How to Use The Rails Where Method (With Examples)

In Rails, you can query the database through your models to access your data.

You can do this using ActiveRecord methods.

Like where, find, or find_by.

As a result you get:

  • With find_by, a single record or nil
  • With where, an ActiveRecord::Relation object
  • With find, a single record, found by its primary column (usually id), raises an exception if not found

In other words:

If you’re expecting one record (a specific user), use find_by, for multiple records (a list of users) use where.

But where has many ways to use it, which often confuses beginners.

No problem!

We’re going to take a look at the different ways you can use where in your Rails applications.

Basic Where Conditions

The purpose of using where is to build a query that filters the information in your database, so you only get the rows you want.

For example:

Given a Book model, with title, author & category.

You may want to find out all the books by a specific author, or all the books filed under a particular category.

Here’s a query:

Book.where(category: "Ruby")

This returns all the books with a category of “Ruby”.

You can also combine conditions.

Like this:

Book.where(category: "Ruby", author: "Jesus Castello")

This returns books that match both category & author.

And you can combine where with a scope.

# scope definition
class Book
  scope :long_title, -> { where("LENGTH(title) > 20") }

# controller code
@books = Book.long_title.where(category: "Ruby")

Using a hash (fruit: "apple"), allows you to check if a column is equal to something.

But what if you aren’t looking for equality?

Then you’ll have to use a string.

Rails Where: Greater Than & Less Than

If you want to check for “greater than”, “less than”, or something like that…

Do it like this:

Book.where("LENGTH(title) > 20")

If you need to interpolate values…

Do it like this:

Book.where("LENGTH(title) > ?", params[:min_length])

This ? is called a “placeholder”, and it’s used for security to avoid “SQL injection” attacks.

Another option is to use named placeholders.


Book.where("LENGTH(title) > :min", min: params[:min_length])

I find this less common than the question mark placeholder, but it could be useful for queries involving many interpolated values.

How to Use Where Not & Where Or Conditions

Let’s look at more complex queries.

If you want to check that a condition is NOT true, then you can combine where with the not method.

Here’s an example:

Book.where.not(category: "Java")

Another example:

Book.where.not(title: nil)

This finds Books with a title that’s not nil.

What about an OR condition?

You can combine where with the or method to get rows that match ANY of two or more conditions.

Here’s how it works:

Book.where(category: "Programming").or(Book.where(category: "Ruby"))

This combines two where queries into one.

Give it a try!

Rails Where IN Array Example

All the examples we have seen look for one specific value.

But you can look for multiple values.


Using an array!


Book.where(id: [1,2,3])

This generates an “IN” query that will search, at the same time, all these ids.

SELECT "books".* FROM "books" WHERE "books"."id" IN (1, 2, 3)

You’ll find this query in the rails logs.

Rails Joins Association Condition

If you’re looking to match based on an association value, you’ll have to make that association available with the joins method.

Then you can do this:

Book.joins(:comments).where(comments: { id: 2 })

With this query you get all the books, which have a comment, and the comment id is 2.

For the string version:

Book.joins(:comments).where(" = 2")

Where comments is the table name, and id is column name.

How to Search Inside Text With A Where LIKE Condition

If you want to implement a search function, you may want to allow for a partial match.

You can do this with a “LIKE” query.

Here’s an example:

Book.where("title LIKE ?", "%" + params[:q] + "%")

This finds all the titles that have the search text, provided by the params (params[:q]), anywhere inside the title.

Very helpful query!

What’s the percent symbol?

In SQL, % is a wildcard character.

Video: Where vs Find_By in Detail


You have learned how to use the Rails where method to query your ActiveRecord models!


  • How to filter by multiple conditions
  • How to use arrays to find multiple rows efficiently
  • How to use where in combination with the or & not methods to write more complex queries

Now it’s your turn to put this into practice.

Thanks for reading 🙂

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