Using text_area field for Displaying Array of Text
By: Bruce Bahlmann - Contributing Author (your
is important to us!)
In rails development, there are times when you want to use a text_area form
field to store lists of items. For example, a list of possible choices to be
provided to a user to answer a particular survey question. The problem is
text_area is just that, a raw text input mechanism. The following shows how
to tweak the normal use of the text_area field (see example below) for the
purpose of collecting survey question options.
This specific use (survey tool) is implemented using Rails and MongoDB. The
basic concept is a tool for managing surveys (in the spirit of survey
monkey, only much better and simpler to use). A given survey (collection)
can have any number of questions (Embedded Documents) - so technically this
results in a nested implementation of text_area.
Configuring this functionality requires a few minor changes to the view and
controller for a given rails application. These changes will now be shown and explained starting with the view.
<% if value["choices"].count > 0 %>
<% value["choice"] = '' %>
<% value["choices"].each do |choice| %>
<% value["choice"] = value["choice"] + choice + "\r" %>
<% end %>
<% end %>
<%= text_area("survey[question]["+key+"]", :choices, :rows=>5, :value=>value["choice"]) %>
The view side must be capable of taking the array of values provided by
the controller and convert that into a useful format that the text_area
field can handle. Since you can't simply display the array in the text_area
(well you could but it would look like this: "testthisandthat"), the array
must be read and appended (decoded) so that it will once again properly show
in the text_area field. We do this by walking the array and appending the
fields with a carriage return (\r) so it all looks like it did when it was
submitted (albeit squeaky clean).
Since a user can create or edit (update) a question, we need to address
both operations from a text_area handling perspective. Remember, text_area
is just going to send us raw text (e.g. "test\rthis\rthat\rand\rthat") so we
need to handle that, and covert it to an array in preparation for storage.
Sometimes there is also new lines (\n) as well as carriage returns (\r) so
account for that (see use of gsub below). There are also cases where there
may be leading or trailing spaces, so need to account for that (see sub
# Fix question choices
survey["question"].each do |key,value|
if value["questionType"] == "1"
ca = Array.new # default (if no choices defined)
if value["choices"] != ""
value["choices"] = value["choices"].gsub("\r\n", '[r]')
value["choices"].split("[r]").each do |choice|
choice = choice.sub(/^\s+/,'')
choice = choice.sub(/\s+$/,'')
survey["question"][key]["choices"] = ca
The "create" and "update" areas of the survey controller will need to
include the above routine to properly handle
any survey questions submitted that include a dropdown question type with
attached choices entered into a text_area field. If you are rails savvy, you
will likely find a more optimized way to express these, but the above does
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