OK, we have a Rails form, but we need to write an attribute on another model. fields_for comes to the rescue, with a few things to consider.

Let’s imagine we have a User model but when we create a new user or edit an existing one, our form gives us the option to change the emergency contact email address, which is the Contacts table. User has_one Contact and Contact belongs_to the User.

Our form looks like:

<%= form_for @user do |user_form| %>
  <%= user_form.text_field :first_name %>
  <%= user_form.fields_for :contact, (user_form.object.contact || Contact.new) do |contact_form| %>
    <label><%= t(".email") %><label>
    <%= contact_form.email_field(:email, value: contact_form.object.email %>
  <% end %>
<% end %>


We make a fields_for block for the Contact object, and if we are rendering this form in /edit, we want to edit the user_form.object.contact (or @user, or user, depending on how we’re passing the variable around in the partial), but the point is that we want to AVOID making a new instance of a contact when we are editing.

If we don’t specify it, we will have a new instance of a contact with all nils except for the email.

If we are rendering /new and creating a new user and contact, then user_form.object.contact would return nil and therefore we want to make a Contact.new. Also note, we would not see the fields rendering to the markup at all if contact is nil.

We decided to add a label explicitly, and that will make a label_for and we are able to leverage i18n as well. This may not be relevant in your case.

Then we have the actual field, and we also add a value to show the current contact email, if present.

Plus, in the Model and the Controller

In the user.rb model we added:


So that the model will accept those attributes and when we call params in our pry, we now see contact_attributes being passed.

But look! The params look something like (slight pseudo-code here):

user_parameters: {id: 12, name: "foo", contact_attributes: { email: "foo@bar.com", id:
"12" } }

In the users_controller.rb we added contact email in the params


def users_params
 params.require(:user).permit(:name, contact_attributes: [:id, :email])

This step is very important In the case of a new instance it is not a big deal, but if we are EDITING a user’s contact, we must ensure we add :id to the contact_attributes params because otherwise Rails does not know the contact for which user is supposed to edit.

In the markup we will have a hidden field below email, with the id passed in with the form object submitted.

See second link in references, for accepts_nested_attributes_for and inside the paragraph for :update_only.

For a one-to-one association, this option allows you to specify how nested attributes are going to be used when an associated record already exists. In general, an existing record may either be updated with the new set of attribute values or be replaced by a wholly new record containing those values. By default the :update_only option is false and the nested attributes are used to update the existing record only if they include the record’s :id value. Otherwise a new record will be instantiated and used to replace the existing one. However if the :update_only option is true, the nested attributes are used to update the record’s attributes always, regardless of whether the :id is present. The option is ignored for collection associations.

Another note, in the create method, we could also use the build_contact method. But not in update, or we would lose its state.

def create
  @user = User.new
  @user.contact = build_contact


Ruby on Rails guides for fields for helper

Accepts nested attributes method

Fields for in API dock