At the 2011 Ruby Midwest conference, Uncle Bob Martin challenged those in attendance to ask ourselves what the architecture of our apps should really look like. Does having a directory full of “models”, “controllers”, and “views” give us any insight into what our apps do? Or is it instead like looking at a city full of cookie cutter buildings. How do you know what an application (or building) does without going inside?

Four years have passed since Uncle Bob gave that presentation and our Rails apps still default to the same basic layout. However, many developers have since asked the question, “Have we allowed ourselves to be unnecessarily constrained by the defaults?” This isn’t to say Ruby on Rails itself is to blame for the box we’ve found ourselves in - far from it - it’s a box of our own making, because we saw the defaults and assumed that’s the only way to do things.

Here’s a simple example of what I mean: when you create a table through a migration, did you know you can define the limit of a string field in a table to something greater than 255? It’s true, 255 is just the default set by Rails; the real limit is defined by your database.

# Try it out

class CreatePosts < ActiveRecord::Migration
  def change
    create_table :posts do |t|
      t.string :title, :null => false
      t.string :content, :limit => 4096, :null => false

What about REST and CRUD? Doesn’t it feel like a 1:1:1 ratio must exist between your database schema, models, and controllers? One table must correspond to one model and have one controller.

Are we really following the “Rails Way”? Or are we following the path that’s most comfortable? Developers like Piotr Solnica, Sandi Metz, Corey Haines, and many others have argued that it’s the latter, and that we need to push back on the Rails conventions by adhering to stricter OO design principles, and letting business rules dictate the development process rather than the underlying technology.

But going against convention can be hazardous; worse, it can take time.

I want to put into practice what I read from the Ruby-famous, but I also have work to do, and asking a client to use their next project as an experiment doesn’t seem like a recipe for success. I’m just not that type of freelancer (see Mad Scientist).

What I need is a project on which to experiment; an application which can grow large enough to explore edge cases and find pain points, but one which doesn’t affect business.

To meet this need, I’m creating is a traditional e-commerce site, one experiment at a time, and not with the goal of creating a feature complete application, but rather to see what works and what doesn’t. The e-commerce bit, is just to provide structure and purpose.

Throughout the project, I will be following Sandi Metz’ rules:

  • Classes can be no longer than one hundred lines of code.
  • Methods can be no longer than five lines of code.
  • Pass no more than four parameters into a method. Hash options are parameters.
  • Controllers can instantiate only one object. Therefore, views can only know about one instance variable and views should only send messages to that object

I will also be adhering to these rules:

  • Controllers, and especially Views, are not allowed to directly access ActiveRecord objects.
  • ActiveRecord models must only contain associations, validations matching what’s in the schema, and scopes.

There is a GitHub repo for the project, and each article will have a corresponding branch. Feel free to comment on the project, or add issues and even provide Pull Requests; I’ll use what I can in followup articles.

As I run across articles or ideas, I’ll create a new experiment. Some experiements will get merged into master, and some won’t. Every experiment will keep it’s own branch.