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Monday, October 29, 2012

Rails 3.2 Asset Pipeline - 'require_tree' is evil !

I have been battling the Asset Pipeline in Rails 3 for a couple of days - and finally I've got it working

An important part of the Asset Pipeline is the use of Manifest files in app/assets/javascripts and stylesheets which determine the specific files to include and, in some cases, the order in which they are processed.

The default javascripts Manifest file has these lines:
//= require jquery
//= require jquery_ujs
//= require_self
//= require_tree .

That reads as:
- process jquery, then jquery_ujs
- process anything in this file (self)
- process all the files in this directory tree (require_tree)

I don't have many JS files in my app - three custom JS files written by myself and a couple of third party libraries.

I try and follow defaults as far as possible but require_tree has two BIG problems.

First is that it processes ALL the files in the directory tree.
Second is that the ORDER is UNDEFINED.

It is common for JS libraries to distribute their code along with examples and minimized versions of the code. In the past I would just drop these distributions in the javascripts directory and then specify which of the files should be included in my app.

So one problem with require_tree is that it will process both a 'native' and minimized version of the same library is both are present. That results in the same functions being defined multiple times - and that seems to be a real problem if a library includes it's own copy of jQuery.

Not specifying the order of processing is the other BIG issue. For libraries with a 'core' JS file along with others will typically require that the core library is processed first.

The solution is to avoid require_tree at all costs. Put only the JS files that you absolutely need in app/assets/javascripts and specify them EXPLICITLY in the order they should be processed.

In my example, my application.js file becomes:
//= require jquery
//= require jquery_ujs
//= require ./tabs_timeline_simple
//= require ./tandem_select
//= require ./raphael-min
//= require ./facebox

I strongly recommend that you start out with everything clearly defined like this. Once you have it all working then you can remove unused files and simplify application.js - if not, you risk going through the same debugging misery that I just went through.

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