Benito Serna
Ruby/Rails, TDD, Software...

Why Active Record seems to ignore your "includes" and runs a query for each record?

Do you have a method that works fine with a single record, but when you use it on a list causes N+1 queries?

Imagine that you have a model like this…

class Posts
  has_many :comments

  def latest_comment
    comments.order(:created_at).last
  end
end

When you are fetching a single post there is no problem…

post = Post.find(id)
puts post.latest_comment

But when you try to fetch a list of posts, the method seems to ignore the includes, and runs a query for each post to get the latest_comment for each post!

Post.includes(:comments).each do |post|
  puts post.latest_comment
end

Why??

Well, let’s start by understanding method chaining in Active Record.

Method chaining in Active Record

Active Record implements “method chaining” which allow us tu use multiple Active Record methods together.

You can chain methods in a statement when the previous method called returns an ActiveRecord::Relation, like all, where, includes, joins and order.

You can’t chain Active Record methods, after a call to a method that does not return an ActiveRecord::Relation, like to_a, find or last. You need to put those methods at the end of the statement.

Note: You can learn more on the rails guides

What is the problem in the example?

When you are fetching a single post there is no problem, because all the methods before the call to last return an ActiveRecord::Relation

post = Post.find(id)
puts post.latest_comment

If you try each link of the chain, you will see that just the call to last does not return an ActiveRecord::Relation.

relation = ActiveRecord::Relation
comments = Post.find(id).comments

puts comments.is_a?(relation) #=> true
puts comments.order(:id).is_a?(relation) #=> true
puts comments.order(:id).last.is_a?(relation) #=> false

But when you try to fetch the list…

Post.includes(:comments).each do |post|
  puts post.latest_comment
end

At the moment you call each on the ActiveRecord::Relation, it will execute the query, and in your logs you will see something like this…

Post Load (0.2ms)  SELECT "posts".* FROM "posts"
Comment Load (0.4ms)  SELECT "comments".* FROM "comments" WHERE "comments"."post_id" IN ($1, $2, $3, $4, $5, $6, $7, $8, $9, $10) ORDER BY "comments"."id" ASC  [["post_id", 2001], ["post_id", 2002], ["post_id", 2003], ["post_id", 2004], ["post_id", 2005], ["post_id", 2006], ["post_id", 2007], ["post_id", 2008], ["post_id", 2009], ["post_id", 2010]]

But then for each post it will execute a new query, because although you already have the comments loaded, with order(:created_at).last you are building a new query to fetch the latest comment with a different order.

That is the reason why when you try to fetch a list of posts, the method seems to ignore the includes, and runs a query for each post to get the latest_comment for each post.

How can you solve this problem?

Maybe your problem is not exactly like the example, but if you are also trying to fetch the latest “X” in a list of records I think that you can use an association with a default order.

Something like this…

class Post
  has_many :comments, -> { order(:created_at) }

  def latest_comment
    comments.last
  end
end
Post.includes(:comments).each do |post|
  puts post.latest_comment
end

It won’t execute n+1 queries, because you are fetching the comments already on the right order, and you don’t need to ask the database to sort them again.

If you want to see other options you can see this post with some other ways to solve the problem

Do you want to practice?

Now that you understand when the query will be execute, maybe you will want to do a little excercise to practice this ability and try to make it automatic.

You can try this little excercise with 10 examples to help you learn when your ActiveRecord query will be executed.