Skip to main content

Repository: nested_form

Rails plugin to conveniently handle multiple models in a single form.


This is a Rails gem for conveniently manage multiple nested models in a single form. It does so in an unobtrusive way through jQuery or Prototype.

This gem only works with Rails 3. See the rails2 branch for a plugin to work in Rails 2.

An example project showing how this works is available in the complex-nested-forms/nested_form branch.


Add it to your Gemfile then run bundle to install it.

gem "nested_form"

And then add it to the Asset Pipeline in the application.js file:

//= require jquery_nested_form

Non Asset Pipeline Setup

If you do not use the asset pipeline, run this generator to create the JavaScript file.

rails g nested_form:install

You can then include the generated JavaScript in your layout.

<%= javascript_include_tag :defaults, "nested_form" %>


Imagine you have a Project model that has_many :tasks. To be able to use this gem, you’ll need to add accepts_nested_attributes_for :tasks to your Project model. If you wish to allow the nested objects to be destroyed, then add the :allow_destroy => true option to that declaration. See the accepts_nested_attributes_for documentation for details on all available options.

This will create a tasks_attributes= method, so you may need to add it to the attr_accessible array (attr_accessible :tasks_attributes).

Then use the nested_form_for helper method to enable the nesting.

<%= nested_form_for @project do |f| %>

You will then be able to use link_to_add and link_to_remove helper methods on the form builder in combination with fields_for to dynamically add/remove nested records.

<%= f.fields_for :tasks do |task_form| %>
  <%= task_form.text_field :name %>
  <%= task_form.link_to_remove "Remove this task" %>
<% end %>
<p><%= f.link_to_add "Add a task", :tasks %></p>

In order to choose how to handle, after validation errors, fields that are marked for destruction, the marked_for_destruction class is added on the div if the object is marked for destruction.

SimpleForm and Formtastic Support

Use simple_nested_form_for or semantic_nested_form_for for SimpleForm and Formtastic support respectively.


It is often desirable to move the nested fields into a partial to keep things organized. If you don’t supply a block to fields_for it will look for a partial and use that.

<%= f.fields_for :tasks %>

In this case it will look for a partial called “task_fields” and pass the form builder as an f variable to it.

Specifying a Target for Nested Fields

By default, link_to_add appends fields immediately before the link when clicked. This is not desirable when using a list or table, for example. In these situations, the “data-target” attribute can be used to specify where new fields should be inserted.

<table id="tasks">
  <%= f.fields_for :tasks, :wrapper => false do |task_form| %>
    <tr class="fields">
      <td><%= task_form.text_field :name %></td>
      <td><%= task_form.link_to_remove "Remove this task" %></td>
  <% end %>
<p><%= f.link_to_add "Add a task", :tasks, :data => { :target => "#tasks" } %></p>

Note that the :data option above only works in Rails 3.1+. For Rails 3.0 and below, the following syntax must be used.

<p><%= f.link_to_add "Add a task", :tasks, "data-target" => "#tasks" %></p>

JavaScript events

Sometimes you want to do some additional work after element was added or removed, but only after DOM was really modified. In this case simply listening for click events on ‘Add new’/‘Remove’ link won’t reliably work, because your code and code that inserts/removes nested field will run concurrently.

This problem can be solved, because after adding or removing the field a set of custom events is triggered on this field. Using form example from above, if you click on the “Add a task” link, nested:fieldAdded and nested:fieldAdded:tasks will be triggered, while nested:fieldRemoved and nested:fieldRemoved:tasks will be triggered if you click “Remove this task” then.

These events bubble up the DOM tree, going through form element, until they reach the document. This allows you to listen for the event and trigger some action accordingly. Field element, upon which action was made, is passed along with the event object. In jQuery you can access it via event.field, in Prototype the same field will be in event.memo.field.

For example, you have a date input in a nested field and you want to use jQuery datepicker for it. This is a bit tricky, because you have to activate datepicker after field was inserted.


$(document).on('nested:fieldAdded', function(event){
  // this field was just inserted into your form
  var field = event.field; 
  // it's a jQuery object already! Now you can find date input
  var dateField = field.find('.date');
  // and activate datepicker on it


document.observe('nested:fieldAdded', function(event){
  var field = event.memo.field;
  // it's already extended by Prototype
  var dateField = field.down('.date');

Second type of event (i.e. nested:fieldAdded:tasks) is useful then you have more than one type of nested fields on a form (i.e. tasks and milestones) and want to distinguish, which exactly was added/deleted.

See also how to limit max count of nested fields

Enhanced jQuery JavaScript template

You can override default behavior of inserting new subforms into your form. For example:

window.nestedFormEvents.insertFields = function(content, assoc, link) {
  return $(link).closest('form').find(assoc + '_fields').append($(content));


If you have any issues with Nested Form not addressed above or in the example project, please add an issue on GitHub or fork the project and send a pull request. To run the specs:

bundle install
bundle exec rake spec:install
bundle exec rake db:migrate
bundle exec rake spec:all

See available rake tasks using bundle exec rake -T.

Special Thanks

This gem was originally based on the solution by Tim Riley in his complex-form-examples fork.

Thank you Andrew Manshin for the Rails 3 transition, Andrea Singh for converting to a gem and Peter Giacomo Lombardo for Prototype support.

Andrea also wrote a great blog post on the internal workings of this gem.

Thanks Pavel Forkert for the SimpleForm and Formtastic support.