Transactions are protective blocks where SQL statements are only permanent if they can all succeed as one atomic action. The classic example is a transfer between two accounts where you can only have a deposit if the withdrawal succeeded and vice versa. Transactions enforce the integrity of the database and guard the data against program errors or database break-downs. So basically you should use transaction blocks whenever you have a number of statements that must be executed together or not at all. Example:

  ActiveRecord::Base.transaction do

This example will only take money from David and give to Mary if neither withdrawal nor deposit raises an exception. Exceptions will force a ROLLBACK that returns the database to the state before the transaction was begun. Be aware, though, that the objects will not have their instance data returned to their pre-transactional state.

Different Active Record classes in a single transaction

Though the transaction class method is called on some Active Record class, the objects within the transaction block need not all be instances of that class. This is because transactions are per-database connection, not per-model.

In this example a Balance record is transactionally saved even though transaction is called on the Account class:

  Account.transaction do

Note that the transaction method is also available as a model instance method. For example, you can also do this:

  balance.transaction do

Transactions are not distributed across database connections

A transaction acts on a single database connection. If you have multiple class-specific databases, the transaction will not protect interaction among them. One workaround is to begin a transaction on each class whose models you alter:

  Student.transaction do
    Course.transaction do
      student.units += course.units

This is a poor solution, but full distributed transactions are beyond the scope of Active Record.

Save and destroy are automatically wrapped in a transaction

Both Base#save and Base#destroy come wrapped in a transaction that ensures that whatever you do in validations or callbacks will happen under the protected cover of a transaction. So you can use validations to check for values that the transaction depends on or you can raise exceptions in the callbacks to rollback, including after_* callbacks.

Exception handling and rolling back

Also have in mind that exceptions thrown within a transaction block will be propagated (after triggering the ROLLBACK), so you should be ready to catch those in your application code.

One exception is the ActiveRecord::Rollback exception, which will trigger a ROLLBACK when raised, but not be re-raised by the transaction block.

Warning: one should not catch ActiveRecord::StatementInvalid exceptions inside a transaction block. StatementInvalid exceptions indicate that an error occurred at the database level, for example when a unique constraint is violated. On some database systems, such as PostgreSQL, database errors inside a transaction causes the entire transaction to become unusable until it’s restarted from the beginning. Here is an example which demonstrates the problem:

  # Suppose that we have a Number model with a unique column called 'i'.
  Number.transaction do
    Number.create(:i => 0)
      # This will raise a unique constraint error...
      Number.create(:i => 0)
    rescue ActiveRecord::StatementInvalid
      # ...which we ignore.

    # On PostgreSQL, the transaction is now unusable. The following
    # statement will cause a PostgreSQL error, even though the unique
    # constraint is no longer violated:
    Number.create(:i => 1)
    # => "PGError: ERROR:  current transaction is aborted, commands
    #     ignored until end of transaction block"

One should restart the entire transaction if a StatementError occurred.

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November 11, 2011
3 thanks

Catching and throwing -- don't!

@wiseleyb and @glosakti, neither of your suggestions are necessary, and both are bad practices.

This test:

test "transactions" do
  assert_raises ZeroDivisionError do
    User.transaction do

passes just fine on its own, with the transaction rolled back as you’d expect. No need to hack something ugly together.

January 3, 2011
0 thanks

Throw error after rollback

If you want to throw the exception after rolling back you can do something like this:

Company.transaction do
  x = 1/0
  exp = $!
    raise ActiveRecord::Rollback
  raise exp
June 1, 2011 - (>= v3.0.0)
0 thanks

Catching rollback and re-raise exception

In response to wiseleyb, I don’t believe that you could put “rescue” in a transaction block, let alone catching ActiveRecord::Rollback. It would lead you to an “unexpected kRESCUE” error.

I think this is more appropriate.

def start_transaction
  Company.transaction do
    # don't forget the bang to make sure it raise
    # exception or the transaction won't rollback

    return true

  # re-raise exception here
  raise "Exception!"

Then you could call the method in another place, and it would raise rollback and other exception.

  # would return the "Exception!" if rollback occurs
  # it would also still trigger another exception other
  # than rollback.