Our collection of standard Capistrano recipes, all rolled into one place
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We have a bunch of deployment-related … stuff kicking around and I'm fed up copying it from one project to the next. Particularly when I change/improve the recipes as I go and those changes don't get to filter back to previous projects automatically. This plugin (or hopefully, one day, gem!) attempts to rectify that by collecting all these recipes and support tasks together.


There's a real mish-mash of stuff in here, so let's take it one at a time.


We've supplied a bunch of sensible defaults to required options:

  • We use Git, GitHub, make heavy use of submodules and (almost) always name our repository after the application name. That means we can guess a number of things, which is nice.

  • We use Passenger for deployment, nobody needs to do any sudoing and, by default everything runs on a single host.

  • Check for all the possible (default) ssh keys, and forward our ssh-agent to the remote machine. This means you can clone the repository from GitHub using your own SSH key instead of a shared deployment one.

Of course, these defaults are supplied in such a way that they can easily be overridden if they don't suit a particular application; just replace their values.

Database backup and restore

There is a mixture of Capistrano and Rake tasks to allow the database on the deployment environment to be backed up, downloaded and restored into another environment.

There are a few useful use cases for these tasks.

Backing up the database before a migration

In order to automatically back up the production database before a migration, insert the following into your capistrano recipe:

set :backup_database_before_migrations, true

This is done in the defaults anyway, so should be enabled by default, so if you want to disable it, you can do:

set :backup_database_before_migrations, false

Duplicating the production database to your local environment.

You've got a problem in production that you suspect is down to data rather than anything else and you'd like to dump the production database to your local development environment for further testing. This can be achieved with:

cap production db:download
rake db:backup:load

Note: this example assumes that you're using multistage deployments for staging and production. Please also be aware that this will nuke your current development environment's database!

Passenger deployment strategy

We've been through a few deployment strategies over the years – using mongrels managed by Runit or Solaris SMF. Now we're just using Passenger inside Apache and life is much easier. :-) If you've also seen the light then you can switch Capistrano to use the Passenger deployment strategy with one line:

set :deployment_strategy, :passenger

Of course, the defaults already set this, so you probably don't need to worry about it. :-)

Multistage deployments

The code for the multistage deployment has largely been borrowed from the capistrano-ext gem by Jamis Buck. It's been modified here so that it doesn't bother anyone unless you want a multistage deployment. If you do want a multistage deployment, create files named after each of the stages in config/deploy (for example, create config/deploy/staging.rb and config/deploy/production.rb to have a staging and production deployment). Those files should configure things that are special to that particular deployment, while config/deploy.rb will still configure the generic setup. Anything in one of the staging files will override a setting in the generic setup.

Once you've configured multistage deployments, you'll have to prefix every deployment command with the name of the environment you want to deploy to. For example, to deploy to the production cluster:

cap production deploy

or to the staging environment:

cap staging deploy

By default, if you set up staging, we assume that you want to deploy from a branch named after the stage, and with a rails_env named after the stage. So, for example, when you do:

cap staging deploy

we assume that you want to deploy from the 'staging' branch and that the running rails environment will be 'staging' too. You can, of course, change this. :)

New Relic RPM Support

Automatically run New Relic's post-deployment task if it's there. Don't bother if it's not.

Shared assets

Some of our applications have assets that need to be shared across deployments. The most common example is if you've been using attachment_fu (or some other upload plugin which stores files locally in the filesystem) and you want to maintain those uploads between deployments.

In order to share assets between deployments, list the directories needing shared as so:

set :asset_directories, ['public/paintings', 'public/pdfs']

Each directory is relative to RAILS_ROOT.

Duplicating production assets to your local environment

If you want to, and have the bandwidth, you can duplicate the production shared assets to your local environment. You can achieve that with:

cap production assets:download
rake assets:backup:load


If you combine the two duplication tasks, you get a complete mechanism to replicate a deployment environment back to your local system. So the combination exists. To duplicate your production environment to your development environment, run the following:

cap production replicate

A few things to be aware of, though:

  • This will nuke the data from your development environment, including the database and anything stored in asset directories. Don't say I didn't warn you!

  • It doesn't scale. If the data in your production database, along with its assets is large, it ain't going to work well. I'm currently getting mildly irritated with it on an application with a combined set of assets which is only 50MB.

  • There may be security or data protection issues with duplicating your production environment to your laptop. Please make sure that you are complying with data protection laws and the stringent security practices of your company.


Rails provides the ability to vendor all your gems. Some gems are C extensions. If you have chosen to vendor all your C extension-based gems then you'll need to build them each time you deploy. If that's the case, you can:

set :build_gems, true

and they will automatically be built. In fact, we like this option, so it's switched on by default. If you wish to disable it in a particular deployment, add the following to your config/deploy.rb:

set :build_gems, false

Release tagging

Every time a release happens, a tag will be created in your local git repository with the release name (which, by default, is of the format yyyymmddhhmmss, eg 20090522054102) and pushes that tag out (nothing else, though, I hope!). If you want to disable this behaviour, do:

set :tag_on_deploy, false

and it'll quit noising up your GitHub feed.


Some of the code has been borrowed from other sources. The multistage deployment code was borrowed from the capistrano-ext gem by Jamis Buck. Thanks, Jamis! (Oh, and PS, thanks for Capistrano, too!)

Craig Webster's simple_deployment provided inspiration for the asset backup, and I'm pretty sure Craig fixed a number of issues in this plugin's previous incarnation, rubaidh_platform. Thanks, Craig!

Copyright © 2009 Rubaidh Ltd, released under the MIT license