Create a Nested Form in Rails from Scratch

Posted on November 10, 2019 - 5 Minute Read

The Rails Guides give a great example of how to create nested forms. However, Rails does not support adding fields on the fly out of the box. The cocoon Gem is one alternative, as is Ryan Bates' excellent tutorial. However, both require jQuery which does not ship with Rails 6.

In this tutorial, I'll show you how you can create a nested form in Rails from scratch.

1. Configuring the Model

class Person < ApplicationRecord
    has_many :addresses, inverse_of: :person
    accepts_nested_attributes_for :addresses, allow_destroy: true, reject_if: :all_blank
end

2. Declare the Permitted Parameters

class PeopleController < ApplicationController
    ...
    private

        def person_params
            params.require(:person).permit(:first_name, :last_name, addresses_attributes: [:id, :kind, :street, :_destroy])
        end
end

3. Create a Form Partial

<%# app/views/people/_address_fields.html.erb %>
<div class="nested-fields">
    <%= f.hidden_field :_destroy %>
    <div>
        <%= f.label :kind %>
        <%= f.text_field :kind %>
    </div>
    <div>
        <%= f.label :street %>
        <%= f.text_field :street %>
    </div>
    <div>
        <%= link_to "Remove", '#', class: "remove_fields" %>
    </div>
</div>
<%# app/views/people/_form.html.erb %>
<%= form_with model: @person, local: true do |f| %>
    ...
    <fieldset>
        <legend>Addresses:</legend>
        <%= f.fields_for :addresses do |addresses_form| %>            <%= render "address_fields", f: addresses_form %>         <% end %>        <%= link_to_add_fields "Add Addresses", f, :addresses %>    </fieldset>

    <%= f.submit %>
<% end %>

4. Create a Helper Function

# app/helpers/application_helper.rb
module ApplicationHelper

    # This method creates a link with `data-id` `data-fields` attributes. These attributes are used to create new instances of the nested fields through Javascript.
    def link_to_add_fields(name, f, association)

        # Takes an object (@person) and creates a new instance of its associated model (:addresses)
        # To better understand, run the following in your terminal:
        # rails c --sandbox
        # @person = Person.new
        # new_object = @person.send(:addresses).klass.new
        new_object = f.object.send(association).klass.new

        # Saves the unique ID of the object into a variable. 
        # This is needed to ensure the key of the associated array is unique. This is makes parsing the content in the `data-fields` attribute easier through Javascript.
        # We could use another method to achive this.
        id = new_object.object_id

        # https://api.rubyonrails.org/ fields_for(record_name, record_object = nil, fields_options = {}, &block) 
        # record_name = :addresses
        # record_object = new_object
        # fields_options = { child_index: id }
            # child_index` is used to ensure the key of the associated array is unique, and that it matched the value in the `data-id` attribute.
            # `person[addresses_attributes][child_index_value][_destroy]`
        fields = f.fields_for(association, new_object, child_index: id) do |builder|
            
            # `association.to_s.singularize + "_fields"` ends up evaluating to `address_fields`
            # The render function will then look for `views/people/_address_fields.html.erb`
            # The render function also needs to be passed the value of 'builder', because `views/people/_address_fields.html.erb` needs this to render the form tags.
            render(association.to_s.singularize + "_fields", f: builder)
        end

        # This renders a simple link, but passes information into `data` attributes.
            # This info can be named anything we want, but in this case we chose `data-id:` and `data-fields:`.
        # The `id:` is from `new_object.object_id`.
        # The `fields:` are rendered from the `fields` blocks.
            # We use `gsub("\n", "")` to remove anywhite space from the rendered partial.
        # The `id:` value needs to match the value used in `child_index: id`.
        link_to(name, '#', class: "add_fields", data: {id: id, fields: fields.gsub("\n", "")})
        
    end
end

5. Add Javascript

// app/javascript/packs/nested-forms/addFields.js
class addFields {
    
    // This executes when the function is instantiated.
    constructor(){
        this.links = document.querySelectorAll('.add_fields');
        this.iterateLinks();
    }

    iterateLinks() {
        // If there are no links on the page, stop the function from executing.
        if(this.links.length === 0) return;
        // Loop over each link on the page. A page could have multiple nested forms.
        this.links.forEach((link)=>{
            link.addEventListener('click', (e) => {
                this.handleClick(link, e);
            });
        });
    }

    handleClick(link, e) {
        // Stop the function from executing if a link or event were not passed into the function. 
        if (!link || !e) return;
        // Prevent the browser from following the URL.
        e.preventDefault();
        // Save a unique timestamp to ensure the key of the associated array is unique.
        let time = new Date().getTime();
        // Save the data id attribute into a variable. This corresponds to `new_object.object_id`.
        let linkId = link.dataset.id;
        // Create a new regular expression needed to find any instance of the `new_object.object_id` used in the fields data attribute if there's a value in `linkId`.
        let regexp = linkId ? new RegExp(linkId, 'g') : null ;
        // Replace all instances of the `new_object.object_id` with `time`, and save markup into a variable if there's a value in `regexp`.
        let newFields = regexp ? link.dataset.fields.replace(regexp, time) : null ;
        // Add the new markup to the form if there are fields to add.
        newFields ? link.insertAdjacentHTML('beforebegin', newFields) : null ;
    }

}

// Wait for turbolinks to load, otherwise `document.querySelectorAll()` won't work 
window.addEventListener('turbolinks:load', () => new addFields() );
// app/javascript/packs/nested-forms/removeFields.js
class removeFields {
    
    // This executes when the function is instantiated.
    constructor(){
        this.links = document.querySelectorAll('.remove_fields');
        this.iterateLinks();
    }

    iterateLinks() {
        // If there are no links on the page, stop the function from executing.
        if(this.links.length === 0) return;
        // Loop over each link on the page.
        this.links.forEach((link)=>{
            link.addEventListener('click', (e) => {
                this.handleClick(link, e);
            });
        });
    }

    handleClick(link, e) {
        // Stop the function from executing if a link or event were not passed into the function. 
        if (!link || !e) return;
        // Prevent the browser from following the URL.
        e.preventDefault();
        // Find the parent wrapper for the set of nested fields. 
        let fieldParent = link.closest('.nested-fields');
        // If there is a parent wrapper, find the hidden delete field.
        let deleteField = fieldParent ? fieldParent.querySelector('input[type="hidden"]') : null
        // If there is a delete field, update the value to `1` and hide the corresponding nested fields.
        if (deleteField) {
            deleteField.value = 1;
            fieldParent.style.display = 'none';
        }
    }

}

// Wait for turbolinks to load, otherwise `document.querySelectorAll()` won't work 
window.addEventListener('turbolinks:load', () => new removeFields() );
// app/javascript/packs/application.js
require("./nested-forms/addFields");
require("./nested-forms/removeFields");
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