A few weeks ago I came across an issue while dealing with associations I had to eager load.

The product I’m working on supports custom templates using liquid. That means our customers can customize how their content is shown.

It’s all nice and fun until you get lots of customers and tons of data. To avoid N + 1 queries, our approach was to eager loaded some important associations. It makes pages that use them a bit faster, but pages that didn’t use those associations were having an unnecessary overhead. Not to mention the memory usage.

So, the issue was: some templates need certain associations to be loaded, some don’t need any association to be loaded at all.

How can I make this dynamic?

It crossed our minds statically analyzing templates before rendering them to find which associations were being used. But that wasn’t for sure an easy-to-implement approach and it’d be prone to flaw, so we discarded it.

Then I had an idea and, since I did not find any other gem solving this issue the way we needed it to be solved, I decided to implement it myself.

I created my own list class, an Array decorator, to intercept calls to the raw records collection. I also created an Item class to intercept calls to the record itself.

This way, I could rewrite the methods that were accessing associations and ask the custom list to preload that association for all items in the array before following the call to the original method.

The result is that, now, associations are only loaded if they are used in code! The memory usage and page load were both improved!

In the images below, you can see our Response Time, Memory Usage and Dyno Load (we use Heroku) respectively before and after the deploy (v892 marks the deploy).

Response Time Memory Usage Dyno Load

The Gem

The next thought was: for sure more people can benefit from this.

Then I went ahead and created a gem, extracted my code and released it. The gem is smart_preloads.

Read the docs if you’d like to use it, here is an example of how associations are loaded as they are used:

@authors = Author.all.smart_preloads

@authors.each do |author|
  puts author.name
#=> SELECT "authors".* FROM "authors"

@authors.each do |author|
  author.books.each do |book|
    puts "#{author.name} authored #{book.name}"
#=> SELECT "books".* FROM "books" WHERE "books"."author_id" IN (1, 2)

Notice that all inner associations are also wrapped by the custom list class, so nested associations are loaded all at once too!

Thanks for reading. Hope you find this useful!