Archaic Positives

Adventurer, Traveler, Rubyist

Working With Rack Sessions

I spent the last few days building a Flatiron School lab that specifically focused on setting sessions within a small Sinatra app. The idea was that this lab would help students better understand the concept of a session, and how they allow web applications to maintain state. By going through several RSpec tests and making them pass, the students would iteratively see what the session variable values would be in each step, and would understand the process from start to finish. The problem that I ran into was that I was not able to directly access the session variable in Sinatra.

The Root Problem?

The fundamental issue was that in Rack (on top of which Sinatra is built) does not allow you to directly access the sessions variable. I could not access it when I was writing acceptance tests, and so I set out to resolve that issue.

Troubleshoot, take 1

The first step that I took to troubleshoot this was to read through this StackOverflow post to see how I could directly access and manipulate session data. So one underlying thorn in the side was that it’s hard to directly access sessions for acceptance testing purposes. I found this gem that supposedly makes it easier for a developer to access and manipulate sessions variables.

I went down that road, and quickly realized that for the purposes of this lab, I was overcomplicating things a little bit. What the Rack Session Access gem does is that it provides middleware for your Sinatra app that allows you to set and obtain data for your application’s current session. I didn’t need to set anything - I just needed to be able to access the sessions hash and confirm that the values met the specifications set forth in my RSpec tests.

Next option.

Troubleshoot, take 2

The second step I took was to read this post. This gave a better in depth explanation of the issue I was having, which was that I couldn’t directly access the sessions hash method in Rack middleware. To remedy this, the top-voted answer suggested that I try to access the sessions hash through the env hash. It was through this post that I realized what I was doing incorrectly all along. I didn’t have to implement the solution that was suggested in this post, but I had an idea what I could do to resolve the problem.

Let’s dig a little further.

Identifying the Solution

So how did I address this? So remember in the previous section that you can access the sessions hash through env. Before I address the solution, let’s briefly run through the anatomy of a Rack sessions hash. When a new session is created, it creates a new Rack::Request object, as the example below shows.

def call(env)
  request =

The request object, which is assigned to a new instance of Rack::Request, has a method called session. When you call this method on the request object, it will return the sessions hash.

Now, let’s apply this in terms of acceptance testing. Using the rack/test module, I wrote the following method in my spec_helper.rb file:

def session

The last_request attribute is actually a Rack::MockRequest object that is used to generate a request, such as a get '/' request method. You can access the sessions hash of last_request by accessing the rack.session key inside of the env method. Once I was able to access this, then I was able to write tests that could be used to test the values inside my sessions variable.

It’s a very simple way to resolve the original problem, but it definitely threw me for a loop while I was in the process of problem solving. Isn’t programming fun?