Rubygems plugin to allow gems to install files outside its own directory
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Outsider is a rubygems plugin which allows a gem to install files outside its own directory.


Outsider was born because an application I am developing needed to install icons and desktop files in a system wide directory (such as /usr/share) to correctly integrate with the desktop environment. Since (as far as I know) rubygems doesn't offer this possibility, but I definitly wanted the user to install my application using a simple gem install command, rather than using a more complicated build system, I decided to write a general rubygems plugin allowing this.


  • Allows a gem developer to specify which files should be installed system-wide, and where exactly to install them, in a YAML file called outsider_files placed in the top level directory of the gem

  • Missing directories in the installation path are created automatically

  • Allows ERB tags in the installation paths, so that they can be tailored on the user's system

  • Automatically detects whether the gem is being installed globally or in the user's home directory. Allows to specify two different installation paths or changes the default installation path so that files are installed in the home directory in case of a user install

  • Automatically handles uninstalls of the files when the gem is installed

  • In case two gems (including multiple versions of the same gem) install a file in the same place, automatically reinstalls the file owned by the older gem when the newer one is installed


  • To find out whether a user or a system-wide install is being performed, Outsider checks whether the gem installation directory is a subdirectory of ENV['HOME']. This means that things will break if you have the GEM_HOME environment variable also pointing to a subdirectory of your home directory. This should be a rare situation, however.

  • When multiple gems install a file in the same place, the gem installed last will overwrite the file installed by the other gem, so only the last version of the file will be availlable. This should only be an issue when having different versions of the same gem installed (as different gems shouldn't install the same file). This can lead to problems if an older version of the gem is loaded and if the files installed by different versions of the gem are incompatible.

  • It is only tested on linux. It should work on UNIX-like systems. As it is, I'm almost positive it doesn't work on Windows. Most of the plugin is system-independent, but there will be issues with default paths and user-installs.


To have Outsider install files outside the gem directory, you need to include in the gem sources a file called outsider_files containing a YAML hash. Note that both the outsider_files and the files to install should be added to the source attribute of the gem specification object.

Keys in the hash represent the paths of the files to install relative to the gem directory, while entries can be either strings or arrays with two elements. If the entry is an array, the first element is the installation path in case of a system-wide install, while the second is the the path in case of a user install. In all cases, installation paths can contain ERB templates. In the case of a user install, you can specify the user's home directory with ~ (but only at the beginning of the file). You *can't* use this way to specify another user's home directory, however.

In all cases, if the destination path (after all replacements have been carried out) ends with a slash (/), the name of the original file (as returned by File.basename) is appended to it.

User installs

The following algorithm is used to determine the path to install a given file in case of user install:

  • if the entry associated with a file is an array, the second value in the array will be used. If it's a relative path (that is, it doesn't start with /), then it is assumed to be relative to the home directory. For example, if the second entry of the array is abc/def.rb, then the file will be installed in ENV['HOME']/abc/def.rb

  • if the entry associated with the file is a string, the path it contains is considered relative to the user's home directory (even if the path is absolute). So, if the path is /xyz/abc.rb, it will be installed in ENV['HOME']/xyz/abc.rb. However, often this is not what one wants. For example, a file usually installed in /usr/local/ should be installed directly in ENV['HOME'], not in ENV['HOME']/usr/local. To avoid this, the following replacements are performed *at the beginning of the string*:

    • /bin/ -> ENV['HOME']/bin

    • /sbin/ -> ENV['HOME']/bin

    • /usr/sbin/ -> ENV['HOME']/bin

    • /usr/local/share/ -> ENV['HOME']/.local/share

    • /usr/share/ -> ENV['HOME']/.local/share

    • /usr/ -> ENV['HOME']

    • /usr/local/ -> ENV['HOME']

    • /var/ -> ENV['HOME']

    • /opt/ -> ENV['HOME']

    • /etc/ -> ENV['HOME']

    For example, if the installation path is /usr/local/share/my_dir/my_file, in case of a user install the file will be installed in ENV['HOME']/.local/share/my_dir/my_file. If you don't want this replacements to be performed, then you need to specify a separate path for the user install (by using an array rather than a string in outsider_files).

In all cases, all these operations are carried out after having expanded the ERB templates.


This is an example outsider_files.

file1: /usr/share/file1
file2: "<%= `kde4-config --path apps`.strip.split(':')[-1]%/file2>"
dir/file3: [/usr/file3, "<%=File.join ENV['HOME'], 'dir', 'file3'%>"]
file4: [/etc/file4, my_dir/file4]
file5: /usr/dir/
file6: [/usr/file6, ~/test/file6]

In case of a global installation, this produces the following files (note that the third entry depends on your system and will break if you dont't have the kde4-config program in your PATH):

  • /usr/share/file1

  • /usr/share/applnk/file2

  • /usr/file3

  • /etc/file4

  • /usr/dir/file5

  • /usr/file6

In case of a user install, this is what you'd get (assuming your home directory is /home/your_name):

  • /home/your_name/.local/share/file1

  • /home/your_name/applnk/file2

  • /home/your_name/dir/file3

  • /home/your_name/file4

  • /home/your_name/file5

  • /home/your_name/test/file6

The record file

To keep track of which files each gem has installed, Outsider uses files called record_files.

A record file contains a list of files installed using Outsider, together with the gems which installed them and the _full path_ of the original files from which they were installed.

There are two record files, one used to keep trace of files installed during global installations and one used for user installations. The latter is always ENV['HOME']/.outsider/installed_files, while the former is determined according to the following algorithm:

  • if the OUTSIDER_RECORD_FILE environment variable is set, the path it contains will be used (this is mainly for testing, you shouldn't use it)

  • if the OUTSIDER_RECORD_FILE environment variable isn't set and the file /etc/outsider.conf exists and contains a single filename, then that file will be used

  • otherwise the file /var/lib/outsider/installed_files will be used

If a file with the same name as the record file already exists but is not a valid record file, a warning will be issued, the file will be renamed and a new record file will be created.

If the record file is deleted or becomes broken, already installed files won't be uninstalled any more. The next time you install a gem, a new record file will be created.


Stefano Crocco (


Outsider is Copyright © 2010 Stefano Crocco.

Outside is free software and is distributed under the terms of the Ruby license