Rails + Ember.js

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Updated: 9/24/2013

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I usually sling Ruby, but lately I’ve been dreaming of the client-side. I’ve been dreaming because I watched Tom Dale and Yehuda Katz blast their mind-bullets through my skull and show me a new(ly 1.0ish) JavaScript framework called, Ember.js. (See: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4)

I’ve never been a big fan of magic, but it is pretty baller when you see it up close. Like the first time you see someone levitate, then realize, “I’m just standing in the right spot for this tool to fool me.” (See: This cool kid.)

The magic of Ember.js is strong. It leans on the lessons of its predecessors. It is basically Backbone.js at its core. So, if you want to ninja it all up, go for it. I’m not getting any younger, so letting someone else do the lifting once in a while is not a bad thing (for me).

Plus, JavaScript, in general, is the new hotness. Actually, it’s more like the coolest old dude in the room that everyone knows and now he has a new story that everyone wants to hear. It’s a language without a lot of strong opinions (most of the time). It has a crazy install base. Nearly every computer since like 1997 has a JavaScript engine running somewhere on it. JavaScript also requires almost nothing else to dig in. Want to write a JavaScript program? Okay, go ahead. Start writing.

There’s no compiler, no convoluted instructions on how to install some stuff to get it running, and no real barriers to entry (other than the fact that you need to learn the syntax itself). Need classes? Okay, create them. Do it yourself, you lazy bums.

NOTE: Please don’t check my facts. 1997 was just a guess, okay? Thanks.

Annnnnnnd, scene. No more ranting. I promise.

The Guides

Now, the nomenclature is a bit different from Rails in Ember.js, but it makes sense if you’ve ever done any desktop application development. Models, Views, and Controllers are based on the desktop way of thinking. Not the server-side architecure version that Rails peeps are used to. Read up on what each part of Ember.js does here. The Ember.js guides are a great starting point for anyone trying to wrap their brain around what Ember.js is actually doing behind the scenes.

Ember Extension

This tool promises to make debugging Ember.js applications much easier. Debugging is often painful because most of Ember.js lives in memory and not in files. The Ember Extension is a Chrome Extension that works with the Web Inspector Tools.

Here are some resources I’ve found useful so far…

Installing Ember.js with Rails

Okay, I’m going to cover a lot of ground here, but I’ve also tried to break this down into simple, managable pieces. This tutorial only assumes you have basic knowledge of a Rails application and almost zero knowledge of an Ember.js application, other than JavaScript.

I’m also using Rails 4.0.0. To install it…

gem install rails

Strap It Up

Let me be honest, this is super easy for a green project, but probably not the easiest task for a project that already has some clutter.

So, let’s take the pie-in-the-sky route…

rails new ember_tester -d postgresql -T

If you’re using the PostgreSQL database, create the role and give it access with the superuser flag…

createuser ember_tester -s

Bewm. Rails. With PostgreSQL (Heroku friendly, but not necessary).

Add in the ember-rails gem to the Gemfile and do some clean-up. Here’s what mine looks like…

source "https://rubygems.org"

gem "rails", "4.0.0"

gem "ember-rails"
gem "foreman"
gem "jquery-rails"
gem "pg"
gem "sass-rails", "~> 4.0.0"
gem "uglifier", ">= 1.3.0"

And bundle it up…

bundle install

Now you can bootstrap your new Rails app with Ember.js…

rails generate ember:bootstrap

This creates a bunch of common folders and hooks you up with a namespace.

Making development mode work requires you to add the following to your config/environments/development.rb environment file…

config.ember.variant = :development

Stop here if you’re all like, “Dude, I got it from here.”

Setting Up a Resource

Now, let’s set up a Post resource on the Rails side of things…

rails generate resource Post title:string body:text --no_helper

This will not only set up the Rails files, it will set up the Ember.js files as well! You get the file structure for free. This is helpful and, even if these files are basically empty placeholders now, in the long run you will end up using them.

Let’s set up some seed data in your db/seeds.rb file…

puts "Seeding..."

  title: "A Sample Post",
  body: "This will be a simple post record."

puts "Complete!"

Now, create/migration/seed your database…

rake db:create db:migrate db:seed

A Simple API

Now, add a controller that Ember.js can start with…

rails generate controller Ember start --no_helper

Okay, so we now have a resource, but I think the route Rails just gave us needs some help becoming an API for our new Ember.js client. So, let’s make the config/routes.rb look more like…

EmberTester::Application.routes.draw do
  namespace :api do
    namespace :v1 do
      resources :posts

  root "ember#start"

And, fix the app/controllers/postscontroller.rb_. First, let’s move it to the correct spot for our new API::V1 module…

mkdir -p app/controllers/api/v1
mv app/controllers/posts_controller.rb app/controllers/api/v1/posts_controller.rb

Also, we need to modulerize that PostsController. While we are in there, let’s just give it some basic functionality of show and index actions…

class Api::V1::PostsController < ApplicationController
  respond_to :json

  def index
    respond_with Post.all

  def show
    respond_with Post.find(params[:id])

Yes, I know you can use some fancy pants API builder gem, but this is supposed to be a simple example application.

Ok, I’m gonna catch some heat for this, but we are going to remove “Turbolinks”. We already got rid of the line requiring it in the Gemfile. Next, remove it from app/assets/javascripts/application.js manifest. You can also remove it in the app/views/layouts/application.html.erb file…

"data-turbolinks-track" => true

Ugh. Get rid of that crap.

Start a Rails server…

rails server

You can now do…

curl http://localhost:3000/api/v1/posts.json

And, that should return some JSON data for you.

What’s happening here? Rails is happening. That route we created is now serving a JSON representation of Post.all from the controller. The object (in this case, an Array of Post objects) gets serialized with the activemodelserializers gem. This gem gives you a serializer class to tell Rails what the JSON should look like when someone requests it. Take a look at the app/serializers/postserializer.rb_ file. The activemodelserializers gem plays nice with Ember.js and ember-rails includes it for you. The Rails resource generator even generated a serializer class for us.

Do you know how hard this would have been like 6 years ago in Java? Pain. Full.

Hooking Up to Ember.js

Point your browser at http://localhost:3000 and see what you have so far. You should see in the Web Inspector’s console a few debug messages from Ember.js. And, you should see the application (with Handlebars) template rendering.

Ember.js does a lot for you. It gets everyone all bound up for you. Just waiting.

The Store

We need to tell Ember.js that we are foolin’ and moved the API into our own little secret path. In the app/assets/javascripts/store.js

  namespace: "api/v1"

EmberTester.Store = DS.Store.extend({
  revision: 11,
  adapter: DS.RESTAdapter.create()

Ember.js’s Store is like the config/database.yml in Rails. It tells ember-data where to get data for the models. It sets up all the adapters so you can have any data source backing your Ember.js application.


Now, we should route users around. Create a new route file for our Posts index…

touch app/assets/javascripts/routes/posts_route.js

Fill it in…

EmberTester.PostsRoute = Ember.Route.extend({
  model: function() {

The model function now just returns all the Post records in our Store.

Now, in our app/assets/javascripts/router.js we can connect the routes to the resources…

EmberTester.Router.map(function() {
  this.resource("posts", function() {
    this.resource("post", { path: ":post_id" });

Nesting these routes makes the {{outlet}} areas of the templates work to render inside each other. {{outlet}} works like yield in Rails. Nesting routes should happen when the user-interface deems it nested as well.

Candybars… I mean, Handlebars

Let’s edit up our app/assets/javascripts/templates/application.handlebars template and add some navigation…



The app/assets/javascripts/templates/posts.handlebars template…



    • {{#each controller}}

    • {{#linkTo “post” this}}{{title}}{{/linkTo}}


    • There are no posts.



And, finally the app/assets/javascripts/templates/post.handlebars template…




You’re done. Take a deep breath.

Now, we didn’t do anything very exciting yet. Future posts will detail more functionality that Ember.js and Rails can do together. Coming soon will be how to connect Pusher with Rails and Ember.js!

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