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Simple Object persistency library for Cassandra

Motivation & History (you can skip it :)

I was developing an multiplayer online game for a client (TBD: link when released :) and we decided to use Cassandra for performance and scaling benefits. Also the game’s internal data structures mapped very well to key-value semantics.

I did some research but couldn’t find anything that was Ready at the time to be used for development.

I did find the BigRecord project which somewhat kind of supported Cassandra, but I got an impression that Cassandra support was ‘bolted on’ after the fact, and their way of running a java Cassandra driver talking to some JRuby and interfacing with it through DRB was … can’t quite find the word for it, lets call it ‘awkward’ :).

So I started to work on my own library, “steaing” liberally from BigObject, which at least at the time was very close to ActiveRecord with just some parts of the code commented out or replaced.

Somewhere midway through the implementation I found the CassandraObject project by NZKoz. Now that was a much better one. So much better that for some time I just considered dumping all I did and using it as-is. After some thinking I decided against it though. The primary reason was that its data model was quite different from what I intended to use for the game. In CassandraObject all attributes are stored as columns in a simple ColumnFamily, and indexes and associations stored in separate ColumnFamilies. This has a benefit of not having restrictions on the number of associated object, but it does require additional DB queries to access associated objects.

I wanted to use Supercolumns instead, and store attributes and associations in different supercolumns for the given key. This has the benefit of being able to fetch all the data at once, but does restrict the number of associated objects. Since in my intended use-case the number of associations was rather small I decided to continue the development.

But, this doesn’t mean I didn’t use CassandraObject to “steal” some code from it too :). There were too many good ideas to pass by. I ended up copying a lot of code from it and throwing all of the BigRecord heritage. May be someday I’ll find a way to ‘combine’ SmallRecord back into CassandraObject. Meanwhile though I’m going to work on this one.

(Ugh, that ended up being rather long explanation :)


This is work in progress. It is currently used in a client project and works well, but it still has rough edges and might have problems in your specific environment. The code base is quite small and modular though, so you should have no problems jumping in and fixing or extending it for your use case.

Data Model

This library is intended to be used with Supercolumns Families only (for now :).

Model’s attributes are stored inside “attributes” supercolumn, with attributes themselves being columns inside it. Associations are stored as separate supercolumns, with each association id being a column inside.

Example (json notation):

users: {
  "1": {
    "attributes": {
      "name": "Vitaly Kushner",
      "company": "Astrails"
    "account_ids": {
      "123": "1",
      "456": "1"

accounts: {
  "123": {
    "url": "http://astrails.com",
    "username": "vitaly",
    "password": "234987234509827345"
  "456": {
    "url": "http://rubyonrails.org",
    "username": "vitaly",
    "password": "3084573945873945"

As you can see we have a one-to-many association here. but contrary to how it is handled in ActiveRecord we don’t store the user_id in the account ‘record’, instead we store all the account_ids in the user record. This is because otherwise we would have no way of querying user.accounts except for the full accounts ‘table’ scan.


Connecting to the DB

SmallRecord will look for the file config/small_record.yml :

  adapter: cassandra
  port: 9160
  keyspace: astrails 

  adapter: mock

  adapter: mock

Notice the :mock adapter. This is just a simple Cassandra emulation using in-memory ruby hash. This is what I’m using for development and testing. It doesn’t require cassandra running. The emulation is not 100% off course but it does the job. And I didn’t yet have any bugs related to the difference b/w the mock and the real thing. Just remember that if you run develoment server with mock all the data will be gone once you restart. But that is probably not such a bad thing for development. Or it is. You decide.


You define your models the usual way:

class User < SmallRecord::Base

user = User.new :foo => "bar"


What is different from the ActiveRecord is that you have to tell SmallRecord about all your attributes since it can’t infer it from the database schema like ActiveModel does. There is no database schema duh! The attributes support mostly came form CassandraObject but changed quite a bit since then. One day I’ll document the differences :)

class User < SmallRecord::Base
  attribute :name
  attribute :age, :type => :integer
  attribute :create_at, :type => :time


This library is built upon Rails’s ActiveModel pulling in many of the familiar features of the ActiveRecord. The following is supported:


before_save :do_something

The following callbacks are supported:


You can also define your own callbacks:

class User < SmallRecord::Base
  define_callbacks :after_activation

  after_activation :send_confirmation

  def activate!

Dirty attributes

>> user.changed
=> []
>> user.name = "foo"
=> "foo"
>> user.changed
=> ["name"]
>> user.name_changed?
=> true

When saving an object it will only save changed attributes:

>> user.save
=> true
>> user.name = "qwe"
=> "qwe"
>> user.save
  User Insert (0.000043)   insert(aa421ea0-c407-46fe-986f-09b2d749b1be, {"attributes"=>{"name"=>"\"qwe\"", "schema_version"=>"0"}}, {})
=> true


class User < SmallRecord::Base
  validates_presence_of :name


Association support in SmallRecord is rather basic. Only has_many is supported at the moment (feel free to add more :).

class User < SmallRecord::Base
  has_many :accounts


SmallRecord tries hard to do the minimal required amount of work. the association is lazily loaded and only when really needed.


Migrations are very different then what you are used to with ActiveRecord (this is too comes from CassandraObject).

You see, there might be a LOT of records in a Cassandra DB. To the point of it being quite impractical to run a full migration. Instead each ‘record’ contains its schema-version and we migrate it on read if its outdated. i.e. if we load a record into memory with schema_version that is less then the currently defined in the code we will migrate this record. If you save the record after that it will be saved with the updated version.

migrations are defined using blocks:

class User
  migrate 1 do |attrs|
    attrs[:foo] = attrs.delete(:bar)


Read the code :)


There are a couple of things that I want to fix first:

  • The elephant in the room is the total lack of testing! Well, in the project I’m extracting this from the test coverage is quite high, so all the code was implicitly tested, but now that this is a separate project I need to add some specs.

  • There is this ugly read/write_data business. Apart from the bad naming (I still can’t think of a good one) all the supercolumns except for the ‘attributes’ are not managed. They are currently written directly into db on every change. Need to unify the ‘dirty’ handling in attributes with the rest of supercolumns. For that I think I’ll need to drop the Dirty mixin from the ActiveModel and just roll my own.

  • Documentation. This is also lacking at the moment and you will need to look at the code.

  • Need to research the possibility of merging with CassandraObject. Thought I’m not sure this is practical.


Copyright (c) 2010 Astrails Ltd. See LICENSE for details.