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Amree Zaid
Amree Zaid

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Introduction to Ruby on Rails and Dockerfile

I think everyone knows by now how good Docker is in making sure we have almost the same setup everywhere. However, I think it is not easy as everyone thought for people new to it. There are just so many questions that I have to the point they discouraged me from using it as my daily driver.

I decided to spend some time to look into this and document this journey through this blog post. I hope this will help me and you in learning this awesome service. There will be more after this, but we will start with this one first.

At the end of this blog post, you will be able to run a Ruby on Rails application with a working asset compilation using just a Dockerfile. We will be using SQLite first for now.

Using Dockerfile

Let us start with a simple Dockerfile. You can create a directory and place this file there. Right now, we just want to create a new Rails application without installing the rails gem on our local machine.

# Dockerfile
FROM ruby:2.6.3

RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y --no-install-recommends \
  curl build-essential libpq-dev && \
  curl -sL https://deb.nodesource.com/setup_10.x | bash - && \
  curl -sS https://dl.yarnpkg.com/debian/pubkey.gpg | apt-key add - && \
  echo "deb https://dl.yarnpkg.com/debian/ stable main" | tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/yarn.list && \
  apt-get update && \
  apt-get install -y nodejs yar

WORKDIR /app

RUN gem install rails bundler

ENTRYPOINT ["/bin/bash"]
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We will go through this file line by line

FROM ruby:2.6.3
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This will pull an image from DockerHub and use it as the base. This particular line will pull the image tagged as 2.6.3, which is not listed on the main page. However, you can always look it up from the Tags page.

There are still many variants that you can choose from. That will determine the size of your local image and the library that is loaded with it.

I also learnt that once you build the image using that base, you can only clear it using docker builder prune

RUN apt-get update ...
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This line will install all of our required libraries in order to make sure we can run what we want. Try not to install unnecessary applications/services to reduce the image size.

WORKDIR /app
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This will set /app as our default directory. Every subsequent command will be run from that directory.

ENTRYPOINT ["/bin/bash"]
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This is the command that will be executed when we run the container. In this case, we need access to bash first so that we can create a new rails application and install all the required gems.

Let's build the container for the first time:

docker build . -t blog
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Whenever we build the image, we need to tag it using -t. We also need to supply the Dockerfile but we can just . and docker will find the file on its own.

We will see the base image is downloaded and cached. It may take some time for the first time, but it will be faster once everything is cached.

Since we need to create a new Rails application, we will interact with the container:

docker run --rm -it blog
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--rm will ensure there will be no unused container once we exit from it. We can verify it using docker container ls. -it is actually --interactive + --tty and it is for to interact with the container. The explanation is a bit long, but we can read it from these pages (1, 2). The blog param is just the image name that was created using docker build.

Once we got it, we realize we don't have anything yet, so, we need to create the Rails application with:

rails new .
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Once everything is installed and you exit the container, you will realize the Rails application you generated is not available in your local copy. It is also not available in your docker container if you use the docker run again. Obviously, we don't want to keep on creating a new Rails application.

Create another directory in the same level as the Dockerfile called blog. This directory will be mapped to /app in our container.

We can use volume for this:

docker run --rm -it -v /local/path/to/blog:/app blog
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This time, we can create a Rails application with rails new . from within the container itself and it will be persisted in our local copy as well. Any changes made from our machine (the host) and the container will be reflected on both sides.

Once that is done, try exiting and entering your container again. We will realize rails -v will throw us an error saying we are missing lots of gems. This is happening because our gem installation wasn't persisted. In order to fix this, we can use the volume feature again.

This time, we won't be mounting from our local directory just like we did with our Rails application, instead, it will be created first and then we will supply it as one of the arguments:

We just need to specify a new volume name and it will be created automatically and in this case, we are using bundle as the volume name:

docker run --rm -it \
  -v /local/path/to/blog:/app \
  -v bundle:/bundle \
  -e BUNDLE_PATH=/bundle \
  blog
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BUNDLE_PATH is just an environment variable that is used by ruby to install the bundled gems. Just do bundle and exit once it's done. Run the container with the same command and rails -v won't give us any error.

Run this command to finish setting up our Rails application:

rails db:create db:migrate
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Normally we can just use rails s to access our welcome page, but we can't yet as there is no way we can access it from the host. In order to solve this, we need to expose a port when we run the container:

docker run --rm -it \
  -v /local/path/to/blog:/app \
  -v bundle:/bundle \
  -e BUNDLE_PATH=/bundle \
  -p 3000:3000
  blog
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We also need to start our server using rails -b 0.0.0.0 as we want it to be accessible to the host as well. You should be able to see the Welcome page now when you open http://localhost:3000/

We need to use this line in order to get the docker run to run the rails server automatically without going into the bash first anymore:

ENTRYPONT ["/bin/bash"]
# vs
CMD ["rails", "server", "-b", "0.0.0.0"]
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I think this answer explained about ENTRYPOINT vs CMD pretty well.

webpacker

I didn't manage to get this working on the first try due to the lack of knowledge on how docker and webpacker works. But, you guys are lucky because I have the summary on how to get it to work.

./bin/webpack-dev/server that compiles our asset is serving the files from the memory, not from our file system. However, it writes to public/packs/manifest.json if it doesn't exist or maybe during the update as well.

Without a working webpacker, you might run into a situation where the rails server is the one doing the compilation which is slow and wrong.

Normally, both of them would run in the same host, but with docker, you are running them in different containers. So, we need to ensure the webpacker and web containers can connect with each other.

If we don't specify any network when we run our docker container, it will be connected to the bridge network by default. You can connect to another container using the IP but not through the container name. To fix this, you need to create a different network:

docker network create blog-net # bridge driver by default
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Once that is done, we need to update our docker run commands:

# for webpacker
docker run --rm -it \
  -v /local/path/to/blog:/app \
  -v bundle:/bundle \
  -e BUNDLE_PATH=/bundle \
  -e WEBPACKER_DEV_SERVER_HOST=0.0.0.0 \
  -p 3035:3035 \ # needed for auto reload page
  --network blog-net \
  --name webpacker \
  blog \
  bin/webpack-dev-server

# for rails
docker run --rm -it \
  -v /local/path/to/blog:/app \
  -v bundle:/bundle \
  -e BUNDLE_PATH=/bundle \
  -e WEBPACKER_DEV_SERVER_HOST=webpacker \
  -p 3000:3000 \
  --network blog-net \
  --name web \
  blog
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The main reason for these changes is to ensure our rails container can access webpacker container. Confused about the network part? I did and this tutorial helped me a lot.

Basically, the Rails container need to know where it can find the assets, which is from the webpacker host. The webpacker itself need to ensure that the assets can be accessed by anyone.

Tips

Some other tips that I discovered:

  • rails is not in /bundle but it is in the original directory which is /usr/local/bundle. I think this is because of the base image. Then, this raises another question which is how do we upgrade rails themselves?
  • We can override the ENTRYPOINT with:

    docker run --rm -it blog command-to-override
    
  • This also means we can use it to run other rails command such as rails db:migrate, rails g scaffold and so on.

  • If you don't want to kill the container when exiting it, you can use Ctrl + P, Ctrl + Q. After that, you can use docker attach container-name to get in again.

docker-compose

As we have noticed, the docker run command is getting longer. It doesn't make sense to keep on passing that command to everyone. What about the database? Webpack? Etc. As the title said, we can use docker-compose to improve our docker experience.

I will talk about it in the next post.

Reference

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