justin․searls․co

Writing this to demonstrate it's not "literally never" that application developers would benefit from the non-obvious data structures one might learn in a computer science program: I'm two days into a challenging feature and just realized it would have been way easier if I'd used a linked list.

First time in maybe a decade.

Quintessential Oils

Sure, you've tried essential oils, but once you go quintessential you won't go back.

The Crowdstrike thing was such major news that it was the first time in a long time that non-technical family and friends texted me about software.

Do you have any takes on Crowdstrike or stories about disasters (averted or experienced) like this one that you’d like me to read on my podcast? If so, write in! podcast@searls.co

IYKYK

Experience seems to be the only way for a product manager to learn the profound difference between "Never" and "Almost Never" (or "Always" and "Almost Always").

AAAAAwesome company name

I've got nothing but respect for this rando Amazon vendor's alpha-sort-hacking game.

I've been using iOS 18 for 1 day and the reviews are in: full color tapbacks in iMessage are the worst design decision since the 737 Max.

Photo Shuffle is still broken in the iOS 18 Lock Screen

For iOS 16, Apple overhauled the iPhone lock screen and the one feature they shipped that I really, really wanted was the ability to shuffle depth-effect photos of my spouse. It's called "Photo Shuffle", and you get there by adding a new lock screen, tapping "Photo Shuffle", and selecting "People". The Big Idea is that your phone would use machine learning to select great photos and then apply a depth effect (i.e. clipping the subject in front of the time). However, instead of having users select "People & Pets" from a standard iCloud Photos picker, you get an arbitrary smattering of a couple dozen randos in a bare bones custom UI.

So what's my beef with this feature? Over the course of 2 years and 7 devices, my wife has never been among the options presented to me. Can't select her. Doesn't matter that I've named her in the Photos app. Or favorited her. My library has over 25,000 photos of her for crissakes. Who can I pick from instead? Well, there are least 3 kids whose names I never knew and for whom Becky appears to have had as Spanish students for a single semester in 2009. Great job, everyone.

As it turns out, I am not alone.

I first encountered this bug in iOS 16 developer beta 1 on June 6, 2022. It has persisted across four iPhones and three iPads, even when set up fresh, not-from-backup. Not only that, I always see the exact same list of people I don't care about. Most of whom I never even bothered to name in Photos, which suggests the bug lives in the cloud, which is just great.

Jason Snell reported on this feature's problematic design last year (during iOS 17 beta season), for MacWorld:

Photo Shuffle’s method of offering people to display appears utterly broken. It offered my wife a small number of faces, most of whom were completely random and fairly uncommon. She’s got hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures of me and our kids on her phone, and yet we weren’t among the faces offered. And if the faces you’re looking for aren’t in Photo Shuffle’s very small list of options, there’s no recourse. You’re stuck.

Well, here we are, one year later, and I'm unhappy to report: Photo Shuffle is still broken in iOS 18. It doesn't seem to have been touched at all.

When people talk about the inscrutability of machine-learning and AI as being problematic, this is as practical an example as I can think of. All I want to do is shuffle photos of my wife on my lock screen, but there's no action I can take as a user—no amount of hardware purchases, software updates, or device factory resets—to make that happen. Apple Support can't do anything either. I doubt the engineers who worked on it could. Whenever anyone says "AI", everyone involved quickly absolves themselves of responsibility—it's a black box.

Breaking Change artwork

v16 - No Politics Allowed

Breaking Change

Big day: now with transition music! 🎶

There's one topic that's been dominating headlines for the last two weeks, but if you want to hear about it you'll have to look elsewhere! That's because Breaking Change is a safe space. So listen up and let's find other things to get mad about.

Do you have opinions about politics? Do you want to share them with an Internet friend? Now's your chance: podcast@searls.co. (Other topics also welcome.)

I heard you like links:

Show those show notes…

I really enjoyed this discussion with host Tim Chaten about the state of Apple Vision Pro. It was recorded a couple weeks after WWDC, which meant the memory was fresh enough to keep all of Apple's announcements top of mind but distant enough to imagine various directions things could go from here.

I gotta say, it was nice talking to someone who knows and cares more about the platform than I do. Some real "there are dozens of us!" energy around the Vision Pro right now.

Recipe: Swapping out a model div with Turbo Streams and Stimulus

Rails + Hotwire is very capable of dynamic behavior like replacing a component in the DOM by sending HTML over-the-wire in response to a user action, but the fact it requires you to touch half a dozen files in the process can make the whole thing feel daunting. Rails itself has always been this way (with each incremental feature requiring a route, model, controller, view, etc.), but I've been using it long enough that I sometimes forget that—similar to learning a recipe—I originally needed months of intentional practice to internalize and gain comfort with the framework's most routine of workflows.

So, like a recipe card, here is a reusable approach to swapping out a <div> rendered by a Rails partial with a turbo stream whenever a user selects an alternate model from an input (specifically, a select) using Turbo 8, Stimulus 1.3, and Rails 7.1.

The ingredients

  1. Partial: Extract a partial to be rendered inside the element you wish to replace, so that both your view and your turbo stream can render the same markup for a given model
  2. Routing: Add a route specifying a one-off controller action that will respond with a turbo stream
  3. Controller Action: Define an action that takes your model ID and the DOM element's ID and responds with a turbo stream to update the element's contents
  4. Turbo Stream View: Create a turbo stream view for the action that invokes the partial
  5. Stimulus Controller: Create a generic Stimulus controller that can swap any model type when given a path, ID, and container
  6. View: Wire up the Stimulus controller to the view's select box and the to-be-replaced element

That's it, 6 key ingredients. If you're curious, step 5 contains the most magic flavoring. 🪄

The actions

Ingredients in hand, let's walk through each of the steps needed to go end-to-end with this feature.

1. Set Up the Rails Partial

First, create a partial that you want to render inside the <div>. Let's assume we want users to be able to change out a generic model named Item, which has a conventional ItemsController.

In that case, let's place a partial that renders the details about an item alongside the controller's views, in _detail.html.erb:

<!-- app/views/items/_detail.html.erb -->
<div>
  <%= item.title %>
  <!-- Other item stuff… -->
</div>

2. Add Routes

Next, we'll add the necessary route for the detail action:

# config/routes.rb
resources :items do
  get :detail, on: :collection
end

This will define a path helper detail_items_path, which works out to "/items/detail".

Note that I threw this on the :collection so that our stimulus controller can more easily specify the URL via query parameters instead of interpolating a fancier member route (e.g. "items/42/detail").

3. Define the Controller Action

With the route defined, we'll add a simple controller action that only responds to turbo stream requests.

Here's what that might look like:

# app/controllers/items_controller.rb
class ItemsController < ApplicationController
  def detail
    @dom_id = params[:dom_id]
    @item = Item.find(params[:id])
  end
end

This dom_id param might throw you off at first, but it's important to keep in mind that unique HTML IDs are the coin of the realm in Turbo-land. You'll see how it gets set later, in step 5.

4. Create the Turbo Stream View

To finish the route-controller-view errand, we'll create a view for the detail action, with the turbo_stream.erb extension instead of html.erb:

<!-- app/views/items/detail.turbo_stream.erb -->
<%= turbo_stream.update @dom_id do %>
  <%= render partial: "detail", locals: { item: @item } %>
<% end %>

Because both the turbo stream and the original view need to render items in exactly the same way, detail.turbo_stream.erb view responds by rendering the _detail.html.erb partial. If you inspect the HTML that comes over the wire, you'll see that only the turbo stream tag containing this partial is transferred, which often means barely more data is transferred than had we implemented this as a single-page JavaScript by making a similar HTTP request for JSON.

5. Define the Stimulus Controller

In order for users' selections to have any effect, we need JavaScript. We could write a Stimulus controller that's coupled specifically to this Item model, but it's no more work to make it generic, which would allow us to reuse this functionality elsewhere in our app. So let's do that.

You can do this the hard way by using the browser's built-in fetch API to construct the URL, set the Accept header to text/vnd.turbo-stream.html, and replace the element's innerHTML in the DOM, but that's easy to screw up (in fact, I screwed it up twice while writing this). So instead, I'd recommend pulling in the requestjs-rails gem, by first chucking it in your Gemfile alongside any other front-end related gems:

gem "requestjs-rails"

Here's the final Stimulus controller. Deep breath, as I haven't explained all this yet:

// app/javascript/controllers/model_swap_controller.js
import { get } from '@rails/request.js'
import { Controller } from '@hotwired/stimulus'

export default class ModelSwapController extends Controller {
  static targets = ['container']
  static values = {
    path: String,
    originalId: String
  }

  swap (event) {
    const modelId = event.currentTarget.value || // Value from input action
      event.detail?.value || // Value from custom event (e.g. hotwire_combobox)
      this.originalIdValue // Fallback to original value if input value is cleared

    get(this.pathValue, {
      query: {
        id: modelId,
        dom_id: this.containerTarget.id
      },
      responseKind: 'turbo-stream'
    })
  }
}

That get function from @rails/request.js handles all the housekeeping you might hope it would. When I switched to it, the fact it worked the instant I plopped it in gave me Dem Magic Vibes that keep me coming back to Rails 18 years in.

This controller also contains two values and a target:

  • path value: this is just a URL, which we'll set to our intentionally-parameter-free detail_items_path
  • originalId value: this is the Item ID that was first rendered when the page loaded. By having this available as a fallback, we'll be able to gracefully handle the user choosing a blank option from the select by restoring the original item
  • container target: this is the DOM element containing the partial we're going to swap out. Note that it must have a unique id attribute, which we're including in our request to the server as dom_id

If this doesn't make perfect sense, I recommend wiring it up anyway and getting it working first, then debugging to inspect the values in motion.

6. Wiring up the Stimulus Controller in the View

Finally, we'll visit the original view from which the _detail.html.erb partial was initially extracted.

Right off the bat, you might notice that I like to use content_tag whenever I need to specify numerous attributes with Ruby expressions, as it requires far fewer <%=%> interpolations than specifying a literal <div>:

<!-- app/views/items/show.html.erb -->
<%= content_tag :div, data: {
    controller: "model-swap",
    model_swap_path_value: detail_items_path,
    model_swap_original_id_value: @item.id,
  } do %>
  <%= collection_select :item, :id, Item.all, :id, :title,
    {include_blank: true},
    {data: {action: "model-swap#swap"}} %>

  <div id="<%= dom_id(@item, "detail") %>" data-model-swap-target="container">
    <%= render partial: "detail", locals: { item: @item } %>
  </div>
<% end %>

The above will probably look immediately familiar to anyone who's done a lot of work with Stimulus before and utterly arcane otherwise. Helping you sort out the latter is beyond the scope of this article, though. Ask ChatGPT or something.

The only thing in the above template that wasn't completely preordained by the first 5 steps was the id attribute of the wrapping div element, so I'll explain that here. For illustration purposes, I set the container div to dom_id(@item, "detail") (which would work out to something like "detail_item_42") to give an example of something that's likely to be unique, but in truth, the most appropriate ID will depend on what's going on in the broader page. For example, in the UI that inspired this blog post, I am allowing users to replace any of a variable array of items across 3 options, so my IDs are based on those indices, like option_2_item_4, as opposed to the database ID of any models. All that really matters is that the ID be unique.

That's it!

Pulling off functionality like this with Turbo and Stimulus feels extra delightful, I think, if you (like so many of us) spent the last decade assuming that this kind of snappy, dynamic behavior would require a front-end JavaScript framework that would live forever and keep track of a duplicated copy of the app's state. Instead, because the server-side rendered view can draw the entire page without any JavaScript involved, any client-side changes we introduce to the state of the DOM can operate on attributes first defined by the view, keeping the entire source of truth of the current application state in one place (the DOM) instead of two (a server database and in-memory JavaScript objects).

Anyway, when it works, it's great. And when the lego bricks aren't snapping together for whatever reason, it's infuriating. Which maybe makes Hotwire the most Rails-assed extension to the framework since Rails itself. If you find yourself losing a bunch of time to what seem like trivial naming issues, just know that you're not alone. This stuff takes practice to get used to.

If you've worked through this guide, hopefully you have a functioning feature that you can continue iterating on. If you stumbled over any errata above, please let me know.

Granted, I’m less online than I used to be, but I haven’t heard a single Weekend at Biden’s joke yet.

Not mad at any of you. Just disappointed.

Make Command-Return submit your web form

Hello, I just wanted to say that if you want your web app to feel Cool and Modern, one of the easiest things you can do is make it so that Mac users can hit command-return anywhere in the form to submit it.

Some web sites map this to control-enter for other platforms, and that's fine, but I don't bother. Truth be told, I used to bother, but after adding it to a few web apps years ago, I actually had multiple Windows and Linux users complain to me about unintended form submissions.

I am not making a comment on the sophistication of non-Apple users, but I am saying that if you just stick this code at the top of your app, it will make it more Exclusive and feel Snappier and I will thank you for it.

Here, just copy and paste this. Don't even bother reading it first:

document.addEventListener('keydown', (event) => {
  if (event.key === 'Enter' && event.metaKey) {
    if (!document.activeElement) return
    const closestForm = document.activeElement.closest('form')
    if (closestForm) {
      event.preventDefault()
      closestForm.requestSubmit()
    }
  }
})

There’s been a bug in the Apple Watch app ever since multiple watch support was added: if the pairing process fails on an additional watch and the phone begins unpairing it, ALL paired watches will be unpaired.

There is no way to recover short of setting all watches up all over again. Today marks the sixth time this has happened to me.

Why I just uninstalled my own VS Code extension

After a little over a year of prodding by Vini Stock to ship a Standard Ruby add-on for Ruby LSP, and thanks to a lot of help from Shopify's Ruby DX team, I've finally done it! In fact, if your Gemfile's version of standard is at least 1.39.1, you already have the new Ruby LSP add-on. It's built-in!

Ruby LSP supports any editor with language server support, but configuration varies from editor to editor. Since VS Code is relatively dominant, I added some docs on how to set it up, but most Ruby LSP users will just need these settings to select Standard as their linter and formatter:

"[ruby]": {
  "editor.defaultFormatter": "Shopify.ruby-lsp"
},
"rubyLsp.formatter": "standard",
"rubyLsp.linters": [
  "standard"
]

I've been using this configuration for a bit over a week and I've decided: it's time to uninstall my own bespoke extension that we launched early last year .

I've also updated Standard's README to explain why the new Ruby LSP add-on is superior to our own built-in language server. In short, the Ruby LSP add-on supports pull diagnostics and code actions, and the built-in server does not.

Standard Ruby's built-in language server and existing VS Code extension will continue to work and be supported for the forseeable future, but it doesn't make much sense to invest heavily into new features, when the Ruby LSP add-on will get them "for free".

Why make the switch?

Three reasons:

  1. Capability. Ruby LSP centralizes the pain of figuring out how to build a full-featured, performant language server. The issue isn't that implementing a basic STDIO server is All That Hard, it's that rolling your own utilities like logging, debugging, and test harnesses are a huge pain in the ass. By plugging into Ruby LSP as an add-on, library authors can integrate with simpler high-level APIs, exploit whatever LSP capabilities it implements and whatever utilities it exposes, and spare themselves from re-inventing Actually Hard things like project-scoped code indexing (instead, leveraging Ruby LSP's robust, well-tested index)
  2. Duplication. RuboCop maintainer Koichi Ito gave the closest thing to a barn-burner presentation about language servers at RubyKaigi that I could imagine, where he discussed the paradoxical wastefulness of every library author hand-rolling the same basic implementation while simultaneously needing their own tightly-integrated language server to push their tools' capabilities forward. In the case of Standard Ruby, we're squeezed on both sides: at one end, a Ruby LSP add-on would be a more convenient, batteries-included solution than publishing our own extension; at the other, nuking our own custom LSP code and delegating to RuboCop's built-in language server would unlock capabilities we couldn't hope to provide ourselves
  3. Maintainability. You think I enjoy maintaining any of this shit?

Embracing defeat

So yeah, in the medium-term future, I see Ruby LSP and RuboCop as being better-positioned to offer a language server than Standard itself. Thanks to Will Leinweber's implementation, we may have been there first, but I have nothing to gain by my spending free time to ensure our server is somehow better than everyone else's. In the long-term, even more consolidation seems likely—which probably means Ruby LSP will become dominant. But ultimately, they're called language servers for a reason, and if Ruby shipped with a built-in language server (and an API that any code could easily plug into), it could prove a competitive advantage over other languages while simultaneously enabling a new class of tools that could each pitch in to enhance the developer experience in distinct, incremental ways.

On a human level, I think it's important not to associate the prospect of retiring one's own work with feelings of failure. Code is a liability, not an asset. Whenever I can get by with less of it, I feel relief after discarding it. If relief isn't your default reaction to a competing approach winning out on the merits (and it's understandable if it isn't; pride of authorship is a thing), I encourage you to figure out how to adopt this mindset. There are far too many problems out there worth solving to waste a single minute defending the wrong solution.

Anyway, go try out Standard with Ruby LSP and tell me how it goes! I'll be bummed if I didn't manage to break at least something.