Using Active Record to Validate Forms in Rails

Validating inputted data from forms in Ruby on Rails can be at first be a challenging, there are no central form validation classes like there are in other web frameworks. Although Active Record is primarily used as an interface to a regional database it can be used for non-Database data validation using it’s ActiveModel::Validations component. In this example I will be validating posted data (Name, email address and message body) from a contact form.

Create our Contact Model

To get started, lets begin by creating the contact model that will contain the validation logic, run this command in your terminal:

$ rails generate model Contact --no-test-framework --migration=false

Notice we are telling the generate command not to create any testing or migrations files, only the Contact model will be created in /app/models/contact.rb.

Write our Models Logic

Open up the newly created contact model in your preferred text editor, rails has generated a basic model class for us to modify. The first issue is that it inherits Active Record::Base, as we are not going to interface with an actual database remove ‘< ActiveRecord::Base’ from the first line. We do on the other hand require the Validations, Conversion, and Naming classes, these can be included at the top.

Here is my final Contact Model in full:

# /app/models/contact.rb
class Contact
    include ActiveModel::Validations
    include ActiveModel::Conversion
    extend ActiveModel::Naming

    attr_accessible :name, :address, :body

    # Set validation rules
    validates_presence_of :name
    validates_format_of :address, :with => /^[-a-z0-9_+\.]+\@([-a-z0-9]+\.)+[a-z0-9]{2,4}$/i
    validates_length_of :body, :maximum => 500

    def initialize(attributes = {})
      attributes.each do |name, value|
        send("#{name}=", value)

    def persisted?


As you can see from the validation rules we set the following validation rules for each attribute:

  • name - Must be set
  • address - Conforms with the giving regular expression, in this case a valid email address
  • body - Maximum length of 500 characters

I have shown three methods (validates_presence_of, validates_format_of and validates_length_of) other examples include:

  • validates_acceptance_of
  • validates_confirmation_of
  • validates_exclusion_of
  • validates_inclusion_of
  • validates_numericality_of
  • validates_size_of

Details on these can be found on API Dock.

Using the Model in our Controller

Using the Contact model in the controller is fairly easy, I first created two methods; index and post, the first to display the form and the latter to handle posted data.

def index
  	@message =

def post
	@message =[:message])
  	if @message.valid?
      	# Validation Success - Send email logic here
      	flash[:notice] = "Message sent! Thank you for getting in contact, I will get back to you ASAP."
      	redirect_to root_url
      	flash[:alert] = "There was an error sending your message, please check all fields and send again."
      	redirect_to :action => 'index'

Using the Model in our View

Once the form has been posted it will validate the inputted values using the rules that we specified in the Contact model, for a full picture this is the view that I am using:

<% flash.each do |name, msg| %>
  <% if msg.is_a?(String) %>
      <div class="alert alert-<%= name == :notice ? "success" : "error" %>">
          <a class="close" data-dismiss="alert">&#215;</a>
          <%= content_tag :div, msg, :id => "flash_#{name}" %>
  <% end %>
<% end %>

<%= form_tag('contact/post', :class => 'form-horizontal') do %>

  <div class="control-group">
    <%= label :name, "Name:", :class => 'control-label' %>
    <div class="controls">
        <%= text_field :message, :name, :class => 'span3' %>

  <div class="control-group">
    <%= label :address, "Email Address:", :class => 'control-label' %>
    <div class="controls">
        <%= email_field :message, :address , :class => 'span3' %>

  <div class="control-group">
    <%= label :body, "Message:", :class => 'control-label' %>
    <div class="controls">
      <%= text_area :message, :body, :class => "input-block-level", :rows => '10' %>

  <div class="form-actions">
    <%= submit_tag "Send Message", :class => 'btn btn-primary' %> &nbsp;
    <button type="reset" class="btn">Reset</button>

<% end %>

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