Rails’ ActiveRecord – the bad and the ugly

I’m known to not be a big fan of ActiveRecord. No, that would be a simplification: I probably hate ActiveRecord and think it adds more problems than it solves, specially after I began to work with functional programming and saw how difficult, if not utterly impossible, is to make ActiveRecord models behave like immutable structures or separate (and maybe even predict) the I/O from the rest of the code.

The ActiveRecord pattern (not the GEM) was created to hide SQL details from the users. The Gem elevates this to extremes: you never know when a query is issue, what query is issued (unless you check the logs), and sometimes a latter clause modifies the way previous clauses work. Also, to extend ActiveRecord, you need to rely on monkey-patches and other internal implementation details, and there are API changes that seem innocent but are tremendously dangerous.

Now, what I want to do in this post is to elaborate the bad and the ugly parts. I’m not gonna talk about the “good parts” because we already know: auto-discovery of fields, fast prototyping, simple CRUDs, and so on. One could argue that this “easy setup, fast prototyping” is not worth the amount of technical debt you’ll have later, but let’s focus on the bad parts instead:

Don’t be a Copperfield

After a year and a half working in other languages, I’m back to Ruby. And, one of the things that I was amazed at Clojure is how simple things were.

Back to Ruby, I’m really surprised on how people overcomplicate things.

There’s no perfect language, nor perfect community of languages. In Clojure, there are fewer abstractions, which is not exactly a good thing – if you, let’s say, just want to create a simple page to show data from a database, you’ll find it extremely tedious to do it in Clojure, where in Ruby/Rails it’s just a few lines of code away. Ruby’s moto is “programmer happiness”, and this reflects in every library that they write.

But this kind of higher abstraction pays off with time. At least where I live, working with Ruby means working with Rails almost all the time. There are no “big competitions” for Rails or ActiveRecord (Sequel is a close one, but at the time of this post, AR have 10 times more downloads than Sequel), and other web frameworks are mostly “Rails-like”. But what bugs me most is “magic”.