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spawn gem for Rails to easily fork or thread long-running code blocks


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2013-4-15 gem renamed from "spawn-block" (lame) to "spawnling" (awesome). Sadly the name "spawn" was taken before I got around to making this into a gem so I decided to give it a new name and a new home.

Also, now runs with ruby 1.9 (and later). Because ruby "stole" the name "spawn", this gem now has been redefined to use "" instead of "spawn(&block)". Other than that nothing has changed in the basic usage. Read below for detailed usage.


This gem provides a 'Spawnling' class to easily fork OR thread long-running sections of code so that your application can return results to your users more quickly. It works by creating new database connections in ActiveRecord::Base for the spawned block so that you don't have to worry about database connections working, they just do.

The gem also patches ActiveRecord::Base to handle some known bugs when using threads if you prefer using the threaded model over forking.


The name of the gem is "spawnling" (unfortunately somebody took the name "spawn" before I was able to convert this to a gem).


If you want to live on the latest master branch, add this to your Gemfile,

gem 'spawnling', :git => ''

and use bundler to manage it (bundle install, bundle update).


If you'd rather install from the latest gem,

gem 'spawnling', '~>2.1'


Make sure that ActiveRecord reconnects to your database automatically when needed, for instance put

  reconnect: true

into your config/database.yml.


Here's a simple example of how to demonstrate the spawn plugin. In one of your controllers, insert this code (after installing the plugin of course): do"I feel sleepy...")
  sleep 11"Time to wake up!")

If everything is working correctly, your controller should finish quickly then you'll see the last log message several seconds later.

If you need to wait for the spawned processes/threads, then pass the objects returned by spawn to Spawnling.wait(), like this:

spawns = []
N.times do |i|
  # spawn N blocks of code
  spawns << do
# wait for all N blocks of code to finish running


The options you can pass to spawn are:

:method:fork, :thread, :yield
:niceinteger value 0-19, 19 = really nice
:killboolean value indicating whether the parent should kill the spawned process when it exits (only valid when :method => :fork)
:argvstring to override the process name
:detachboolean value indicating whether the parent should Process.detach the spawned processes. (defaults to true). You *must* Spawnling.wait or Process.wait if you use this. Changing this allows you to wait for the first child to exit instead of waiting for all of them.

Any option to spawn can be set as a default so that you don't have to pass them in to every call of spawn. To configure the spawn default options, add a line to your configuration file(s) like this:

  Spawnling::default_options :method => :thread

If you don't set any default options, the :method will default to :fork. To specify different values for different environments, add the default_options call to he appropriate environment file (development.rb, test.rb). For testing you can set the default :method to :yield so that the code is run inline.

  # in environment.rb
  Spawnling::default_options :method => :fork, :nice => 7
  # in test.rb, will override the environment.rb setting
  Spawnling::default_options :method => :yield

This allows you to set your production and development environments to use different methods according to your needs.

be nice

If you want your forked child to run at a lower priority than the parent process, pass in the :nice option like this: => 7) do

fork me

By default, spawn will use the fork to spawn child processes. You can configure it to do threading either by telling the spawn method when you call it or by configuring your environment. For example, this is how you can tell spawn to use threading on the call, => :thread) do

When you use threaded spawning, make sure that your application is thread-safe. Rails can be switched to thread-safe mode with (not sure if this is needed anymore)

  # Enable threaded mode

in environments/your_environment.rb

kill or be killed

Depending on your application, you may want the children processes to go away when the parent process exits. By default spawn lets the children live after the parent dies. But you can tell it to kill the children by setting the :kill option to true.

a process by any other name

If you'd like to be able to identify which processes are spawned by looking at the output of ps then set the :argv option with a string of your choice. You should then be able to see this string as the process name when listing the running processes (ps).

For example, if you do something like this,

3.times do |i| => "spawn -#{i}-") do

then in the shell,

$ ps -ef | grep spawn
502  2645  2642   0   0:00.01 ttys002    0:00.02 spawn -0-
502  2646  2642   0   0:00.02 ttys002    0:00.02 spawn -1-
502  2647  2642   0   0:00.02 ttys002    0:00.03 spawn -2-

The length of the process name may be limited by your OS so you might want to experiment to see how long it can be (it may be limited by the length of the original process name).

Forking vs. Threading

There are several tradeoffs for using threading vs. forking. Forking was chosen as the default primarily because it requires no configuration to get it working out of the box.

Forking advantages:

  • more reliable? - the ActiveRecord code is generally not deemed to be thread-safe. Even though spawn attempts to patch known problems with the threaded implementation, there are no guarantees. Forking is heavier but should be fairly reliable.
  • keep running - this could also be a disadvantage, but you may find you want to fork off a process that could have a life longer than its parent. For example, maybe you want to restart your server without killing the spawned processes. We don't necessarily condone this (i.e. haven't tried it) but it's technically possible.
  • easier - forking works out of the box with spawn, threading requires you set allow_concurrency=true (for older versions of Rails). Also, beware of automatic reloading of classes in development mode (config.cache_classes = false).

Threading advantages:

  • less filling - threads take less resources... how much less? it depends. Some flavors of Unix are pretty efficient at forking so the threading advantage may not be as big as you think... but then again, maybe it's more than you think. 😉
  • debugging - you can set breakpoints in your threads


This plugin was initially inspired by Scott Persinger's blog post on how to use fork in rails for background processing (link no longer available).

Further inspiration for the threading implementation came from Jonathon Rochkind's blog post on threading in rails.

Also thanks to all who have helped debug problems and suggest improvements including:

  • Ahmed Adam, Tristan Schneiter, Scott Haug, Andrew Garfield, Eugene Otto, Dan Sharp, Olivier Ruffin, Adrian Duyzer, Cyrille Labesse

  • Garry Tan, Matt Jankowski (Rails 2.2.x fixes), Mina Naguib (Rails 2.3.6 fix)

  • Tim Kadom, Mauricio Marcon Zaffari, Danial Pearce, Hongli Lai, Scott Wadden (passenger fixes)

  • Will Bryant, James Sanders (memcache fix)

  • David Kelso, Richard Hirner, Luke van der Hoeven (gemification and Rails 3 support)

  • Jay Caines-Gooby, Eric Stewart (Unicorn fix)

  • Dan Sharp for the changes that allow it to work with Ruby 1.9 and later

  • <your name here>

Copyright (c) 2007-present Tom Anderson (, see LICENSE


spawn gem for Rails to easily fork or thread long-running code blocks