Improved Scaffolding for Ruby on Rails

Using the ActiveScaffold plugin to improve the default Ruby on Rails layouts.
Refining ActiveScaffold's Behavior

Let's begin by fixing the order of our columns. Change the app/controllers/player_controller.rb file to look like this:

class PlayerController < ApplicationController
  active_scaffold :player  do |c|
    c.columns = [:name, :squad, :address, 
                 :contact_tel_no, :condition ]

    c.columns[:squad].ui_type = :select
    c.columns[:condition].ui_type = :select

In this code, we provide a configuration code block to the activescaffold method where we specify the ordering of the columns, in addition to setting the ui_type associated with the squad and condition data to be :select. This fixes our ordering issue and sets the squad and condition selection mechanism to a standard drop-down list.

Sorting out the date problem requires the creation of a Rails helper method for the players table. Edit the app/helpers/player_helper.rb file, and add the following code:

module PlayerHelper
  def date_of_birth_form_column(record, input_name)
    date_select :record, :date_of_birth, 
                :name => input_name, 
                :start_year => 1990

The oddly named date_of_birth_form_column helper method calls the ActiveScaffold-supplied date_select method, which lets us adjust the earliest start date associated with our date_of_birth data. With these changes made, restart the Rails application and reload the browser window. Figure 3 shows the new-and-improved player listing, and Figure 4 shows the final version of our player data-entry form. As I'm sure you'll agree, both screens look the business. Take time to play around with the added functionality that ActiveScaffold has provided for free, including sort-ordering links on each of the column headings.

Figure 3. Improved Player Listing

Figure 4. Improved Player Data-Entry Form

Learning More

To learn more about Rails, I highly recommend Agile Web Development with Rails by The Pragmatic Programmers (now in its second edition, with a third due soon), as well as O'Reilly Media's Rails Cookbook. To learn more about ActiveScaffold, check out the well-written documentation and code examples available on-line at the ActiveScaffold Web site (see Resources). As I hope this article demonstrates, it doesn't take much to turn an ugly, default Rails application into something you just might want to show off!

Paul Barry ( lectures at the Institute of Technology, Carlow in Ireland. Find out more about the stuff he does at this Web site:



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Getting the article code to work with PostgreSQL.

barryp's picture

A reader, Ken Shaffer, emailed with an issue he had getting the example code (above) to work with his version of PostgreSQL. I initially suggested he try it with MySQL just to get things going but, to Ken's credit, he soldiered on and sorted out his problems. Here's a copy of Ken's e-mail to me letting me know what he did. Both Ken and I hope this information will be of use to other readers experiencing similar problems.

----------- start of Ken's email -----------
Hi Paul,
I did succeed in getting a compatible set of gems and activescaffold
for running the soccer club demo. Open source is so dynamic
that it's sometimes tricky getting compatible versions of things --
my hat's off to the people putting Linux distributions together.

For the Ubuntu 8.10 rails 2.1 (rake, rubygems) installed via the
Synaptic Package Manager, use the ruby_pg gem instead of the postgres
I understand the postgres gem has not been supported since 2006.
Also avoid the pg gem, which is not necessary. The activescaffold
install now needs to pick out the rails 2.1 (previous) version.
The following failed to get the rails 2.1 version (got the default 2.2
script/plugin install \
git:// \
-r rails-2.1
Found a code snippit (attached below) which worked.

Another (more painful) approach which worked is to update all the
rails 2.1.0 versions to the 2.2.2 versions (and also update rubygems).
The default activescaffold install will then work.

The below code snippit succeeded in getting the activescaffold version
compatible with rails 2.1

Comment 1 by mr.gaffo, Nov 18, 2008

---snip -----
Either (in vendor plugin):
git clone git://
[cd to active_scaffold ]
git checkout origin/rails-2.1
rm -rf .git
Or, pull down the newest rails-2.1 tarball from github.

Again, thanks for a great article. It was the combination of postgresql
and rails that caught my interest. Feel free to pass along any info, no
attribution needed.
----------- end of Ken's email -----------

Thanks for that, Ken!


Paul Barry

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