Working with mobile-fu and Rails

2009-10-22 20:00:00 -0400


Bret and I have been working on a pretty extensive update to Tempo, our time-tracking service, that required revisiting how we detect mobile devices and provide mobile views where appropriate and/or available.

To that end I took a look at mobile-fu, a Rails plugin by Intridea’s Brendan Lim, which automatically detects mobile devices and sets the request format to :mobile, a commonly used mime-type alias for those looking to provide mobile views. You can check out his blog post on the plugin for full details, but the basics of it are that by setting the request.format to :mobile, you can automatically serve up custom views (e.g. new.mobile.erb), perhaps in a custom layout, etc. The plugin also will automatically attempt to include mobile_blackberry.css if you are already including a mobile.css file and the user is working off of a blackberry.

That’s almost perfect! However, we don’t support mobile views all over Tempo, it’s a bit impractical at the moment, especially given how well smart phone browsers like Mobile Safari handle normal web pages. Instead, we provide a basic mobile interface for logging in and logging time. We do want that to render automatically, but we also want the user to be able to exit out of the mobile view easily, and have that stick with his session.

So I forked mobile-fu on github, got things working the way I needed ‘em, and posted the changes back up. It now provides automatic detection of mobile devices with more dynamism (you call before_filter yourself, where you want it, with the options you need), and you can use the ’bypass’ parameter on any request to toggle the session-based bypass of the mobile view that allows the user to avoid it if he doesn’t actually want it.

Pushed-to-github-and-blogged-too-soon Update:

The use of a ‘bypass’ in the way I’ve done it here becomes somewhat less useful when you want a user to be able to easily enable the mobile view when their mobile device is not detected (e.g. a ‘Switch to Mobile View’ link on the login screen). So, I’ve hacked away at this a bit more and I’ve got another implementation to commit and push to this fork when I get a few minutes.

The main problems I ran into in all of this were not really the problem of mobile-fu, but more of an issue with how Rails handles the use of request.format, the aliased mime-type (i.e. :mobile => 'text/html'), and forwarding from one domain to another. Will try to detail how we’re handling it all shortly.


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