OmbuLabs Blog

The Lean Software Boutique

Present? vs Any? vs Exists?

When working on a Rails project, you may have seen present? calls on ActiveRecord relationships. This might feel natural, mostly because present? exists on all objects via ActiveSupport, so you expect the relationship to respond to it, but it's actually not a very good idea. If all we want to do is check if the scope returns any results from the database, there are better ways than using present?.

In Rails 5.1 and up, the performance of any? and exists? has been fixed, so they are now equally performant.

present? is slow because:

irb(main):003:0> Project.find(57).tasks.where.not(deleted_at: nil).present?
Project Load (0.5ms)  SELECT  "projects".* FROM "projects"  WHERE "projects"."enabled" = 't' AND "projects"."id" = $1 LIMIT 1  [["id", 57]]
Task Load (918.7ms)  SELECT "tasks".* FROM "tasks" INNER JOIN "boards" ON "tasks"."board_id" = "boards"."id" WHERE "tasks"."enabled" = 't' AND "boards"."project_id" = $1 AND "boards"."enabled" = 't' AND ("tasks"."deleted_at" IS NOT NULL)  [["project_id", 57]]
=> true

As you can see in the snippet above, we're loading one project, and then loading all of its tasks to check for presence using present?. This ends up taking quite a bit of time (~900ms), hurting the performance of the app both memory and time-wise.

A slightly better approach would be using any?:

irb(main):004:0> Project.find(57).tasks.where.not(deleted_at: nil).any?
Project Load (0.9ms)  SELECT  "projects".* FROM "projects"  WHERE "projects"."enabled" = 't' AND "projects"."id" = $1 LIMIT 1  [["id", 57]]
(119.0ms)  SELECT COUNT(*) FROM "tasks" INNER JOIN "boards" ON "tasks"."board_id" = "boards"."id" WHERE "tasks"."enabled" = 't' AND "boards"."project_id" = $1 AND "boards"."enabled" = 't' AND ("tasks"."deleted_at" IS NOT NULL)  [["project_id", 57]]
=> true

any? uses SQL count instead of loading each task, resulting in a faster, more performant result (from ~900ms down to ~100ms). However, what we actually want to know in this case is if there is at least one record in our scope. We don't really need to count all of the tasks, it should stop after finding the first one. So applying LIMIT would solve that for us, and that's how exists? saves the day:

irb(main):005:0> Project.find(57).tasks.where.not(deleted_at: nil).exists?
Project Load (0.5ms)  SELECT  "projects".* FROM "projects"  WHERE "projects"."enabled" = 't' AND "projects"."id" = $1 LIMIT 1  [["id", 57]]
Task Exists (0.9ms)  SELECT  1 AS one FROM "tasks" INNER JOIN "boards" ON "tasks"."board_id" = "boards"."id" WHERE "tasks"."enabled" = 't' AND "boards"."project_id" = $1 AND "boards"."enabled" = 't' AND ("tasks"."deleted_at" IS NOT NULL) LIMIT 1  [["project_id", 57]]
=> true

By limiting the count to 1, after finding the first record, it returns true. Notice the time in the debug lines in parenthesis, we went from ~900ms using present?, to ~100ms using any?, to ~1ms using exists?.

Finally, here's a benchmark (using benchmark-ips) which shows the difference in execution time between the three methods:

Benchmark.ips do |x|"present?") do
    Project.find(1).tasks.where.not(deleted_at: nil).present?
  end"any?") do
    Project.find(1).tasks.where.not(deleted_at: nil).any?
  end"exists?") do
    Project.find(1).tasks.where.not(deleted_at: nil).exists?

 exists?:      158.4 i/s
    any?:       10.1 i/s - 15.65x  slower
present?:        2.3 i/s - 68.39x  slower

NOTE: The examples shown in this post are taken from a Rails 4.2 app, using PostgreSQL. I am not sure if this behavior remains the same in newer versions of Rails.

If you're currently using present? in your projects, it should be a quick performance win to replace these calls to use either any? or exists?.