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Rails 7 will introduce invert_where method, but it's dangerous

pocke profile image Masataka Pocke Kuwabara ・3 min read

NOTE: This article based on today's latest commit of the main branch.


  • invert_where inverts all where conditions.
  • It may invert unexpected conditions, so it's dangerous.

What is invert_where?

ActiveRecord::QueryMethods::WhereChain#invert_where will be introduced since Rails 7. It inverts where conditions.

For example: (From the CHANGELOG

class User
  scope :active, -> { where(accepted: true, locked: false) }
# ... WHERE `accepted` = 1 AND `locked` = 0
# ... WHERE NOT (`accepted` = 1 AND `locked` = 0)

It is implemented in #40249.

Why invert_where is dangerous

The risk becomes clear with several where. For example:

puts Post.where(a: 'a').where(b: 'b').invert_where.to_sql
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In this case, invert_where inverts both of the where conditions. So it prints the following results.

SELECT "posts".* FROM "posts" WHERE NOT ("posts"."a" = 'a' AND "posts"."b" = 'b')
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As you can see, the whole of the conditions is inverted with NOT.

This behavior will be bugs with the following three examples.

The examples work with the following set-up code.

require "bundler/inline"

gemfile(true) do
  source ""

  git_source(:github) { |repo| "{repo}.git" }

  gem "activerecord", github: 'rails/rails', ref: '11a3348c2d58f448b8f1dea4f4dbb8cd5bb95a0e'
  gem "activemodel", github: 'rails/rails', ref: '11a3348c2d58f448b8f1dea4f4dbb8cd5bb95a0e'
  gem "activesupport", github: 'rails/rails', ref: '11a3348c2d58f448b8f1dea4f4dbb8cd5bb95a0e'
  gem "sqlite3"

require "active_record"

ActiveRecord::Base.establish_connection(adapter: "sqlite3", database: ":memory:")

ActiveRecord::Schema.define do
  create_table :users, force: true do |t|
    t.string :role
    t.datetime :disabled_at
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1. Using invert_where in a scope definition

If a scope definition includes invert_where, the invert_where affects outside of the scope.
For example:

class User < ActiveRecord::Base
  scope :alive, -> { where(disabled_at: nil) }
  scope :disabled, -> { alive.invert_where }

  scope :admin, -> { where(role: 'admin') }

puts User.admin.disabled.to_sql
# => SELECT "users".* FROM "users" WHERE NOT ("users"."role" = 'admin' AND "users"."disabled_at" IS NULL)
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In this case, User.admin.disabled.to_sql expects returning disabled admin users. But actually, it returns not-admin users and disabled users. It means .admin scope is inverted unexpectedly.

2. When the relation starts in a different place with invert_where call

It is similar to the first problem. In this case, invert_whre is not hidden in a scope definition, but the relation and invert_where are in different places.
This problem is well described in a comment in the pull request, which implements invert_where, so I quote the comment.

Imagine, somewhere within the request flow, perhaps automatically scoped by Pundit,

current_user = User.first
posts = Post.where(author: current_user)

And then later on in a controller…

published_posts = posts.where(published: true)
draft_posts = published_posts.invert_where

The draft_posts variable is now all draft posts NOT by the current user. Putting the above logic in published and unpublished scopes, respectively, would be make this issue even more confusing to debug if it did occur.

3. With default_scope

Combination of invert_where and default_scope is surprising.

class User < ActiveRecord::Base
  default_scope -> { where(disabled_at: nil) }

  scope :admin, -> { where(role: 'admin') }

puts User.admin.invert_where.to_sql
# => SELECT "users".* FROM "users" WHERE NOT ("users"."disabled_at" IS NULL AND "users"."role" = 'admin')
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In this case, default_scope is used to ignore disabled users always. And User.admin.invert_where expects returning "available non-admin users".

But actually it displays an unexpected SQL. The query means "disabled, or not-admin users". Because invert_where also inverts default_scope.

I think default_scope is a bad practice. The combination with invert_where makes it worse.


invert_where is dangerous, so you need to be careful if you want to use it.

If you pay close attention to the method, you can avoid the problems. But human makes mistakes, and it is not easy for beginners.
So I proposed a RuboCop rule for invert_where to rubocop-rails project.

But I think it still a dangerous method even if the cop is implemented. So I'm wondering if it should be reverted until releasing Rails 7.

This article is self-translated from a Japanese article

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