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Misuse of update/update! in Ruby on Rails

08 April 2020

One of my pet peeves when reviewing Ruby on Rails code is the usage of update and update!, or any ActiveRecord::Persistence method and it’s bang (!) counterpart.

Typical Usage

As a reminder, update will return false if a validation error occurs and update! will raise instead. The way it’s normally used is as follow:

if record.update(params)

# or

record.update!(params) # raises is invalid

Usage to Avoid

On the other hand, here is something to avoid:


Silent Failure

If this action succeeds, it’s all good. However if it fails and not save the record, it will do it silently and could cause some disastrous side effects down the line. Silent failures are the worst kind of failures as it makes debugging a nightmare since the problem could be anywhere in the code.

Of course there are situations where it is acceptable. For instance you have a corrupted database and only want to update the valid records in a script… then yes, under these circumstances you don’t really care that the invalid record is not updated. However I would argue that this is quite an implicit behaviour and your code won’t express your intent unless you add comments, so why not spend the extra couple of minutes to graciously handle it?

Finally, even if there are some cases where this wouldn’t cause major issues, there is still an overwhelming number of situations where you’ll want to know that something didn’t happen as expected.

How To Fix

This is why you should either raise using update! or react when the persistence method returns false, like this:


# or

unless record.update(params)
  react_to_failure # Could be as simple as logging what happened

Using a Linter

If you agree and don’t want to have this discussion on every PR, you can use Rubocop’s linting. Simply add the Rails extension and use the SaveBang cop by setting the following configuration:

  Enabled: true