Generating semi-private, obfuscated resource sharing URLs in Rails

Recently I was working on an app that required semi-private, obfuscated URLs for sharing pages and feeds with non-registered members, much like Backpack does for its page feeds. Specifically, I wanted a URL with a long code in it of some kind that would make it difficult to guess.

I could not find anything on the net addressing this kind of requirement, much less in a RESTful way, so I rolled up my sleeves and built one independently. Here’s how I did it.

In this example, I want to share Activity resources, which I am exposing in the typical way in Rails’ routes.rb:

map.resources :users do |user|
  user.resources :activities, :path_prefix => '/:user_id'

This routes provides access to the 7 standard CRUD actions in the ActivitiesController: index, show, new, create, edit, update, destroy. The only one of these that relates to listing multiple activities is index, but that action is already used to display activities to logged in users. So, a new action is needed, which we shall called “shared”. I will create 2 new named routes to provide access to this:

map.shared_activities '/:user_id/activities/shared/:key',
  :controller => 'activities', :action => 'shared', :conditions => { :method => :get }

map.formatted_shared_activities '/:user_id/activities/shared/:key.:format',
  :controller => 'activities', :action => 'shared', :conditions => { :method => :get }

Take note of the :key component of these paths. This is the private code required to ‘unlock’ the shared activity pages. The key belongs to Sharing objects:

class Sharing < ActiveRecord::Base
  belongs_to :user
  validates_uniqueness_of :key
  after_create :create_key


  def create_key
    self.key = Digest::SHA1.hexdigest( {rand}.join)

So, if a user wants to share his activities, he can create a sharing object, which generates the key for the URL that they can share with their non-registered friends. One of these URLs will look like this:

This will load the shared action in the activities controller, which is also protected by a before_filter that will only allow access if the key in the URL is valid for the user.

class ActivitiesController < ApplicationController
  before_filter :login_required, :except => :shared
  before_filter :get_user
  before_filter :sharing_required, :only => :shared

  def shared
    @activities = @user.activities.paginate(:order => 'created_at DESC', :page => params[:page])


  def get_user
    @user = User.find_by_login(params[:user_id])

  def sharing_required
    # pull the key out of the URL and verify that the user has one to match
    unless Sharing.find(:first, :conditions => ['user_id = ? AND key = ?',, params[:key] ])
      flash[:error] = 'You do not have permission to view this page'
      redirect_to '/'

To flesh out the implementation, all you need to do is the following:

  • Add views for the shared action in the activities controller
  • Write a builder view to output the sharing action in RSS (explained here)
  • Include a sharing resource (nested under the user resource) in routes.rb and add a CRUD interface for creating and manipulating Sharing objects
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