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Various programming stuff

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Phoenix forms integration with select2 and ajax

During the past months I’ve tried to implement a project using Elixir and the Phoenix framework. Old visitors of my blog will probably remember that I mainly use Django for back-end development but I decided to also give Phoenix a try.

My first impressions are positive but I don’t want to go into detail in this post; I’ll try to add a more extensive post comparing Elixir / Phoenix with Python / Django someday.

The problem that this particular post will try to explain is how to properly integrate a jQuery select2 dropdown ajax with autocomplete search to your Phonix Forms. This seems like a very common problem however I couldn’t find a proper solution anywhere in the internet. It seems that most people using Phoenix prefer to implement their autocompletes using SPA like functionality (react etc). Also I found this project that seems to be working, however it does not use select2 and I really didn’t like to mess with a different JS library for reasons that should be too obvious to most people.

So here we’ll implement a simple solution for allowing your foreign key value to be autocompleted through ajax using select2. The specific example is that you have a User that belongs to an Authority i.e user has a field named authority_id which is a foreign key to authority. We’ll add a functionality to the user edit form to select the authority using ajax-autocomplete.

Please notice that you can find a working version of this tutorial in my Phoenix Crud template project: https://github.com/spapas/phxcrd. This project contains various other functionality that I need but you should be able to test the user - authority integration by following the instructions there.

The schemas

For this tutorial, we’ll use two schemas: A User and an Authority. Each User belongs to an Authority (thus will have a foreign key to Authority; that’s what we want to set using the ajax select2). Here are the ecto schemas for these entities:

defmodule Phxcrd.Auth.Authority do
  use Ecto.Schema

  import Ecto.Changeset
  alias Phxcrd.Auth.User

  schema "authorities" do
    field :name, :string
    has_many :users, User, on_replace: :nilify
    timestamps()
  end

  @doc false
  def changeset(authority, attrs) do
    authority
    |> cast(attrs, [:name])
    |> validate_required([:name], message: "The field is required")
    |> unique_constraint(:name, message: "The name already exists!")
  end

  use Accessible
end
defmodule Phxcrd.Auth.User do
  use Ecto.Schema

  import Ecto.Changeset
  alias Phxcrd.Auth.Authority

  schema "users" do
    field :email, :string
    field :username, :string
    field :password_hash, :string
    field :password, :string, virtual: true

    belongs_to :authority, Authority

    timestamps()
  end

  @doc false
  def changeset(user, attrs) do
    user
    |> cast(attrs, [:username, :email, :authority_id])
    |> validate_required([:username, :email ])
  end

  use Accessible
end

Notice that both these entities are contained in the Auth context and were created using mix phx.gen.html; I won’t include the migrations here.

The search API

Let’s now take a look at the search api for Authority. I’ve added an ApiController which contains the following function:

def search_authorities(conn, params) do
    q = params["q"]

    authorities =
      from(a in Authority,
        where: ilike(a.name, ^"%#{q}%")
      )
      |> limit(20)
      |> Repo.all()

    render(conn, "authorities.json", authorities: authorities)
end

Notice that this retrieves a q parameter and makes an ilike query to Authority.name. It then passes the results to the view for rendering. Here’s the corresponding function for ApiView:

def render("authorities.json", %{authorities: authorities}) do
    %{results: Enum.map(authorities, &authority_json/1)}
  end

  def authority_json(a) do
    %{
      id: a.id,
      text: a.name
    }
end

Notice that select2 wants its results in a JSON struct with the following form {results: [{id: 1, name: "Authority 1"}]}.

To add this controller action to my routes I’ve added this to router.ex:

scope "/api", PhxcrdWeb do
    pipe_through :api

    get "/search_authorities", ApiController, :search_authorities
end

Thus if you visit http://127.0.0.1/search_authorities?q=A you should retrieve authorities containing A in their name.

The controller

Concenring the UserController I’ve added the following methods to it for creating and updating users:

def new(conn, _params) do
  changeset = Auth.change_user(%User{})
  render(conn, "new.html", changeset: changeset)
end

def create(conn, %{"user" => user_params}) do
  case Auth.create_user(user_params) do
    {:ok, user} ->
      conn
      |> put_flash(:info, "#{user.name} created!")
      |> redirect(to: Routes.user_path(conn, :show, user))

    {:error, changeset} ->
      render(conn, "new.html", changeset: changeset)
  end
end

def edit(conn, %{"id" => id}) do
  user = Auth.get_user!(id)
  changeset = Auth.change_user(user)
  render(conn, "edit.html", user: user, changeset: changeset)
end

def update(conn, %{"id" => id, "user" => user_params}) do
  user = Auth.get_user!(id)

  user_params = Map.merge(%{"authority_id" => nil}, user_params)

  case Auth.update_user(user, user_params) do
    {:ok, user} ->
      conn
      |> put_flash(:info, "User updated successfully.")
      |> redirect(to: Routes.user_path(conn, :show, user))

    {:error, %Ecto.Changeset{} = changeset} ->
      render(conn, "edit.html", user: user, changeset: changeset)
  end
end

Most of these are more or less the default things that mix phx.gen.html creates. One thing that may seem a strange here is the user_params = Map.merge(%{"authority_id" => nil}, user_params) line of update. What happens here is that I want to be able to clear the authority of a user (I’ll explain how in the next sections). If I do that then the user_params that is passed to update will not contain an authority_id key thus the authority_id won’t be changed at all (so even though I cleared it, it will keep its previous value after I save it). To fix that I set a default value of nil to authority_id; if the user has actually selected an authority from the form this will be overriden when merging the two maps. So the resulting user_params will always contain an authority_id key, either set to nil or to the selected authority.

Beyond that I wont’ go into detail explaining the above functions, but if something seems strange feel free to ask. I also won’t explain the Auth.* functions; all these are created by phoenix in the context module.

The view

The UserView module contains a simple but very important function:

def get_select_value(changeset, attr) do
  case changeset.changes[attr] do
    nil -> Map.get(changeset.data, attr)
    z -> z
  end
end

This functions gets two parameters: The changeset and the name of the attribute (:authority_id in our case). What it does is to first check if this attribute is contained in the changeset.changes; if yes it will return that value. If it isn’t contained in the changeset.changes then it will return the value of changeset.data for that attribute.

This is a little complex but let’s try to understand its logic: When you start editing a User you want to display the current authority of that instance. However, when you submit an edited user and retrieve an errored form (for example because you forgot to fill the username) you want to display the authority that was submitted in the form. So the changeset.changes contains the changes that were submitted just before while the changeset.data contain the initial value of the struct.

Update 02/07/2019: Please notice that instead of using the get_select_value I presented before you can use the Ecto.Changeset.get_field function that does exactly this! So get_select_value could be defined like this:

def get_select_value(changeset, attr) do
  changeset |> Ecto.Changeset.get_field(attr)
end

The form template

Both the :new and :edit actions include a common form.html.eex template:

<%= form_for @changeset, @action, fn f -> %>
  <%= if @changeset.action do %>
  <div class="alert alert-danger">
    <p><%= gettext("Problems while saving") %></p>
  </div>
  <% end %>
  <div class='row'>
    <div class='column'>
      <%= label f, :username %>
      <%= text_input f, :username %>
      <%= error_tag f, :username %>
    </div>
    <div class='column'>
      <%= label f, :email %>
      <%= text_input f, :email %>
      <%= error_tag f, :email %>
    </div>
  </div>

  <div class='row'>
    <div class='column'>
      <%= label f, :authority %>
      <%= select(f,
        :authority_id, [
          (with sv when not is_nil(sv) <- get_select_value(@changeset, :authority_id),
                                     a <- Phxcrd.Auth.get_authority!(sv), do: {a.name, a.id})
        ],
        style: "width: 100%")
        %>
      <%= error_tag f, :authority_id %>
    </div>

  </div>

  <div>
    <%= submit gettext("Save") %>
  </div>
<% end %>

This is a custom Phoenix form but it has the following addition which is more or less the meat of this article (along with the get_select_value function I explained before):

select(f, :authority_id, [
        (with sv when not is_nil(sv) <- get_select_value(@changeset, :authority_id),
                                   a <- Phxcrd.Auth.get_authority!(sv), do: {a.name, a.id})
      ],
      style: "width: 100%")

So this will create an html select element which will contain a single value (the array in the third parameter of select): The authority of that object or the authority that the user had submitted in the form. For this it uses get_select_value to retrieve the :authority_id and if it’s not nil it passes it to get_authority! to retrieve the actual authority and return a tuple with its name and id.

By default when you create a select element you’ll pass an array of all options in the third parameter, for example:

select(f, :authority_id, Phxcrd.Auth.list_authorities |> Enum.map(&{&1.name, &1.id}))

Of course this beats the purpose of using ajax since all options will be rendered.

The final step is to add the required custom javascript to convert that select to select2-with-ajax:

$(function () {
    $('#user_authority_id').select2({
      allowClear: true,
      placeholder: 'Select authority',
      ajax: {
        url: '<%= Routes.api_path(@conn, :search_authorities) %>',
        dataType: 'json',
        delay: 150,
        minimumInputLength: 2
      }
    });
})

The JS very rather simple; the allowClear option will display an x so that you can clear the selected authority while the ajax url will be that of the :search_authorities.

Conclusion

Although this article may seem a little long, as I’ve already mentioned the most important thing to keep is how to properly set the value that should be displayed in your select2 widget. Beyond that everything is a walk in the park by following the docs.

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