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Filterrific makes heavy use of ActiveRecord scopes. The controller forwards the filter settings to the model where each filter setting is passed as argument to the corresponding scope. This page provides resources to help you write awesome scopes for powerful filtering. You have to add these scopes to your Filterrific model.

Please refer to the example application to get the context for the patterns below.

Common scope patterns

Sanitize your SQL!

It's important that all filter settings are sanitized before you apply them to your Filterrific model. Otherwise you would allow an intruder to inject malicious SQL code into your database.

Rails has good documentation on how to prevent SQL injection.


  • OK: where(country_id: param)
  • OK: where('students.country_id = ?', param)
  • NOT OK: where("students.country_id = '#{ param }'")

Note that attribute mass assignment issues do not apply here since we're only reading data from the database, and not writing to it.

I love this XKCD cartoon about SQL injection!

Filter by column values

This is the simplest type of scope. You can use it to filter records with a given attribute or foreign key of a belongs_to association.

Scope naming convention: with_%{column name}.

# filters on 'country_id' foreign key
scope :with_country_id, lambda { |country_ids|
  where(country_id: [*country_ids])

# filters on 'gender' attribute
scope :with_gender, lambda { |genders|
  where(gender: [*genders])

The country_id scope accepts either a single value like 42, or an array of values like [1, 2, 3]. The [*country_ids] expression always casts it to an array.

If you want to filter by a column value in a joined table, you can do one of the following:

# filters on 'name' column in 'countries' table

# using AR hash syntax ...
scope :with_country_name, lambda { |country_name|
  where(country: { name: country_name }).joins(:country)

# or sanitized SQL snippets for more complex needs (e.g., greater than)
scope :with_country_name, lambda { |country_name|
  where(' = ?', country_name).joins(:country)


There are a number of ways to search for records in your relational database.

We will show you a simple example here, and just point to some more advanced techniques further below.

The simplest form is to use SQL's LIKE operator. In its most basic use, it works for both MySQL as well as PostgreSQL:

scope :search_query, lambda { |query|
  # Searches the students table on the 'first_name' and 'last_name' columns.
  # Matches using LIKE, automatically appends '%' to each term.
  # LIKE is case INsensitive with MySQL, however it is case
  # sensitive with PostGreSQL. To make it work in both worlds,
  # we downcase everything.
  return nil  if query.blank?

  # condition query, parse into individual keywords
  terms = query.downcase.split(/\s+/)

  # replace "*" with "%" for wildcard searches,
  # append '%', remove duplicate '%'s
  terms = { |e|
    (e.gsub('*', '%') + '%').gsub(/%+/, '%')
  # configure number of OR conditions for provision
  # of interpolation arguments. Adjust this if you
  # change the number of OR conditions.
  num_or_conds = 2
  where( { |term|
      "(LOWER(students.first_name) LIKE ? OR LOWER(students.last_name) LIKE ?)"
    }.join(' AND '),
    * { |e| [e] * num_or_conds }.flatten

The above approach works for simple search functions with small to medium size databases. If you have more advanced needs, you might consider using regular expressions, or the PostgreSQL full text search function.

Remember that you need to use your relational database's search function, rather than an external search service if you want to be able to combine the search filter with other Filterrific filters.


A sorting scope allows you to set the sorting of your matching records.

Scope naming convention: sorted_by. We suggest to stick with this name as we've experienced issues with other names that might collide with ActiveRecord reserved names.

scope :sorted_by, lambda { |sort_option|
  # extract the sort direction from the param value.
  direction = (sort_option =~ /desc$/) ? 'desc' : 'asc'
  case sort_option.to_s
  when /^created_at_/
    # Simple sort on the created_at column.
    # Make sure to include the table name to avoid ambiguous column names.
    # Joining on other tables is quite common in Filterrific, and almost
    # every ActiveRecord table has a 'created_at' column.
    order("students.created_at #{ direction }")
  when /^name_/
    # Simple sort on the name colums
    order("LOWER(students.last_name) #{ direction }, LOWER(students.first_name) #{ direction }")
  when /^country_name_/
    # This sorts by a student's country name, so we need to include
    # the country. We can't use JOIN since not all students might have
    # a country.
    order("LOWER( #{ direction }").includes(:country)
    raise(ArgumentError, "Invalid sort option: #{ sort_option.inspect }")

Filter by existence of has_many association

This scope filters records who have an associated has_many object. E.g., the scope below finds all students who have posted at least one comment.

Naming convention: with_%{plural association name}.

scope :with_comments, lambda {
    'EXISTS (SELECT 1 from comments WHERE = comments.student_id)'

You can also apply conditions on the associated record, e.g., students who have posted a comment since a given reference_time:

scope :with_comments_since, lambda { |reference_time|
      EXISTS (
        SELECT 1
          FROM comments
         WHERE = comments.student_id
           AND comments.created_at >= ?)

Filter by non-existence of has_many association

Use this scope to filter records who have NO associated has_many object. E.g., the scope below finds all students who have never posted a comment.

Naming convention: without_%{plural association name}.

scope :without_comments, lambda {
    %(NOT EXISTS (
      SELECT 1 FROM comments WHERE comments.student_id =

Filter by existence of many-to-many association

This scope finds students who have ANY of the given roles, using EXISTS and a SQL sub query. This scope traverses the has_many :through association between Student and Role via RoleAssignment.

Naming convention: with_any_%{singular association name}_ids

scope :with_any_role_ids, lambda{ |role_ids|
  # get a reference to the join table
  role_assignments = RoleAssignment.arel_table
  # get a reference to the filtered table
  students = Student.arel_table
  # let AREL generate a complex SQL query
    RoleAssignment \
      .where(role_assignments[:student_id].eq(students[:id])) \
      .where(role_assignments[:role_id].in([*role_ids].map(&:to_i))) \

Note: you might be tempted to use a simple WHERE and JOIN clause, however you will end up getting duplicate student records, one for each role a student holds. You shouldn't use a DISTINCT clause to eliminate duplicates since this might interfere with other scopes that we chain in the current Filterrific query. E.g., your database might complain about sort keys not being part of the SELECT statement.

Use the scope below if you want to find students who have ALL of the given roles:

Naming convention: with_all_%{singular association name}_ids

scope :with_all_role_ids, lambda{ |role_ids|
  # get a reference to the join table
  role_assignments = RoleAssignment.arel_table
  # get a reference to the filtered table
  students = Student.arel_table
  # let AREL generate a complex SQL query { |rel, role_id|
      RoleAssignment \
        .where(role_assignments[:student_id].eq(students[:id])) \
        .where(role_assignments[:role_id].eq(role_id)) \

Filter by non-existence of many-to-many association

This scope finds any students who DO NOT have a given role. It is almost identical to the previous one. We just appended the .not operator to invert it.

Naming convention: without_%{singular association name}_ids

scope :without_role_ids, lambda{ |role_ids|
  role_assignments = RoleAssignment.arel_table
  students = Student.arel_table
    RoleAssignment \
      .where(role_assignments[:student_id].eq(students[:id])) \
      .where(role_assignments[:role_id].in([*role_ids].map(&:to_i))) \

Filter by ranges

This scope filters by a student's signup date range. The only important concept to keep in mind when working with ranges is that you stay consistent with your boundaries. We suggest to always use semi-open intervals for consistency (i.e. you always include the lower boundary and exclude the upper boundary).

Please note that SQL's BETWEEN operator is inclusive, i.e. it includes both boundaries.

Scope naming convention: with_%{column name}_gte and with_%{column name}_lt. gte is an abbreviation for 'Greater than or equal' and lt is an abbreviation for 'Less than'.

# always include the lower boundary for semi open intervals
scope :created_at_gte, lambda { |reference_time|
  where('students.created_at >= ?', reference_time)

# always exclude the upper boundary for semi open intervals
scope :created_at_lt, lambda { |reference_time|
  where('students.created_at < ?', reference_time)

Multiple form inputs for single scope

Sometimes you need multiple form inputs for a single scope. An example would be a scope that finds locations within a certain distance of a city. You'd need two inputs: one for the maximum distance, and one to choose a city.

You can accomplish this using Rails' fields_for form helper. It allows you to combine multiple form input values into a single param:

Let's use a scope called with_distance. Declare it as usual in the filterrific directive at the top of your model.

Here is the view code, using fields_for:

<%# app/views/students/index.html.erb
  Add a `fields_for` helper to your filterrific form:
<%= form_for @filterrific do |f| %>
    <%= f.fields_for :with_distance, do |with_distance_fields| %>
      <%= with_distance_fields.text_field :max_distance %>
      <%= with_distance_fields.text_field :city %>
    <% end %>

Note that we wrap the with_distance Hash as OpenStruct. This is so that the field values will be populated correctly from existing values, and also to avoid a strange issue: I have observed stack overflows when Rails tries to persist filterrific params to the session. Somehow, when using just @filterrific.with_distance in fields_for, the entire form_builder object gets added to the filterrific object, and that breaks Rails writing it to the session store (Cookie by default). By wrapping the filterrific params as OpenStruct, the original filterrific object won't get polluted.

Then you specify the scope like so:

scope :with_distance, lambda { |distance_attrs|
  # `distance_attrs` is a hash with two keys:
  # {
  #   :max_distance => '10',
  #   :city => 'Vancouver',
  # }

Scopes vs. Class methods

In certain cases, you can replace scopes with class methods. We recommend to use scopes. Please read this blog post to learn more:

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