"Virtual Hosting, Rails, NGINX, Apache, Passenger, Ubuntu"

I've become a fan of RVM, which allows you to create pseudo virtual environments called "gemsets" that can be version-locked to the specific needs of your individual projects. In Rails, deploying several of these projects to a single server can be tricky. This tutorial describes how this can be done.



Setting up a server to host multiple Ruby on Rails projects requires a well thought-out strategy to ensure a responsive system that meets your various needs. NGINX has a fantastic record for serving static content. Apache and Passenger are workhorses that form a terrific relationship with Ruby on Rails. We'll combine the best of these programs to serve multiple Rails projects on an Ubuntu server.

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You will need:

  • Ubuntu (I am using 12.04 LTS)
  • Root access or the ability to run sudo commands
  • A Rails project (or several)

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Server setup

These are a few basic boiler-plate Ubuntu things you may have done already:

locale-gen en_US.UTF-8
/usr/sbin/update-locale LANG=en_US.UTF-8
dpkg-reconfigure tzdata
apt-get update && apt-get upgrade

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A few libraries that you'll want. We'll also install NGINX, Apache, and MySQL here so they're in place when we configure them later. Modify this list as needed--for example if you use subversion instead of git.

apt-get install build-essential git-core
apt-get install htop libssl-dev libreadline5 libreadline5-dev curl zlib1g zlib1g-dev
apt-get install libcurl4-gnutls-dev libopenssl-ruby apache2-prefork-dev libapr1-dev libaprutil1-dev
apt-get install libxslt-dev libxml2-dev nodejs npm
apt-get install apache2
apt-get install nginx
apt-get install mysql-server mysql-client

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Configure MySQL

I like to create a web MySQL to coincide with the web system user we'll create later. All my Rails projects use the web MySQL user in production. Tune to fit your own requirements if needed.

mysql -u root

GRANT ALL ON *.* TO 'web';

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Create Web user

We'll create a system user to contain all Rails applications in the /var/www directory. Afterwords, create your RSA key needed for GitHub and others.

rm -rf /var/www
adduser --system --shell=/bin/bash --home=/var/www web
addgroup web
usermod -g web web
su - web
mkdir .ssh
chmod 700 .ssh
cd .ssh
ssh-keygen -t rsa -C "web@rails"

Create the ractivate script in the web user's home directory. Once done, add the following to .bashrc:

alias ractivate='source ~/.ractivate'
export RAILS_ENV='production'

Create .gemrc in the web user's home directory and add the following:

install: --no-rdoc --no-ri
update: --no-rdoc --no-ri

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Install RVM

Run the following, as the web user, to install RVM. This will take a while.

curl -L https://get.rvm.io | bash -s stable --ruby

When that finishes, install Ruby (1.9.3 for me), create a global gemset, and install bundler.

rvm install 1.9.3 --with-openssl-dir=~/.rvm/
rvm gemset use 1.9.3@global --create --default
gem install bundler

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Install Passenger

Passenger acts as the liaison between Ruby and Apache. It is very quick, easy to install, and has fantastic documentation. Install with the following command, but do not follow the instructions it gives to configure Apache. We'll do that later in a slightly modified way to accomodate multiple gemsets.

gem install passenger
rvm wrapper 1.9.3@global passenger

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Configure Apache

Now we have to make Apache work with our web user and Passenger. Switch back to your root user and change the following variables in /etc/apache2/envvars

export APACHE_RUN_USER=web

To load the Passenger module, add the following to /etc/apache2/httpd.conf. Modify this for the version of Ruby and Passenger you installed.

LoadModule passenger_module /var/www/.rvm/gems/ruby-1.9.3-p194@global/gems/passenger-3.0.15/ext/apache2/mod_passenger.so
PassengerRoot /var/www/.rvm/gems/ruby-1.9.3-p194@global/gems/passenger-3.0.15
PassengerRuby /var/www/.rvm/bin/passenger_ruby

Configure Apache to listen locally on port 8080 by changing the following in /etc/apache2/ports.conf

Listen 8080

Restart Apache.

service apache2 restart

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Configure NGINX

NGINX is almost ready to go out of the box; you'll just need to create a proxy configuration. Create /etc/nginx/proxy.conf and paste the following:

proxy_redirect off;
proxy_set_header Host $host;
proxy_set_header X-Real-IP $remote_addr;
proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
proxy_set_header X-Url-Scheme $scheme;
client_max_body_size 10m;
client_body_buffer_size 128k;
proxy_connect_timeout 90;
proxy_send_timeout 90;
proxy_read_timeout 90;
proxy_buffers 32 4k;

# vim: ts=4 ft=nginx

Restart NGINX.

service nginx restart

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Deploy your project

Before deploying to the server you will need 3 project-specific configuration files.

Project Apache config

Create /etc/apache2/sites-available/projectname.conf and add the following (modified for your project):

    ServerName projectname.com

    DocumentRoot /var/www/projectname/public

    <IfModule mod_rpaf.c>
        RPAFenable On
        RPAFsethostname On

    LogLevel warn
    CustomLog /var/log/apache2/projectname.access.log combined
    ErrorLog /var/log/apache2/projectname.error.log

# vim: ft=apache

Project NGINX config

Create /etc/nginx/sites-available/projectname.conf and add the following (modified for your project):

server {
    listen 80;
    server_name projectname.com;

    access_log  /var/log/nginx/jdknot.access.log;
    error_log   /var/log/nginx/jdknot.error.log;

    location /assets {
        alias /var/www/projectname/public/assets;

    location / {
        proxy_pass http://localhost:8080;
        include /etc/nginx/proxy.conf;

# vim: ft=nginx

Project setup_load_paths config

This is a file you'll add to your Rails project to inform Passenger about your gemset. On your local machine, create projectname/config/setup_load_paths.rb and paste the following:

if ENV['MY_RUBY_HOME'] && ENV['MY_RUBY_HOME'].include?('rvm')
        rvm_path = File.dirname(File.dirname(ENV['MY_RUBY_HOME']))
        rvm_lib_path = File.join(rvm_path, 'lib')
        $LOAD_PATH.unshift rvm_lib_path
        require 'rvm'
        RVM.use_from_path! File.dirname(File.dirname(__FILE__))
    rescue LoadError
        raise "RVM ruby lib is currently unavailable."

ENV['BUNDLE_GEMFILE'] = File.expand_path('../Gemfile', File.dirname(__FILE__))
require 'bundler/setup'

And create a rvmrc file to points to your gemset. Create projectname/.rvmrc and add:

rvm 1.9.3@projectname

If you haven't already done so, commit these changes.

git add config/setup_load_path.rb
git add .rvmrc
git commit -m "Created setup_load_path and rvmrc"
git push

Clone and setup project

Back on the server, as your web user: clone your project, setup a gemset, and prepare the database and assets:

su - web
git clone git@github.com:yourname/projectname.git
rvm gemset create projectname
cd projectname
bundle install --binstubs
rake db:create
rake db:migrate
rake assets:precompile

Restart Apache and NGINX

As root:

service apache2 restart
service nginx restart

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If all went well, you should be able to load projectname.com. If things don't work right, good places to start debugging are the log files in /var/log/apache/ and /var/log/nginx/. As always, feel free to comment or contact me if I have failed to explain anything clearly.

A huge thanks to Aaron Sumner for his blog on using Passenger with RVM.

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