This Week in Ruby (April 14, 2008)

This is the third episode of This Week in Ruby, please consider subscribing to my feed in order not to miss any weekly installments.

Phusion Passenger

This week there were a few announcements that will change the history of Ruby. The first of them was the release of Phusion Passenger. For those who spent the last three weeks in a cave, Passenger is the name of mod_rails for Apache and, at the moment, it’s the most talked about piece of software in the Rails community. Let’s put this in perspective to better understand how important it is. A few years ago the recommended way of deploying Rails applications was the employment of Apache or Lighty with Fastcgi. Eventually the community realized that it was less than ideal, and a disaster for those who were using Typo or other Rails applications on most shared hosting plans. Most people then favored the option of using a cluster of mongrel processes, proxy balanced by Apache, Lighty, NGINX, etcetera.

There are other available variants for this configuration, and even some alternatives, but overall most people will agree that the concept of a proxy balancer plus a Ruby web server has been the recommended solution for a while now. It definitely works, it’s stable and scalable, and will probably continue to satisfy many users. There are, however, three disadvantages of this configuration: 1) The setup is not complex, but it’s definitely more complicated for newbies, when compared to what PHP developers are used to. It’s not an “upload and run” solution; 2) In order to work, it requires a decent amount of RAM, and root access to the machine doesn’t hurt either; 3) Most shared hosting companies are unwilling to offer it to their customers. That’s where Passenger comes to the rescue. It’s as easy as it gets (pretty much zero configuration), the company claims a lower memory footprint when used with their soon to be released version of Ruby (called Ruby enterprise edition), and finally it’s ideal for shared hosting because it’s just an Apache module like the ubiquitous mod_php.

As such, Passenger can be that vital missing piece for the wide adoption of Rails on the web. Try it out and if you decide to use it for your projects, don’t forget to feed the two brilliant minds who came up with it by donating here.


Amongst other important announcements, is the launch of GitHub, where the Rails community seems to gather now. Think of it as the Facebook of Rails hackers. Aside from Rails, Merb and Capistrano, further projects are continually moving there. Some are even leaving Rubyforge despite their recent addition of a Git option. Both the ORM Sequel and the Ruby VM, Rubinius got on GitHub, even if the latter is only copied over by post-commit hooks.

Ruby Web Frameworks

As we approach the release of Merb 1.0, you may find the official wiki a useful resource and want to consider contributing to expanding it. And if you are interested in Merb thanks to its being leaner and faster than Rails, you may want to read Matt Aimonetti’s informal benchmark, that claims about 70% improvement over Rails for a dummy application.

Sinatra 0.2.0 was released, as a much improved version of the ultra-lean web application framework for Ruby. Very interestingly, an article was published that covers its usage for creating simple Facebook applications. A recommended reading for those who don’t need Rails’ overhead for simple apps.

This week RubyInside covered a new RESTful framework similar to Rails, called Mack. The amount of web frameworks for Ruby is constantly growing and this is due to the ease of creating DSLs in Ruby and the fact that Rack, made the integration with web servers dead easy. Do we really need all these web frameworks? Probably not, but natural selection is a powerful tool and this is interesting stuff that’s worth a test drive anyways.

Rails 2.1 will soon be released, if you are curious about the improved support for Time Zones, don’t miss this well explained overview by Geoff Buesing. The new features are just plain awesome and will make the trouble of upgrading worth it.


A few other announcements were made this week in Rubyland. The most important, was the release of the 2.0 version of RDoc, which significantly improves ri performances (hallelujah).

Peter Cooper, who never sleeps, made the announcement of a Ruby community for link sharing, called RubyFlow. It could be a good replacement for, given the clear anti-ruby bias that can be experienced on Reddit.

Jay Fields’ has a nice article entitled Extend modules instead of defining methods on a metaclass which is a good reading about a technique that is often ignored.

The first of 8 books on Ruby coming out soon was published this week. In fact, FXRuby: Create Lean and Mean GUIs with Ruby was finally published. I started reading the first few chapters and it’s very straightforward. If you are into desktop apps, consider getting it. In my opinion it’s a quick read.

Two articles worth mentioning are Ruport: Business Reporting for Ruby by Gregory Brown and Michael Milner, and a brief overview of 19 Ruby template engines. Yes, there are that many!

Finally, please note that the registration for the fifth batch of the popular free online Ruby course by Satish Talim is now open. This course will start on the 3rd of May so sign up now if you are interested.

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  1. Satish Talim April 14, 2008
  2. Ninh Bui April 14, 2008
  3. Verbus Counts April 14, 2008
  4. Gregory Brown April 14, 2008
  5. Anon April 14, 2008
  6. david April 15, 2008
  7. maynis1 April 16, 2008

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