Tool with some similarities to puppet but specializing in fast development iteration and continuous deployment. For use with / project clusters.
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(i.e., metacontroller)

At the moment a very specialized ruby gem for some / development work but might be more generalizable later. For controlling a complex project repository. (Where controlling = developing, deploying, running/supervising, branching, aggregating, etc.)



  • git

  • curl

The overall tool can be installed as follows:

$   curl -sL -o /tmp/ && bash /tmp/

The library can be used from within a project with a separate:

$   gem install metacon



Standard families / families w/ special functionality


Define the overall dependencies for meta-environments


Sets up misc. os (bash) environment variables for meta-environments (probably won't be able to guarantee they're set except in specific run contexts)




Context: A random walk through changing your project environment

(while iterating/working on a single project, using mostly ruby and python as examples)

- rails, etc.

Rails (etc.) has the concept of environments - set by the RAILS_ENV environment variable. When you set it to development or production etc. it starts up servers and consoles differently - different configuration variables and initialization scripts etc.

- rvm, pythonbrew, etc.

Often one adds a .rvmrc to the root directory to control the ruby version and keep the local gem repository pristine (which helps it avoid any conflicts with other rails projects etc.). Tools like pythonbrew allow for the same thing with python - using environment variables and some easy commands you can have easy control over virtualenv for installed python modules and even custom non-conflicting versions of python.

- bundler, pip-requirements, etc.

A quick way to specify gems / python-modules including specific versions that this project depends on. Especially useful when combined with rvm/pythonbrew, etc. Usually before you're allowed to run anything like test servers it'll check to make sure the environment has the dependencies and tell you to install them if not.

- git branches and submodules

Obviously changing your scm branch very quickly and automatically changes the files in your project. Thus you can quickly switch between “topical” branches, bug-fix branches, authoritative branches, etc.

Submodules offer an aggregation method for more complex projects that depend on separate git repositories. These allow you to:

  1. Modify the submodule's code at the same time you're iterating on the project that uses it - so especially useful if you want greater modularization of code that you're working on.

  2. Have your repository/branch “pointing” to a specific commit of the submodule. This gives you a kind of very fine-grained dependency control. You could have a feature branch pointing to a newer commit of a submodule (which could be a local clone of any git repository whether you have “push” access or not) - and thus just by switching branches you're also changing the version of the submodules you're depending on.

- development vs. server-env: deployment

(i.e., capistrano, fabric, etc. etc.)

Deployment is essentially a slightly more complex way of adjusting the project for a (sometimes very) different environment… Sometimes very different, yet often the most important- the one you're targeting in the first place…

Included here are continuous deployment tools (we use Brigade internally at Justin tv, written by Emmett Shear [and modified by several employees]. It rocks. One day it will be opensourced) and things as simple as scripts that do a git-push to servers and issue a SIGHUP.

- puppet

Then there's good ol' puppet. In big systems it's often used to declaratively say what software is required on what machines (and it figures out how to get them installed in the most appropriate manner for that OS/configuration) and sometimes even how to startup and supervise processes on those machines. I have to include it here because there's a bunch of stuff that metacon does that we have done w/ puppet in the past, plus it's declarative nature is a very, very good standard for any similar tools to aspire to. Metacon cannot replace puppet- just some stuff that people are sometimes driven to hijack puppet to do for them. (that's pretty much true of all tools listed above).

Description (finally)

metacon is for easily organizing and developing any project that may consist of multiple:

  • runtime environments (development/staging/production/testing…)

  • os environments (mac and linux)

  • specific-machine environments (server82 vs cluster3)

  • roles (possibly no one else may need this- when a project can run as different roles / essentially multiple different projects combined into one)

and that needs to be easily developed, integrated, and deployed without interuption of existing services. Or, stated differently, the goals as follows.

(Aside, Quick redefinition of 'environment')

Since I keep using the term, when I say "environment" I'm not referring here to
the normal bash/shell environment. I'm referring specifically to the
combination above:   runtime-context & os & machine & role

1. Develop against the environment union, abstract out divergences

Develop for the different environment combinations at the same time - with the assumption that much of the development is not environment sensitive or that the environment-sensitive parts can be factored away. Easily abstract the environment stuff away.

2. Easy way to run/iterate in isolated environments.

Keep them ISOLATED - so if you wanted to pristinely run several different projects on a server with different needs as far as ruby/python versions and packages, binary dependencies, etc., you can (up to a point). Stated another way- take the isolation and orthoganality that something like RAILS_ENV / .rvmrc provide and extend it pretty much automatically to the following:

  • Ruby version/build

  • Ruby gems / packages

  • Python version/build

  • Python modules / packages

  • Anything you can have as a git submodule including but not limited to:

    • More ruby or python packages that you iterate on or deploy with where the version/branch may change.

    • Patched or internally developed code that would normally be compiled and installed globally on the target machine.

    • Other projects that represent loose dependencies that may be getting work done on them orthogonally to this repo (yes, that's mostly a restatement of the last item).

  • Supervisor processes / running contexts

Extending it further. So, you may wonder, why not just go “all the way” and actually completely change your PATH or segregate by user or even have virtual-machines or something? Because, at least with current technologies, that would violate goal #1 and goal #3.

3. Fast environment switching

Very fast switching between the environments and even running certain tasks on environments concurrently within the current file and change-set context. In other words, I modify a script and can immediately test it against my “staging” and “test” environments for my “responder” role. Switching ideally instantaneous, at least after the first time in that environment (when lots of downloading / installing needs to happen).


  • Developer-Platform-Agnosticism. That is, a large degree of cross-platform commutativity: develop on mac, deploy on linux, etc.

  • Easy-Continual-Integration. Dependency conflicts - even needing a different binary usually installed on the target, is revealed in such a way that is very easy to resolve.

  • Easy-Continual-Deployment. Environmental concerns built in and coded against from the beginning with very little pain. Complex projects that are already huge and complex and in desparate need of continual deployment should be able to migrate to metacon easily and enjoy all the benefits. (This is why we needed it).

  • Easy-Scaling. At least at the meta level. Application-specific scaling concerns are of course your problem, but at least with metacon it's easy to say “this worker needs to use 4 processors on servers 70 - 94, but only one processor when running on my ancient netbook.”

  • Main goal in the end is Fast/Agile-Development on complex projects that are aggregates of several projects.

Contributing to metacon

  • Check out the latest master to make sure the feature hasn't been implemented or the bug hasn't been fixed yet Check out the issue tracker to make sure someone already hasn't requested it and/or contributed it

  • Fork the project

  • Start a feature/bugfix branch

  • Commit and push until you are happy with your contribution

  • Make sure to add tests for it. This is important so I don't break it in a future version unintentionally.

  • Please try not to mess with the Rakefile, version, or history. If you want to have your own version, or is otherwise necessary, that is fine, but please isolate to its own commit so I can cherry-pick around it.


MIT License. Copyright © 2011 Joseph Wecker. See LICENSE.txt for further details.