From zero to one

I have Ruby v2.6.6 installed using rvm and I’ll use Homebrew to install Node and Yarn on my Mac.

Installing software tends to either go swimmingly or you end up drowning in a Pool of Despair. In the Pool of Despair case, extra instructions don’t seem to help very much so I’ll keep mine to a minimum.

gem install rails
brew install node  # javascript runtime
brew install yarn  # javascript package manager

Yarn is the equivalent of rubygems in the Javascript ecosystem. We’ll use yarn to install node packages.

Open a terminal and go to that favourite part of your hard drive where you keep all your future dreams and create a rails project.

rails new blogging --database=postgresql --webpack=react --skip-turbolinks --skip-spring

I use PostgresSQL because it makes deploying to Heroku easier. Use SQLite or MySQL if you prefer.

I don’t like Turbolinks.

On four Mac Books in a row, Spring always pegs my CPU at 100% and I don’t know why.

–webpack=react will install Webpack and the node packages for React.

Webpack replaces Sprockets for processing Javascript assets but we’ll still use Sprockets for CSS because I haven’t figured out to use Webpack for CSS yet and everyone says it’s complicated.

I’m going to push everything to Github so I can link to the code online. I just created a repository at

cd blogging
git init
git add .
git commit -m 'Start blogging!'

git remote add origin
git push -u origin master

If the install gods are on our side we can create the database, start the server and see the happy, happy Welcome to Rails banner.

rails db:create
rails server
open http://localhost:3000/

When we created our Rails project, Webpacker created a HelloReact app. We can use that to test that React installed correctly. We’ll create a posts controller to initialize HelloReact and we’ll set it as the home page in routes.rb.

rails generate controller Posts index
Rails.application.routes.draw do
  root to: 'posts#index'
  resources :posts

Webpacker compiles javascript modules into packs and the javascript_pack_tag method will include your pack on a page. We’ll call it from the index page.

# views/posts/index.html.erb
<%= javascript_pack_tag 'hello_react' %>

Webpacker ships with a utility that rebuilds your packs and refreshes the page whenever you change any Javascript. We’ll run it in a terminal window.


Now, when I go to http://localhost:3000/, I see the message “Hello, React”. I hope you do too.

Everything is set up now and we’re ready to start coding. In the next episode, we’ll show our first blog post.

React on Rails

When I was first learning React I went through about 17 tutorials before I finally grokked what it was all about. Which is weird because React is quite simple really.

I’m gonna build the tutorial that I wished I’d had when I started learning it.

I’ll assume my reader knows Rails very well but knows just enough Javascript to add sprinkles. I won’t try to teach you React, but I’ll point you in the right direction to learn what you need to know.

Let’s do this.

But “Do what?” you may ask?

We are going to build a blogging platform. It’s going to be Rails on the back end and React on the front end. We’re going to test with Minitest, Jest and Enzyme as we go along. We’ll deploy it on Heroku. We’ll use CircleCI for continuous integration.

We are not going to use Redux. I have an idea for a more object-oriented state management system that leverages the rich metadata that Rails already has and, hopefully, avoids all the acres of boilerplate code that every other React tutorial seems to generate. I don’t have a design for this in mind. I’m hoping one will emerge as we go along.

Let’s start with a quick planning session. What do we want our blogging platform to do?

  • An author can publish a blog post.
  • A reader can read a blog post.
  • The home page shows a list of posts, most recent first.
  • An author can edit a blog post.
  • Readers can comment on a post.
  • Comments are held for moderation.
  • The author can approve comments.
  • Notify the author when there are comments.

At some point we’ll want to upload images and have multiple authors and fancy formatting and RSS feeds and other blogphernalia but that list is enough to get us started.

I’ll tackle the second story first because I like to get something working from end to end as quickly as possible and reading a post has fewer moving parts than creating one.

Join me here to get started.