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Deploy Repo for Ruby Mad Science

Want to build a custom VM around your Rails app? Want to use all the right open-source tools like Chef, Capistrano, Librarian, NGinX and RVM? Want to test it locally and then push exactly the same configuration to real hosting? You've found the right place.

Here's how you deploy a test app to Vagrant immediately. This will install the correct versions of Vagrant and Virtualbox on your dev machine and all the necessary plugins and software.

> gem install madscience
> rvmsudo madscience construct  # or sudo madscience construct if no rvm

This will install dev tools locally, clone a repo into the "madscience" directory under your current, and then deploy a server with a Rails test app to your VM. It's often a one-line change to make it deploy your Rails or Rack app instead.

This is the open, MIT-licensed source code behind the (commercial) product "Rails Deploy In An Hour" (

What Do You Need?

  • Ruby
  • RubyGems

MadScience is compatible with your version manager of choice, but doesn't require one on the host machine. You may need to use a different command line for sudo, as you normally would when running Ruby executables with that version manager -- for instance, rvm uses "rvmsudo".

It uses RVM on the Guest VM, and doesn't allow other version managers on the guest.

To Test and Create a Server

# Edit the file, change from rails-devise-pundit to your app
vi nodes/app_server.json.erb
# Create the server locally and push apps to it
vagrant up --provision --provider=virtualbox

# ONLY when you're ready to destroy your VM
vagrant destroy --force

After testing that, do it for real:

# Add your credentials to the Digital Ocean file
vi ~/.deploy_credentials/digital_ocean.json
vagrant up --provision --provider=digital_ocean

# ONLY when ready to destroy your (real, on Digital Ocean) VM
vagrant destroy --force

AWS and Linode work exactly the same way. You'll just replace "digital_ocean" with "aws" or "linode" above. You'll also need to edit their JSON files to add credentials, choose instance types and otherwise do provider-specific configuration. See the JSON files for documentation links for each provider.

Why Is This Different?

You can find lots of deploy tools and free configurations for Rails servers online.

How is this different?

  • Full-stack - this actually uses a lot of different tools; see below
  • Standard tools - write normal cookbooks, tasks, etc.
  • Supported - you can buy videos and docs at
  • No Hosting Fee - no extra hosting fee beyond normal AWS, Digital Ocean, etc.*
  • Small top level - use a single JSON file and Cheffile for most config
  • Version-locked - all tools locked to specific versions so no bit-rot
  • Opinionated - beat combinatorial explosion by saying "use this"

You can absolutely find source code that does everything this repository does if you're willing to combine several others. In fact, if you combine liberally you can easily find code to do far, far more than this does.

However, it's very hard to find a simple, turn-key solution that doesn't require ongoing hosting cost (e.g. Heroku.)

It's also easy to get yourself in trouble, security-wise. RubyMadScience comes with decent security out of the box and makes it easy to improve it.

What Tools?

Deployment tools as of this writing include:


  • Chef-Omnibus Plugin
  • Librarian-Chef Plugin
  • Digital Ocean, AWS and Linode plugins VirtualBox Chef
  • Librarian-Chef, plus many third-party cookbooks Capistrano plus standard plugins

On-VM tools as of this writing include:

Ruby, RVM, Bundler NGinX Runit (process control and restart) MySQL (or optional PostgreSQL) Optional-but-tested Redis, MemCacheD and other support

This isn't everything, of course.

Which Tools Aren't Happening?

To pick some popular ones:

  • Ansible, SaltStack
  • rbenv, chruby (on the guest VM)

These are tools that require extensive changes to the guest VM. Since it's very difficult to keep a big constellation of tools tested, that messes up a lot of the point of this code. "Opinionated" is important.

We do allow a few specific variations and a lot of additions:

  • Postgres rather than MySQL
  • Adding simple cookbooks, including MemCacheD and Redis
  • Storage like MongoDB that is added to MySQL/Postgres rather than replacing

Additions are, in general, much more okay than substitutions. It's substitutions where you're most likely to see conflicts.

You can also use services that are handled externally and/or by the app, such as:

  • Metrics and monitoring like PingDom or Dead Man's Snitch
  • Email via MailGun, SendGrid, Mandrill, etc.
  • External logging via Loglly, AppSumo, etc.

You can also configure more nodes. Nothing stops you from configuring, say, a multi-node Cassandra cluster via Chef because it doesn't interact much with the Rails application server. Instead, you'll configure Cassandra as normal via Chef on different hosts than the Rails server. You can configure those nodes via the top-level JSON files or completely separately.

One strength of MadScience is that it doesn't get in your way when you migrate off it. You can start with Chef simply until you need more power. Then you just use Chef like the big companies do by "scraping off" the top layer of JSON.

Why Not Docker?

Some day Docker will absolutely be the right tool for this. Right now, it solves only a few of these problems -- it could replace Chef, kind of, but not really Capistrano. It could be used by Vagrant, but doesn't replace what Vagrant does here...

Eventually, Docker will do all of this when combined with other to-be-written tools. I look forward to it.


Obsolete: deploy your Rails app with a full dedicated server in an hour! The source for Ruby Mad Science and Rails Deploy In An Hour (Note: link is now to a different project!)




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