Be Careful With Method Caching
Mar 1, 2017
3 minutes read

Today I spent a good amount of time trying to understand why a specific spec was failing. It was a little bit like this (I changed classes/method names for the sake of the example):

require 'spec_helper'

RSpec.describe Blog do
  describe '#delete_oldest_post' do
    it "deletes the blog's oldest post" do
      blog = FactoryGirl.create(:blog)
      oldest_post = FactoryGirl.create(:post, created_at: - 1.year)
      blog.posts << oldest_post

      expect { blog.delete_oldest_post }
        .to change { blog.oldest_post }

Pretty straightforward, right? I don’t care about stubs or mocks here, what I want to do with this spec is to make sure the blog’s oldest post got deleted.

Turns out I was getting a rspec expectation failure, saying that it expected to change blog.oldest_post from oldest_post to nil but it did not. Basically it didn’t delete the association (so I thought).

The implementation for that method was quite simple too:

class Blog < ActiveRecord::Base
  def delete_oldest_post
    oldest_post.delete if oldest_post.present?

Easy enough: if the post has an oldest post delete it, if not, whatever (which in ruby translates to nil). While I was debugging it I even tried to call #reload on the blog object in the spec (to fetch it from the database again), in hopes it was some weird rails sql cache or something, but no luck.

After a while I went to check the #oldest_post implementation, and then I saw this:

class Blog < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_many :posts

  def oldest_post
    @oldest_post ||= posts.oldest

Don’t bother how PostAssociation#oldest is implemented, it just returns the oldest post for that blog and that’s it.

But, the real problem here is that @oldest_post ||=.

That’s a fairly common practice in ruby, while an object exists we can cache a method by assigning it to a instance variable (using @). When we first call that method, the @oldest_post variable is not defined, which then triggers the posts.oldest.

The second time we call it, it won’t try to fetch the oldest post again (avoiding hitting the database once more, which is a good thing) and will return whatever the @oldest_post variable points to. Common terrain for experienced ruby developers, to be honest.

But check this out:

blog = Blog.last # fetches the latest blog from the database
# => <Post object>

# => successfully deletes the oldest post with sql logs and etc

# => 0

# => <Post object>

Wait, what just happened?

Yup, even after deleting the oldest post, the blog object still has a reference to it in the oldest_post method, and this happened because of the caching. We fetched the oldest post and kept it in the @oldest_post, even after deleting it from the database.

So as long as the blog object exists in the context, that post will be there, which is not the desirable behavior we want in this case.

Interesting enough, it fails for the #persisted? message, meaning that the oldest post was really deleted.

# => false

It seems silly, but these kind of things can be such a drag when you don’t pay attention to the details, specially in ruby where it is so easy mess up with simple techniques.

Oh, regarding that test, I fixed it by removing the caching. It was totally unnecessary for that case. I could have sent the #persisted? message and check for a false value instead, but I don’t think that’s a good thing, after deleting the oldest post I expect it to be nil and not to be a reference to a no longer persisted object.

That’s it, I hope you enjoyed.

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