How to Configure CORS Accept Headers in Rails API Application

February 18, 2014

You’ve finally realized the value of SOA (Service Oriented Architecturee) and decided to move all of your dynamic functionality into an independent service layer. Smart!

You start turning your cool dynamic features into REST JSON web services and then have your HTML sites (a.k.a consumer) query these services for JSON data (a.k.a. provider). However, the response from your web service is coming back blank, though the HTTP response status says 200 OK and you can see JSON data when accessing the web service endpoint directly. Sounds familiar?

What you may be dealing with here is known as a Cross-origin Resource Sharing (CORS) and covers situations where a web service you are querying is on a different site compared to the one initiating the request. Browsers ban such requests trying to comply with so-called “Same Origin Security Policy”.

Here, it is important to understand what a site is in this particular context:

"Site" is a combination of scheme, hostname, and port number.

So, even if your consumer is on “localhost:3000” and your provider is on “localhost:3001”, the response will be neglected unless your web service sets a permissive CORS policy. This policy is defined by the provider setting specific CORS headers in HTTP response that a consumer app (e.g. a browser) destined to enforce. For example, configuring these headers:

# in config/application.rb
config.action_dispatch.default_headers = {
    'Access-Control-Allow-Origin' => '',
    'Access-Control-Request-Method' => %w{GET POST OPTIONS}.join(",")

will allow a web service to service GET | POST | OPTIONS requests from your site.

Please note, that setting 'Access-Control-Allow-Origin' => '*' is highly discouraged, unless you are providing a public API that is intended to be accessed by any consumer out there.

If you want to allow multiple sites to access your web service, the recommended way is to have your server read the Origin header from the consumer, compare that to the list of sites you’d like to allow, and, if it matches, send the value of the Origin header back to the consumer as the Access-Control-Allow-Origin header in the response. Simply listing multiple sites or adding multiple Access-Control-Allow-Origin headers in the response doesn’t appear to produce consistent results accross different browsers.

For those, who prefer to define CORS policy via Rack middleware, take a look at this rails-cors ( gem.

##### Today my environment was:

  • Rails 4.0.2
  • rails-api 0.2.0