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Rails Includes vs Joins

Swapnil Gourshete Swapnil Gourshete Follow Mar 08, 2018 · 2 mins read
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When I started learning Rails, I was always in a state of confusion about using includes or joins, because both are used in almost same scenario. Includes uses eager loading whereas joins uses lazy loading. Both are used when certain operations are meant to be performed on associated tables. And here comes the difference.

What is the problem with Joins?

Here, we retrieved users in the first line and data is formatted in the each do loop. Here is interesting thing, to retrieve user.company.name, each time a call to database is made. It means, if there are 10k users then 10k separate queries would be fired up. And this will overkill system when scaled up. Isn’t there is efficient way? Yes, it is Includes.

And this will overkill system when scaled up. Isn’t there a more efficient way? Yes, it is Includes.


If we go through Rails documenting, it clearly says - ’With includes, Active Record ensures that all of the specified associations are loaded using the minimum possible number of queries’. When we need data to be used from associated tables, includes must be used.

Here is an example,

Here, the data from table companies is brought right in the first line, since it says includes companies. No additional query is fired from the do loop for ‘user.company.name’. Size of users table does not matter now. It is scalable to any size.

Isn’t it fantastic? Yes, it is. It saves hell lot of time. And it proves to be very efficient, when application contains huge data.

  • So, does includes always preferred over joins?

Hopefully not, there are some cases when includes does not exceed joins in terms of efficiency.

Here, we used tables users and companies, but companies is only for some sort of filter. We did not actually used data from companies later in the code. So no need to bring data from companies along with users. This is why join is efficient in this case.

Eager Loading

It joins everything in a single query. Sometimes the query may result in a huge sql call with too many joins left joins.


Pre Loading

Preload works in same way as Includes. It brings up the data normally in two queries.
–> SELECT "users".* FROM "users" SELECT "posts".* FROM "posts" WHERE "posts"."user_id" IN (1)


Swapnil Gourshete
Written by Swapnil Gourshete Follow
Hi I am Swapnil, a Software Engineer and computer science enthusiastic