckles] I hope Dan’s a Harry Potter fan.
CHRIS: I hope so. And I hope he's a Gryffindor, who knows? Maybe Ravenclaw. It's really up in the air. But the other thing that is interesting that I haven't yet figured out here is this works for development mode. I've tested it in development. It's great. I was able to remove the fix line that I had in my code where I had one of these breaking controller actions and run with this configuration in development mode. And then boom, it blew up in development, and I was like, yay, this is great. Move those errors to the left, as they say. But I realized there are some other edge cases, known ones actually. Another developer on the team mentioned something where he knows of a place that this is happening, but that code path isn't running right now just because it's a seasonal thing within the app. And I was like, oh, that's really interesting. I wish there were a way to test all the behavior. Oh, tests, that's what I need here. And so I tried to configure this in test mode, but I wasn't exactly clear on what was failing. But at a minimum, I know that the tests run in transaction, so I think that might make this more complicated because if you have two connections to the same database, but you have transactions, I feel like that might be conflating things, and it wouldn't necessarily map perfectly in. But if we could get that, that would be really great. Moving forward, any new development the development configuration will cover what I need. But retroactively, as I'm introducing the database switching to the application, it would be great if the test suite were a way to find these edge cases. So that's still an open question in my mind. But overall, the development fix is such a nice little addition to this world. And again, thank you so much to Dan for sending this in.
STEPH: Yeah, I agree; having this in tests would be wonderful. I am intrigued not having read through the full example that's been provided. But I'm wondering if this is one of those we default to read-only mode, although that feels like too much because we're often creating data for each test. So maybe we default to...yeah, you have to have both because you have to have your test set up where you're going to write data. So you can't default to just being in read-only mode. But then say you want to run a controller action or something else in a read-only mode. So then you would have to change your database connection for that action, and that sounds complicated. You also said something else I'm intrigued by. You said, “Move errors to the left.”
CHRIS: Yes. Now that you're asking me, I'm trying to remember the exact context. But it's the idea that there are different phases in your development and eventually getting to production life cycle, and so a bug that a user sees that's all the way to the right. That's as far along the development pipeline as it can be, and that's the worst case. You don't want a user to see a bug. So QA would be a step right before that. And if you can catch it in QA, you've moved it to the left, which is a good thing. But even better than that would be to catch it in your automated tests, and maybe even better than that would be static analysis that's running in your editor, and maybe even better than that is a type system or something like that. So the idea of moving to the left is to push those errors or when you're catching the errors closer to the point where you're actually introducing them. And that's just a general theme that I like or a Beyoncé song.
STEPH: I was just going to say, all right, move over, Beyoncé. There's another phrase in town, moving to the left. [laughs]
CHRIS: I'm really going for a lot of topical pop culture references today. That's what I'm about.
STEPH: We’ve got Harry Potter, Beyoncé. We've got to pull out one more at some point.
CHRIS: We'll see. I don't want to stretch myself too thin right before vacation. But yeah, thanks again to Dan and the handful of other folks that reached out either on Twitter or via email to point me in the right direction on the database switching stuff. At some point, I should definitely do a write-up on this because I've now collected together just about enough information that it feels like it's worthy of a blog post, or at least that's the story in the back of my head. I got to cross a certain threshold before I'm probably going to write a blog post. But yeah, that's a bit of what's up in my world. What's going on in your world?
STEPH: I love it. You're saying write a blog post into the mic, so then that way you know it's going to encourage you to write it later.
CHRIS: That’s the trick right there. [chuckles]
STEPH: Let's see, today's been a lovely day. It's been a lovely week in general. Today is especially lovely because it is thoughtbot’s Summit, and Summit is where we all gather. We do this once a year. So the whole team, all of us across all of our...I was going to say offices but now just across all of our home offices. And we get together, and we have a day filled with events, and we usually have a wonderful team that helps organize a bunch of events that then we get together for. So a number of those fun events are like paired chats, which is one of my favorites because I often talk to people that I haven't talked to in a long time or perhaps people that I haven't even met yet that have just recently joined the company. We also have lightning talks, and I know I'm very biased, but I think we have some of the best lightning talks. They are just hilarious. So I love our lightning talks. We're also doing escape rooms. Oh, speaking of which, there's a Harry Potter-themed murder mystery that's happening. We have Nintendo Switch parties and a professional tarot card reading, which I've never done, but I'm actually doing that later today after we're done chatting.
CHRIS: Wow, that is an adventurous day. And I like that it's fun, and it's connecting people and getting to know your teammates and all those nice things.
STEPH: Very much. I also have a hot take. I don't know if I've shared this with you, so I'm going to share it here with you on the mic in regards to this. So previous years, for Summit, we used to have more coding projects, too. They were often opt-in, but that's something that happened. And specifically, we have Ralphapalooza, which is our hackathon. And it recently came up where a number of us were talking about Ralphapalooza, and I have come to the potentially contentious point of view that I don't like hackathons. I'm not a fan of them.
CHRIS: Hot take. I like that you led in calling it a hot take, and then you provided said hot take, so I have to respond as if it's a very hot take.
STEPH: That's true. Maybe it's not a hot take. Maybe people disagree. What do you think? Do you like hackathons?
CHRIS: I have enjoyed them in the past. But I will say, particularly within the context of Summit or Ralphapalooza, I always felt a ton of pressure. It's so hard to right-size a project to that space, to that amount of time. You want to do something that's not trivial. You want to do something that at the end of it you're like, oh cool, I did that. Either it's like a novel thing that you're creating, or you're learning something new or whatever, but it's so hard to really do something meaningful in that amount of time. And often, people are shooting for the moon, and then they're just like, “Ah, so it's just a blank page right now. But behind the scenes, there's a machine learning algorithm that is generating the blank page. And we think with enough inputs to the model that it'll…” and it is actually super interesting work they did. But there's the wonderful pressure at the end to present, which I think is really useful. I like constraints. I like the presentations; they’re always enjoyable, even in a case where it's like, this project did not go well, let's talk about that. That's even fun. But it really is so hard to get right. I've never gone to a hackathon outside of thoughtbot, so I can't speak to that, but I know that I have heard folks having a negative opinion of them. And I don't know that I'm quite at the hot take level that you are, but it's complicated, if nothing else. It's a lot of fun sometimes. I particularly remember the Elm project that you and I worked on. Well, we worked in the same group. We didn't actually work together, but same idea. That was a lot of fun. I liked that.
STEPH: That’s a good point. Even within the context of Ralphapalooza, our hackathons are more...I’m going to use the word sustainable because they're nine-to-five hackathons where we are showing up; we are putting in the work. There is pressure, and we do want to present. But it's not one of those stay up all night and completely leave your family for a day or two to hack on some code. [laughs] Sorry, I'm throwing some shade right now. But even with that sustainable approach, I've always felt so much pressure. I enjoyed that green space and then getting to collaborate with people I don't typically collaborate with, but it still felt like there was a lot of pressure there, especially that presentation mode always made me nervous. Even if it is welcoming to say, “Hey, this didn't go well,” that doesn't necessarily feel great to present unless you are comfortable presenting that scenario. And I also really look forward to these company events as a way to connect and have some downtime and to just relax because then the rest of our days are often more stressful. So I want more company time for me to connect with colleagues but then also feel relaxed. So I was always, in the beginning, I was like, yeah, Ralphapalooza, woo, let’s go. And now I'm just like, nah, I'm good. I'd really just want a chill day with my colleagues.
CHRIS: Is there an option to go for a walk with friends? Because if so, I will be taking door number two.
STEPH: Cool. Well, I feel better having gotten that out into the ether now. But switching just a bit, there is something that I'm very excited about where we now have transcripts for each episode. This is something that you and I have been very excited about for a while and wanted to make happen but just weren't able to, but we now have them. And so people may have noticed them as we're adding them to the show notes. And I'm just so excited for a number of reasons, one, because there are a number of times that I have really wanted to search the shows or an episode for a particular topic and couldn't do so. So I'm just sitting there listening, trying to find a particular topic. There's also the fact that it will make the episodes more accessible. So for anyone that is hearing impaired or maybe if English isn't their first language, having it written down can make the episode more accessible. And there’s the massive SEO boost that's always a win. And then I don't know if this is going to happen, but I'm excited that transcripts may help us repurpose content because there's a number of our topics that I would love to see turned into blog posts, and I think having the transcript will make that easier.
CHRIS: Yeah. I'm equally super excited about the addition of transcripts, and across the line, SEO is cool, I think. Yeah, that sounds nice. Being able to reuse the content is very interesting to me because this is definitely my preferred medium. I find that I can just show up on the microphone, and it turns out I have opinions about a lot of stuff but trying to write a blog post is incredibly difficult for me. The small handful of good things that we might have collectively said over the years if we can turn those into more stuff that sounds great and honestly, just the ability to search for and find older episodes now based on like, I know we talked about inbox zero. I remember that was an episode, but I don't know which one, now that’s searchable, and that's a thing that we can find. I actually still use the Upcase search for…I know I said something. I know there was a weekly iteration where I talked about some topic. And I built the search on Upcase for me as the primary user because one, I'm often referencing content on Upcase, and I want to be able to find it more easily, so I made the search. I also put a SQL injection vulnerability into the search in my first implementation so, go me. But then I got rid of it shortly after.
STEPH: I love when people bring that energy of “I introduced this issue, go me,” because I find that very fun and also just very healthy in terms of we're going to make mistakes. And I have noticed a number of times at thoughtbot standup that whenever we make a mistake, or it’s like, I accidentally sent out real emails on production for a job that I thought I was testing on staging. Sharing those mistakes in a very positive light is a very honest way to approach it. So I just had to comment on that because I'm a big fan of that.
CHRIS: I'm glad you enjoyed my framing of it. I really enjoy that type of approach or way to communicate, although I think it is a delicate line. Like, I don't want to celebrate these sorts of things because an SQL injection vulnerability is a non-trivial thing. It shows up in tons of applications, and we need to take security seriously and all of that sort of stuff. But I think the version that I think is good for that type of thinking or communication is the psychological safety. If we're scared of admitting that we introduced a bug, that's bad. That's going to lead to worse outcomes longer term. And so having the shared communication style openness to like, yep, that happened yesterday. And there should be a certain amount of contrite in this where it’s like, I feel bad that I did that. I even feel worse because when it happened, I recognized that it happened, and then I tried to exploit it in development mode to prove it to myself, and I couldn't exploit it. So I was like, I feel doubly bad as a programmer today. I both introduced a bug, and I'm not even smart enough to exploit it. But I know that an uber lead hacker out there could, and so I got to fix it. But that sort of story is part of the game. It's a delicate equilibrium, but having the ability to talk about that and having a group that can have a conversation, I do think that's very important.
STEPH: Yeah, well said. I do think there's an important balance to strike there. Pivoting just a bit, we have a listener question, and this question comes from Benoit. Benoit wrote in to the show, “How do you properly implement a multi-step form in a boring Rails way?” I'm very interested in this question because I am working on a project that has a multi-step form. There are probably about maybe six, seven steps, and those steps can change based on different configurations. And our form is not implemented in a boring way at all. It's a very intricate, confusing design, I would say, which I think is fairly common when it comes to multi-step forms. I'm curious, what experience do you have with multi-step forms, and what's your general feeling with them?
CHRIS: Well, I happen to be working on one right now. So generally, I don't have an oh, I got this, I know the answer. This is one of those that I'm like; I feel like each time I reinvent it a little bit. But the version that I'm working on right now is an onboarding flow. So we create a user record, which at this point I only have email associated with, and then from there, when a user lands, they need to provide a bunch of profile information, and it is a requirement. They have to fill it out. We need to have all of it before we can actually start doing the real stuff of the application. And so, the way that I've ended up modeling it is interesting. I'm going to use the word Interesting. I think I like it, but I'm not sure. So I have this model; let’s call it a profile that we're going to associate with the user. And the profile has a bunch of fields: first name, last name, address, phone number, and a handful of other things. And again, I need to have these pieces of information. So I want those to be non-nullable columns. But as someone is walking through this form, I'm not going to have all the information. So there's going to be a progression. We'll get first name, then we get last name, and then we get the next piece of information. So I need a nullable storage, but I don't want to just put it into the session or something like that, which I think would be an option. So what I've done is I've introduced a secondary model. So this is a full ApplicationRecord database-backed model called partial profile. And it is almost identically the same interface as the profile, but each field is nullable. There's also a slight difference in that the profile field has an additional status column that talks about once we've gone through all of this, we can add some status and track other things. But yeah, that main difference of in the profile, everything is non-nullable, and the partial profile is nullable.
So then there's a workflowy object, a command object, as I like to have in my systems these days that handles the once they've gathered all their information, turn the partial profile into a profile, send it out to an external system that does some verification and some other lookups and things like that. And then, based on the status of that, mark the status of the profile. But one of the things that I was able to do is make that transition from partial profile to full profile. I'm doing that within a transaction. So if at any point anything fails within all of this, I can roll the whole thing back, and I'll be back to only having the partial profile, which was a very important thing. I would not want to have a partial profile and a profile because that's a bad state. But a lot of this for me is about data modeling and wanting to tell truths with the database and constrain what are the valid states of my application? So one solution would be to just have a profile model that has nullable columns for all of these fields. But man, do I hate that answer. So I went what feels like an extreme take of having two fundamentally different models, but that's where it's actually working out well. I'm able to share validations across them. So as new data is added, I can conditionally validate as new things are shared, and I'm able to share that via concern in the two models. So it's progressively getting more constrained as I add data to this thing. And then, in the background, there is a single controller that skips through all of the steps and has an update action that just keeps pushing data into this partial profile until, eventually, it becomes a profile. So that's focused specifically on the data model stuff. I think there are other aspects of a more workflowy type thing in Rails, but that's our thing. What do you think, good idea, bad idea, terrible idea?
STEPH: [chuckles] One, I love that you have this concrete example because I have some higher-level ideas around this particular question, but I didn't have a great example that I wanted to share. So I love that you have that, that we can talk through. I really, really like how you have found a way to represent the fact that each valid state of your application as you refer to it….so you have this concept of someone's going through the flow and their address can be nullable at this stage, but by the end of this flow, it shouldn't be nullable anymore. So you have that concept of a partial profile, and then it gets converted into a profile. I am intrigued by the fact that it's one controller because that is where I am feeling pain with the multi-step form that I'm working on where we have one very large controller that handles this entire...I'm going to call it a wizard since that's how it's referred to, and there are seven or eight different steps in this wizard. And the job of this controller is each time someone goes to a new step; this controller is trying to figure out okay; what step are you on based on the parameters that you have, based on some of the model attributes that are set? What step are you on, and what should we show you? And that has led to a very large method and then also complex, lots of conditional-based code. And instead, I would really like to flip that question around or essentially remove the what step am I on? And instead, ask what step is next? So instead, take the approach that each step of the form should have a one-to-one mapping to another controller. And that can get really hard because we're often conditioned to the idea that we should have a one-to-one correlation between each controller and an ActiveRecord model, but that's not necessarily what happens in our form.
You have the concept of a partial profile versus being able to map to a full profile. So I am very much in favor of the idea of trying to map each step of the form to a controller. So that, to me, makes the code more boring. It makes it more understandable. I can see what's happening for each step. But then it's not boring in terms that it requires creativity to say, okay, I don't have a perfect ActiveRecord model that maps to this controller, but what resourceful controller can I make instead? What is the domain object that I can put here instead? Maybe it's an ActiveModel object instead. So that way, we can apply ActiveRecord-like behavior to plain old Ruby objects, or maybe it's using a form object. That way, we can still validate all the fields that the user is providing to us, but that doesn't necessarily map directly to a full profile just yet. So I really like all the things that you've said. But I am intrigued by the approach of using a single controller. How's that feeling so far?
CHRIS: That part is actually feeling fine. So a couple of things you said in there stand out to me, one, where it's a very big controller. That is something that I would definitely avoid. And so, I have extracted other pieces. There is an object that I created, which at this point is just in-app models because I didn't know where else to put it, but it's called onboarding. And so the workflow that I'm trying to introduce, the resource maybe is what we would call it, is the idea of onboarding, but it's not an ActiveRecord level thing. At the ActiveRecord level, I have a profile and a partial profile, and then there's an account, and there's also a user. There are four different database level models that I want to think about. But fundamentally, from a user perspective, we're talking about onboarding. And so I have an object that is called onboarding, and it contains the logic around given the data that we have now, what step comes next? Is this a valid step? Should the user go back? Et cetera, et cetera. So that extraction is one piece that definitely makes sense. Also, thus far, mine is relatively straightforward in terms of I get data in, and I just need to update my partial profile record each time. So the update action is very straightforward. But I've done different versions of this where there are more complex things that happen. And so what I've done is basically make a splat route. So it's like onboarding/ and then the step name and that gets posted or gets put, I guess, along with everything else for the update. And so now the update says, “Well, if I'm updating for this, then handle it this way; otherwise, just update the profile record.” And so then I can extract maybe another command object that handles like, “Oh, when we're doing the address stuff, we actually have to do a little bit of a lookup and a cross-reference and some other things, but everything else is just throwing data into a database record.” And so that's another place where I would probably make an extraction, which is this specialized case of handling the update of the address is special. So I want to extract that, be able to test around that, et cetera. But fundamentally, the controller thing actually works out pretty well. The single controller with those sorts of extractions has worked out well for me.
STEPH: Okay, cool. Yeah, I can see how depending on how complex your multi-step form is, having it all in one controller and then extracting those smaller objects to then handle each step makes a lot of sense and feels very friendly to read, and is very testable. For the form that I'm working in, there are enough steps and enough complexity. I'd really love to break it out. In fact, that's something that we're working on right now is taking each of those chunks, each state of the form, and introducing a controller for it. So let's say if you are filling out an appointment and we need to get your consent for something, then we actually have a consent controller that's going to handle that part, that portion of it. And I'd be intrigued for your form if things got complicated enough that it’s the concept of onboarding or a wizard that leads us to having one controller because then we think of this one concept. But there are often four or five concepts that are then hiding within that general idea of an onboarding flow. So then maybe you get to the point that you have an onboarding address or something like that. So then you could break it out into something that still feels RESTful but then lets you have that very boring controller that does just enough and essentially behaves like a bi-directional linked list. So it knows, based on the route, it knows the step that it's on, and it knows where to go back, and then it knows the next step to go forward. And then that's all it's responsible for, so it doesn't have to also figure out what step am I currently on?
CHRIS: I like the bi-directional link list, dropping knowledge bombs right there.
CHRIS: It's interesting. I don't necessarily feel...right now; I don't feel that pressure. I feel fine with the shape of the singular controller. This is perhaps not necessarily even a good thing, but I think my bias is always to think a lot about the URL structure and really strongly embrace the user point of view. I'm going through the workflow. I don't care if I'm picking from a calendar and setting up a date versus filling in an address field or how you're storing those on the back end; that’s your job, developer people. And I try as hard as I can to put myself in that mindset. And so the idea that there's this sequential thing that knows how to go back and forward and shows like, show which page we're on, that feels like it belongs in one controller in my mind, or I guess I'm fine with it being in one controller. And splitting it out feels almost more complicated in that I then need to share some of that logic across them, which is very doable by extracting some object that contains a logic of what goes back, what goes forward. But I think I like to align URL structure to how many controllers as opposed to anything else. And because I'm keeping a consistent URL structure where it's /onboarding/name /onboarding/address, and I'm stepping through in that way for all of those things, then it makes sense to me that those go to my onboardings controller. But I'm interested to see if I start to feel pain somewhere down the road because I expect this onboarding to get more complicated as time goes on. And will I bump my head on the ceiling? Probably. It seems likely. But for now, I'm liking it.
STEPH: Yeah, it certainly makes sense. It's one of those areas that you want to start small and then build out as it feels reasonable. But in regard to the URLs, I'm with you, where I very much want there to be a clean, nice URL for the user to see. And then we handle out any of those details on the back end since that is our work to do. But I am still envisioning that there is a clean URL. So it may be you have an onboarding/address and then onboarding/consent, borrowing from my previous example, but then that maps to where you have an onboarding namespaced controller that is then for an address or for consent. So you don't necessarily have an object that's having to be passed along that stores the state and the next step that the person is on. But that way, you do definitively know from the route okay, I am on this step. And so then that's how you get away from that question of what step am I on? Because that's already given to us based on the URL and then the controller. So then you only have to care about validating the input that's provided on that page, but then also being able to calculate dynamically okay, if this person needs to go back, what's the previous step and if they go forward, what's the next step?
CHRIS: What you're saying totally makes sense. And I'm now worried that I'm going to wake up a few days from now and look at my controllers and be like, I hate this. Why did I ever do this? I think the hesitation that I had, and this feels like a terrible reason, but in terms of what the config/routes.rb setup would be for this, it's namespace onboardings. And then within that, a bunch of singular routes and inside of that, inside that namespace, would be a bunch of singular resources so like, resource address, resource blah, blah. And I don't know why, but I don't like that. I don't like that. I don't like that. Now that I'm saying it out loud, I'm like, yeah, that actually would be a pretty clean mapping. And right now, I have implicitly what those available routes are but not explicitly. It also feels like there would be a real explosion of controllers there because there's a bunch of steps and growing in this controller or in this namespace. And they're all going to do the same thing, in my case at least, of just adding data in. But that's not a reason to not make...like, controllers are cheap; I should make controllers so, hmm.
STEPH: Yeah. So I think that's the part in my mind that maps to the boring part is because we are creating controllers. There's maybe an explosion of them, and it's boring. Like, the controllers don't do very much. And then that feels a little bit wrong to us because we're like, okay, I created this controller, it does very little. So maybe I should actually group this logic somewhere else. But I think that is the heart of it and how you stay boring is where you have just that code be so simple that it almost feels wrong.
CHRIS: That right there, that sound bite that we just had, that was a knowledge bomb drop, and I liked it. Now I've got to go back and refactor to the form that you're talking about because I am sold.
STEPH: Oh, I'm glad you like it. I am intrigued if you do refactor then what that would look like and how it feels. But I also totally understand you're busy, so if you don't, that's cool too, no pressure.
CHRIS: My honest answer is that I almost certainly won't refactor until I feel the pain. It's one of those things where like, okay, maybe I've now decided that this code is not the best, but the time to refactor it isn't when that code is just humming along working fine. It's a general thing that I think we share in terms of how we think about it. But the preemptive refactoring, I guess broadly speaking, I'm not a fan of preemptive factoring. I'm a fan of refactoring just in time or as we're feeling the pain, which is the counterpoint to that is let's not extract tech debt tickets because then they turn into preemptive refactoring again. It’s like, ah, I'm not really feeling...I'm not in there right now. But the version of the code that I have now is probably fine. I don't think it's a problem although I am convinced now of the boring way. I want to go back to the boring way, but it will feel like it's worth changing down the road when I feel any pressure in that system or need to revisit it. So it's like that. That's how I think about that sort of thing.
STEPH: Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree. It's one of those if you refactor...if this is a side project, if you want to refactor just for testing new software theories and then reflecting on what that new refactor looks like, that's awesome. In terms of any other refactors, then I wholeheartedly favor waiting until you feel that pain and it feels like the right thing to do; otherwise, it's unnecessary code turn. And while I strongly believe in experiments, I don't believe in putting teams through those personal experiments.
CHRIS: More hot takes from Steph. I like it.
STEPH: Circling back just a bit and talking about having one controller for each step of the form, that part I struggle with it frankly because it is hard to think about this is a concept, but what do I call this? Because it doesn't necessarily map to something necessarily in my database. There's a really great talk by Derek Prior that’s called In Relentless Pursuit of REST, where Derek does a great job of providing some inspiration around how to create routes that don't necessarily feel like they could be RESTful, or maybe they're following that more RPC format. And he does a great job of then turning around and saying, “Well, this is how we could think about, or this is how we could shift our thinking in turning this into a more RESTful route.” So then it does map to something that's meaningful in our domain. Because we have thoughtfully, or likely very thoughtfully, grouped this form together in a meaningful way to the user. So then that's inspiration right there to give us a way to name this thing because we are showing it to the user in a meaningful way. So then that means we can also give it a meaningful name. That’s all I got on multi-step forms. [laughs]
CHRIS: That feels like it was a lot. We've covered data models. We’ve covered controller structures. We fundamentally reoriented my thinking on the matter. I feel like we covered it.
STEPH: Yeah, I agree. Well, Benoit, thank you for sending in this question. I hope you found our discussion very helpful. And on that note, shall we wrap up?
CHRIS: Let's wrap up
STEPH: The show notes for this episode can be found at bikeshed.fm.
CHRIS: This show is produced and edited by Mandy Moore.
STEPH: If you enjoyed listening, one really easy way to support the show is to leave us a quick rating or review in iTunes as it helps other people find the show.
CHRIS: If you have any feedback for this or any of our other episodes, you can reach us at @bikeshed on Twitter. And I'm @christoomey.
STEPH: And I'm at @SViccari.
CHRIS: Or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks so much for listening to The Bike Shed, and we'll see you next week.
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