Rails views to ReactJS

Content posted here with the permission of the author, Yogesh Khater, who is currently employed at Josh Software. Original post available here.

Have you ever been introduced to a Rails application having JS/jQuery scattered around app/assets/javascript or app/views or even in app/helpers directory for that matter ? Wondering if there is any consistency present while adding any JS snippet, you think would it be better to have some conventions to follow in here too. Whilst there are lot of other options available to help us out, this blog is about using react-rails to bootstrap with ReactJS and then decoupling it from Rails to a complete UI only application.

♦ But why ?

Few reasons that I could think of,

  • Reactiveness, Of course.
  • Performance is certainly better with client-side rendering.
  • View layer testing gets easier because of the component based architecture.
  • Having Rails as an API only application has its own advantages like better performance (by removal of some middlewares), well documented APIs, faster deployments etc.

♦ Inception

To start with the decoupling, start introducing ReactJS into the application using rails-react gem. But before going further, prerequisite is that you’ve some idea about ReactJS, Redux and JSX.

Usage of react-rails gem is pretty simple. To start off, you could start conversion with one simple Rails view or even a div from the Rails view into a React component.

Lets say you’ve a Rails partial which renders the navigation bar containing some links and username, so creating a NavigationBar component would be like,

$ rails g react:component NavigationBar username:string --es6

which creates app/assets/javascripts/components directory having navigation_bar.jsx in it. After adding its rendering logic, you can replace

render partial: 'navigation_bar', locals: { username: current_user.username }

with

react_component('NavigationBar', username: current_user.username)

So by using above approach, you could start replacing partials and views into React components.

Just to make sure that our goal is to decouple the view layer from Rails, don’t pass too many props which are bound with Rails methods/variables. It would be difficult or rather time consuming to remove such references and repopulate the props values while separation.

♦ Architecture of components

As our final goal is to have well architected and maintainable ReactJS application, we should follow the basic conventions for it.

Assuming you would be using react-redux as a state maintainer, the directory structure that any React-Redux application follows basically has,

  • src/
    • components
    • containers
    • actions
    • actionCreators
    • reducers
    • store.js

So in this scenario also, you could add above directories along with components directory in app/assets/javascripts. You could refer to an example of such architecture.

♦ Using NPM packages over bundled gems

You might have installed some gems for packages like select2, moment.js etc in your Gemfile. But those can’t be used after the decoupling. So a better way is to start using NPM packages over such gems.

To do so, you can start using https://rails-assets.org which converts the NPM packages into respective gems and then adds them to the asset pipeline.

# Gemfile

source "https://rails-assets.org" do
  gem 'rails-assets-moment'
  gem 'rails-assets-select2'
  ...
end

♦ Using rails-api

In time, you would also need to start replacing your controller actions with API based controller actions. If your application is using Rails 5, then it has the builtin support for ActionController::API (a class extracted from ActionController::Base with minimal requirements supporting API actions), but for applications with Rails < 5, you would need to install rails-api gem.  Once the ActionController::API is available, you could add app/controllers/api/v1 directory to start with API based controller actions.

Note that while initialisation of your application, Rails requires all the middlewares by default using require 'rails/all' in config/application.rb. But after the decoupling, we won’t be needing all the middlewares. So do remember to remove require 'rails/all' and keep only the required middlewares.

BTW, inheriting controllers from ActionController::API won’t process requests through additional middlewares (like for rendering the views), so you don’t have to worry if you’ve decided to keep all the middlewares.

♦ The Decoupling

Say you’ve reached a level in your application where

  • Views has only single line for rendering the specific React component
  • No more partials
  • No more view helpers
  • No more HAML, ERB or any other Rails template code in view layouts
  • No more controller actions redirecting or rendering the Rails views.

then your application is in the right place to start the decoupling.

You can use create-react-app or any other boilerplate template to create a React application and start copying the required directories from app/assets/javascripts to it.

Some points to be considered after the migration,

  • Add the dependencies that you’ve mentioned in Gemfile under https://rails-assets.org group into the package.json.
  • You would need to add authentication module in your main component as that was handled by Rails previously.
  • Finally, add top-level components inside BrowserRouter (or any other navigational component) which are rendered in Rails views and then remove app/views.

Your ReactJS application will be up in no time and the best thing is that there won’t be any downtime required while switching from Rails views to ReactJS on your servers !!

Thanks for reading, Happy decoupling !!

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About Sachin Shintre

Director, Josh Software
This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.

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