SLP: Ruby on Rails: Getting Started

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Ruby is the programming language, and Rails is the framework. They are typically used at the same time, so the entire setup is often just called "Rails".

Install Ruby and Rails

Note that Ruby is the programming language, and Rails is the framework.

The correct versions of Ruby and Rails have already been set up properly on the VirtualBox image and on the docker image.

If you are running this on your own machine, then you will want to follow the instructions at if you are running Ubuntu 16.04. If you are running Mac OS X, that site has directions here. Likewise, other versions of Ubuntu can be found from those two links. If you are using another operating system, you are on your own (but note that the versions MUST match what we are using (Ruby 2.4.1 and Rails 5.1.3)). It's okay if you have a more recent patch level version (i.e., Ruby 2.4.2 or rails 5.1.4, for example), but you can't have a different minor or major version.

Setting up a new Rails app

To set up a new Rails app, you will need to follow the "final steps" instructions from here. Specifically:

  1. Run rails new railshw -d mysql, where "railshw" is the name of the app you are creating
  2. Edit railshw/config/database.yml, and enter your MySQL credentials (change username, password, and database). For now, change all the fields (username and password appear twice, and database appears three times). You can keep the same database (the same name as your userid) for production and development (as this is just a homework -- you should NOT do that in practice), and use a different database (such as mst3k_test) for testing. For the homework, you can list your password in plaintext in that file. However, for your project app, you are NOT to have the plain text passwords in the files in the repository -- see the Security section, next, for how to handle the password.
  3. From the railshw/ directory, run bundle install (or, if on the course server, bundle install --path vendor/bundle).
  4. From the railshw/ directory, run rake db:create. It will say that 'mst3k already exists' or 'mst3k_test already exists', once or twice -- that's fine.

If you are running this on the course server, you will need to reload the apache web server by running /usr/local/bin/reload-apache2. At this point, you should be able to view your Rails app at http://server/rails/mst3k. Note that there is no tilde ("~") there! And obviously replace "mst3k" with your userid. It should look exactly like the image at the bottom of this page.

If you are running this on your own machine, you may need to run gem install bundler as root (as indicated here); this was already done on the course server.


There are a few values that must NOT be kept in the repositories -- they are the MySQL passwords in config/database.yml, and the secret_key_base in config/secrets.yml. The default files for config/database.yml and config/secrets.yml access environment variables, but the Apache Passenger module doesn't handle those very well for individual users.

The easiest way is to copy secrets.yml to secrets.yml.template, and like for database.yml to database.yml.template. Edit the actual files (i.e., not the templates), and put the passwords or keys directly into those files. Add the two *.template files via git, but do NOT add the database.yml and secrets.yml files. Create a .gitignore file that lists two lines, which are the names of those two files (database.yml and secrets.yml).

What this does is commit to the git repo the tempaltes, but the actual files -- the ones with the passwords -- are not kept in the repo. This means, however, that each person who checks out the repo will have to set those values manuall.

For those who are interested, there are more options listed here. Keeping this information in environment variables, which is the recommended way to handle this, causes conflits with how Passenger works (Passenger is the Apache module that runs your Rails app)

Installing new gems

  1. Edit the Gemfile, and add the line to add the gem: gem 'foobar', group: :development, or similar
  2. Run bundle install
  3. If you are running it locally, you should be able to view your app through rails server
  4. If you are on the course server, reload the apache web server by running /usr/local/bin/reload-apache2

Uploading to the server

If you see a Passenger error with "wrong ELF class" listed there, then you are running a 32-bit machine locally, and the course server is 64-bit. In the project directory, run /bin/rm -rf vendor/bundle and then reinstall the gems (as above, with --path).

You may need to transfer the DB, or run db:migrate, depending on the details of your app

SQLite to MySQL

If you used the docker image, then you likely kept the data for the app in a SQLite3 database. You can use the framework's command to create the tables. You can use the .dump command to extract the data, and then enter it into the MySQL database on the course server. If you are unsure what the format of the database configuration file should be, create a new app (with a different name) that uses MySQL, and look at the file therein for the format (or just copy the database configuration file over).

It may be that the SQLite dump does not work well under MySQL. One option is to edit the dump extensively, but that is long and annoying to do. Another option is to migrate the DB through the framework on the course server, and re-enter the data into the DB (from the tutorial, copy and paste all the insert commands).


If you get a Passenger error on the server that states, "wrong ELF class", as shown here, then the problem is that you have installed all of your gems (via bundle install --path vendor/bundle) on your local 32-bit machine or image, and then uploaded them to the server, which is a 64-bit machine. To fix, you must delete the entire bundle directory on the server: /bin/rm -rf ~/railshw/vendor/bundle, and then reinstall them all again (via bundle install --path vendor/bundle).

Viewing your Rails application

If you want to view your rails application locally, you can view it via the rails server, as described in those directions (basically, run rails server, and then view it at http://localhost:3000 in your favorite web browser).

Your Rails app will have a VERY specific directory that it must be installed in, as the web server is already configured for that directory. As long as it is in that directory, it will be visible through Apache.

When you view your app, it should look exactly like the image at the image below (albeit with a different URL):