update_attribute, update_attributes and update_column (Ruby on Rails)


Updates a single attribute and saves the record without going through the normal validation procedure. This is especially useful for boolean flags on existing records. The regular update_attribute method in Base is replaced with this when the validations module is mixed in, which it is by default.

Also note that

  • Validation is skipped.
  • Callbacks are invoked.
  • updated_at/updated_on column is updated if that column is available.
  • Updates all the attributes that are dirty in this object.


Updates all the attributes from the passed-in Hash and saves the record. If the object is invalid, the saving will fail and false will be returned.


Object.update_attribute(:only_one_field, "Some Value")
Object.update_attributes(:field1 => "value", :field2 => "value2", :field3 => "value3")

All of these will update an object in a database without having to explicitly tell AR to update.

update_attribute can update only one column.



Use update_attribute to skip validations.

update_attribute uses save(false) while update_attributes uses save (which means save(true)).



If perform_validation is false while calling save then it skips validation, and it also means that all the before_* callbacks associated with save.


Update attributes in database without saving

update_column(name, value)

Updates a single column in a database, without calling save. It will run SQL script in database: “UPDATE tablename SET name=value WHERE id=X”

  • Validation is skipped.
  • Callbacks are skipped.
  • Save method is NOT called, but it updates record in the database.
  • updated_at column is not updated (if the column is available).
  • Raises an ActiveRecordError when called on new objects, or when the name attribute is marked as readonly.


update_column is equivalent to update_columns(name => value), which can update multiple columns in database.


.attributes property

Use .attributes to update attributes of the model without saving it to a database.

@car = Car.new(:some_field=>'value', :another_field=>'value')
@car.attributes = {:title => 'Toyota', :year => 2005, :used=>false}
#other processing
#finally, save to DB


Discussions on StackOverflow:

3 thoughts on “update_attribute, update_attributes and update_column (Ruby on Rails)”

  • Hunter Stevens says:

    Pleas update this post. You initially say that `update_attribute` updates the `updated_at` field (if present). You then later say that it DOES NOT update this field.

    • Anonymous says:

      in first case it is ‘update_ATTRIBUTE’ and in the seconda case it is ‘update_COLUMN’. Those are two different methods.
      I updated description of ‘update_column’ to make it more clear what it does.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>