The other day I was discussing Rails’ form processing behavior with Ben, when the topic of editing multiple associations in a single form came up. Effectively, he needed to be able to manipulate a collection of records associated with a parent via a has_many association. For each item in this collection, he wanted something like two drop down lists — nothing unreasonable. He said it was similar to recipe 13 from Advanced Rails Recipes — “Handle Multiple Models in One Form” — except that he had to use two fields instead of the one textfield, and it was proving to be surprisingly tough.

I know what you’re thinking: surely this can be extended to more than one form field per item without any problem? Up until I read the code myself a few months ago, I wouldn’t have thought it would be so difficult either — but it’s true. The parameter parsing code is quite quirky and, without reading the detail of the source, borderline unpredictable. I’ve had a few ideas for dealing with more complicated forms in Rails ever since I first ran into this issue. Only recently have I actually gotten around to doing something about it. Here’s an abridged version of an email I just sent to the rails-core mailing list:


A colleague of mine recently ran into a related problem when dealing with collections of records in Rails forms, which prompted me to finally do something about the parameter parsing behavior. Now, while I’m sure we’re not the only ones hitting this wall, I’m aware that proposals to change to the parameter parsing semantics in Rails is likely to be met with a little caution, hesitation — possibly even terror. :) With that in mind, I’ve put up a plugin so everybody can give this a go without having to apply any nasty patches:

Please see the README (attached) for the full details.


This is a plugin which greatly simplifies the existing Rails parameter parsing code, and makes it a whole lot easier to deal with collections in your forms. I encourage all you Rails developers out there to take a look when you get the opportunity, I’d love to hear your opinions on this one. You can get a copy of the git repository using the following command:

$ git clone

UPDATE: Here’s the contents of the README file:
UPDATE 2: Removed the README: looks terrible in the new design due to space restrictions.