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Only use locals in view partials

The Rails view layer, the main way our users and customers access our work, is incredibly flexible, but it can easily become tricky to manage.

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It is easy to introduce bugs and scoping issues when using the views and partials in a more complex Rails application.

Instead of…

…accessing instance variables inside partials:

# calling the partial
<%= render "user_email" %>

# inside the _user_email.html.erb partial
<%= @user.email %>


…local variables to pass in context:

# calling the partial
<%= render partial: "user_email", locals: { user: @user } %>

# inside the _user_email.html.erb partial
<%= user.email %>


This is primarily a good practice for better maintenance and organisation in more complex projects. Rails explicitly allows a vast global scope in its view environment, but many experienced developers (including me) have got themselves in trouble by reaching outside of a partial for a variable.

Additionally, by not using instance variables or helper methods (like current_user or Rails’s CurrentAttributes) within your partials you make them more reliably cache-able, because the values you’re passing into them will be all the context required to build a cache key. Without this it would be possible to accidentally serve a cached partial with incorrectly-scoped data.

For example:

# calling the partial
<%= render partial: 'things/thing', collection: @things, cached: true %>

# things/_thing.html.erb partial
<%= thing.name %>
<%= link_to "Edit", edit_thing_path(thing) if @user.admin? %>

The issue here is the user of @user in the partial.

Multiple users will get the same partial pulled from the cache, either with the link to “Edit” or without, depending on which user rendered the page first. In addition you might not want the non-admin users to see the link, exposing a potential security hole.

Why not?

There’s no harm in using your globally scoped powers, if you’re careful. One of the benefits of using Rails when you first learn is its flexibility and ability to just do stuff. However as a project continues to grow in scope this flexibility can be a source of surprising bugs. This flexibility is often referred to as one of Rails’s “sharp knives”, useful but easy to hurt yourself if you are not careful.

If you do go down the variable route you can protect against the sort of issues you might see above with judicious and comprehensive testing.


View partials, unless very well marshalled, can get disorganised and “messy” very quickly. Even when you’re using them without assuming global state.

For larger projects, you might want to consider reaching for some kind of component system. The primary solution in the Rails world for this is ViewComponent which is used at GitHub. There’s also the Phlex library, which is under very active development.

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Last updated on January 22nd, 2023 by @andycroll

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