Capistrano for Ruby/Sinatra deployments onto server without source access

I put off using Capistrano as I thought it would take as much effort to learn as msbuild or ant, but after trying it I regret not doing it sooner. It’s really simple to use, has great source integration and offers a very reliable process for deployments using ssh onto unix boxes. It works well with other languages/frameworks, so you can also deploy your Java/Scala/php projects. The focus of this post is deploying a simple Ruby/Sinatra app from git onto a server which doesn’t have direct access to source (e.g. private git host).

To use you will need SSH access to your servers

First install Capistrano:

gem install capistrano

Prepare your project (in project dir, will generate default deployment files):

capify .

Ignore the Capfile created, it’s pretty standard and you shouldn’t have to touch it. Edit the config/deploy.rb file and clear down, this contains some standard Rails deployment stuff which you won’t need.

set :application, “My Sinatra Application”

set :scm, :git

set :repository,  “”

set :deploy_via, :copy # makes capistrano clone and copy source locally rather than on server

set :deploy_to, “/var/www/” # current release will be symlinked in ‘/var/www/’

set :user, “deploy” # user used to ssh onto server and perform tasks

server “”, :app, :web, :db, :primary => true # server to deploy to, must be able to “ssh”

set :use_sudo, false # whether to use sudo on deploy actions

namespace :deploy do

  task :restart, :roles => :web do

    run “echo this is where the actions necessary to restart the application should go”


  task :finalize_update, :roles => :web do

    # Overwrite default rails action and perform any steps before symlink

    run “echo this is the path to the release folder #{ current_release }”



Run setup before deployment to create deployment folders:

cap deploy:setup


cap deploy:check


cap deploy

Now you should have your application copied over to the server under the :deploy_to ‘current’ folder. Old releases (default 5) will be stored in the ‘release’ folder. You can use the restart task to call any commands necessary to restart the application. You can do a lot more complex things, like setup dbs, stage multiple servers simultaneously, tag release in source etc.

Useful links:


Sinatra SSL redirection via nginx unicorn – forbidden error

Recently banged my head against this issue for ages until someone with nginx knowledge pointed out it wasn’t nginx but a sinatra/unicorn issue.

Basically the symtoms were after setting up my Sinatra application, with Unicorn as the webserver and Nginx as the SSL proxy (redirecting http to https for the domain) anytime the application received a post request on my login screen it responded with “forbidden” (403). Get requests for the login screen worked fine.

Initially I thought the error came from Nginx, but it turned out it came from Rack (running via Unicorn). The issue was as part of the login post sinatra-authentication was redirecting to http, not https. Nginx then redirected the client to https but lost the auth details, so Rack gave the forbidden response (with no helpful debug).

To fix this all I had to do was add the following to the nginx conf at the proxy settings:

proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-Ssl on;


That told Rack it was working via an ssl proxy and changed the redirects to use https. No clue why I needed to do this, but in future I’ll use something like rack-ssl-enforcer and handle the redirects in the application itself rather than nginx conf.



Ruby Sinatra Unicorn – Errno::EIO Input/output error

This has caught me out twice now, so typing it up to remember. By default Unicorn outputs stderr/stdout to terminal, which is great if you have one running, but if you don’t (i.e. you logged off) you get a massive error screen were your app was “Errno::EIO Input/output error” in “lint.rb” or something similar.

To fix this just add the following lines to your unicorn.conf file you create for your application, which redirect the output to log files instead:

# By default, the Unicorn logger will write to stderr.# Additionally, some applications/frameworks log to stderr or stdout,# So prevent them from going to /dev/null when daemonized here:stderr_path "/srv/www/logs/unicorn.stderr.log"stdout_path "/srv/www/logs/unicorn.stdout.log"

LINUX – Setup Ruby/Sinatra/Unicorn/NGINX server

Quick intro in angry split personality QA format:

Ya What? Unicorns? Sinatra?? Nuggex??? You’re just stringing random words together! Badly!

Ok, it’s a lot of tech words, here’s the breakdown:

  • Ruby – Lovely scripting language that makes it easy to write clear concise code
  • Sinatra – Framework for creating web applications in Ruby, very simple to use
  • Unicorn – Quick and reliable HTTP server for Ruby
  • NGINX – (n-gin-x) HTTP server and reverse proxy, ultra quick for static files

Why? You could be drinking beer at home?

Using Unicorn and NGINX together we get the best of both for hosting our site, Unicorn handles the requests to the Ruby app and NGINX handles the static public files (Images/CSS/JS). GitHub posted a blog why they switched to Unicorn and the benefits.

Fine! Lets get this over with then!

Steps in this sample done in AWS EC2 Ubuntu 11.10 image:

  • Install NGINX
  • Start NGINX and test – “/etc/init.d/nginx start” but location of nginx depends on distro
  • Install Ruby – “sudo apt-get install ruby1.9.1-dev” (actually installs 1.9.2), need dev version for gems
  • Install Ruby gems
    • Install make – “sudo apt-get install make” (may already be installed)
    • Install gcc – “sudo apt-get install gcc” (may already be installed)
    • Install gems – “sudo gem install unicorn sinatra”
  • Check unicorn is working “unicorn -version” (if not check Ruby gems installed and are in path)
  • Make simple sinatra app
    • make a folder for your app e.g. ruby1
    • In the folder write a file “app.rb” with the following content:
    • require ‘rubygems’
      require ‘sinatra’

      get ‘/’ do
        “hello world!”

    • Test site starts with “ruby app.rb“, you can wget the page to check content
  • In same directory write for unicorn
    • require ‘sinatra’

      set :env, :production
      disable :run

      require ‘./app.rb’

      run Sinatra::Application

  • In same directory write unicorn.conf for unicorn
    • worker_processes 8
      working_directory “/home/USER/APPDIR”
      listen ‘unix:/tmp/basic.sock’, :backlog => 512
      timeout 120
      pid “/var/run/unicorn/”

      preload_app true
      if GC.respond_to?(:copy_on_write_friendly=)
        GC.copy_on_write_friendly = true

      before_fork do |server, worker|
        old_pid = “#{server.config[:pid]}.oldbin”
        if File.exists?(old_pid) && != old_pid
          rescue Errno::ENOENT, Errno::ESRCH
            # someone else did our job for us

  • Create unicorn running dir
    • “mkdir /var/run/unicorn”
    • Set perms so unicorn running user can write to this dir
  • Start unicorn
    • “unicorn -c unicorn.conf &” should show worker threading starting
  • Add new NGINX conf
    • In /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/, write a file unicorn
    • upstream app_server {
        server unix:/tmp/basic.sock fail_timeout=0;

      server {
        listen 80 default deferred; # for Linux

        client_max_body_size 4G;
        server_name _;

        keepalive_timeout 5;

        # path for static files
        root /home/USERNAME/basic/public;

        # Prefer to serve static files directly from nginx to avoid unnecessary
        # data copies from the application server.
        try_files $uri/index.html $uri.html $uri @app;

        location @app {
          proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
          proxy_set_header Host $http_host;
          proxy_redirect off;
          proxy_pass http://app_server;

  • Restart nginx – “sudo service nginx restart”
  • Test your site!