Observers in Rails: Ruby on Rails Development

Life without Observers

Let's say you need to listen to changes in a model's attributes and trigger some events based on those changes. If you look at the following example, I've done exaclty that. If the status of application is changed an email is sent.

class Application < ActiveRecord::Base
  after_save :email_confirmation

  def open?
    status == 'Open'

  def closed?
    status == 'Closed'

  def pending?
    status == 'Pending'

  def email_confirmation
    if status_changed?
      ApplicationMailer.closed_notification(self)  if closed?
      ApplicationMailer.open_notification(self)  if open?
      ApplicationMailer.pending_notification(self)  if pending?


The above piece of code violates the Single Responsibility Principle, which states that each class should have "only one responsiblilty". The Application model should only deal with saving and manupluating the application object. Sending emails is not part of it's responsiblity.


We can delegate the responsiblity of observing changes in model attibutes and responding to those changes, to a seperate Observer class. Model specific event handling is much cleaner this way. This way, we can refrain from polluting the model by adding not un-necessary methods.

class ApplicationObserver < ActiveRecord::Observer

  def after_save(appl)
    if status_changed?
      ApplicationMailer.closed_notification(appl)  if appl.closed?
      ApplicationMailer.open_notification(appl)  if
      ApplicationMailer.pending_notification(appl)  if appl.pending?


You can read more about the observer design pattern here.

_ _


  1. Observer names are infered form the model names. So if you name your observer as ApplicationObserver, rails knows that it's observing the Applicationmodel.
  2. Your observers need not be model specific. SRP states that "Responsibility should be entirely encapsulated by the context". So by this definition you can have a single observer which listens to changes in multiple models and perfom a single function say, sending an email or publishing a notification. To acomplish this you can use theActiveRecord::Observer.observe method.
  3. Place your observers in app/models or app/models/observers.
  4. Finally, Observers have been removed form the rails core after Rails 3.2. You need to include the rails-observers gem to use observers in later rails versions.


Written by
Nithin Krishna
Published at
Jul 30, 2014
Posted in
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