Jumpstart Lab Curriculum

JavaScript & AJAX

Rails and Javascript

Rails has always provided basic capabilities for utilizing JavaScript in an application. Generally though, it’s been a tenuous relationship as a majority of what was provided focused on simple helpers.

Generating JavaScript from Ruby

In the past, Rails shipped with a JS library called RJS that, when utilized, would give access to helpers for things such as making AJAX calls. These JS functions were typically meant to interact with other JS generated via Rails helpers, such as link_to_remote, from within your view files.

Now, it is best practice to write JavaScript in JavaScript (or CoffeeScript) and leave generated code and Rails helpers out of the picture.

Before Rails 3.1

In Rails 2.X and 3.0.X applications, JavaScript lives in your public directory. You would write JS as needed and separate your files for code organization, modularity or other reasons. The web server would treat these files as static assets and serve them to the browser.

Rails 3.1

In Rails 3.1, the Asset Pipeline was introduced along with the idea that your JavaScript, along with other types of assets, is just as important to your application as your Ruby.

Assets such as JavaScript, CSS and images now live inside of the app/assets directory and are cached, compressed and compiled as necessary. The power behind this approach is explained well in the official Rails Guide and is powered by Sprockets.

jQuery UJS / rails.js

Rails still utilizes a basic helper library of utility JavaScript functions under the name jquery-ujs when using jQuery, or rails.js when using Prototype. It is included into your layout by default.

Delete Links

The JavaScript searches the DOM for any elements with an attribute data-method and manipulates them.

The most common example is when, in our view template, we’ve written:

<%= link_to "Delete", article_path(@article), method: :delete %>

The generated HTML looks like this:

<a href="/articles/11-the-article" data-method="delete" rel="nofollow">Delete</a>

When the JavaScript detects this element it dynamically:

  • Wraps the element in a hidden HTML form
  • Adds a click action to the link which will submit the form
  • Injects a hidden form input named _method with the value specified by data-method, here delete

This way, when the link is clicked:

  • An HTTP POST submits the form
  • The router recognizes the special _method parameter and pretends the incoming request is using the verb specified
  • The router will trigger the articles#destroy path based on the path and DELETE verb

None of this will work without the JavaScript.

Confirmation Dialog

Confirmation dialogs are handled similarly. When we write this in our view template:

<%= link_to "Delete", article_path(@article),
            method: :delete,
            confirm: "Delete #{@article.title}?" %>

We get out HTML like this:

<a href="/articles/11-the-article" data-confirm="Delete The Article?" data-method="delete" rel="nofollow">Delete</a>

See the data-confirm attribute? The Rails JavaScript scans the DOM for elements with that attribute. When found, it attaches a click listener to the link, such that:

  • Clicking the link will pop up a JS confirmation dialog with the message supplied by the data-confirm
  • Selecting OK will follow the link specified
  • Selecting CANCEL will return to the page with no changes


Use the Blogger sample application to complete the exercises in this section. See the Setup Instructions for help.

  1. Go to the show page for an Article and inspect the delete link. What markers do you see embedded there?
  2. Try changing the data-method to GET using your browser’s source navigator, then click the link. What happens?
  3. Try #2 again, but with a bogus verb like HOWDY. What happens when you click the link?
  4. Experiment with adding a :confirm parameter to a link that is not a delete. Does it work?



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