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Plugin for the PaperTrail gem to track and reify associations.

PR's will happily be accepted

This gem was extracted from PaperTrail in v9.2 to simplify things in PaperTrail and association tracking seperately. At this time, paper_trail only has a development dependency in order to run the tests. If you want use this gem in your project you must add it to your own Gemfile.

A little history lesson, discussed as early as 2009, and first implemented in late 2014, association tracking was part of PT core until 2018 as an experimental feature and was use at your own risk. This gem now maintains a list of known issues and we hope the community can help remove some of them via PR's.

Table of Contents


# Gemfile

gem 'paper_trail' # Requires v9.2+
gem 'paper_trail-association_tracking'

Association Tracking

This plugin currently can restore three types of associations: Has-One, Has-Many, and Has-Many-Through. In order to do this, you will need to do two things:

  1. Create a version_associations table
  2. Set PaperTrail.config.track_associations = true (e.g. in an initializer)

Both will be done for you automatically if you run the PaperTrail-AssociationTracking generator (e.g. rails generate paper_trail_association_tracking:install)

If you want to add this functionality after the initial installation, you will need to create the version_associations table manually, and you will need to ensure that PaperTrail.config.track_associations = true is set.

PaperTrail will store in the version_associations table additional information to correlate versions of the association and versions of the model when the associated record is changed. When reifying the model, PaperTrail can use this table, together with the transaction_id to find the correct version of the association and reify it. The transaction_id is a unique id for version records created in the same transaction. It is used to associate the version of the model and the version of the association that are created in the same transaction.

To restore Has-One associations as they were at the time, pass option has_one: true to reify. To restore Has-Many and Has-Many-Through associations, use option has_many: true. To restore Belongs-To association, use option belongs_to: true. For example:

class Location < ActiveRecord::Base
  belongs_to :treasure

class Treasure < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_one :location

treasure.amount                  # 100
treasure.location.latitude       # 12.345

treasure.update_attributes amount: 153
treasure.location.update_attributes latitude: 54.321

t = treasure.versions.last.reify(has_one: true)
t.amount                         # 100
t.location.latitude              # 12.345

If the parent and child are updated in one go, PaperTrail-AssociationTracking can use the aforementioned transaction_id to reify the models as they were before the transaction (instead of before the update to the model).

treasure.amount                  # 100
treasure.location.latitude       # 12.345

Treasure.transaction do
treasure.location.update_attributes latitude: 54.321
treasure.update_attributes amount: 153

t = treasure.versions.last.reify(has_one: true)
t.amount                         # 100
t.location.latitude              # 12.345, instead of 54.321

By default, PaperTrail-AssociationTracking excludes an associated record from the reified parent model if the associated record exists in the live model but did not exist as at the time the version was created. This is usually what you want if you just want to look at the reified version. But if you want to persist it, it would be better to pass in option mark_for_destruction: true so that the associated record is included and marked for destruction. Note that mark_for_destruction only has an effect on associations marked with autosave: true.

class Widget < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_one :wotsit, autosave: true

class Wotsit < ActiveRecord::Base
  belongs_to :widget

widget = Widget.create(name: 'widget_0')
widget.update_attributes(name: 'widget_1')
widget.create_wotsit(name: 'wotsit')

widget_0 = widget.versions.last.reify(has_one: true)
widget_0.wotsit                                  # nil

widget_0 = widget.versions.last.reify(has_one: true, mark_for_destruction: true)
widget_0.wotsit.marked_for_destruction?          # true!
widget.reload.wotsit                             # nil

Known Issues

Associations have the following known issues, in order of descending importance. Use in Production at your own risk.

PR's for these issues will happily be accepted

If you notice anything here that should be updated/removed/edited feel free to create an issue.

  1. PaperTrail-AssociationTracking only reifies the first level of associations.
  2. Sometimes the has_one association will find more than one possible candidate and will raise a PaperTrailAssociationTracking::Reifiers::HasOne::FoundMoreThanOne error. For example, see spec/models/person_spec.rb
    • If you are not using STI, you may want to just assume the first result (of multiple) is the correct one and continue. PaperTrail <= v8 did this without error or warning. To do so add the following line to your initializer: PaperTrail.config.association_reify_error_behaviour = :warn. Valid options are: [:error, :warn, :ignore]
    • When using STI, even if you enable :warn you will likely still end up recieving an ActiveRecord::AssociationTypeMismatch error.
  3. Not compatible with transactional tests, aka. transactional fixtures. - PT Issue #542
  4. Requires database timestamp columns with fractional second precision.
    • Sqlite and postgres timestamps have fractional second precision by default. MySQL timestamps do not. Furthermore, MySQL 5.5 and earlier do not support fractional second precision at all.
    • Also, support for fractional seconds in MySQL was not added to rails until ActiveRecord 4.2 (
  5. PaperTrail-AssociationTracking can't restore an association properly if the association record can be updated to replace its parent model (by replacing the foreign key)
  6. Currently PaperTrail-AssociationTracking only supports a single version_associations table. Therefore, you can only use a single table to store the versions for all related models. Sorry for those who use multiple version tables.
  7. PaperTrail-AssociationTracking relies on the callbacks on the association model (and the :through association model for Has-Many-Through associations) to record the versions and the relationship between the versions. If the association is changed without invoking the callbacks, Reification won't work. Below are some examples:

    Given these models:

    class Book < ActiveRecord::Base
      has_many :authorships, dependent: :destroy
      has_many :authors, through: :authorships, source: :person
    class Authorship < ActiveRecord::Base
      belongs_to :book
      belongs_to :person
      has_paper_trail      # NOTE
    class Person < ActiveRecord::Base
      has_many :authorships, dependent: :destroy
      has_many :books, through: :authorships

    Then each of the following will store authorship versions:

    @book.authors << @dostoyevsky
    @book.authors.create name: 'Tolstoy'
    @book.author_ids = [,]

    But none of these will:

    @book.authors.delete @tolstoy
    @book.author_ids = []
    @book.authors = []

    Having said that, you can apparently get all these working (I haven't tested it myself) with this patch:

    # config/initializers/active_record_patch.rb
    class HasManyThroughAssociationPatch
      def delete_records(records, method)
        method ||= :destroy

    See PT Issue #113 for a discussion about this.

Regarding ActiveRecord Single Table Inheritance (STI)

At this time during reify any STI has_one associations will raise a PaperTrailAssociationTracking::Reifiers::HasOne::FoundMoreThanOne error. See PT Issue #594

Something to note though, is while the PaperTrail gem supports Single Table Inheritance, I do NOT recommend STI ever. Your better off rolling your own solution rather than using STI.


See the paper_trail contribution guidelines


Plugin authored by Weston Ganger & Jared Beck

Maintained by Weston Ganger & Jared Beck

Associations code originally contributed by Ben Atkins, Jared Beck, Andy Stewart & more