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How Thredded Uses Shubox

I’ve mentioned previously how Shubox was born of one of the bigger frustrations I had while building the thredded gem, and thredded.org. In short, it was a feature too big to be handled elegantly within something that had a whole other responsibility - discussion and conversation. Sure, images are a vital piece of communication these days and deserve to be a first class citizen. That being said, they deserve their own first class solution. Hence, why I built Shubox. It’s an upload solution for developers to make that experience easy, seemless, and transparent for users.

Of the user experiences I use regularly, what are some of the best? Github’s is one. When leaving comments on GitHub’s issues or PR’s I know I can drag and drop an image, or click a well-styled element just underneath the text area if I’m on a mobile device, and it just works. We wanted something similar for thredded, but with a few little extras (an upload progress bar, namely).

How do we do it? Let’s dig in and see how thredded.com is set up with shubox.

uploading with thredded

Let’s figure out our requirements.

  1. Able to drag and drop photos and images into the post content textarea and append the resulting markdown image pseudocode to the end of the existing text.
  2. Clicking into the textarea should not display the file dialog. We don’t want it hijacking the focus event because that’s where the typing happens.
  3. Click an adjacent div to display the file dialog instead of the behavior we’re disabling in #2. This is for our friends on touch-enabled devices (bc no drag and drop, right?)
  4. Display an upload progress bar.
  5. Append the resulting image file URL with the proper markdown tag.

The 0’th step is to register an account on shubox and set up our domains and bucket(s), natch. We’ll leave that for homework. In the meantime, let’s iteratively build up the solutions to each of the requirements we outline above.

Requirement 1 Solution: Drag+Drop into Post textarea

Ok, so what do we have, here? Several textareas that need the right treatment. They all use one partial for the textarea - app/views/thredded/posts_common/form/_content_field.html.erb

<%= form.label :content, content_label %>
  <%= render 'thredded/posts_common/form/before_content', form: form %>
  <%= form.text_area :content, { rows: 5, required: true }  %>
  <%= render 'thredded/posts_common/form/after_content', form: form %>

The textarea is given different ids according to the context it lives within (post, topic, private topic, etc) so for now the best way to reference it via CSS selector, as we build the Shubox JS initializer is by hooking into the form element in its parent nodes. Our javascript will start out as:

new Shubox(".thredded--form textarea", { textBehavior: "append" });

Requirement 2 Solution: Disable click/focus event

Since this is a textarea, unlike <input>s or <div>s, we do not want the click or focus event to trigger a file dialog to pop up. This is quickly addressed with the clickable option in the initializer.

new Shubox(".thredded--form textarea",
    textBehavior: "append",
    clickable: false

Requirement 3 Solution: Let adjacent div handle click events

For people without the whole drag+drop thing available to them (again - touch devices) we can add a div close to the textarea that can handle those click events. Thredded has a set of empty available to it, just above and below the textarea, that you can choose to override with a div that will do this work. We’ll choose the one below for this example. First, the html in app/views/thredded/posts_common/form/_after_content.html.erb

<div id="thredded--click-to-upload" class="thredded--click-to-upload">
  Attach files by dragging &amp; dropping or <a>selecting them</a>.

We can now add a little styling in our parent application’s app/assets/stylesheets/components/_file_upload.scss. Or your scss partial of choice.

.thredded--click-to-upload {
  background-color: $thredded-light-gray;
  padding: .5rem;
  font-size: .7rem;
  border-bottom-left-radius: 5px;
  border-bottom-right-radius: 5px;

  a {
    color: $thredded-brand;
    cursor: pointer;

And finally, we’ll adjust the shubox initializer to point the “clickable” option at a selector unique to our new click-to-upload div:

new Shubox(".thredded--form textarea",
    textBehavior: "append",
    clickable: '#thredded--click-to-upload'

Requirement 4 Solution: An upload progress bar

Who wants to wait for a long arbitrary time while files upload – not knowing how long until things are done? I sure don’t. Because of this, shubox provides the progress data for both a single file, and multiple files, in the form of the following respective data attributes: data-shubox-progress and data-shubox-total-progress. With these two attributes you can rather easily hook into them with a bunch of CSS that is made trivial with Sass. Here’s what we’ll do - we’ll use a single pixel png as our progress bar and pin it at the top, essentially out of sight until the upload progress changes.

textarea {
  margin-bottom: 0;
  display: block;
  background: image-url('light-gray.png') top left no-repeat;
  background-size: 0 4%;

Then we can loop through the percentages with sass and adjust how the progress bar will look across our textarea as the file, or files, are being uplaoded. At the 100% point we’ll make the progress bar disappear back to its normal state.

@for $i from 1 through 99 {
  $percentage: $i;
  $progress-bar-height: 4%;

  textarea[data-shubox-progress='#{$percentage}'] {
    background-size: ($percentage * 1%) $progress-bar-height;

textarea[data-shubox-progress='100'] {
  background-size: 0 $progress-bar-height;

Requirement 5 Solution: Append image URL with proper markdown tag

Lastly, thredded’s posts can be formatted with markdown so let’s give our users a hand and append the image URL in the post with the markdown image tag wrapped around it. The s3urlTemplate option can be provided any string containing `` which will have the resulting upload URL interpolated in before it is applied to the textarea. If we wanted a plain old html tag we could, instead, provide the string '<img src="">', for example.

new Shubox(".thredded--form textarea",
    textBehavior: "append",
    clickable: '#thredded--click-to-upload',
    s3urlTemplate: '![]()'

~ fin ~

And that’s it! With a little partial overriding, some extra clever (S)CSS, and a relatively straightforward shubox configuration we have an elegant solution to the challenge of uploading and linking to photos and gifs within the thredded post textarea!

Follow us, or let us know what you think, on Twitter at @shuboxio