Rails 3 Remote Links and Forms Part 2: Data-type (with jQuery)

18 January 2011

Continued from Rails 3 Remote Links and Forms: A Definitive Guide.

Since writing the Rails 3 Remote Links & Forms Definitive Guide, one question keeps coming up:

How can we make our remote links and forms retrieve JS.ERB, instead of an HTML partial?

In the last article, we requested an HTML partial to be inserted into the page by our AJAX callbacks. But what if we want JavaScript to be executed? Or JSON or XML to be parsed? Or plain text to be displayed?

Spoiler Alert: this article concludes with a complete working example using js.erb.

Equal parts Rails & jQuery

First, we must understand the `:remote => true` process in Rails 3. It's equal parts Rails and jQuery magic. But don't worry, it's very little magic, bundled into a 4-step process:

  1. Rails tells jQuery, "Hey, bind your ajaxy goodness to this sweet little link/form," with the `:remote => true` option.
  2. jQuery hi-jacks the element's click/submit event and binds it to the `.ajax()` method. Now that element submits via AJAX instead of loading a new page in the browser.
  3. Rails receives the AJAX web request when the element is clicked/submitted and responds with some content.
  4. jQuery receives the response content with the `.ajax()` method that hi-jacked our element, and provides callbacks for us to handle the response in the page.

In this article, we're exploring the different ways we can specify the format of the AJAX response and handle it accordingly, which actually spans all 4 steps above.

Steps 1 & 2: Setting the data-type

When the browser sends web requests back and forth between the browser and the server, part of the request/response header can specify the format of the content. When loading a page in the browser, the content type is typically inferred from the extension in the URL. jQuery, though, can directly set the data-type desired in the AJAX request header.

jQuery allows dataType parameter

jQuery's `.ajax()` method provides an optional parameter called `dataType` to specify the desired data-type of the response. This allows jQuery to specify the format type in the request's HTTP Accept header, and then to encapsulate the response content in the appropriate data object for easier manipulation.

As of jQuery 1.4, if you do not specify the data-type of the response, jQuery will actually inspect the MIME type header of the response and make an "intelligent guess" as to the data-type, changing the data-type of the response object on-the-fly.

There's more information on the .ajax() documentation page, but the basic types are:

"xml" Returns an XML document that can be processed by jQuery.
"html" Returns HTML as plain text, but evaluates any `

About the author:

Steve Schwartz // Owner of Alfa Jango, CTO of Genomenon, co-founder of Carcode (acquired by Edmunds.com in 2014), engineer, developer, open-source enthusiast, guitarist, and racecar driverist.

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