Dr Nic

Closing in on The Dream: “one-click-to-deploy Rails apps”

Got a simple app you want to build? Allocate 5 minutes for initial code generation, slice setup, and initial deployment. All from the command line. In one command. Booya!

How long does it take to start a new Rails project? Surely just a moment? rails new_project -m path/to/some/template.rb

But your application isn’t deployed yet. The DNS isn’t ready, the remote slice doesn’t exist or the config for this new application isn’t setup. Heck, the code hasn’t even been pushed to a non-existent remote repository yet.

And what if you’re going to use something like twitter_auth for authentication? You’ll need to register your application with Twitter at http://twitter.com/oauth_clients.

All these things could be automated, surely. Surely?

If they were then you’d have a “one click” command. A new Rails app, pushed into production, and ready to rock and roll. Complete with either restful_authentication or twitter-based oauth integration.

What does a “one click” rails and deploy command look like?

cd Sites
rails -m rails-templates/mocra.rb default-twitter-auth-app

1. restful_authentication
2. twitter_auth
Which user authentication system? 2

1. mocra-primary
2. mocra-secondary
3. crazy-pron-sites
Install http://default-twitter-auth-app.mocra.com application on which slice? 3^H1

1. drnic
2. mocra
Which twitter user?  1

Then you wait 3 minutes and 53 seconds.

Then you visit http://default-twitter-auth-app.mocra.com and it is working. You click the “Protected” link and you are redirected to Twitter to click the “Allow” link. You return to the app. You are registered with an account and logged in. You see your own face. You rock.

The rest of the article shows you how to test run it yourself, explain the dependencies and how to install them, and how to unit test your own templates to do similarly fancy things. Hopefully its helpful.

WAITING A MINUTE – is this tutorial destructive to my precious slices?

It is safe. IF you have an existing slicehost slice that was created with the latest deprec gem.

Perhaps backup your slice anyway. But it should be safe.

Deprec installs each application in its own folder and the apache settings are in their own file etc. But when deprec installs apache, passenger, etc it may put them in places you aren’t expecting. It might not. I just can’t promise anything.

Testimonial that the tutorial works

Ryan Bigg offers the following testimonial to encourage you to actually try out the tutorial:

“I have, dear readers, with as little effort as a few keystrokes, an an application base that allows my users to sign up using their twitter credentials. I have my code base here on my machine, and the running application in production over there at http://ryan.mocra.com” Ryan Bigg (radar)

Required gems for the template

There are a couple of one-time-only steps to run to install some gems and setup github and slicehost API keys locally.

gem install highline
gem install deprec
gem install defunkt-github --source http://gems.github.com
gem install booster-slicehost-tools --source=http://gems.github.com

To setup the github gem with your API key:

* login to [http://github.com/](http://github.com/)
* click [account](https://github.com/account)
* click "Global Git Config"
* copy and paste the two lines of config into the terminal to install the config

The github gem will now use this configuration automatically.

To setup the slicehost gem with your API key:

slicehost-slice list
Please enter your API key since you did not provide one:

To get your slicehost API:

Required gems and steps for using twitter_auth

My fork of the twitter gem includes a twitter register_oauth ... command. If John integrates the code, or writes his own, I’ll drop my fork and rewrite my template to use his gem. Til then use this one.

gem install drnic-twitter --source=http://gems.github.com
twitter install
twitter add

And enter your twitter account details. You can run the last command any number of times to add personal and corporate/product twitter accounts. I am really impressed with the internals of this gem – it stores your data in a sqlite3 gem and uses ActiveRecord models to retrieve it. Might create a generator for this in newgem. I also liked the use of the main gem for its command definition. Anyway, we’re off the topic.

Cloning and running the rails-templates

Imagine the above steps were “Buy an Xbox 360. Buy Guitar Hero.” Now its the final step. It’s time to rock.

cd ~/Sites
git clone git://github.com/drnic/rails-templates.git
DOMAIN=yourdomain.com ORGANIZATION="Your Company of Legends" rails -m rails-templates/mocra.rb my_app

A few minutes later you can open http://my-app.yourdomain.com in a browser. It will have restful_authentication or twitter oauth integration all setup and working (except email settings for restful_authentication).

It makes me very happy watching it work.

If the above command has stalled after printing ‘executing slicehost-slice list’ then you haven’t set up your slicehost API key. See the instructions above.

Dirty, nasty assumptions?

How can you deploy an entire app and have it up and running without some more configuration? Surely… surely I’ve made some nasty assumptions and come up with some dirty defaults?


Your application url will be my-app-name.mocra.com. The subdomain is a dasherized version of your application’s folder name. Use DOMAIN=mycompany.com to change the domain.

Your local and remote database is mysql, accessible with user root and no password. I… look… you see there was this dog… and he ate my homework… it wasn’t me… there was an earthquate, a volcano, a flood… it wasn’t me!

You are deploying to slicehost. I do. It has command-line applications to manage slices and DNS. Since I’m deploying to a subdomain of mocra.com I use slicehost to create a CNAME in the DNS.

Your target slice already exists and has been built using the latest deprec. The template let’s you select an existing slicehost slice to use. If you don’t have one that was built with deprec, perhaps create a new one.

Gems? Plugins? Yes this template installs the ones that I want. That’s the point of rails templates – you create your own set of defaults.

What do I do to get my own uber-template?

Copy + paste the mocra.rb template and hack in your configuration. Fork the github project and push up your file so others can see your awesomeness.

See the section on unit testing templates too.

What’s missing?

The primary thing that I want that I haven’t gotten around to writing/fixing/finding a solution is the creation of private, company github projects. That is, instead of public/open-source, personal projects using github create-from-local.

I guess I would want a github create-from-local --private flag to create a private repo instead of a public repo.

Then I’d want the github gem to know that I live in a world of multiple github accounts: my personal account (drnic) and my company’s account (mocra). That is, I’ll want new private company projects to go on the company account.

And then I’ll want it to add me (drnic) as a collaborator. Or a whole group of people.

Since the github gem currently derives its user + API token information from your global git config (git config --get github.user), instead of a nice external sqlite3 database like the twitter gem, I’m not sure what the best/correct data structure would be to add multiple user support to the github gem.

Or perhaps the github create-from-local mechanism should be extracted out of the github gem all together into a github-admin gem which would have multiple users, create public/private repos, add collaborators etc. Yeah, that might be better.

Want a default application theme?

The template will attempt to invoke a generator app_layout if it can find it. Watch the railscast on generators for an example of how to create a local generator and he gives an example of creating a default application theme generator. That’s why all the railscasts applications look the same!

Bonus section: unit testing a Rails template

If you look in the rails-templates project you cloned you’ll see a spec folder. There is a mock template_runner.rb which is used by the spec/mocra/template_spec.rb. This way I can stub out calls to command-line tools like slicehost-slice list and twitter register_oauth and check that the template installs the correct plugins, creates the correct files, etc without actually installing or creating anything.

More importantly its a lot bloody faster to run than the full template.

If you’re creating Rails templates with interesting logic in them then writing some unit tests for your template might be a helpful idea to save time.

Testing outbound emails with Cucumber

My testimonial for Cucumber still stands even in 2009. In fact I promise to let you know when I don’t think Cucumber is the bees-knees of integration testing. I love the step-by-step English instructions of user usage scenarios backed by a simple Ruby DSL for describing real actions on your application for each step.

For testing Rails apps, Cucumber defaults to using Webrat on top of Rails’ own integration sessions. With Webrat you actually test that your views match to your controller actions. If I click the “Submit” button, then it checks that it invokes an available action correctly. Before Cucumber I could appreciate the merit of Webrat alone, but the two tools combined are instant superheroes of my Rails development crime fighting team. That is, like any superhero TV show at least once every 30 minutes you find yourself saying “Thank you Mr Cucumber and your trusty sidekick Webrat, you’re my heroes”. (BTW, I’m not alone in this analogy)

Testing emails

But I wanted to test emails. More interestingly, emails containing links back into my application. Like an activation email on sign up.

Specifically, I wanted a cucumber scenario like this:

Scenario: Signup for new account
  Given I am on the signup form
  When I fill in "Email" with "drnic@mocra.com"
  And I press "Join"
  Then I should see "An activation email has been sent"
  And I should receive an activation email
  When I click the activation email link
  Then I should see "Your account is active"

Within this scenario there are 7 steps. Lines 2, 3, 4 and 7 match to steps from the generated webrat_steps.rb file when you install cucumber.

Line 1 also matches to a webrat step definition. But it requires that you define what “the signup form” maps to in your routes. So you need to update features/support/paths.rb to specify what “the signup form” url is:

module NavigationHelpers
  def path_to(page_name)
    case page_name
    when /the signup form/

So, that leaves us with lines 5 and 6.

email-spec plugin

I’m happy using the email-spec gem/plugin from Ben Mabey, who is also the lead maintainer of the awesome Cucumber TextMate bundle and did a wonderful presentation on Outside-In Development with Cucumber at the recent Mountain West RubyConf (lots of great videos available)

To install as a plugin:

script/plugin install git://github.com/bmabey/email-spec.git

Then add the following line to your *feature/support/env.rb* file:

require 'email_spec/cucumber'

Finally, the plugin comes with some bonus cucumber step definitions which wrap around lots of nice helpers:

script/generate email_spec

Using email-spec step definitions

Let’s ignore my desired lines 5 and 6 above and use the step definitions that we get with email-spec. We can replace the two lines with the following:

And I should receive an email
When I open the email
Then I should see "Please activate your new account" in the subject
When I click the first link in the email

Update: The last line didn’t used to be in email-spec but it now is. I’ve removed the example from this article.

I did all this for an existing application and every line of the scenario tested positive/green. Yay!

Refactoring four steps into two

For the sake of demonstration, you now might want to refactor these four steps into two steps to keep your scenarios nice and readable.

That is, how can we convert these 4 steps into our original lines 5 and 6?

The quickest way is to copy and paste the lines and slap some quotes around the text:

Then /^I should receive an activation email$/ do |email|
  Then 'I should receive an email'
  When 'I open the email'
  Then 'I should see "Please activate your new account" in the subject'

When /^I click the activation email link$/ do
  When 'I click the first link in the email'

That’s right, you can use Given/When/Then as invocation methods as well as step definition methods. If you don’t pass these methods a do…end block then they will match/find/invoke a step rather than define a new one. Very cool.

Alternately, you could implement the two steps using the underlying email helper methods provided by the email-spec plugin:

Then /^I should receive an activation email$/ do
  unread_emails_for(current_email_address).size.should == 1
  current_email.should have_subject(/Please activate your new account/))

When /^I click the activation email link$/ do

Your choice.

Configuring current_email_address

All the email-spec helper methods assume that the “I” in the scenario has an email address. It uses a method current_email_address for this.

You must change the current_email_address method in the email_steps.rb file to pull out email addresses from wherever they might be located within any given scenario.

For example, here is one definition of the method from one of my projects:

def current_email_address
  @email || (@current_user && @current_user.email) || "drnic@mocra.com"


With Cucumber and email-spec it is very easy to send and test emails. So my thanks go to Ben Mabey for this plugin.

RailsCamp.au #5 – book now

Imagine yourself and a posse of like-minded Ruby hackers on a country retreat with zero internet for a weekend of fun. You’ll laugh, hack, learn, cry (well, you probably won’t cry… but you know… it felt poetic) and most likely play a crap-load of guitar hero. [manifesto]

In chronological order, the first RailsCamps in Australia were in the states: New South Wales, Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia.

This time, between May 15th and 18th, it’s in Queensland. God’s Country. The Sunshine State. Home of Steve Irwin (deceased), Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen (deceased), Greg Norman (expat), Keith Urban (expat), and Kristy Hinze (marrying ex-Silicon Graphics/ex-Netscape billionaire Jim Clark; expat). So its a pretty famous and popular place to come from.

More Mexican (by Lachlan Hardy)

Book your tickets now for RailsCamp #5.


Need Rails Developers? Hire Australians

Ruby in Australia

There’s been some malarky very recently about “how do I find a lot of mature, awesome Rails developers?” (rails-business + #rmm)

I think this is the wrong question. And the wrong question will lead to the wrong answer.

What is the right question?

The right question can lead to a right answer. The right question you should ask yourself every day:

Where do I find a lot of mature, awesome Rails developers?”


ChocTop – packaging and deployment of Cocoa applications


I’m getting close to releasing a new Cocoa application, CommitChat, a sexy interface to having conversations for each commit in each watched project in GitHub. It was time to start thinking about packaging and distribution.

The result is a new project for all Cocoa developers, called ChocTop, and a 30-minute tutorial screencast on how to use it. ChocTop is to Cocoa apps what Hoe is to RubyGems; except prettier.

Packaging Cocoa apps

You can package and release Cocoa apps in a number of ways. Each app is actually a folder, so they need some packaging. Zip files are easy and the bonus is they auto-open when people download them. But for me, without a doubt, is the DMG packaging with a custom background image and the embedded symlink to the Applications folder, like the one for CommitChat below.

CommitChat DMG

I’ve always loved it. It made me as a user feel that this piece of software was special. A custom DMG is like a piece of magic.

Now like most magic, its really only magical when you don’t know how its done.

But there in lies a problem. You want to release your own Cocoa software with a beautiful custom DMG but you don’t want to know how to do it. You want the magic, even as a developer, but that means you can’t know how to do it.

And trust me you do NOT want to know how to do it. Ever.