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Working with AJAX in Rails

You’ll encounter many valuable tools as you delve deeper into your Rails coding journey. One such tool is AJAX.

AJAX represents Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. It’s a powerful technique for creating dynamic and rich web applications. Most impressively, a JavaScript writer can use AJAX to update specific parts of a web page without needing to refresh the entire page data from the server.

Why use AJAX in Rails?

AJAX in Rails drastically enhances the user experience. It eliminates the need for page reloads, a common source of frustration for users. Implementation of AJAX results in faster, more responsive, and smoother web applications.

The Unobtrusive JavaScript

This technique is known to us as ‘unobtrusive’ JavaScript. It results in us no longer mixing our JavaScript into our HTML. This practice is generally considered to be an exemplar within the front-end community.

First Glimpse at AJAX in Rails

If you have a form in your application and you want the form to be submitted by Ajax rather than the browser’s normal submit mechanism, you use the form_for tag and include a :remote option. This generates HTML with data-remote="true", signaling that the form will be submitted by AJAX.

Working with AJAX: Server-side vs Client-side

Understanding AJAX’s dual nature is central to mastering its application. It’s not exclusively client-side. You also need to do some work on the server-side to support it. Often, developers prefer their AJAX requests to return JSON rather than HTML.

Client-side AJAX

On the client side, rails facilitate AJAX with rails.ajax. This utility automates AJAX request formation, allowing your JavaScript to focus on handling the response and updating the page as required.

Server-side AJAX

On the server side, Rails supports AJAX through methods like respond_to. This method allows your controller actions to differentiate between regular HTML requests and AJAX requests, permitting them to respond appropriately.

Debugging AJAX

As with any programming feature, there may be times when your AJAX is not functioning as expected. The debugging process, in this case, is critical, requiring careful analysis of the AJAX request, server-side actions, and client-side JavaScript.

Turbolinks and AJAX

A notable facet of AJAX in rails is its compatibility with Turbolinks. Turbolinks is a component of rails that uses AJAX to speed up page rendering in most applications. All you have to do is include it in your Gemfile, put require turbolinks in your JavaScript manifest. This allows the entire JavaScript bundle to be served on every page, which means it’ll get downloaded on the first-page load and then be cached for the subsequent pages.

Disabling Turbolinks for Certain Links

There may be instances when you want to exclude a particular link from the Turbolinks optimization. To do this, you can add data-turbolinks="false" to the hyperlink tag making Turbolinks ignore that particular link.


Through this entry, we’ve explored the basics of AJAX in Rails, its utilization, the concept of unobtrusive JavaScript, AJAX’s dual nature (client-side and server-side), and its compatibility with Turbolinks. With this knowledge, you can now start incorporating AJAX into your own web applications to enhance user experience significantly.

For a deeper dive into Rails, I would recommend reading the previous article on optimization tips for Ruby on Rails Applications.


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