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Ansible playbook to provision a Rails deployment server with:

  • Ubuntu 14.04.1
  • Postgresql 9.3
  • rbenv
  • ruby 2.1.5
  • Phusion Passenger + nginx from Phusion's apt repo
  • Papertrail logging
  • Prepares an nginx vhost for a Rails app, ready for deployment with cap

It can be deployed locally using Vagrant (i.e. for DEV environment), or in the cloud using Digital Ocean (i.e. STAGING/PROD environments).


Following various sources to create an idempotent, repeatable provisioning script for Rails applications (among other things) using Ansible.

My current goal is to be able to deploy a Rails / Postgres / PostGIS app to DigitalOcean in "one click". Perhaps "many clicks", but as minimal human intervention as possible.

Repeatably. Possibly even including provisioning of the cloud instances.

At the very least, to create a consistent set of DEV, STAGING and PROD environments.

Benefits to using something like Ansible to manage servers:

  • Reduce "jenga" feeling when running servers (same win as unit testing and source control)
  • Consistency between different environments
  • Executable documentation
  • Combined with cloud providers and hourly billing, can create on-demand staging environments

Usage (Vagrant)

Vagrant must be installed from the website.

I'm currently retrieving Ansible from git, as well as the dopy module for DigitalOcean.

git clone
cd ansible-ubuntu-rails-server
brew install python
sudo easy_install pip
sudo pip install -r requirements.txt

Generate a crypted password, and put it in vars/default.yml.

python support/

The following command will:

  • Use Vagrant to create a new Ubuntu virtual machine.
  • Boot that machine with Virtualbox.
  • Ask you for the deploy sudo password (the one you just crypted).
  • Use our Ansible playbook to provision everything needed for the Rails server.
vagrant up

BUG: Sometimes, vagrant up times out before Ansible gets a chance to connect. I haven't figured this out yet. If this happens, run vagrant provision to continue the Ansible playbook.

To run individual roles (e.g. only install nginx), try the following. You can replace nginx with any role name, since they're all tagged in build-server.yml.

ansible-playbook build-server.yml -i hosts --tags nginx

Once the provision is complete, continue to jbinto/rails4_sample_app_capistrano to deploy a Rails application using Capistrano.

Usage (DigitalOcean)

Set up environemnt variables DO_CLIENT_ID and DO_API_KEY, or hardcode them in ./hosts/digital_ocean.ini.

Install tugboat:

gem install tugboat
tugboat authorize

Edit ./vars/digitalocean.yml.

  • Note that hostname must be a real FQDN you own, and the DNS must be pointing to DigitalOcean.
  • You can use tugboat to acquire the magic numbers needed for region/image/size IDs.

Now you can provision the DigitalOcean droplet:

ansible-playbook -i local provision-digitalocean.yml

This will spin up a new DigitalOcean VPS which costs real money. Since you set up the SSH keys with DigitalOcean, you already have passwordless root access.

At the end, it should tell you the new IP address of your server (doesn't seem to be doing this anymore c. 10-2014).

  • Manually add the IP address to ./hosts-digitalocean.
  • Manually set your DNS as necessary with this new IP address. (TODO use digital_ocean_domain module)
  • Generate a crypted password, if not already done, and put it in vars/default.yml. This will be the password for your deploy user.
python support/

Now, run the playbook as usual. Good luck!

ansible-playbook build-server.yml -i hosts-digitalocean -u root -K -vvvv

Note that after the first run, root will no longer be able to log in. To run the playbook again, replace root with the deploy user as set in vars/defaults.yml.


  • Vagrant ships with insecure defaults. Can log in to the VM with vagrant/vagrant, and there is an insecure SSH key. Need to destroy this stuff.

  • vagrant is a NOPASSWD sudoer, but deploy requires a password. Should I just run all the scripts with `-K?

  • It seems so. From googling, it seems Ansible is not designed to be run with the sudoers file only allowing pre-approved commands.

  • It seems just having a deploy user is a bad idea. It's messy. Perhaps there should be a provision user as well. This user could install packages, etc. and deploy should only affect have rights to the app in ~/deploy.

  • For now, keep it simple, just deploy. But we won't go down the NOPASSWD route. It's too risky. Consider: if there's any bug in Rails that allowed remote code execution, attackers are one sudo away from full control.

  • The pros of disabling NOPASSWD outweigh the cons. Should make it standard practice when creating an Ansible playbook: create a deploy user with a unique password, use that password for sudo, and always pass -K when necessary. Design playbooks to be clear about whether it requires sudo or not. Right now it's very muddy with privileged and unprivileged tasks combined in the same play.

  • In order to "destroy Vagrant", basically we just remove the vagrant user. Also, lock down SSH, etc (see phred/5minbootstrap.)

  • This means only one playbook should be executed as vagrant: the one that sets up the deploy user. Every script afterwards must be executable as deploy.

  • Despite that, I still can't get ansible-playbook to work with the vagrant user, because my SSH key isn't moved there. UPDATE: This was because I was overwriting /etc/sudoers. This gave deploy sudo access, but made everyone else (including vagrant) lose it.

  • Can't include RSA keys in the git repo. Run ssh-keygen and create a deploy keypair, and move it to devops/templates/deploy_rsa[.pub]. (Not using deploy keys, but ssh-agent forwarding instead.)

  • Not sure if the deploy keypair should have a passphrase on it or not? Well, I am sure, it should, but whether automation relies on this or not?

  • If you get the following error installing ansible on OS X Mavericks:

# clang: error: unknown argument: '-mno-fused-madd' [-Wunused-command-line-argument-hard-error-in-future]


echo "ARCHFLAGS=-Wno-error=unused-command-line-argument-hard-error-in-future" >> ~/.zshrc
. ~/.zshrc
brew install ansible

See Stack Overflow question for details.

Issues with Passenger - solved

There's two ways to install Passenger:

  • Using their official Ubuntu packages, which installs Passenger files in various locations throughout the system (n.b. as do all apt packages)
  • Your passenger_root must be a locations.ini file which points to all these locations. This ships with the passenger package and can also be generated with one of the passenger-config about commands.


  • gem install passenger (or adding passenger to Gemfile), which contains all Passenger files in your rubygems directory.
  • install-passenger-nginx-module, which compiles a brand new nginx and installs it into /opt/nginx. Nginx modules must be statically loaded..

The former makes more sense, since it's apt it seems cleaner/more maintainable. Especially for nginx, I don't want to have to be recompiling if I need a new module or security update.

I spent a long time trying to figure out why nginx returned 403 Forbidden for anything not in ./public.

I was defining passenger_ruby in my server-specific config, but forgetting passenger_root. I ended up putting these two lines in /etc/nginx/nginx.conf, and now all is well. In my server specific config, I only have passenger_enabled.

Things that still need fixing

  • ag BUG; ag NOTE
  • Security: 5minbootstrap
  • Asset precompilation using official capistrano method - this happens on remote server?
  • Create a Vagrant Cloud box with some or all of the Ansible steps already completed.
  • The stages are a little muddy. The current example targets only RAILS_ENV=production, regardless of whether it's Vagrant (dev) or DigitalOcean (could be staging, could be prod). Can easily edit the role as needed, but need to devise a better overall strategy.

Fixed issues / answered questions

  • Security: Get rid of vagrant user UPDATE: This isn't necessary. I'm only ever running vagrant on my local machine, and that user is truly necessary for plumbing. We'll never pacakge the Vagrant image and deploy it to the cloud. We can assume a clean base (e.g. DigitalOcean).
  • Security: Analyze exactly why we need NOPASSWD. Capistrano symlink stuff maybe can be done in Ansible, and if cap needs sudo, could restrict it to particular commands. UPDATE: Fixed this by moving the symlinking, nginx stuff to Ansible, which is better suited for that anyway. Now, cap should be fine without sudo.
  • Restart nginx automagically after deploys? Still have to ssh in and do it manually. Not sure why. UPDATE: Fixed.
  • Deploy user still might still be hardcoded some places - try renaming it done
  • Provision to DigitalOcean! done
  • Shouldn't have to SSH in to set postgres password in database.yml. done
  • Only update the apt cache once every N. (60 minutes? 24 hours? What if we need to force it? -- easy, use a update_apt_cache handler on all things that need it, e.g. added repos) done

Sources / references

Synthesized from the following sources:


Ansible playbook to provision a Rails deployment environment






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