Gem Version

Easy PostgreSQL JSONB extensions


  • Basic ActiveRecord Associations using PostgreSQL JSONB columns, with built-in accessors and column indexes
  • Thread-Safe JSONB updates (well, as safe as they can be) using a custom nested version of jsonb_set (jsonb_nested_set)


  • PostgreSQL (>= 12)
  • Rails


Add this line to your application's Gemfile:

gem 'associate_jsonb'

And then execute:

$ bundle install


Jsonb Associations

One-to-One and One-to-Many associations

To set up your jsonb column, you can use the built in add_reference/table.references function. This will only add a new store column if it doesn't already exist

rails g migration add_foreign_key_store_to_my_table
class AddForeignKeyStoreToMyTable < ActiveRecord::Migration[6.0]
  def change
    add_reference :my_table, :user, store: :extra # => store created
    add_reference :my_table, :label, store: :extra, null: false # => store already exists, NOT NULL check constraint added to `store->'label_id'`
    # NOTE: you can also use a `change_table(:my_table) block`


class CreateMyTable < ActiveRecord::Migration[6.0]
  def change
    create_table(:my_table) do |t|
      t.references :user, store: :extra
      t.references :label, store: :extra, null: false

If you add the jsonb_foreign_key function to your database, you can also create a foreign_key check constraint by using the same built-in :foreign_key option used in normal reference definitions.

NOTE: true foreign key references are not possible with jsonb attributes. This will instead create a CHECK constraint that looks for the referenced column using an EXISTS statement

rails g migration add_jsonb_foreign_key_function
class AddJsonbForeignKeyFunction < ActiveRecord::Migration[6.0]
  def up
class CreateMyTable < ActiveRecord::Migration[6.0]
  def change
    create_table(:my_table) do |t|
      t.references :user, store: :extra, foreign_key: true, null: false
class CreateMyTable < ActiveRecord::Migration[6.0]
  def change
    create_table(:my_table) do |t|
      t.references :person, store: :extra, foreign_key: { to_table: :users }, null: false

You can store all foreign keys of your model in one JSONB column, without having to create multiple columns:

class Profile < ActiveRecord::Base
  # Setting additional :store option on :belongs_to association
  # enables saving of foreign ids in :extra JSONB column
  belongs_to :user, store: :extra

class SocialProfile < ActiveRecord::Base
  belongs_to :user, store: :extra

class User < ActiveRecord::Base
  # Parent model association needs to specify :foreign_store
  # for associations with JSONB storage
  has_one :profile, foreign_store: :extra
  has_many :social_profiles, foreign_store: :extra

Many-to-Many associations

Due to the ease of getting out-of-sync, and the complexity needed to build it, HABTM relation functionality has not been implemented through JSONB

jsonb_set based hash updates

When enabled, only keys present in the updated hash and with values changed in memory will be updated. To completely delete a key/value pair from an enabled attribute, set the key's value to nil.


# given: instance#data == { "key_1"=>1,
#                           "key_2"=>2,
#                           "key_3"=> { "key_4"=>7,
#                                       "key_5"=>8,
#                                       "key_6"=>9 } }

instance.update({ key_1: "asdf", a: 1, key_2: nil, key_3: { key_5: nil }})

# instance#data => { "key_1"=>"asdf",
#                    "a"=>"asdf",
#                    "key_3"=> { "key_4"=>7,
#                                "key_6"=>9 } }

enabling/adding attribute types

first, create the sql function

rails g migration add_jsonb_nested_set_function
class AddJsonbNestedSetFunction < ActiveRecord::Migration[6.0]
  def up

then in an initializer, enable key based updates:

# config/initializers/associate_jsonb.rb
  • Key based updates rely on inheritance for allowed attribute types. Any attributes that respond true to attr_type.is_a?(GivenClass) for any enabled type classes will use jsonb_nested_set

  • To add classes to the enabled list, pass them as arguments to AssociateJsonb.add_hash_type(*klasses). Any arguments passed to AssociateJsonb.enable_jsonb_set are forwarded to AssociateJsonb.add_hash_type

  • By default, calling AssociateJsonb.enable_jsonb_set(*klasses) without arguments, and no classes previously added, adds ActiveRecord::ConnectionAdapters::PostgreSQL::OID::Jsonb to the allowed classes list

disabling/removing attribute types

  • by default jsonb_nested_set updates are disabled.

  • if you've enabled them and need to disable, use: AssociateJsonb.disable_jsonb_set

  • To remove a class from the allowed list while leaving nested set updates enabled, use AssociateJsonb.remove_hash_type(*klasses). Any arguments passed to AssociateJsonb.disable_jsonb_set are forwarded to AssociateJsonb.remove_hash_type

Automatically delete nil value hash keys

When jsonb_set updates are disabled, jsonb columns are replaced with the current document (i.e. default rails behavior)

You are also given the option to automatically clear nil/null values from the hash automatically when jsonb_set is disabled

in an initializer:

# config/initializers/associate_jsonb.rb
AssociateJsonb.jsonb_delete_nil = true

Rules for classes to which this applies are the same as for jsonb_nested_set; add and remove classes through AssociateJsonb.(add|remove)_hash_type(*klasses)


To setup development environment, run:

$ bin/setup

To run specs:

$ bundle exec rspec


The gem is available as open source under the terms of the MIT License.