Views

Phoenix views have two main jobs. First and foremost, they render templates (this includes layouts). The core function involved in rendering, render/3, is defined in Phoenix itself in the Phoenix.View module. Views also provide functions which take raw data and make it easier for templates to consume. If you are familiar with decorators or the facade pattern, this is similar.

Rendering Templates

Phoenix assumes a strong naming convention from controllers to views to the templates they render. The PageController requires a PageView to render templates in the lib/hello_web/templates/page directory. If we want to, we can change the directory Phoenix considers to be the template root. Phoenix provides a view/0 function in the HelloWeb module defined in lib/hello_web.ex. The first line of view/0 allows us to change our root directory by changing the value assigned to the :root key.

A newly generated Phoenix application has three view modules - ErrorView, LayoutView, and PageView - which are all in the, lib/hello_web/views directory.

Let’s take a quick look at the LayoutView.

defmodule HelloWeb.LayoutView do
  use HelloWeb, :view
end

That’s simple enough. There’s only one line, use HelloWeb, :view. This line calls the view/0 function we just saw above. Besides allowing us to change our template root, view/0 exercises the __using__ macro in the Phoenix.View module. It also handles any module imports or aliases our application’s view modules might need.

At the top of this guide, we mentioned that views are a place to put functions for use in our templates. Let’s experiment with that a little bit.

Let’s open up our application layout template, lib/hello_web/templates/layout/app.html.eex, and change this line,

<title>Hello · Phoenix Framework</title>

to call a title/0 function, like this.

<title><%= title() %></title>

Now let’s add a title/0 function to our LayoutView.

defmodule HelloWeb.LayoutView do
  use HelloWeb, :view

  def title do
    "Awesome New Title!"
  end
end

When we reload the Welcome to Phoenix page, we should see our new title.

The <%= and %> are from the Elixir EEx project. They enclose executable Elixir code within a template. The = tells EEx to print the result. If the = is not there, EEx will still execute the code, but there will be no output. In our example, we are calling the title/0 function from our LayoutView and printing the output into the title tag.

Note that we didn’t need to fully qualify title/0 with HelloWeb.LayoutView because our LayoutView actually does the rendering. In fact, “templates” in Phoenix are really just function definitions on their view module. You can try this out by temporarily deleting your lib/hello_web/templates/page/index.html.eex file and adding this function clause to your PageView module in lib/hello_web/views/page_view.ex.

defmodule HelloWeb.PageView do
  use HelloWeb, :view

  def render("index.html", assigns) do
    "rendering with assigns #{inspect Map.keys(assigns)}"
  end
end

Now if you fire up the server with mix phx.server and visit http://localhost:4000, you should see the following text below your layout header instead of the main template page:

rendering with assigns [:conn, :view_module, :view_template]

Pretty neat, right? At compile-time, Phoenix precompiles all *.html.eex templates and turns them into render/2 function clauses on their respective view modules. At runtime, all templates are already loaded in memory. There’s no disk reads, complex file caching, or template engine computation involved. This is also why we were able to define functions like title/0 in our LayoutView and they were immediately available inside the layout’s app.html.eex – the call to title/0 was just a local function call!

When we use HelloWeb, :view, we get other conveniences as well. Since view/0 aliases HelloWeb.Router.Helpers as Routes (look in lib/hello_web.ex), we can simply call these helpers by using Routes.*_path in templates. Let’s see how that works by changing the template for our Welcome to Phoenix page.

Let’s open up the lib/hello_web/templates/page/index.html.eex and locate this stanza.

<section class="phx-hero">
  <h1><%= gettext "Welcome to %{name}!", name: "Phoenix" %></h1>
  <p>A productive web framework that<br/>does not compromise speed or maintainability.</p>
</section>

Then let’s add a line with a link back to the same page. (The objective is to see how path helpers respond in a template, not to add any functionality.)

<section class="phx-hero">
  <h1><%= gettext "Welcome to %{name}!", name: "Phoenix" %></h1>
  <p>A productive web framework that<br/>does not compromise speed or maintainability.</p>
  <p><a href="<%= Routes.page_path(@conn, :index) %>">Link back to this page</a></p>
</div>

Now we can reload the page and view source to see what we have.

<a href="/">Link back to this page</a>

Great, Routes.page_path/2 evaluated to / as we would expect, we just had to use the alias set in Phoenix.View.

If you happen to need access to the path helpers outside views, controllers or templates, you can either call them by the full qualified name, e.g. HelloWeb.Router.Helpers.page_path(@conn, :index) or alias it yourself in the calling module, by defining alias HelloWeb.Router.Helpers, as: Routes in the module you want to use, and then calling, e.g., Routes.page_path(@conn, :index).

More About Views

You might be wondering how views are able to work so closely with templates.

The Phoenix.View module gains access to template behavior via the use Phoenix.Template line in its __using__/1 macro. Phoenix.Template provides many convenience methods for working with templates - finding them, extracting their names and paths, and much more.

Let’s experiment a little with one of the generated views Phoenix provides us, lib/hello_web/views/page_view.ex. We’ll add a message/0 function to it, like this.

defmodule HelloWeb.PageView do
  use HelloWeb, :view

  def message do
    "Hello from the view!"
  end
end

Now let’s create a new template to play around with, lib/hello_web/templates/page/test.html.eex.

This is the message: <%= message() %>

This doesn’t correspond to any action in our controller, but we’ll exercise it in an iex session. At the root of our project, we can run iex -S mix, and then explicitly render our template.

iex(1)> Phoenix.View.render(HelloWeb.PageView, "test.html", %{})
  {:safe, [["" | "This is the message: "] | "Hello from the view!"]}

As we can see, we’re calling render/3 with the individual view responsible for our test template, the name of our test template, and an empty map representing any data we might have wanted to pass in. The return value is a tuple beginning with the atom :safe and the resultant io list of the interpolated template. “Safe” here means that Phoenix has escaped the contents of our rendered template. Phoenix defines its own Phoenix.HTML.Safe protocol with implementations for atoms, bitstrings, lists, integers, floats, and tuples to handle this escaping for us as our templates are rendered into strings.

What happens if we assign some key value pairs to the third argument of render/3? In order to find out, we need to change the template just a bit.

I came from assigns: <%= @message %>
This is the message: <%= message() %>

Note the @ in the top line. Now if we change our function call, we see a different rendering after recompiling PageView module.

iex(2)> r HelloWeb.PageView
warning: redefining module HelloWeb.PageView (current version loaded from _build/dev/lib/hello/ebin/Elixir.HelloWeb.PageView.beam)
  lib/hello_web/views/page_view.ex:1

{:reloaded, HelloWeb.PageView, [HelloWeb.PageView]}

iex(3)> Phoenix.View.render(HelloWeb.PageView, "test.html", message: "Assigns has an @.")
{:safe,
  [[[["" | "I came from assigns: "] | "Assigns has an @."] |
  "\nThis is the message: "] | "Hello from the view!"]}

Let’s test out the HTML escaping, just for fun.

iex(4)> Phoenix.View.render(HelloWeb.PageView, "test.html", message: "<script>badThings();</script>")
{:safe,
  [[[["" | "I came from assigns: "] |
     "&lt;script&gt;badThings();&lt;/script&gt;"] |
    "\nThis is the message: "] | "Hello from the view!"]}

If we need only the rendered string, without the whole tuple, we can use the render_to_iodata/3.

iex(5)> Phoenix.View.render_to_iodata(HelloWeb.PageView, "test.html", message: "Assigns has an @.")
[[[["" | "I came from assigns: "] | "Assigns has an @."] |
  "\nThis is the message: "] | "Hello from the view!"]

A Word About Layouts

Layouts are just templates. They have a view, just like other templates. In a newly generated app, this is lib/hello_web/views/layout_view.ex. You may be wondering how the string resulting from a rendered view ends up inside a layout. That’s a great question! If we look at lib/hello_web/templates/layout/app.html.eex, just about in the middle of the <body>, we will see this.

<%= render(@view_module, @view_template, assigns) %>

This is where the view module and its template from the controller are rendered to a string and placed in the layout.

The ErrorView

Phoenix has a view called the ErrorView which lives in lib/hello_web/views/error_view.ex. The purpose of the ErrorView is to handle two of the most common errors - 404 not found and 500 internal error - in a general way, from one centralized location. Let’s see what it looks like.

defmodule HelloWeb.ErrorView do
  use HelloWeb, :view

  def render("404.html", _assigns) do
    "Page not found"
  end

  def render("500.html", _assigns) do
    "Server internal error"
  end
end

Before we dive into this, let’s see what the rendered 404 not found message looks like in a browser. In the development environment, Phoenix will debug errors by default, showing us a very informative debugging page. What we want here, however, is to see what page the application would serve in production. In order to do that we need to set debug_errors: false in config/dev.exs.

use Mix.Config

config :hello, HelloWeb.Endpoint,
  http: [port: 4000],
  debug_errors: false,
  code_reloader: true,
  . . .

After modifying our config file, we need to restart our server in order for this change to take effect. After restarting the server, let’s go to http://localhost:4000/such/a/wrong/path for a running local application and see what we get.

Ok, that’s not very exciting. We get the bare string “Page not found”, displayed without any markup or styling.

Let’s see if we can use what we already know about views to make this a more interesting error page.

The first question is, where does that error string come from? The answer is right in the ErrorView.

def render("404.html", _assigns) do
  "Page not found"
end

Great, so we have a render/2 function that takes a template and an assigns map, which we ignore. Where is this render/2 function being called from? The answer is the render/5 function defined in the Phoenix.Endpoint.RenderErrors module. The whole purpose of this module is to catch errors and render them with a view, in our case, the HelloWeb.ErrorView. Now that we understand how we got here, let’s make a better error page. Phoenix generates an ErrorView for us, but it doesn’t give us a lib/hello_web/templates/error directory. Let’s create one now. Inside our new directory, let’s add a template, 404.html.eex and give it some markup - a mixture of our application layout and a new div with our message to the user.

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
  <head>
    <meta charset="utf-8">
    <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=edge">
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1">
    <meta name="description" content="">
    <meta name="author" content="">

    <title>Welcome to Phoenix!</title>
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="/css/app.css">
  </head>

  <body>
    <div class="container">
      <div class="header">
        <ul class="nav nav-pills pull-right">
          <li><a href="https://hexdocs.pm/phoenix/overview.html">Get Started</a></li>
        </ul>
        <span class="logo"></span>
      </div>

      <div class="phx-hero">
        <p>Sorry, the page you are looking for does not exist.</p>
      </div>

      <div class="footer">
        <p><a href="http://phoenixframework.org">phoenixframework.org</a></p>
      </div>

    </div> <!-- /container -->
    <script src="/js/app.js"></script>
  </body>
</html>

Now we can use the render/2 function we saw above when we were experimenting with rendering in the iex session. Since we know that Phoenix will precompile the 404.html.eex template as a render("404.html", assigns) function clause, we can delete the clause from our ErrorView.

- def render("404.html", _assigns) do
-   "Page not found"
- end

When we go back to http://localhost:4000/such/a/wrong/path, we should see a much nicer error page. It is worth noting that we did not render our 404.html.eex template through our application layout, even though we want our error page to have the look and feel of the rest of our site. The main reason is that it’s easy to run into edge case issues while handling errors globally. If we want to minimize duplication between our application layout and our 404.html.eex template, we can implement shared templates for our header and footer. Please see the Template Guide for more information. Of course, we can do these same steps with the def render("500.html", _assigns) do clause in our ErrorView as well. We can also use the assigns map passed into any render/2 clause in the ErrorView, instead of discarding it, in order to display more information in our templates.

Rendering JSON

The view’s job is not only to render HTML templates. Views are about data presentation. Given a bag of data, the view’s purpose is to present that in a meaningful way given some format, be it HTML, JSON, CSV, or others. Many web apps today return JSON to remote clients, and Phoenix views are great for JSON rendering. Phoenix uses Jason to encode Maps to JSON, so all we need to do in our views is format the data we’d like to respond with as a Map, and Phoenix will do the rest. It is possible to respond with JSON back directly from the controller and skip the View. However, if we think about a controller as having the responsibilities of receiving a request and fetching data to be sent back, data manipulation and formatting don’t fall under those responsibilities. A view gives us a module responsible for formatting and manipulating the data. Let’s take our PageController, and see what it might look like when we respond with some static page maps as JSON, instead of HTML.

defmodule HelloWeb.PageController do
  use HelloWeb, :controller

  def show(conn, _params) do
    page = %{title: "foo"}

    render(conn, "show.json", page: page)
  end

  def index(conn, _params) do
    pages = [%{title: "foo"}, %{title: "bar"}]

    render(conn, "index.json", pages: pages)
  end
end

Here, we have our show/2 and index/2 actions returning static page data. Instead of passing in "show.html" to render/3 as the template name, we pass "show.json". This way, we can have views that are responsible for rendering HTML as well as JSON by pattern matching on different file types.

defmodule HelloWeb.PageView do
  use HelloWeb, :view

  def render("index.json", %{pages: pages}) do
    %{data: render_many(pages, HelloWeb.PageView, "page.json")}
  end

  def render("show.json", %{page: page}) do
    %{data: render_one(page, HelloWeb.PageView, "page.json")}
  end

  def render("page.json", %{page: page}) do
    %{title: page.title}
  end
end

In the view we see our render/2 function pattern matching on "index.json", "show.json", and "page.json". In our controller show/2 function, render(conn, "show.json", page: page) will pattern match on the matching name and extension in the view’s render/2 functions. In other words, render(conn, "index.json", pages: pages) will call render("index.json", %{pages: pages}). The render_many/3 function takes the data we want to respond with (pages), a View, and a string to pattern match on the render/2 function defined on View. It will map over each item in pages, and pass the item to the render/2 function in View matching the file string. render_one/3 follows, the same signature, ultimately using the render/2 matching page.json to specify what each page looks like. The render/2 matching "index.json" will respond with JSON as you would expect:

{
  "data": [
    {
     "title": "foo"
    },
    {
     "title": "bar"
    },
 ]
}

And the render/2 matching "show.json":

{
  "data": {
    "title": "foo"
  }
}

It’s useful to build our views like this so they can be composable. Imagine a situation where our Page has a has_many relationship with Author, and depending on the request, we may want to send back author data with the page. We can easily accomplish this with a new render/2:

defmodule HelloWeb.PageView do
  use HelloWeb, :view
  alias HelloWeb.AuthorView

  def render("page_with_authors.json", %{page: page}) do
    %{title: page.title,
      authors: render_many(page.authors, AuthorView, "author.json")}
  end

  def render("page.json", %{page: page}) do
    %{title: page.title}
  end
end

The name used in assigns is determined from the view. For example the PageView will use %{page: page} and the AuthorView will use %{author: author}. This can be overridden with the as option. Let’s assume that the author view uses %{writer: writer} instead of %{author: author}:

def render("page_with_authors.json", %{page: page}) do
  %{title: page.title,
    authors: render_many(page.authors, AuthorView, "author.json", as: :writer)}
end