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Nov 27, 2005


Jonathan Conway

I've probably misunderstood what you ment to do, but couldn't you have said that a School has_one address and a Teacher has_one address?
Therefore in your Address model you'd have something like:

belongs_to :teacher
belongs_to :school

This would mean you would have to have a school_id and teacher_id column in the address table, so I'm not really sure this would bring you any closer to what so may say as "good" database design, but thats why Rails is considered opinionated software.

On the plus side in moving the belongs_to relationship around you can do the following in you Teacher model:

has_one :address, :dependent => :destroy

Which upon deletion of the teacher would delete the associated address row in the DB. The same can be done for the school as well.

Again apologies if I may have missunderstood what you originally ment.

Graham Glass

Hi Jonathan,

You're right, I *could* have done that, but it would mean violating good database design principles; the Address table should not contain keys to things like Teacher and School; it should be the other away around.

This particular database design principle is not something leading edge or controversial; it's the kind of thing normally taught in "Schema Design 101".

I like the Rails philosophies in general, which is one of the reasons I'm using it for my new application. But I do think that ActiveRecord should support common and correct (from a DB design perspective) use cases, which is why I'm spending some time on analyzing this issue and trying to come up with a way to improve Rails.


Jonathan Conway

Hi Graham,
I totally understand where you're coming from. I suppose I've just grown so used to the ways of Activerecord to the point where I just accept it.

I look forward to any improvements you bring to Activerecord.




Okay, so what happens (hypothetically) if a school and a teacher have the same address? If that's not supposed to happen, how is that constraint evident in your database design?

Graham Glass

Hi Tom,

I would not share the address entries; even if they were the same, I would have one copy for the School and one for the Teacher.


Curt Hibbs

This is a great series of posts. At some point I'd be interested to hear what you think about developing in PHP vs. Rails. There's plenty of people who have told their story of transitioning from Java to Rails, but very little from the PHP world.

It would be interesting, for example (once your port is done) to compare the lines of code require in each case, and the approximate amount of development time for each (this one is a little unfair since a port is not the same a development from scratch).

I'm asking because I collect information like this for use in my Rails presentations.

Also, I'm the guy who is responsible for the installer that wouldn't let you select a path. :-( This is a long-standing problem with the NSIS installer that I use, and I haven't yet figured out a way to work around it (or what I might be doing in my installer script to cause it). I'm considering moving to a different open source installer.

Finally (and a little off topic), your Thailand trip cuaght my attention because my wife is from Thailand and we own a couple houses there (in the far northeast of Thailand). So, I was curious where you've been staying in Thailand.


Chris Hall

You mention that separating out the addresses is 'good database design'. I don't necessarily agreee with that statement.

There is nothing that says you HAVE to break out the address into a separate table and there is nothing saying that it is good database design to do so.

Other than the fact that the addresses have been segregated into a separate table, what other purpose does it serve?

Will it be easier to modify the data? Will it be easier to lookup the data? And the big one...will there be less storage space required?

I would agrue that you have now introduced more problems that you are solving.

You've created joins where none were necessary and introduced possible referential integrity issues. In addition, since the associations are all one-to-one, you are not saving on storage space (you will still have one address per school or teacher).

The advantages to keeping the address information in their respective tables (schools and teacher) is that you have eliminated the need to deal with unecessary associations.

Just because you have two tables that contain address information doesn't necessarily mean that you have to normalize.

I am also trying to figure out why you would want to delete an address, thereby deleting the school or student via association. That sounds backwards to me. Wouldn't you just delete the school or student itself?

So basically, you're not gaining any advantage by normalizing the addresses and are just making more work for your code/database to deal with.

This sounds like over-normalization to me.

Graham Glass

Hi Chris,

See the section called "Complex Datatypes" in the following article:



Michael Muryn

Hi, I haven't used RubyOnRails, however I readed fast your comments (and looking to maybe learn something by replying).

I saw in action thing you said would be bad design (like address) and linking the child to their respective parent (if a teacher you use teacher_id, if a school, you use school_id, etc. Higher generalization might even subject to use the object_id it belongs to, but ).

Maybe it is a matter of taste (or maybe I think it wrong), but I prefer to think of "object" then the table to persist my object.

And when persisting your object, you could do it in a lot of way (example: when doing generalisation and specification you may want to persist all in one table, one table per classe, one table per final classes, etc.)

Maybe when using some rule, you may choose to always use the same strategy (e.g. one table per classe) and I guess RubyOnRail give you a guideline on how thing should be done (and that is why it may be efficient, maybe I am totally wrong here ;-)).

And when you say good db design principile, are you saying it should be teacher.address_id? And if your Teacher could have multiple address would you do something like teacher, teacher_address(teacher_id, address_id), address? and the same with student, student_adress, address?

I won't say I have a strong opinion now, but any comments that will enlight it ;-) Of course there is always multiple way that it can be done...

If an object can have multiple children, example invoice 1---* invoice_items, I suppose you would persist them into invoice and then put the key into invoice_item.invoice_id.

Often when I think of this, I often say to myself there is no "one correct way" for those. But I would like to know why persisting in a your table model with address.teacher_id and address.school_id is really wrong? That is just your persistence structure. Actually you could have multiple class persisting in the same table (in that case something like [even if that won't be useful new object, I'm just trying to illustrate, hehe] AddressOfTeacher extends Address, AddressOfSchool extends Address, etc.)

If you had to support multiple address for teacher, what will be your preferred&accepted solution(s) [i.e. how would you refactor your Class and Table Model]?

Is my assumption about how you would persist invoice, invoice_items correct?

(I know those may sound like basics questions, but sometime it is those that are the most important ;-))

Ned Collyer

"But I would like to know why persisting in a your table model with address.teacher_id and address.school_id is really wrong?"

Michael: its wrong :) why? because when you scale up the types of "owner" objects, in this case schools and teachers, there is a heap of useless columns created for each row in the address table.

So an address for teacher also has an unused "schools", "students", "gym", "staff" etc.


Its good database design for the following pratical reason.
If you have a separate address table, it enables you to more easily have a one-many relationship btn a teacher and one or more addresses (shipping address and billing address, for example). This sort of thing is common in ecommerce systems & couldn't be implemented if the address was part of the teacher table. A school can have more than one address too!
Also, it makes your application more flexible - it may not be an ecommerce system at the moment, but it might evolve to be one. Also, say you want to geocode your address data at a later date, would it not be cleaner to add this sort of data to an address table (& then run a routine against that table) than store it against a teacher/school table?
Or am I barking up the wrong tree?

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