Our collection of Capistrano components
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DNA Shipistrano

Ship all the things

NOTE: This is coming out of our internal repos, getting a tidy up, fixing shit that's years old and is more a work in process that production ready. So use at your own risk, most of the helpers we need haven't quite been copied yet but as I have time, this'll get padded out.

** Check the TODO.md document for outstanding stuff **

NOTE: This still uses the old Capistrano v2. Haven't yet looked into Capistrano v3


With hundreds of heterogeneous applications across a variety of platforms, languages and third-party infrastructure configurations, one challenge we face at DNA managing those in a effective way. Not just from a automation view but also to ensure that we have the structure and processes to make sure each team isn't being caught up reinventing the wheel.

This repo provides one part of our toolkit in solving our problem. Shipistrano provides a collection of tested Capistrano processes and helper recipes for deploying and syncing environments between machines. It can be used onto of Capistrano in order to provide additional helpers.


One tool we've grown to love over the years is Capistrano. Young, fit and fresh faced, the relationship between Capistrano and our team blossomed. We were lovestruck by the elegant Ruby DSL, mesmerized by its' social grace, blind to the birth defects and even congenial to its' opinionated ways.

As time went on, Capistrano always stayed beautiful but the romance dwindled. We didn't work on problems with our relationship together. We didn't listen to one another or experiment with one another and because of that, rather than growing together, we grew apart.

Like all relationships that one day may be destined to fail, we felt the only way to save our one was to breath new life into it. So it was, Shipistrano was conceived.

Our dream for Shipistrano, much like any parent, is that we can teach it all our life lessons so that hopefully it doesn't make the same mistakes as we once did when we were young. The best of what we know, plus more.


Shipistrano is the collection of all our opinionated little scripts, shortcuts and bad manners that have been passed down from generation to generation from the rough and tough real world. But it also has some new tricks of it's own.

Shipistrano's favorite toy is building blocks. Everything Shipistrano plays with is a building block and so by using different compositions of these colourful little blocks, Shipistrano can create any sort of play area you want.

Bringing Shipistrano up, the early years

Shipistrano is a child of the much wiser Capistrano. Capsitrano is packaged as a Ruby gem, hence for it to run you must have installed Ruby (>=1.8.7) and Rubygems on your local machine. Describing all the ways to setup Capistrano and the lessons Capistrano can teach Shipistrano is a little beyond this one page so if you haven't, play with the elder first and you'll pick up a trick or three.


Once you have installed Ruby on the machine, you should be able to run bundler to grab capistrano and all the friends Shipistrano wants to play with

  cd dna_shipistrano
  bundle install

Planning your playtime

First, include this repo inside the project you want to build ontop of Shipistrano. You can do this a number of ways:

  1. download the repo and symlink it in,
  2. add it as a git submodule
  3. just download the repo

I personally like to play with it as a submodule to an existing git project so I would run the following

  cd ~/Sites/project
  git submodule add git@github.com:dnadesign/shipistrano.git cap
  git submodule sync
  git submodule init

Starting playtime with Shipistrano

Before we can use Shipistrano, we first need to create a new file in the project which contains the outline and main picture rules we want Shipistrano to play with. We've drawn a few pictures in our time so a collection of existing diagrams are provided inside the examples folder.

Let's take an example of a basic VPS server with production / staging versions and running mysql as our basic outline

cp cap/examples/basic.capfile ./capfile

That line will copy the example file to our capfile in the root of the project. If you don't know what a capfile is, I recommend you consult the Capistrano Documentation.

Feel free to checkout some of the other examples that Shipistrano can play with, to get an idea of the flexibility of the concept.

The capfile contains links to particular recipes an application might need. For instance the MySQL and Postgres helpers are separate helpers which can be included depending on what solution your application is using. Simple load the helper and ensure you implement the variables required.

A capfile with an application that has a Postgres database might include the following:

  // capfile
  set :pgsql_user, "username"
  set :pgsql_database, "database"

  load 'cap/lib/shipistrano/helpers/postgres'

After copying the example you want to follow, you'll need to edit the capfile to customize the picture to exactly what you want it to look like. Open the file in a TextEditor of your choice, and alter away. Remember, the examples provide a few neat tricks and your capfile is simply a ruby file. You can teach Shipistrano whatever else you want too along with the build in lessons.

Playtime GO!

Now that your capfile exists and the cap folder is in your project, Shipistrano can do it's thing. Actually in fact, it doesn't do much. It relies on it's parents to do most of the world for it.

To see Capistrano tasks your Shipistrano picture provides run

  cap -vT

Or, if you have built on the separate+environment example, you can see what tasks you can do on that environment by including the name of the environment in the command

  cap staging -vT

And running Capistrano Tasks is just that easy, either run the task as you would normally:

  cap deploy

Or, again, with the environment specified.

  cap staging deploy


As mentioned, Shipistrano is opinionated to how we want to raise a child of Capistrano. May not be the kind of kid you want to hang out with but because of him we love Capistrano just a little bit more.

On a more serious note

Server Configuration

You will note that none of the receipes include code snippets for managing the server, this is by design. We keep that stuff in Chef. Chef is the Bonnie to Shipistrano's Clyde. If you want to hear about how we're running Chef, buy me a beer sometime.


Unlike every other capistrano suite I've used, the goal of this one is to be stable. Test cases are provided through Cucumber based on similar work by Jeff Dean (https://github.com/zilkey). To run the tests simply install cucumber on your machine and run it in this project.

  cd ~/Scripts/shipistrano

If you only need to test a particular feature or scenario, pass that to cucumber

  # run the asset scenarios
  cucumber features/assets.feature

  # run the asset scenario on line 6
  cucumber features/assets.feature:6

NOTE: The database tests assume you have setup configure file based logins for your MySQL. To do that, define a ~/.my.cnf with the following settings




Are welcome! But, this repo is what we're working on putting into production so, we reserve the right to be opinionated. If you disagree, fork me.

If this thing saves you time, awesome.

This project funded and paid for as part of commercial work we do DNA Designed Communications Limited (dna.co.nz). If you feel you have too, please donate instead to a charity (http://www.charitywater.org/) and let @dna_nz / @wilr know and we'll be super grateful!


BSD-3-Clause. True open source.