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One Rails App With Many Databases

A traditional Rails application uses a single database. Programmers interact with it by writing models that inherit from ActiveRecord::Base . As the application grows, it may be useful to connect to different databases for a variety of reasons. One database might be dedicated to reports. Another may be the result of an entirely different process, and now the Rails application wants to read from it. Using multiple databases helps a Rails application scale, and may be a more manageable first step toward an architecture based on microservices .

Rails needs two things in order to back specific ActiveRecord models from different databases: A connection configuration and an establish_connection directive. First, the configuration.

config/database.yml
default: &default   adapter: postgresql   encoding: unicode   pool: 5   host: localhost   username: postgres   password: postgres  reporting_db:   <<: *default   database: reporting_db 

If the new database has different connection or authentication options, make those additions.

Next, instruct Rails to use a different database for a particular model.

app/models/report_user.rb
class ReportUser < ActiveRecord::Base   establish_connection("reporting_db") end 

When the ReportUser class is loaded, Rails creates an additional connection pool for the new database. All reads and writes involving this model now use the new database.

Those are the basics, but there’s a few more things to think about when working with multiple databases in the same Rails app.

Migrations

The ReportUser model works great if a report_users table already exists in the new database, but what about creating one from scratch? Generated migrations need a little tweaking because the default database is the assumed target.

db/migrate/201604091557_create_report_users.rb
class CreateReportUsers < ActiveRecord::Migration   def change     ActiveRecord::Base.establish_connection("reporting_db")      create_table :report_users do |t|       t.string :first_name       t.string :last_name       # ... etc.     end      ActiveRecord::Base.establish_connection(Rails.env)   end end 

This works, but there should be an easy way to create the database before running migrations.

lib/tasks/reporting.rake
namespace :reporting do   namespace :db do     desc 'Create the reporting database'     task create: :environment do       config = ActiveRecord::Base.configurations['reporting_db']        # Database is null because it hasn't been created yet.       ActiveRecord::Base.establish_connection(config.merge('database' => nil))       ActiveRecord::Base.connection.create_database(config['database'], config)     end   end end 

Now we’re getting somewhere, but what about using this database for several additional models?

Just One Connection Pool

Imagine creating two more reporting models, ReportOrder and ReportProduct . They look identical to ReportUser , each with a call to establish_connection . The problem here is that each class creates its own independent connection pool, and each pool has some number of individual TCP connections to the database server. Maybe this doesn’t matter for three models, but what about ten? I previously wrote about the dangers of failing to care about TCP connections . Let’s refactor before this has an opportunity to become a problem.

app/models/reporting/base.rb
module Reporting   class Base < ActiveRecord::Base     self.abstract_class = true      establish_connection('reporting_db')   end end 

app/models/reporting/user.rb
module Reporting   class User < Reporting::Base   end end 

app/models/reporting/order.rb
module Reporting   class Order < Reporting::Base   end end 

All subclasses of Reporting::Base now share a single connection pool. This is the same way that ActiveRecord::Base creates a connection pool used by its other subclasses. The abstract_class assignment in the Reporting::Base model means child classes look for database tables using expected Rails-isms (i.e. reporting_users, reporting_orders) instead of following single table inheritance rules.

Architectural Thinking

We’ve nicely namespaced all of the reporting models. This convention can extend to include namespacing of related controllers and views. Good separation of concerns suggests that it makes sense to isolate the reporting concept. In a world where microservices are trendy, this might be the moment when someone suggests making a reporting service. That’s a heavy investment, but there is a reasonable compromise that still accomplishes many of the same design goals: A Rails engine .

An isolated Rails engine with its own database is basically a lightweight service. Generate an engine inside lib/reporting and relocate everything in the existing Reporting namespace into the engine. Make sure the engine is isolated.

lib/reporting/lib/reporting/engine.rb
module Reporting   class Engine < ::Rails::Engine     isolate_namespace Reporting   end end 

It’s normal when using a Rails engine to copy the engine migrations into the enclosing application using rake reporting:install:migrations . This step is unnecessary when the engine has its own database, and is actually detrimental to the separation of concerns. Instead, add a few helper tasks alongside the earlier one for creating the database.

lib/tasks/reporting.rake
namespace :reporting do   namespace :db do     migration_path = Rails.root.to_s + '/lib/reporting/db/migrate'      desc 'Migrate the Reporting database'     task migrate: :environment do       ActiveRecord::Base.establish_connection("reporting_db")       ActiveRecord::Migrator.migrate(migration_path)     end      desc 'Rollback the Reporting database'     task rollback: :environment do       ActiveRecord::Base.establish_connection("reporting_db")       ActiveRecord::Migrator.rollback(migration_path)     end      # Additional tasks for db:drop, db:seed, db:schema:load   end end 

Treat the reporting engine as a different project. Develop it separately. Consider moving the code into its own repository and pulling it in as a gem. Strictly adhere to the engine’s isolation by keeping constants from unnecessarily bleeding across module boundaries.

class User < ActiveRecord::Base end  module Reporting   # Referring to ::User here is adding a dependency on the enclosing   # application from the engine.    class Order < Reporting::Base   end end  # Referring to Reporting::Order here is adding a dependency on the engine # from the enclosing application. 

Adding the above dependencies couples the engine to the application and vice versa. This is not always bad, but each additional dependency should be an explicit and careful choice.

If and when you decide to take the plunge on a reporting service, the engine is ready to convert into a standalone Rails application. In the meantime, repeat this pattern to grow an existing Rails app using multiple databases in a modularized, scalable manner.

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