Jul 12, 2015

Tip: Amoeba with deep cloning

One of the basic things we always do is duplication, and since we use Rails (and therefore ActiveRecord) duplicating objects clearly is a must. I recall I was in charge of implementing duplication and back at that time I decided to use reflection to duplicate the elements and although it worked, it grew out of control.

In next big iteration of the project, one of our engineers decided to use deep_cloneable. Which worked really good in the beginning, until our models started to become more complex and the need of including their associations (and their associations’ associations) was a requirement. Adding those associations became extremely painful and specially confusing.

Finally after more research another of our engineers suggested a new gem called amoeba, which worked really well because defining what to clone and how to clone it was clear. However there was a caveat: inheritance, specially Single Table Inheritance.

According to the README, STI is supported… sort of, the truth is after testing the different options and reading the source code it became obvious that inheritance wasn’t properly supported, and we needed it.

So, after thinking a little bit I decided to write a little concern to handle this in a better way. The goals of this concern where specifically:

  1. To define the duplicate method
  2. To define a block that uses amoeba’s DSL
  3. Allow inherited blocks to be properly inherited by subclasses
  4. Profit

The solution was the following:

# If you use amoeba (https://github.com/amoeba-rb/amoeba) for cloning your
# ActiveRecord objects this concern should be useful, it allows you properfly inherit
# associations if you use (Single Table) Inheritance.
# Just do something like:
# class SomeTable < ActiveRecord::Base
#   has_many :somethings
#   duplicate_this do
#     include_association :somethings
#   end
# end

module Duplicable
  extend ActiveSupport::Concern

  included do
    class_attribute :amoeba_blocks

  module ClassMethods
    def inherited(subclass)

    def duplicate_this(&block)
      self.amoeba_blocks ||= begin
        blocks = [ Proc.new { enable } ]

        superclass = nil
        loop do
          superclass = self.superclass
          break if superclass == ActiveRecord::Base


        blocks << block if block_given?


      blocks = self.amoeba_blocks

      self.amoeba do |config|
        blocks.each { |db| config.instance_eval(&db) }

  def duplicate
    blocks = self.class.amoeba_blocks || []

    self.class.amoeba do |config|
      blocks.each { |db| config.instance_eval(&db) }


What is important to notice in the gist above is two things:

  1. The inherited method and
  2. The methods duplicate and duplicate_this

First, the inherited method. This method is callback that is executed immediately whenever a subclass of the current class is created, in other words: if class A includes module Duplicable and then class B subclasses class A, inherited is called. This is specially important in cases where subclasses do not explicitly call the duplicate_this method but still need to support duplicate… which is the whole point of subclassing a Duplicable class.

Second, the methods duplicate and duplicate_this. If you notice the magic behind this concern is basically saving all the blocks (that include amoeba’s DSL) in a class_attribute called amoeba_blocks, and then invoking them using instance_eval, so in the end amoeba is the one executing all the blocks and therefore properly invoking their methods.

Metaprogramming at its finest if you ask me.