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Easing Rails development with Hirb

If you spend a lot of time in the console using Hirb is a great way to work faster and improve the output

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

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Rails Console

When developing in Rails I spend a lot of time in the console. If you are a Rails developer you know you can fire it up in rails 2.3.x with


Once in the console you can do lots of things like run ActiveRecord queries

>> User.find_by_last_name('Ornbo')
=> #<User id: 17283, login: "gornbo", email: "", crypted_password: "05b80fd4308e8590d2892aeb774bb3a993053e26357a1a8938b...", password_salt: "rDRzbrh-YmgpTTTDGhQC", persistence_token: "109b4284438cd9c0238ebf1ffc6aea8091c8ad756c345677c2d...", single_access_token: "hqP7auU76mHQkpLxhqVI", perishable_token: "pwUKq8id1PhgCOhPkxIU", login_count: 4, failed_login_count: 0, last_request_at: "2010-03-09 18:09:35", current_login_at: "2010-03-08 11:17:13", last_login_at: "2010-03-08 10:52:05", current_login_ip: "", last_login_ip: "", deleted: nil, created_at: "2010-03-04 12:37:38", updated_at: "2010-03-09 18:09:35", first_name: "George", last_name: "Ornbo", photo_file_name: "avatar.jpg", photo_content_type: "image/jpeg", photo_file_size: 4268, photo_updated_at: "2010-03-04 18:15:30">

Ick. That’s not hugely readable.

Hirb to the rescue

Hirb is a gem that makes the console more user friendly. In hirb’s words is is

A mini view framework for console/irb that’s easy to use, even while under its influence. Console goodies include a no-wrap table, auto-pager, tree and menu.

Returning to our previous version hirb makes the output useful

>> User.find_by_last_name('Ornbo')
  User Load (40.2ms)   SELECT * FROM `users` WHERE (`users`.`last_name` = 'Ornbo') LIMIT 1
| id    | first_name | last_name |
| 17283 | George     | Ornbo     |
1 row in set

Nice. We’ve got the query and a concise, readable view.

So how do we get it to work? Documentation is available round the web but takes a little piecing together so here it is in one place.

Installing Hirb

This is easy enough. Just run

sudo gem install hirb

To use hirb in Rails when you are using the console add a few lines to .ircbc.

vi ~/.irbrc

Then the following to the file

  require 'rubygems'
  require 'hirb'
  require 'active_record'
  ActiveRecord::Base.logger =

Save and quit.

Now go into the console and run a query. You’ll see that the output should be changed to use hirb. If your records have lots of columns you’ll likely see

** Error: Too many fields for the current width. Configure your width and/or fields to avoid this error. Defaulting to a vertical table. **

So you’ll need to customise it..

Customising Hirb

You can set which columns are shown in the console and other options in a hirb.yml file. In the /config folder of your rails app create a file called hirb.yml. A feature that I really like is that you can specify which columns show for models. So for this example I can specify what shows for the User model using

        - id
        - first_name
        - last_name

Now when I run the query only those fields will show in the console as we saw earlier.

>> User.find_by_last_name('Ornbo')
  User Load (40.2ms)   SELECT * FROM `users` WHERE (`users`.`last_name` = 'Ornbo') LIMIT 1
| id    | first_name | last_name |
| 17283 | George     | Ornbo     |
1 row in set

In the project I’m working on I’ve created a configuration for each model so I only see what I need to see when working in the console.

There are lots more options available - refer to the Rdocs for more good stuff. I’ve found hirb really useful so encourage you to give it a go.

Have an update or suggestion for this article? You can edit it here and send me a pull request.


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