Opening the RadRails Views
Some of the views that we will go through in this article are available as part of the Rails default perspective, which means you don’t need to do anything special to open them; they will appear as tabbed views in a pane at the bottom of your workbench. Just look for the tab name of the view you want to see and click on it to make it visible.
However, there are some views that are not opened by default, or maybe you closed them at some point accidentally, or maybe you changed to the Debug perspective and you want to display some of the RadRails views there. When you need to open a view whose tab is not displaying, you can go to the Window menu, and select the Show View option.
If you are in the Rails perspective, all the available views will be displayed in that menu, as you can see in the screenshot above. When opening this menu from a different perspective, you will not see the RadRails views here, but you can select Other…. If this is the case, in the Show View dialog, most of the views will appear under the Ruby category, except for the Generators, Rails API, and Rake Tasks views, which are located under Rails.
As happens with any modern programming language, Ruby has an extensive API. There are lots of libraries and classes and even with Ruby being an intuitive language with a neat consistent API, often we need to read the documentation.
As you probably know, Ruby provides a standard documentation format called RDoc, which uses the comments in the source code to generate documentation. We can access this RDoc documentation in different ways, mainly in HTML format through a browser or by using the command-line tool RI. This produces a plain-text output directly at the command shell, in a similar way to the man command in a UNIX system.
RadRails doesn’t add any new functionality to the built-in documentation, but provides some convenient views so we can explore it without losing the context of our project’s source.
Ruby Interactive (RI) View
This view provides a fast and comfortable way of browsing the local documentation in the same way as you would use RI from the command line.
You can look either for a class or a method name. Just start typing at the input box at the top left corner of the view and the list below will display the matching entries. That’s a nice improvement over the command line interface, since you can see the results as you type instead of having to run a complete search every time.
If you know the name of both the class and the method you are looking for, then you can write them using the hash (pound) sign as a separator. For example, to get the documentation for the sum method of the class Enumerable you would write Enumerable#sum.
The documentation will display in the right pane, with a convenient highlighting of the referenced methods and classes. Even if the search results of RI don’t look very attractive compared to the output of the HTML-based documentation views, RI has the advantage of searching locally on your computer, so you can use it even when working off-line.
Ruby Core, Ruby Standard Library, and Rails API
There are three more views related to documentation in RadRails: Ruby Core API, Ruby Standard Library API, and Rails API. Unlike the RI view, these ones look for the information over the Internet, so you will not be able to use them unless you are on-line.
On the other hand, the information is displayed in a more attractive way than with RI, and it provides links to the source code of the consulted methods, so if the documentation is not enough, you can always take a look at the inner details of the implementation.
The Ruby Core API view displays the documentation of the classes included in Ruby’s core. These are the classes you can directly use without a previous require statement. The documentation rendered is that at http://www.ruby-doc.org/core/.
You are probably familiar with this type of layout, since it’s the default RDoc output. The upper pane displays the navigation links, and the lower pane shows the detail of the documentation. The navigation is divided into three frames. The one to the left shows the files in which the source code is, the one in the middle shows the Classes and Modules, and in the third one you can find all the methods in the API.
The Ruby Standard Library API is composed of all the classes and modules that are not a part of Ruby’s core, but are typically distributed as a part of the Ruby installation. You can directly use these classes after a require statement in your code. The Ruby Standard Library API View displays the information from http://www.ruby-doc.org/stdlib.
In this case, the navigation is the same as in Ruby Core, but with an additional area to the left, in which you can see all the available packages (the ones you would require for using the classes within your code). When you select a package link, you will see the files, classes, and methods for that single package.
The last of the documentation views displays information about the Rails API. It includes the documentation of ActiveRecord, the ActionPack, ActiveSupport, and the rest of the Rails components. The information is obtained from http://api.rubyonrails.org.
In this case the layout is slightly different because the information about the files, classes, and methods is displayed to the left instead at the top of the view. Apart from that, the behavior is identical to that of the Ruby Core API view.
Since some of the API descriptions are fairly long, it can be convenient to maximize the documentation views when you are using them. Remember you can maximize any of the views by double-clicking its tab or by using the maximize icon on the view’s toolbar. Double-clicking again will restore the view to the original size and position.