A signup page (aka PII page) for the NCS project
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An NCS Signup page

This is the National Children's Study signup page used by the Greater Chicago Study Center. It is a simple Ruby on Rails app which provides a form to allow potential participants to express interest in the study.

It uses Rails 3 and a PostgreSQL database. It is currently in production.

For questions or comments, please contact r-sutphin@northwestern.edu.

Use at other centers

The GCSC published this application to provide an example for other centers. If you want to deploy it for your center, you'll need to customize the visual design. We recommend that you [fork][] the [project on GitHub][project] and apply your changes in the fork. This will make it easier for you to merge in any changes we make after you start your modifications. It will also give you a repo at which to point Capistrano for deployment.


As noted in the previous section ncs_signup supports Capistrano for deployment. With Capistrano, you check out the code on a workstation and then run a script which deploys it on one or more target servers. (Just one for this application.)


On the deployment workstation:

  • Ruby 1.8.7
  • RubyGems
  • Bundler (install as a gem)
  • A git client

On the application server:

  • Ruby 1.8.7 (Ruby Enterprise Edition is what GCSC uses)
  • RubyGems
  • Bundler (install as a gem)
  • Passenger (install as a gem)
  • A git client
  • Access to a PostgreSQL server
  • Apache configured to do SSL with an appropriate certificate

Setup on the application server

Configure Passenger

Passenger is an Apache module. Read its manual for information on configuring it.

Part of deploying with Passenger is deciding on a location where the application files are going to sit on the server. For the remainder of this document, we'll assume that this directory is /var/www/apps.

Configure database

ncs_signup uses a single PostgreSQL database. It looks for the connection information for this database using bcdatabase. Specifically, it looks for bcdatabase group ncsdb_prod and configuration name ncs_signup. This means you need to create a file /etc/nubic/db/ncsdb_prod.yml with contents following this pattern:

  host: ncsdb.myinst.edu
  port: 5432
  adapter: postgresql
  database: ncs_pii # only needed if not the same as the name, i.e. "ncs_signup"
  username: ncsapps # similarly only needed if not the same as the name
  password: foo

(If you are setting up a staging instance, the the group name and the filename should be ncs_staging instead of ncs_prod.)

This file is YAML, so whitespace is important. Be sure to indent everything the same amount using spaces (not tabs).

After you create this file, you can optionally obscure the password. See the documentation for bcdatabase for more information. If you want to do this, you'll first need to install the bcdatabase gem using the system's rubygems.

Setup on the deployment workstation

Clone & install dependencies

  • Clone the repository onto the workstation using git.
  • Run bundle install to install the necessary gems.

Deployment attributes configuration

The cap script for ncs_signup is parameterized. It reads the parameters from a bcdatabase file, group ncs_deploy and name ncs_signup. You'll need to create a file /etc/nubic/db/ncs_deploy.yml on the workstation with contents along these lines:

  # the app directory implied by your Passenger conf
  deploy_to: /var/www/apps
  # If you have your own fork, use its read-only URL here
  repo: git://github.com/NUBIC/ncs_signup.git
  # The servers to deploy to
  staging_app_server: ncsapps-staging.myinst.edu
  production_app_server: ncsapps.myinst.edu

Finally, deployment

Once everything is configured, you're ready to deploy. On the workstation, run this line:

$ bundle exec cap production deploy:migrations

That should be it. Notes:

  • This will deploy the code from the git repository onto the server. Uncommitted/unpushed changes in the local workstation copy will not be deployed.
  • This will automatically create or update the database schema as needed.


Once your signup page is approved and collecting participant interest, you'll want to extract the participants so they can be evaluated for eligibility and possibly contacted. ncs_signup includes two rake tasks to assist you with this.

  • participants:full_export creates a CSV containing all the participants that have ever signed up.
  • participants:new_participants creates a CSV containing the information for any participants who have signed up since the last time you ran it. I.e., ncs_signup keeps track of the participants that are exported using this task and only ever exports them once.

To run either, SSH into the application server and switch to the application directory:

$ cd /var/www/apps/ncs_signup/current
$ rake participants:new_particpants

The CSV for either command is written to exports/participants_{kind of export}_{timestamp}.csv.