Easy Notification System in Rails Part 2

Read Part 1 of this series here

In Part 1 we learned how to setup our models and controllers to create notifications using callbacks in our application. Then we displayed these notifications in a Bootstrap 3 navbar using JQuery written in CoffeeScript.

In this post we will be adding more functionality to our notification system.s

Mark as Read Feature

We will be adding a feature that allows the current user to mark a notification as read as well as all notifications, in the following manner:

  • For a single notification, it should be marked as read when it is clicked from the list of notifications.
  • For all notifications, they should be marked as read when a specific button is pressed.

Setting up the Routes

Let's begin adding the necessary routes. In part 1 we defined a notifications resource. We will add a collection POST route and a member POST route of the same name:

# config/routes.rb
Rails.application.routes.draw do
  # ...

  resources :notifications, only: [:index] do
    post :mark_as_read, on: :collection
    post :mark_as_read, on: :member


These routes will create the following endpoints:

mark_as_read_notifications POST   /notifications/mark_as_read(.:format)                    notifications#mark_as_read
mark_as_read_notification POST   /notifications/:id/mark_as_read(.:format)               notifications#mark_as_read

The collection creates /notifications/mark_as_read, to be used for all notifications. The member route creates /notifications/:id/mark_as_read, to be used for a single notification, with the notification ID being passed in the parameters to the controller.

The Controller

In Part 1 the notifications controller would fetch the current user's unread notifications. We will also mark notifications as read in the notifications controller. Let's go ahead and create the mark_as_read action:

# app/controllers/notifications_controller.rb
class NotificationsController < ApplicationController

  # ...

  def mark_as_read
    if params[:id]
      @notification = Notification.find(params[:id])
      @notification.update_attribute(:read_at, Time.zone.now)
      @notifications.update_all(:read_at, Time.zone.now)

    respond_to do |format|
      format.json { render json: { success: true } }


This mark_as_read action will work for both, the collection and the member endpoints. The way the action itself will know which one is which is by checking for params[:id]. This ID will only be passed for the member route.

To mark the notification(s) as read, we simply give a value to the read_at attribute which was initially nil.

Marking Notifications Using JQuery

Now that the endpoints are ready, we will be making AJAX requests to these endpoints to mark the notifications as read.

Marking Single Notifications

If you recall the notifications HTML template we made in Part 1, we gave the link_to tag a data attribute:

#- app/views/notifications/comments/_posted.html.haml

= link_to notification.notifiable, 'data-behavior': 'notification-link', id: notification.id do
  / ...

We can use this data attribute in JQuery to assign a click event when the link elements with these attributes are clicked, inside the handleSuccess function, at the end:

# app/assets/javascripts/notifications.coffee

handleSuccess: (data) =>
  # ...

  $("[data-behavior='notification-link']").on 'click', @notificationClick

Now we can define this notificationClick function as follows:

# app/assets/javascripts/notifications.coffee

$ ->
  class Notifications
    # ...

    notificationClick: (e) =>
        url: "/notifications/#{e.currentTarget.id}/mark_as_read"
        dataType: 'JSON'
        method: 'POST'

When the notification's <a> element is clicked, the AJAX requet will be fired to the member endpoint, hitting the controller's action. At the same time, the user should be redirected to the actual notification.notifiable object, specified in the template's link_to tag.

Marking All Notifications

For this feature, we will change a bit our navbar markup and add a button to the navbar dropdown:

#- app/views/shared/_navbar.html.haml

            %ul#notifications.dropdown-menu{ 'data-behavior': 'notification-items' }
              %li.dropdown-header.text-uppercase Notifications
              - unless current_user.notifications.unread.empty?
                    = link_to mark_as_read_notifications_path, method: :post, remote: true, class: 'btn btn-default btn-xs pull-right' do
                      Mark all as read
              - else
                    %p.text-center.small No new notifications

The button is a link to mark_as_read_notifications_path, which is the collection route. We are specifying a POST method, and also (very important) a remote: true option which tells rails to handle this request using AJAX. Again, this request will hit the notification controller's mark_as_read action to mark all notifications as read.

Here is an example of how the notifications dropdown would look with this button:

Mark as read button

If you press the button, all the current user's notifications should indeed be marked as read. But the dropdown still remains open, and the notification count badge still shows the same number. We can fix this behavior by creating a "JavaScript view". This is basically just some JavaScript code that we can execute when the controller action is hit.

Before we write the JavaScript however, we must also allow the controller action to respond to JavaScript:

# app/controllers/notifications_controller.rb
class NotificationsController < ApplicationController

  # ...

  def mark_as_read
    # ...

    respond_to do |format|
      format.json { render json: { success: true } }


The JSON format was added previously, so you just need to add format.js.

Once this is done, we can go ahead and create a "view" in app/views/notifications/mark_as_read.js.erb:


With this JavaScript we simply toggle the dropdown and set the notification count badge to zero. Easy!

Stay tuned for Part 3 which I will go over how to test this notification system using RSpec.


  1. Easy Notification System in Rails Part 2
  2. In-App Navbar Notifications

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