This article targets Rails 2.3 and Rails 3. The information contained in this page might not apply to different versions.
This is article is part of my series Understanding Ruby and Rails. Please see the table of contents for the series to view the list of all posts.
Delegation is a quite common practice in Ruby projects, if you consider proxies, mixins and composition as the ingredient of the Delegation Pattern.
The Delegation Design Pattern is a technique where an object exposes certain behavior but it actually delegates responsibility for implementing that behavior to an associated object.
A really common technique is to use
method_missing to intercepts the calls to undefined method, then forward the call to the right handler. However, this isn’t always a good idea. There are better ways to implement the delegation pattern in Ruby.
The Ruby standard library contains a Delegate module that aims to provide support for the Delegation pattern. Sadly, I found it to be way more complex than the traditional approach and I never really used it.
ActiveSupport Delegate module
If your project includes
ActiveSupport, and every Rails project does, you have a more clean and easy way to implement the delegation pattern: the
Module#delegate extension. It provides a
delegate module you can use in your class or in your modules to delegate a specific method to an associate object.
For instance, consider a standard
Post model which belongs to a
class Post belongs_to :user end class User has_many :posts end
You might want a call to
post.name to return the name of the user associated to the given post. Normally, you would create a new
name method as follows
class Post belongs_to :user def name # let's use try to bypass nil-check user.try(:name) end end
The same code expressed using the
class Post belongs_to :user delegate :name, :to => :user, :allow_nil => true end
delegate method can be used in any context, it’s not limited to ActiveRecord models. For example, your custom queue wrapper can delegate to the internal queue implementation some specific methods.
class QueueManager attr_accessor :queue # Delegates some methods to the internal queue delegate :size, :clear, :to => :queue def intialize self.queue =  end end m = QueueManager.new m.size # => 0 m.clear # => 
Methods can be delegated to instance variables, class variables, or constants by providing them as a symbol. At least one method and the
:to option are required.
delegate method understand some additional options, useful to customize the behavior.
This is my favorite option. The
:prefix can be set to
true to prefix the delegate method with the name of the object being delegated to. You can also provide a custom prefix.
class Post belongs_to :user delegate :name, :to => :user, :prefix => true # post.user_name delegate :name, :to => :user, :prefix => "author" # post.author_name end
:allow_nil option allows the class to delegate the method to an object that might be
nil. In this case, a call to the delegated method will return
nil. The default behavior is to raise a
class Post belongs_to :user delegate :name, :to => :user, :prefix => true end Post.new.user_name # raise NoMethodError class Post belongs_to :user delegate :name, :to => :user, :prefix => true, :allow_nil => true end Post.new.user_name # => nil
:to it a non-option, because it’s mandatory.
delegate extension has a detailed documentation but, unfortunately, it doesn’t show up in the main Rails documentation nor you can find it in the ActiveSupport documentation. I suggest you to jump directly into the source code, it is worth the effort.