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Ecology is a gem to handle configuration variables. At Ooyala, we use it for setting application metadata about logging, monitoring, testing, deployment and other "outside the application" infrastructure. So it's the application's ecology, right?


"gem install ecology" works pretty well. You can also specify Ecology from a Gemfile if you're using Bundler.

Ooyalans should make sure that "gems.sv2" is listed as a gem source in your Gemfile or on your gem command line.

Finding Your Ecology

By default an application called "" will have an ecology file in the same directory called "bob.ecology". Ecology just strips off the final file extension, replaces it with ".ecology", and looks there.

You can also specify a different location in your call, or set the ECOLOGY_SPEC environment variable to a different location.

An Ecology is a JSON file of roughly this structure:

{ "application": "MyApp", "environment-from": "RACK_ENV", "logging": { "default_component": "SplodgingLib", "extra_json_fields": { "app_group": "SuperSpiffyGroup", "precedence": 7 }, "console_print": "off", "filename": "/tmp/bobo.txt", "stderr_level": "fatal" }, "monitoring": { "zookeeper-host": "zookeeper-dev.sv2" } }

Absolutely every part of it is optional, including the presence of the file at all.

You can override the application name, as shown above.


If you have a configurable per-environment path, you probably want it in the "paths" section of your ecology. For instance:

{ "application": "SomeApp", "paths": { "pid_location": "/pid_dir/", "app1_location": "$app/../dir1", "app1_log_path": "$cwd/logs" } }

You can then access these paths with Ecology.path("app1_location") and similar. In the paths, "$app" will be replaced by the directory the application is run from, "$cwd" will be replaced by the current working directory, "$env" will be replaced by the current environment, and "$pid" will be replaced by the current process ID.

Reading Data

If your library is configured via Ecology, you'll likely want to read data from it. For instance, let's look at the Termite logging library's method of configuration:

{ "application": "SomeApp", "logging": { "level": "info", "stderr_level": "warn", "stdout_level": 4, "file_path": "$app/../log_to", "extra_json_fields": { "app_tag": "splodging_apps", "precedence": 9 } } }

Termite can read the level via"logging:level"), which will give it in whatever form it appears in the JSON."logging:extra_json_fields") would be returned as a Hash. You can return it as a String, Symbol, Array, Fixnum or Hash by supplying the :as option:"logging:info", :as => Symbol) # :info"logging:stdout_level", :as => String) # "4""logging:extra_json_fields", :as => Symbol) # error!"logging:file_path", :as => :path) # "/home/theuser/sub/log_to"

Embedded Ruby

If instead of a .ecology file, you have a .ecology.erb file, it will be parsed using Erubis and then parsed using JSON. This makes it easy to have conditional properties.

Using outside Ruby

Use the with_ecology binary to pre-parse, pre-use Erb and then run another binary with the Ecology data put into environment variables.

For example, assume you have a my.ecology.erb that looks like:

{ "application": "<%= "bob" %>", "property1": { "foo": "bar", "baz": 7 } }

Now run the following:

$ with_ecology my.ecology env | grep ECOLOGY

You'll see:

ECOLOGY_application=bob ECOLOGY_application_TYPE=string ECOLOGY_property1_foo=bar ECOLOGY_property1_foo_TYPE=string ECOLOGY_property1_baz=7 ECOLOGY_property1_baz_TYPE=int

This is just a translations of the ecology fields into environment variable names. You can usually ignore the types, but (rarely) this can be important if you need to know whether the ecology specified a number directly or as a string, or to find out whether a field was a null or the empty string.

This can be useful to pass variables to non-Ruby programs, or any time you don't want to have to link with Erubis and a JSON parser. You'll need to parse the properties from environment variables yourself, though.

Environment-Specific Data

(Note: this section is mostly obsolete. You can use Erb for this)

Often you'll want to supply a different path, hostname or other configuration variable depending on what environment you're currently deployed to - staging may want a different MemCacheD server than development, say.

Here's another logging example:

{ "application": "Ooyala Rails", "environment-from": ["RAILS_ENV", "RACK_ENV"], "logging": { "console_out": { "env:development": true, "env:*": false }, "stderr_level": { "env:development": "fatal", "env:production": "warn" }, "stdout_level": "info" } }

In this case, data can be converted from a Hash into a Fixnum or String automatically:"logging:stderr_level", :as => String)

Ecology returns "fatal" or "warn" here, depending on the value of RAILS_ENV or RACK_ENV.

Using Other Ecologies

The data in a given Ecology file can build on one or more other Ecology files.

{ "application": "SomeApp", "environment-from": [ "APP_ENV", "RACK_ENV" ], "uses": [ "ecologies/logging.ecology", "ecologies/monitoring.ecology" ] }

Each field will be overridden by the "latest" value -- the top-level Ecology overrides the Ecologies that it uses, and so on. If multiple Ecologies are used, the earlier Ecologies in the list override the later Ecologies.

This can be used to set up Ecology "modules" for common functionality, or to override certain settings in certain environments from a common base template.


You often want to set your ecology-related properties when the ecology is initialized, but no earlier. You may not know exactly when the earliest call to will be. In that case, you want to use the on_initialize event hook:

Ecology.on_initialize do @my_property ="my:property") end

If the ecology was already initialized before you set the on_initialize hook, then the hook will run immediately.

There is also an on_reset hook. Read "Testing with an Ecology" to find out why you'd ever care about that. Etiquette

If you're writing an application, try to call early. Libraries depending on it can then initialize themselves since they know where your Ecology data is.

If you're writing a library, call as late as you can. If your applications that use your library also use Ecology, maybe you can go without using it at all. But if you're calling with no filename to make sure data is initialized, do it as late as you can possibly get away with it.

But in a library, call Ecology.on_initialize early to make sure you get initialized as soon as possible. You'll probably need your own call since your containing application may not use Ecology, or have an Ecology file. Try to make happen as late as you can - the first time you genuinely need the data, for instance.

For test purposes, if you set a bunch of data with Ecology.on_initialize, try to register Ecology.on_reset to clear that same data. Then a test using Ecology.reset can test your library with different settings.

Ecology and Libraries

In Rails 3, belongs somewhere like config/application.rb. In Rails 2, should probably be in config/environment.rb, early on. In Sinatra, you want it in your configure block. In general, it should go with configuration information and it should be executed as soon as possible.

Testing with an Ecology

The Ecology library provides a simple hook for setting up an ecology for your application. Just require "ecology/test_methods" into your test or test_helper, then call set_up_ecology with the text of the ecology as the first argument.

In production use, you'll probably never reset the ecology. However, in testing you may frequently want to, especially if you're testing a library that ties closely into the ecology.

There are two basic approaches your library can take, and they affect testing.

Termite, our logging library, copies settings from the ecology into its instance. Then, when you reset the ecology, you can also discard old logger objects with old settings.

Glowworm, our feature flags library, is basically a big singleton and uses ecology data, so it needs to reset its internal state when the ecology is reset, and then re-read that state when the ecology is next initialized.

Code for that for your library might look something like:

MyLib.on_reset do @myvar1 = nil @myvar2 = nil end

MyLib.on_initialize do @myvar1 ="mylib:property1", :as => :string) @myvar2 ="mylib:property2", :as => :path) end

Hooks persist across resets. That is, your on_reset hook will be called on every reset until you explicitly remove it.

Releasing within Ooyala

Ooyalans, to release Ecology to gems.sv2, use the following:

rake build rake 0.8.7 -f ../ooyala_gems.rake gem:push ecology-0.0.1.gem

Change the version to the actual version you'd like to push.


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