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    Ongoing observations by End Point Dev people

    ActiveProduct — Just the Spree Products

    Sonny Cook

    By Sonny Cook
    March 28, 2011


    I wanted to see how difficult it would be to cut out the part of Spree that makes up the product data model and turn it into a self sufficient Rails 3 engine. I followed the tutorial here to get started with a basic engine plugin. Since it sounded good and nobody else seems to be using it, I decided to call this endeavor ActiveProduct.

    Which Bits?

    The next step was to decide which parts I needed to get. Minimally, I need the models and migrations that support them. If that works out, then I can decide what to do about the controllers and views later.

    That said, the lines between what is needed to create a product and the rest of the system are not always so clear cut. You have to cut somewhere, though, so I cut like this:

    • Image
    • InventoryUnit
    • OptionType
    • OptionValue
    • ProductGroup
    • ProductOptionType
    • ProductProperty
    • Product
    • ProductScope
    • Property
    • Prototype
    • Variant


    Each of these has a model file in spree/core/app/models, which I just copied over to the app/models directory of my engine.


    It’d be convenient if I could have just carved the appropriate parts out of the schema.rb file for the migration. But said file does not appear to be in evidence. Building a spree instance, and trying to coerce one out of it just seems too annoying, so I did something else.

    I started from the first migration, removed all of the table definitions that didn’t interest me and manually applied all of the migrations in the migration file to the remaining definitions. By manually applied, I mean I went through each migration file one at a time and made the specified change to the original set of definitions. There are, of course, all kinds of reasons why this is a terrible idea. For a reasonably small set of tables with a simple set of relations, the trade-off isn’t too bad.

    Migration Generator

    With a single migration in hand, I followed the tutorial at here as a guide to create a generator for it in the engine. With the migration set up as a generator, I went to my sandbox rails app and ran the migration by doing the following:

    $ rails g active_product create_migration_file
    $ rake db:migrate

    Did it Work?

    At this point, I had some the tables in the database and the model files in place it was time to see if things worked.

    $ rails console
    rb(main):001:0> p = Product.new

    …and I got a big wall of error messages. So I could not even instantiate the class, much less start using it. Well, I kind of expected that.

    Missing Constants

    Following the error messages started with an unresolved dependency on delegate_belongs_to. A little sleuthing lead me into the Spree lib directory were a copy of this plugin lives. Some further knocking around the interwebs lead me to this project which appears to be the canonical version of the plugin. Since I was trying to create a stand alone module, I wanted set this up as an external dependency (which I will defer figuring out how to enforce in the engine until later).

    As an aside, (the newer version of) delegate_belongs_to has an issue with and API change in ActiveRecord for Rails 3. A version that will at least load with ActiveProduct can be found here.

    The active_product engine currently assumes that delegates_belongs_to is available in the project that it is installed in. I set it up as a normal plugin in the vendor/plugins directory.

    Circular Dependencies

    With that out of the way, the next error seemed to be about Variants and Scope. In spree/core/lib/scopes there are a couple of files that interact with the Product and Variant classes in a somewhat messy way. In order to make use of the scopes that are defined there, I needed to pull them in. Ultimately, it probably makes sense to include the changes directly into the affected class files. Since I was still experimenting here, I just moved them to approximately the same place in the engine.

    It turns out that the dependency relationships between Product, Variant, and the Scopes module are pretty complex. I spent a fair amount of time trying to sort them out manually, but was unable to find any reasonable way. Eventually, I decided to give up and fall back on the auto loader to handle it for me.

    The auto-loader in Rails seems to cover a multitude of sins. A well behaved independent module will need to remove all of these interdependencies. There are a couple of significant problems with leaving them be:

    • Other potential users of such a module will not necessarily make sure that everything is auto-loaded, so a this module would just be broken. Sinatra comes to mind.
    • Interdependencies increase complexity. While complexity is not inherently bad, it can be a source of bugs and errors, so it ought to be avoided when possible.

    To start with, I moved the scope.rb file and the scope directory to active_product/lib/auto. And I added the following to the ActiveProduct module definition in active_product/lib/active_product/engine.rb:

    module ActiveProduct
      class Engine < Rails::Engine
        config.autoload_paths += %W(#{config.root}/lib/auto)

    There are two interesting things about this to note:

    • The engine lib directory is not auto-loaded in the same way that app/models, app/controllers, etc are. There apparently is no convention for loading a lib directory. I picked ‘lib/auto’, but there are not any constraints on what can be added.

    • The engine has its own config variable that is loaded and honored as part of the Rails app config.

    Now What?

    Now when I tried to instantiate the class I found that it called a couple of methods that I’m not quite sure what I am going to do with yet. These are:


    make_permalink is provided by an interestingly named Railslove module in the spree_core lib and seems harmless enough. For now, I commented the call out of the Product lib.

    search_methods is provided by the MetaSearch plugin which is a Spree dependency. Search is neat, but I’ll sort it out later. Again, I commented it out and will deal with it if it causes problems.

    Where are we now

    I can now instantiate a new product object from the console. That seems to somewhat validate the effort to isolate the module. You may be tempted to ask if you could use that product instance for anything; saving a copy to the data store, for instance. Here’s a hint: circular dependencies.

    The code that I’ve worked on up till now can be seen here.

    ecommerce rails spree