Rack middleware in Rails to recode the URL

I have created the Qräx online shop for a good friend. During the last days, a lot of exceptions were thrown. As the application is quite small I do not use a bug tracker but send exception emails to my mailbox. Keep it simple.

The content of the exception email is looking like this:

Fehler in Qraex production:

PG::InvalidTextRepresentation: ERROR:  invalid input syntax for integer: ""
LINE 1: ...artridge_id FROM "printer_cartridges"  WHERE (printer_id='')
: SELECT cartridge_id FROM "printer_cartridges"  WHERE (printer_id='')

* Aktion:   inkshop#show_qraex_products
* Client:
* Session:
* Request:  /tintenshop/tintenstrahl_drucker_produkte/hp/PSC/HP-56/PSC+2510?page=2
* Knoten:   nms02
* Prozess:  23810

I wondered where the URL is coming from because the + sign in the URL should be a %20 what is a blank.

The Client is nearly always the same. So I checked the webserver log files and recognized, that it is a bot from http://archivethe.net. The log entries are looking like this: - - [08/Jun/2014:08:42:37 +0200] "GET /tintenshop/tintenstrahl_drucker/hp/OfficeJet+D,+E,+G,+H HTTP/1.1" 500 5493 "-" "Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; memorybot/1.20.71 +http://archivethe.net/en/index.php/about/internet_memory1 on behalf of DNB)" "-"

What to do?

I was thinking about where the bot found the URL’s and I understood, that they have been received from the sitemap.xml. A short check showed, that the sitemap has entries like this:


Ok - my fault. I guess I made a mistake when generating the sitemap. That means blocking the IP from the bot would be the wrong path.

Fixing the problem

The Rails application is using the part from the URL to make a lookup to the database. But the + sign in there is completely wrong. As mentioned before it should be %20. I decided to find a way to recode the URL for each GET request.

Doing this in the webserver is possible but not too sexy. The other idea would be to use a gem for rewriting the URL. Nah, to heavy. The simplest possible solution is to write a very small Rack middleware and put it into the Rails Middleware stack.

The code

I will not dig deeper into Rack and the Rails middleware stack. What you have to know is, that the middleware has to be put together in a special order. If my middleware would be included too early, the application would crash.

I found out that a good place is after Rack::ETag. I called the middleware RecodeUrl. When checking the existing middleware, you will see this list:

use ActionDispatch::Static
use Rack::Lock
use #<ActiveSupport::Cache::Strategy::LocalCache::Middleware:0x0000010ab81ae0>
use Rack::Runtime
use Rack::MethodOverride
use ActionDispatch::RequestId
use Rails::Rack::Logger
use ActionDispatch::ShowExceptions
use ActionDispatch::DebugExceptions
use BetterErrors::Middleware
use ActionDispatch::RemoteIp
use ActionDispatch::Reloader
use ActionDispatch::Callbacks
use ActiveRecord::ConnectionAdapters::ConnectionManagement
use ActiveRecord::QueryCache
use ActionDispatch::Cookies
use ActionDispatch::Session::CacheStore
use ActionDispatch::Flash
use ActionDispatch::ParamsParser
use ActionDispatch::Head
use Rack::ConditionalGet
use Rack::ETag
use RecodeUrl
use ActionDispatch::BestStandardsSupport
use Warden::Manager
use Bullet::Rack
use MetaRequest::Middlewares::MetaRequestHandler
use MetaRequest::Middlewares::Headers
use MetaRequest::Middlewares::AppRequestHandler
run Qraex::Application.routes

The code for the middleware is a simple Ruby class and is placed in lib/recode_url.rb:

class RecodeUrl
  def initialize(app, options = {})
    @app = app

  def call(env)
    env['PATH_INFO'] = env['PATH_INFO'].gsub('+','%20') if env['REQUEST_METHOD'] == 'GET'

The initialize and call methods are Rack standard and have to be there (see the documentation). Every attribute is located in the Hash env. So waht I do with the code above is simply changing the + sign to %20 in env[PATH_INFO] if it is a GET request. Nothing more.

To activate the middleware, an entry in config/application.rb is neccessary:

module Qraex
  class Application < Rails::Application
    [... other config settings ommited]
    require 'recode_url'
    config.middleware.insert_after Rack::ETag, RecodeUrl

When the server is started and the URL


is called, it will be recoded to


internally and everything is fine.


Rack middleware is an extremely simple but powerfull tool to get special jobs done. Every Rails developer should understand, that Rails is a Rack application. And furthermore most of the Ruby web-frameworks like sinatra and padrino are Rack applications too. The great advantage is the fact, that it is possible to hook into the HTTP requests before the Rails stack is gone through.

Published: June 11 2014

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