02 June 2015

Since this post is long, I’ve divided it into sections:

  1. How Serializers Work
  2. How Renderers Work
  3. Example code changing the renderer
  4. Example code changing the serializer
  5. Proposal

How serializers work:

Right now (Rails 4.2), that interface has two private-looking methods :_render_with_renderer_json or :_render_option_json

(for example usage, see ActionController:: Serialization)

Such that creating a serializer is complicated and non-obvious:

# When Rails renders JSON, it calls the json renderer method
# "_render_with_renderer_#{key = json}"
# https://github.com/rails/rails/blob/8c2c1bccccb3ea1f22503a184429d94193a1d9aa/actionpack/lib/action_controller/metal/renderers.rb#L44-L45
# which is defined in AMS https://github.com/rails-api/active_model_serializers/blob/1577969cb76309d1f48c68facc73e44c49489744/lib/action_controller/serialization.rb#L36-L37
    [:_render_option_json, :_render_with_renderer_json].each do |renderer_method|
      define_method renderer_method do |resource, options|
          super(adapter, options)

which is really hard to find in the source code, since it calls "_render_with_renderer_#{key}" where key is json.

# https://github.com/rails/rails/blob/8c2c1bccccb3ea1f22503a184429d94193a1d9aa/actionpack/lib/action_controller/metal/renderers.rb#L44-L45
def _render_to_body_with_renderer(options)
  _renderers.each do |name|
    if options.key?(name)
      method_name = Renderers._render_with_renderer_method_name(name)
      return send(method_name, options.delete(name), options)

# A Set containing renderer names that correspond to available renderer procs.
# Default values are <tt>:json</tt>, <tt>:js</tt>, <tt>:xml</tt>.

def self._render_with_renderer_method_name(key)

that is, it calls "send(:render_with_renderer_json, @model, options)" which is not greppable in the code base

(@model is the argument to json: in the controller, for example render json: @model)

How renderers work:

How does the renderer fit into this? Well, when a controller has

render json: @model

the @model is passed to the JSON Renderer (see ActionController::Renderers default)

which basically calls json = @model.to_json(options)

Example code changing the renderer:

If, for example, I wanted to change how the JSON was rendered, to pretty print it, I would just redefine the :json renderer as below

# https://github.com/rails/rails/blob/4-2-stable/actionpack/lib/action_controller/metal/renderers.rb#L66-L128
# https://github.com/rails/rails/blob/4-2-stable//actionview/lib/action_view/renderer/renderer.rb#L32
 ActionController::Renderers.remove :json
 ActionController::Renderers.add :json do |json, options|
    if !json.is_a?(String)
      # changed from
      # json = json.to_json(options)
      # changed to
      json = json.as_json(options) if json.respond_to?(:as_json)
      json = JSON.pretty_generate(json, options)

    if options[:callback].present?
      if content_type.nil? || content_type == Mime::JSON
        self.content_type = Mime::JS

      self.content_type ||= Mime::JSON

Example code changing the serializer:

But, to change how the @model is serialized, a library such as what ActiveModelSerializers overrides :_render_option_json and :_render_with_renderer_json

to basically change @model = ModelSerializer.new(@model) so that the renderer is calling :to_json/:as_json on the serializer

I think this could be way better:


1) Renderer could have a method :serializer_for that can by default returns its argument, but can be overridden in the controller

    add :json do |json, options|
-      json = json.to_json(options) unless json.kind_of?(String)
+      json = serializer_for(json).to_json(options) unless json.kind_of?(String)

example controller code:

def serializer_for(model)
    ActiveModel::Serializer.serializer_for(resource).new(resource, serializer_opts),


2) have a serializer registry (like renderers and mime-types have), that may be called in a method just as in #1

 ActionController::Serializers.register :user, UserSerializer, only: [:json]


  • Simple, clear, extendable interface for model serialization
  • Less meta-programming
  • I wouldn’t have needed to spend hours in the debugger and rails source code trying to find out the path from render json: @model to _render_with_renderer_json(@model, options)

Thanks for reading this far! Let me know what you think!

Originally posted as an RFC to rubyonrails-core mailing list.

Follow any discussion of the RFC there.

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