Responsive Design in Rails - Creating Adaptive User Interfaces

Placeholder Avatar
Seba Echegaray
June 15, 2023


In today’s digital landscape, where users access websites on various devices and screen sizes, responsive design has become a fundamental aspect of web development. With the increasing popularity of mobile devices, it’s crucial for Rails developers to create user interfaces that adapt seamlessly to different viewport sizes. In this blog post, we’ll explore the principles and techniques of responsive design in the context of Rails applications. We’ll delve into creating responsive layouts, handling responsive images, and offer guidelines to ensure your Rails app provides a consistent and optimised experience across devices.

Understanding Responsive Design Principles

Responsive design is built upon a foundation of fluid grids, flexible layouts, and media queries. By utilising a mobile-first approach, we start by designing for small screens and progressively enhance the experience for larger screens. This approach ensures that our Rails application is accessible and usable on devices of all sizes and resolutions.

Adapting Rails Layouts for Responsive Design

Rails provides several options and techniques for creating responsive layouts that adapt to different screen sizes and devices. One popular approach is to leverage CSS frameworks like Bootstrap or Foundation, which offer grid systems and responsive utility classes. These frameworks provide a structured and intuitive way to create responsive layouts without having to write extensive custom CSS.

For example, let’s consider the usage of Bootstrap’s grid system in a Rails layout:


<div class="container">
  <div class="row">
    <div class="col-sm-6 col-md-4">
      <!-- Content for the first column -->
    <div class="col-sm-6 col-md-4">
      <!-- Content for the second column -->
    <div class="col-sm-6 col-md-4">
      <!-- Content for the third column -->

In this example, we have a container element that provides a fixed-width container for our content. Inside the container, we have a row element that acts as a horizontal wrapper for our columns. Each column is defined using the col-sm-6 col-md-4 classes, which specify different column widths based on screen size. On small screens (col-sm), the columns will stack vertically, taking up the full width of the container. On medium screens (col-md), the columns will display side by side.

By using responsive grid systems, we can easily create adaptive layouts that adjust based on the available screen real estate. These frameworks handle the intricacies of responsive design, allowing us to focus on structuring our content effectively.

In addition to CSS frameworks, Rails provides flexibility in creating custom responsive layouts using CSS media queries. By using media queries, we can define CSS rules that apply only when specific conditions, such as screen size or device orientation, are met. This enables us to create targeted styles and adapt the layout based on different viewport sizes.

Overall, Rails offers multiple options for adapting layouts to responsive design. Whether you choose to utilise CSS frameworks or implement custom media queries, the key is to create layouts that fluidly adjust to different screen sizes and provide an optimal user experience.

Handling Responsive Images in Rails

Delivering appropriate images to different devices and screen resolutions is crucial for a responsive design. Rails provides the image_tag helper, which allows us to generate responsive images with the srcset and sizes attributes. These attributes enable the browser to select the most suitable image based on the device’s screen resolution. Here’s an example:


<%= image_tag "example.jpg",
  srcset: {
    "example.jpg" => "1x",
    "example@2x.jpg" => "2x"
  sizes: "(max-width: 600px) 100vw, 50vw" %>

In the example above, the srcset attribute specifies different image sources for different pixel densities (1x and 2x), and the sizes attribute sets the image size based on viewport width. This ensures that the appropriate image is loaded based on the user’s device.

Media Queries and Rails View Components

Rails view components, such as partials and templates, can be utilised to encapsulate responsive design logic. By conditionally rendering components based on screen size or device type, we can create tailored user experiences. Media queries play a significant role in defining when and how these components are displayed, allowing us to adapt the UI dynamically. Let’s consider an example:

<% if %>
  <%= render partial: 'mobile_navigation' %>
<% else %>
  <%= render partial: 'desktop_navigation' %>
<% end %>

In the example above, we render different navigation components based on the user’s device. This ensures that the appropriate navigation layout is displayed on mobile and desktop screens.

Testing Responsive Designs in Rails

Ensuring a consistent and seamless experience across devices requires thorough testing. By using browser developer tools and emulators, we can simulate different viewport sizes and orientations to assess responsiveness during development. Additionally, automated testing tools and frameworks provide a systematic approach to validate responsive designs.

Best Practices and Tips

To create effective responsive interfaces in Rails, there are a few best practices to keep in mind. Optimising performance by minimising the use of large assets and leveraging caching techniques is essential. Maintaining a consistent user experience across devices involves considering the usability of complex UI components on smaller screens. By following accessibility standards and performing user testing, we can ensure inclusivity and usability for all users.