TDD Action Caching in Rails 3

March 28, 2012

On my current project, we needed to prove that an action cache was working as expected. Alas, the blogosphere had either out-of-date or unhelpful information. So, after many experiments, we came up with an RSpec test that does what we want. It seems ugly to me, and I hope there's a better way. The names have been changed to protect the guilty. Any resemblances to actual classes and methods are purely coincidental.

We needed to confirm that a certain action was cached. This action is preview in the brands controller. Using the usual Rails url helpers, we construct some fixture data.

describe BrandsController do
  describe "caching" do
    let(:brand) { Factory.create(:brand) }
    let(:preview_cache_path) {'views/test.host' + preview_brand_path(brand)}
  end
end

Then we wrote our first test:

it "should action cache #preview" do
  Rails.cache.clear
  get :preview, :brand_id => brand.to_param
  ActionController::Base.cache_store.exist?(preview_cache_path).should be_true
end

This won't work at all, however; because, in the test environment, caching is turned off.

$ cat config/environments/test.rb
Activator::Application.configure do
...
  config.action_controller.perform_caching = false

So, we need an around block to temporarily turn caching on:

around do |example|
  caching, ActionController::Base.perform_caching = ActionController::Base.perform_caching, true
  example.run
  ActionController::Base.perform_caching = caching
end

That's great, but the default cache store is the :null store, which, as its name implies, does nothing.

around do |example|
  caching, ActionController::Base.perform_caching = ActionController::Base.perform_caching, true
  store, ActionController::Base.cache_store = ActionController::Base.cache_store, :memory_store
  example.run
  ActionController::Base.cache_store = store
  ActionController::Base.perform_caching = caching
end

Better. But our tests still won't run because while ActionController uses the cache_store, Observers and Sweepers
use Rails.cache and that is only updated at boot time.

around do |example|
  caching, ActionController::Base.perform_caching = ActionController::Base.perform_caching, true
  store, ActionController::Base.cache_store = ActionController::Base.cache_store, :memory_store
  silence_warnings { Object.const_set "RAILS_CACHE", ActionController::Base.cache_store }

  example.run

  silence_warnings { Object.const_set "RAILS_CACHE", store }
  ActionController::Base.cache_store = store
  ActionController::Base.perform_caching = caching
end

Did I mention that Rails.cache is an accessor for the global, constant, RAILS_CACHE. Ugh.

So, now, we can implement our method

class BrandsController < ApplicationController
caches_action :preview
  def preview
  end
end

But that is still not enough. caches_action
has an interesting performance enhancement; it doesn't actually set up the action caching unless caching is enabled at class load time. Since we're not turning caching on until test time, the caches_action method call in the controller class does nothing. We need to re-add it in our test spec.

it "should action cache #preview" do
  Rails.cache.clear
  BrandsController.caches_action :preview # must be recapitulated to get around load time weirdfullness

  get :preview, :brand_id => brand.to_param

  ActionController::Base.cache_store.exist?(preview_cache_path).should be_true
end

This is ugly; it doesn't test very much (except the underlying caching module, and why bother testing the framework). At least it proves to ourselves that the action is cached and the cache key is what we expect.

Now that we've got caching under control, let's check cache expiration (using a Sweeper).

it "should clear the cache on #update" do
  ActionController::Base.cache_store.write(preview_cache_path, 'CACHED ACTION')

  put :update, id: brand.to_param, brand: {one: 'attribute', after: 'another'}

  ActionController::Base.cache_store.exist?(sign_up_cache_path).should be_false
end

First, I create a cached object, in this case, just the string 'CACHED ACTION' and then I invoke the action, and then, I hope, the cache will be expired.

It doesn't really matter what happens in the #update method of the BrandsController as long as it updates a Brand object. A sweeper in Rails is a mix of Observer & controller filters, so all you need to do is "declare" it in the controller

class BrandsController < ApplicationController
caches_action :preview
cache_sweeper :brand_sweeper
def update
  ...
  @brand.save

Awesome sauce! Now our tests are red and I'm ready to implement the sweeper

class BrandSweeper < ActionController::Caching::Sweeper
  observe Brand # Observers will introspect on the class, but Sweepers don't

  def after_update(brand)
    expire_action :controller => "brand", :action => :preview, :brand_id => brand.to_param
  end
  ...

And voilĂ ! We have greenness.

So what have we learned from this? The Rails source is still your best friend when exploring a sticky problem. Caching is hard, and testing caching is even harder.

TDD Action Caching in Rails 3 - March 28, 2012 - Ken Mayer