Active Record implements aggregation through a macro-like class method called #composed_of for representing attributes as value objects. It expresses relationships like “Account [is] composed of Money [among other things]” or “Person [is] composed of [an] address”. Each call to the macro adds a description of how the value objects are created from the attributes of the entity object (when the entity is initialized either as a new object or from finding an existing object) and how it can be turned back into attributes (when the entity is saved to the database).

class Customer < ActiveRecord::Base
  composed_of :balance, class_name: "Money", mapping: %w(balance amount)
  composed_of :address, mapping: [ %w(address_street street), %w(address_city city) ]

The customer class now has the following methods to manipulate the value objects:

  • Customer#balance, Customer#balance=(money)

  • Customer#address, Customer#address=(address)

These methods will operate with value objects like the ones described below:

class Money
  include Comparable
  attr_reader :amount, :currency

  def initialize(amount, currency = "USD")
    @amount, @currency = amount, currency

  def exchange_to(other_currency)
    exchanged_amount = (amount * EXCHANGE_RATES["#{currency}_TO_#{other_currency}"]).floor
    Money.new(exchanged_amount, other_currency)

  def ==(other_money)
    amount == other_money.amount && currency == other_money.currency

  def <=>(other_money)
    if currency == other_money.currency
      amount <=> other_money.amount
      amount <=> other_money.exchange_to(currency).amount

class Address
  attr_reader :street, :city
  def initialize(street, city)
    @street, @city = street, city

  def close_to?(other_address)
    city == other_address.city

  def ==(other_address)
    city == other_address.city && street == other_address.street

Now it’s possible to access attributes from the database through the value objects instead. If you choose to name the composition the same as the attribute’s name, it will be the only way to access that attribute. That’s the case with our balance attribute. You interact with the value objects just like you would with any other attribute:

customer.balance = Money.new(20)     # sets the Money value object and the attribute
customer.balance                     # => Money value object
customer.balance.exchange_to("DKK")  # => Money.new(120, "DKK")
customer.balance > Money.new(10)     # => true
customer.balance == Money.new(20)    # => true
customer.balance < Money.new(5)      # => false

Value objects can also be composed of multiple attributes, such as the case of Address. The order of the mappings will determine the order of the parameters.

customer.address_street = "Hyancintvej"
customer.address_city   = "Copenhagen"
customer.address        # => Address.new("Hyancintvej", "Copenhagen")

customer.address = Address.new("May Street", "Chicago")
customer.address_street # => "May Street"
customer.address_city   # => "Chicago"

Writing value objects

Value objects are immutable and interchangeable objects that represent a given value, such as a Money object representing $5. Two Money objects both representing $5 should be equal (through methods such as == and <=> from Comparable if ranking makes sense). This is unlike entity objects where equality is determined by identity. An entity class such as Customer can easily have two different objects that both have an address on Hyancintvej. Entity identity is determined by object or relational unique identifiers (such as primary keys). Normal ActiveRecord::Base classes are entity objects.

It’s also important to treat the value objects as immutable. Don’t allow the Money object to have its amount changed after creation. Create a new Money object with the new value instead. The Money#exchange_to method is an example of this. It returns a new value object instead of changing its own values. Active Record won’t persist value objects that have been changed through means other than the writer method.

The immutable requirement is enforced by Active Record by freezing any object assigned as a value object. Attempting to change it afterwards will result in a RuntimeError.

Read more about value objects on http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?ValueObject and on the dangers of not keeping value objects immutable on http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?ValueObjectsShouldBeImmutable

Custom constructors and converters

By default value objects are initialized by calling the new constructor of the value class passing each of the mapped attributes, in the order specified by the :mapping option, as arguments. If the value class doesn’t support this convention then #composed_of allows a custom constructor to be specified.

When a new value is assigned to the value object, the default assumption is that the new value is an instance of the value class. Specifying a custom converter allows the new value to be automatically converted to an instance of value class if necessary.

For example, the NetworkResource model has network_address and cidr_range attributes that should be aggregated using the +NetAddr::CIDR+ value class (http://www.rubydoc.info/gems/netaddr/1.5.0/NetAddr/CIDR). The constructor for the value class is called create and it expects a CIDR address string as a parameter. New values can be assigned to the value object using either another +NetAddr::CIDR+ object, a string or an array. The :constructor and :converter options can be used to meet these requirements:

class NetworkResource < ActiveRecord::Base
  composed_of :cidr,
              class_name: 'NetAddr::CIDR',
              mapping: [ %w(network_address network), %w(cidr_range bits) ],
              allow_nil: true,
              constructor: Proc.new { |network_address, cidr_range| NetAddr::CIDR.create("#{network_address}/#{cidr_range}") },
              converter: Proc.new { |value| NetAddr::CIDR.create(value.is_a?(Array) ? value.join('/') : value) }

# This calls the :constructor
network_resource = NetworkResource.new(network_address: '', cidr_range: 24)

# These assignments will both use the :converter
network_resource.cidr = [ '', 8 ]
network_resource.cidr = ''

# This assignment won't use the :converter as the value is already an instance of the value class
network_resource.cidr = NetAddr::CIDR.create('')

# Saving and then reloading will use the :constructor on reload

Finding records by a value object

Once a #composed_of relationship is specified for a model, records can be loaded from the database by specifying an instance of the value object in the conditions hash. The following example finds all customers with address_street equal to “May Street” and address_city equal to “Chicago”:

Customer.where(address: Address.new("May Street", "Chicago"))
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