Today I Learned

A Hashrocket project

274 posts by jakeworth @jwworth

Turn Off HTML5 Form Validations

HTML5 added a variety of input types such as date, email, and tel (telephone number). These make entering certain kinds of information easier by providing tools such as a datepickers, range sliders, and optimized keyboards on mobile devices.

These input types also introduce custom validations on some browsers, which are useful, but can potentially clash with your application’s look and feel.

To keep the input type, but disable the validations, add novalidate to your form tag:

<form novalidate />

h/t Dillon Hafer


Install a Homebrew Formula at Master

We’ve been testing out the forthcoming Elixir 1.6 formatter on Tilex’s codebase, which requires a version of the langage that has not yet been officially released.

There’s a few ways to do this. Since Elixir is installed with Homebrew on my machine, here’s how to do it with Homebrew:

$ brew install elixir --HEAD

From the Homebrew man page:

If --HEAD is passed, and formula defines it, install the HEAD version, aka master, trunk, unstable.

Welcome to the bleeding edge!

h/t Brian Dunn

Clean Up Autojump

autojump is a command-line tool for faster directory changing. It’s a must-have on my workstation, because it lets me jump to deeply nested directories like this:

:~/$ j cli

There are two ways we can clean up autojump once it’s been running for a while. First, purge non-existant directories from the jump database:

$ j --purge
Purged 8 entries.

Second, edit the file ~/Library/autojump/autojump.txt (OSX), which stores the jump database. Here you can remove directories that should never be jumped to, or are weighted too highly because of frequent use in the past.

Happy jumping!

Tidy your Reducers with `combineReducers()`

Today I learned by necessity the value of the Redux combineReducers(reducers) function.

combineReducers() supports, in a pretty neat way, the crucial Redux task of delegating to reducing functions their own slice of the state.

The documentation example looks like this:

combineReducers({ todos: myTodosReducer, counter: myCounterReducer });

Which we can improve by naming the reducer functions after the state slices they manage, allowing ES6 shorthand notation:

combineReducers({ counter, todos });

This creates a state object like so:

  counter: ...,
  todos: ...,

Print Information about an Elixir Data Type

IEx ships with a neat feature, def i(term \\ v(-1)), which provides information about an argument. Here are two examples:

iex(1)> i ["one", "two"]
  ["one", "two"]
Data type
Reference modules
Implemented protocols
  IEx.Info, Collectable, Enumerable, Inspect, List.Chars, String.Chars
iex(1)> i "three"
Data type
Byte size
  This is a string: a UTF-8 encoded binary. It's printed surrounded by
  "double quotes" because all UTF-8 encoded codepoints in it are printable.
Raw representation
  <<116, 104, 114, 101, 101>>
Reference modules
  String, :binary
Implemented protocols
  IEx.Info, Collectable, Inspect, List.Chars, String.Chars

Use this to inspect an item, or learn more about Elixir.

Environmental Variables and Chaining with Postman

Postman is a tool for building APIs. We’ve been digging into it today; it’s got some great features.

Today I learned we can chain requests, passing the result from one API interaction to all subsequent interactions.

Let’s say one API call gets a token on success, a token that all other calls require. When we run the first request, we can add a test that pulls out and sets the token:

var data = JSON.parse(responseBody);
postman.setEnvironmentVariable("token", data.token);

Now, other tests can reference {{token}} in their headers. We can even chain calls in Postman’s automated test runner, ensuring that the token-getting request always runs first.

more info

Exit IEx Gracefully with `respawn()`

I love a debugger in my Elixir code. A pattern I follow is to load and call IEx in a Phoenix template or controller with:

require IEx; IEx.pry;

Then, I call functions and check data in the middle of an action, by starting my Phoenix server with the following command:

$ iex -S mix phx.server

Once finished, I usually end up just killing the server with CTRL-C.

Today I learned there’s a better way: respawn().

respawn() respawns the current shell by starting a new shell process. Which I think is a good thing. It lets me back out of my IEx session without killing my server, a much more graceful development experience.

Hub CI Status

hub is a command-line client for Github. It lets you manage pull requests, forks, issues, and more from the command line. I regularly find new ways to integrate it into my open-source gardening.

Today I learned hub can report on your CI integration. We recently switched TIL to Circle CI, are iterating toward a stable test build, so CI status is important and not always predictable.

I check the status of a commit with the following command:

$ hub ci-status 7aa1316fe8665ef8cab5dd10cc80da024625ba20
$ hub ci-status HEAD

List Commits That Change a File

Today I’m wrapping a PR with a large Git rebase. There are many commits on my branch that change the same file (.circleci/config.yml) and aren’t valuable on their own. In the end, I want them all squashed into a single commit. The challenge is that I changed other files in between; it’s kind of a mess. How can I squash the branch down to something manageable?

One technique is to view just changes to my file:

$ git log --follow --oneline .circleci/config.yml

c9f7108 Try to decode file before unzipping
87c8092 Quick push
327d419 Try this!

Using this list, I can execute a rebase that just squashes the commits that touch the file, leaving everything else intact.

Visualize Your Elixir Dependencies

To visualize your Elixir dependencies, try this:

$ mix deps.tree

This prints a tree showing your dependencies (and their dependencies):

$ mix deps.tree
├── gettext ~> 0.13 (Hex package)
├── hackney 1.8.0 (Hex package)
│   ├── certifi 1.1.0 (Hex package)
│   ├── idna 4.0.0 (Hex package)
│   ├── metrics 1.0.1 (Hex package)
│   ├── mimerl 1.0.2 (Hex package)
│   └── ssl_verify_fun 1.1.1 (Hex package)

This is really handy when trying to track down where a deprecation warning or error is coming from.

h/t Dorian Karter

Conditional Variables in Phoenix Templates

A common Ruby on Rails technique is setting instance variables in a controller action, then using them in the view layer:

# app/controllers/users_controller.rb
def show
  @show_button = true
# app/views/users/show.html.haml
- if @show_button

Doing the same thing in Elixir/Phoenix is a little different.

Since Phoenix 0.14.0, the framework raises on missing assigns (link). Thus our conditional will fail on any loaded template whose controller function that does not define the variable.

One solution is to check if the variable is assigned:

# lib/my_app_web/templates/users/show.html.eex
<%= if assigns[:show_button] do %>
  <div class="button"></div>

If show_button is assigned in your controller function (via assign), the button will be displayed. If not, the button will not be displayed, and the application will not raise an error.

Rails Ignore Pending Migrations

Ruby on Rails gives us a nice warning in development when we haven’t run a pending database migration. But what if we’re iterating on a migration, and the results can best be viewed in the browser? We might want to temporarily disable this warning.

Here’s how to do it:

# config/environments/development.rb
config.active_record.migration_error = false

Don’t forget to turn it back on when you’re finished.

Better Rails SQL Migrations

Some people on our team, including me, write raw SQL in Ruby on Rails migrations. But they can get unwieldy when iterating on a complex migration that does multiple things.

Mitigate this is to break up your statements into separate HERDOCs, like so:

def up
  execute <<-SQL
    update pixaxes set metal = 'diamond' where metal = 'iron';
    -- many things...

  execute <<-SQL
    update swords set metal = 'diamond' where metal = 'iron';
    -- many more things...

If the migration fails, we’ll get an error pointing to the specific problematic HEREDOC, instead of essentially ‘the entire statement is invalid’. You then put a debugger between any HEREDOC to iterate on the issue.

h/t Jack Christensen

Elixir Static Code Analysis in Vim

Today I learned how to set up Credo, a static analysis tool for Elixir, to run on every Vim buffer write, using Neomake.

To start, I added Credo to my project:

# mix.exs
defp deps do
  {:credo, "~> 0.8", only: [:dev, :test], runtime: false}

Including it with:

$ mix deps.get

Next, I loaded and sourced the Neomake plugin with Pathogen:

" ~/.vimbundle

Next, I told Neomake to run on every file, enabling Credo for Elixir files:

" ~/.vimrc
let g:neomake_elixir_enabled_makers = ['credo']
autocmd! BufWritePost * Neomake

Now I have Credo style recommendations right in my text editor.

Complete a Whole Line in Vim

This week I picked up an excellent Vim command: CTRL-X CTRL-L. This command searches backwards through your project and inserts a matching line after the cursor.

So, if there’s a line in your project like this:

defimpl Phoenix.Param, for: Tilex.Developer do

And I type defimpl (which is unique enough to match only a lines of code in my project), Vim will suggest matching options, letting me choose a match to complete it:

defimpl Phoenix.Param, for: Tilex.Developer do
defimpl Phoenix.Param, for: Tilex.Developer do

This is useful when writing code in a framework like React.js, where the head of many files often includes a group of common and repetitive import statements.

See ‘Insert mode completion’ inside insert.txt in the Vim help for more information.

h/t Dorian Karter

Screengrab to Clipboard on Mac

If you’ve ever taken a screengrab on a Mac with CMD + Shift + 4, then pasted or dragged that image into a text area such as a Github issue description, there is a better way: CMD + CTRL + Shift + 4. This captures your screengrab right to the clipboard, ready to paste wherever.

The equivalent command with 3– take a screenshot– also works as expected.

This isn’t a particularly ergonomic key combination, but it helps when adding visuals to bug reports and feature requests.

h/t Dorian Karter

List Merged Branches

Today I learned a new Git trick: to show branches already merged into a branch, try this command:

$ git branch --merged master

For an open source project like Today I Learned, this is an interesting way to get a sense of the project.

Authenticate With Username or Email

Today I learned a way to implement a login form that accepts email or username as the login. I’ve been on the other side of a form like this many times, but had never written one myself.

Here’s one solution, with ActiveRecord:

User.where('username = ? or email = ?', "jwworth", "")

title or slug are represented by the same parameter, and either can be nil.

login = params.fetch('username_or_email')
User.where('username = ? or email = ?', login, login)

Allow an Empty Commit

Today my pair did something I’d never seen: create an empty commit. Out goal was to test a third-party integration, but we didn’t have a meaningful change to contribute at the time. In this situation, I think an empty commit is a good compromise, because it’s honest about our intent— to simply kick off a remote process.

Here was the command:

$ git commit --allow-empty

h/t Dorian Karter

Fork A Heroku Project

The Heroku CLI has a useful command I recently learned about, called heroku fork. Here’s how it works:

$ heroku fork --from tilex-staging --to tilex

As the example suggests, I’ve used this tool to clone a tricky-to-set-up Heroku staging application as a production application. It’s great.

The bad news is that Heroku us sunsetting fork as a core CLI command. Use it while you can. After that, you can fork the Github repo and use it as CLI plugin.

Refresh A Twitter Summary Card Image

Twitter provides a feature called summary card images: if you’ve ever seen a tweet with a rectangular image included, that’s it. We can specify this image via HTML meta tags. Most tweets from the @hashrocketil follow this pattern.

Changing the image is tricky, however, because Twitter caches summary cards for an unknown amount of time (I’ve read one week). Which means past and future Tweets could include an outdated image for a while.

One solution is to use Twitter’s card validator on your site. Running the site it through the validator seems to refresh the cache for your summary cards.

Mass-Delete Git Tags

Building off this post:

I’m an advocate of Semantic Version tagging. It communicates to a team about every deploy and makes that rare rollback easier. So when does it not make sense to use a tag?

When you’re the only developer (nobody to communicate with except yourself), and also using a platform like Heroku that tags every release (your tags are redundant). This the case with my blog, so today I set out to delete all my Git tags.

First, delete them remotely (assuming a remote named origin):

$ git tag | xargs git push --delete origin

We also have to delete our local tags, or a tag push with create them again on the remote:

$ git tag | xargs git tag -d

$ git tag now returns nothing, and there are no remote tags.

Netrw Special Command

Building off this previous post, today I learned a new command in Netrw: the ‘special command’.

When navigating, enter x over any file, and your operating system will open it with its tool of choice (Preview for images and Finder for directories on a Mac, etc.). This is great for exploring a directory.

From the Netrw help:

Certain files, such as html, gif, jpeg, (word/office) doc, etc, files, are
best seen with a special handler (ie. a tool provided with your computer's
operating system).  Netrw allows one to invoke such special handlers by:

        * when Exploring, hit the "x" key
        * when editing, hit gx with the cursor atop the special filename
          (latter not available if the g:netrw_nogx variable exists)

Send SQL to a Tmux Window

Hashrocket.vim provides a mapping that is awesome:

autocmd FileType sql nmap <buffer> <leader>t :<C-U>w \| call Send_to_Tmux("\\i ".expand("%")."\n")<CR>

With this command, if you’re editing an SQL file in a Tmux session, run <leader>t from normal mode, and your file will be read into the session and window of your choice. If there’s a psql session listening there, you’ve got a fast way to iterate on an SQL statement from Vim.

The command even writes the file for you before sending the SQL.

When Was This File Added to Version Control?

I learned a helpful Git command today. To determine when a file was added to version control, run the following:

$ git log --follow --diff-filter=A <filename>

This returns the Git history, following files through renames, filtering on when a file was added to version control. Here’s the output for the README of ‘Today I Learned’:

$ git log --follow --diff-filter=A
commit 9a7984a48db19489bb4113378298ddaa97121c7a
Author: Jake Worth <>
Date:   Sat Mar 28 12:52:19 2015 -0400

    Add a basic README

Useful for explaining mystery files in the repository 🔎.

Related File in Rails.vim

Rails.vim is a staple of our Hashrocket workstations. It continues to surprise me.

Today I discovered the :R (related) command, which is a counterpart to the :A (alternate) command. :R looks for the file related to your current buffer.

This command is sophisticated. Assuming you’re following Rails conventions for file organization, :R over most templates will open the associated controller, with your cursor on the line where the action that corresponds with the view name (show for a template called show.html.erb) is defined. The same thing works in reverse; :R over the show method leads you back to show.html.erb.

Re-mark a Word as Bad

Vim’s spell checking feature is pretty great. I use it as a default for .md and .rdoc files on my machine.

Sometimes it incorrectly marks technical words like ‘ExUnit’ as bad (misspelled). To fix this, I type zg over the word in normal mode, which adds it to a list of white-listed words that are no longer considered bad.

The opposite of that command is zw, which comments out the line in the dictionary file. Run :runtime spell/cleanadd.vim to clean up those comments.

Revealing Rails Scopes

I’ve been working on some Rails code that brings in ActiveRecord models from multiple gems. Often these models have default scopes, that bane of a legacy Rails codebase, and figuring that out requires source diving one or more gems. Today I hacked my way to a faster solution: just read the SQL Rails generates.

Here’s a post without a default scope, and then one with a default scope:

pry(main)> Post.all.to_sql
=> "SELECT \"posts\".* FROM \"posts\""
pry(main)> Developer.all.to_sql
=> "SELECT \"developers\".* FROM \"developers\" ORDER BY \"developers\".\"username\" ASC"

I see you, ORDER BY.

RSpec Covers a Range

Today I used a feature of RSpec I’ve never used before, cover.

cover returns true if it’s argument is covered by the given range:

expect(0..1).to cover(order.risk_score)

In my use case, I had an attribute risk_score that is calculated by a third-party API. It should always be between zero and one, but it changes on every test run because the API considers the test user more and more risky each time. cover allowed me to test this attribute, and the underlying logic, in a flexible way.

Logrotation for a Rails App

This week I did a some Linux server logrotation for a Ruby on Rails application. log/your_log.log can get large on a server with traffic, and sometimes we must control how long to retain data.

Here’s the basic configuration file I wrote, with comments:

# Logrotater:
# - Daily
# - Timestamped
# - Doesn't error on missing log files
# - Keeps seven copies
# - Truncates log files (allows Rails to start writing 
#  to the new log file without a restart)

/var/app/current/log/your_log.log {
    rotate 7

There are many other options. Check out man logrotate on a Linux machine for more info.

How Rails Responds to `*/*`

Yesterday I fixed a bug in TIL. This application has a Twittercard, but it’s never worked. Twitter’s card validator confusingly claims the site lacks Twitter meta tags.

After experimenting, I realized that when cURL-ing our site, the response type is application/json. Why is Rails giving me JSON?

When an HTTP request’s accept headers equal */*, any MIME type is accepted. And, when a respond_to block is present:

Rails determines the desired response format from the HTTP Accept header submitted by the client.

Determined how? I learned that the first MIME type declared is used for */* requests.

Notice the difference (HTML first):

# app/controllers/posts_controller.rb
 def index
    @posts = Post.all
    respond_to do |format|
      format.json { render json: @posts }


$ curl -vI localhost:3000/
> Accept: */*
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8

JSON first:

# app/controllers/posts_controller.rb
 def index
    @posts = Post.all
    respond_to do |format|
      format.json { render json: @posts }


$ curl -vI localhost:3000/
> Accept: */*
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Type: application/json; charset=utf-8

Reversing the order (HTML first) solved the issue.

Deprecated Dynamic Actions

Rails routes have supported dynamic actions in the past, like this:

# config/routes.rb

 get 'ui(/:action)', controller: 'ui'

The ‘Today I Learned’ application uses code like this to create design templates.

This will be deprecated in Rails 5.1. If you want to address the change now, while still supporting a variety of routes, one solution is to name them explicitly:

# config/routes.rb

namespace 'ui' do
  %w(index edit show).each do |action|
    get action, action: action

Break Up Lines with Splitjoin

One style-guide idea I try to maintain is sticking to a reasonable line length. 72 characters, 80 characters, whatever your preference; long lines are hard to read. They’re a code smell. They need to have a reason for existing.

A task I find myself repeating a lot to achieve this is breaking apart Ruby blocks and hashes into multiple lines, with a combination of jumping forward, entering insert mode, and hitting enter. Turning this:

FactoryGirl.create(:developer, username: 'jake_skid', superpower: 'technical writing and style-guide compliance')

into this:

FactoryGirl.create(:developer, {
  username: 'jake_skid',
  superpower: 'technical writing and style-guide compliance'

This task has been automated for me by the Splitjoin plugin for Vim, which is included in the Hashrocket dotfiles. Typing gS in normal mode over the first example turns it into the second example. It’s opinionated, and probably won’t satisfy every tangent of your personal style (I’d leave off the curly braces and add a trailing comma, for instance). But it’s already saved me a lot of time.

h/t Dorian Karter

Understanding Github's Language Calculations

Ever noticed this at the top of a Github repo?

This filetype percentage is calculated by Github’s Linguist project.

There’s just one problem: ‘Today I Learned’ isn’t a JavaScript project; it’s a Rails application. I would expect the majority of the files to be Ruby files. Labeling ‘Today I Learned’ a JavaScript project misrepresents it to the Github community.

I found several techniques to correct the Linguist evaluation; this pull request explains one I tried in greater detail. TL;DR – once I moved some vendored JS files into a directory with a name that Linguist ignores (ace-builds/), the calculation started to look more like a Rails app.

Here’s the updated header:

Custom Phoenix Validations

Today I learned how to write a custom Phoenix model validation. It came from the Phoenix port of this very application, which requires that posts be 200 words or less.

Phoenix doesn’t have a word length validation, so I had to make my own. Here it is, minus some irrelevant lines of code:

# web/models/post.ex

def changeset(struct, params \\ %{}) do
  |> cast(params, [:title, :body, :channel_id])
  |> validate_length_of_body

defp validate_length_of_body(changeset) do
  body = get_field(changeset, :body)
  validate_length_of_body(changeset, body)

defp validate_length_of_body(changeset, body) do
  if length(String.split(body, ~r/\s+/)) > 200 do
    add_error(changeset, :body, "should be at most 200 word(s)")

When the post body is greater than 200 words (as defined by splitting on whitespace characters), the validation adds an error to the body field that mimics the errors Phoenix provides for character-length validation failures. Including the (s), which I kind of like.

When the body is short enough, changeset is returned from the function of the same name, a form of success.

Pattern matching FTW.

Vimscript String Coercion

An unique feature of Vimscript is coercion of strings into integers.

Here’s an example:

:echom "six" + 6
:echom "6six" + 6

Our messages show that the first string was coerced to 0 (0 + 6 = 6), and the second string was coerced to 6 (6 + 6 = 12).

Following this logic a little further, because 0 is falsey and 1 (or greater than 1) is truthy, our first string is falsey and our second string is truthy.

Spellcheck Certain Filetypes

I don’t like misspellings in my documentation, yet make a lot of them. Spelling is disabled in all my buffers by default; I turn it on when reading or editing docs. When I forget to do so, it’s easy to miss typos.

While reading Learn VimScript The Hard Way I figured out a better solution to this problem. This now lives in my ~/.vimrc.local:

augroup spellcheck_documentation
  autocmd BufNewFile,BufRead *.md setlocal spell
  autocmd BufNewFile,BufRead *.rdoc setlocal spell
augroup END

Anytime a markdown or RDoc file is created or read, I set a local configuration to turn spelling on. This has already proved invaluable after only a day or two.

Exclamation Point Toggles Vim Booleans

I have Vim line numbers turned on as a default, but sometimes I turn them off for better reading.

Today I learned that instead of :set nonumber (and the corresponding :set number) we can toggle any Vim boolean option with an exclamation point.

So, if line numbers are ‘on’, :set number! (or the even shorter :set nu!) turns them off, and vice versa.

Filter Your Git Diffs

Sometimes reading a git diff can be a big task. Imagine working through a big file cleanup, removing and modifing hundreds of files, and one of those modifications had an undesireable side effect. How can we filter the noise to find the problem?

git diff has a --diff-filter flag for this purpose. The specific command I used today was:

$ git diff --diff-filter=M HEAD~5 > changes.txt

This showed only modified files over the previous five commits, excluding thousands of deleted references. By directing the output to a file and visually scanning, I quickly found the problem— a forced redirect to HTTPS on the development server.

See git diff --help for more info.

Push Variables to Heroku

If you use Heroku to deploy your apps, I have a great command to try.

Included in the Heroku toolbelt command-line interface is heroku config:push.

This command pushes your local environmental variables, defaulting to a file called .env in your root directory, to any Heroku remote. It favors existing remote configs in the event of a collision.

No more copying and pasting to the command line, or pointless typos while setting remote configs.

Bonus: also check out heroku config:pull— equally useful.