Friday, April 15, 2011

Sinatra, Noah and CloudFoundry - the dirty details

So via some magical digital god, my signup for Cloud Foundry got processed. Obviously my first thought was to try and get Noah up and running. Cloud Foundry is a perfect fit for Noah because I have access to Redis natively. I have a working setup now but it took a little bit of effort.

Getting set up
As with everything these days, my first action was to create a gemset. I'll not bore you with that process but for the sake of this walkthrough, let's use a 1.9.2 gemset called 'cfdev'.

The VMC getting started guide has most of the information you'll need but I'm going to duplicate some of it here for completeness:

 gem install vmc
 vmc target
 vmc login

And we're ready to rock. The VMC command line help is very good with the exception that the optional args aren't immediately visible.

vmc help options

will give you a boatload of optional flags you can pass in. One that was frequently used during the demos at launch was '-n'. I would suggest you NOT use that for now. The prompts are actually pretty valuable.

So in the case of Noah, we know we're going to need a Redis instance. Because everything is allocated dynamically CloudFoundry makes heavy use of environment variables to provide you with important settings you'll need.

First Attempt
If you watched the demo (or read the quickstart Sinatra example), there's a demo app called 'env' that they walk you through. You're going to want to use that when troubleshooting things. My first task was to duplicate the env demo so I could take a gander at the variables I would need for Redis. For the record, the steps I'm documenting here might appear out of order and result in some wasted time. I'm one of those guys who reads the instructions 2 days after I've broken something so you have an idea of what I did here:

 vmc help
 vmc services
 vmc create-service redis redis-noah
 vmc services

At this point, I now have a named instance of redis. The reason I felt safe enough doing this now is that I noticed in the help two service commands - 'bind-service' and 'unbind-service'. I figured it was easy enough to add the service to my app based on those options.

So go ahead and create the env app per the getting started documentation. If you followed my suggestion and DIDN'T disable prompts, you'll get the option to bind you app to a service when you push the first time. If you're running without prompts (using the '-n' option), you'll probably want to do something like this:

vmc push myenvapp --url
vmc bind-service my_redis_service myenvapp

If you visit the url you provided (assuming it wasn't taken already?) at /env, you'll get a big dump of all the environment variables. The ones that you'll need be using most are probably going to be under `VCAP_SERVICES`. What you'll probably also notice is that `VCAP_SERVICES` is a giant JSON blob. Now you may also notice that there's a nice `VMC_REDIS` env variable there. It's pretty useless primarily because there's also a GIANT warning in the env output that all `VMC_` environment variables are deprecated but also because your redis instance requires a password to access which means you need to traverse the JSON blob ANYWAY.

So if we paste the blog into an IRB session we can get a better representation. I wish I had done that first. Instead, I reformatted it with jsonlint dutifully wrote the following madness:

which I spent a good 30 minutes troubleshooting before I realized that it's actually an array. It should have been this:

So now that I had all the variables in place, I went about converting my heroku Noah demo . That demo uses a Gemfile and a rackup file so I figured it would work just fine here. No such luck. This is where things get hairy.

Sinatra limitations
The short of it is that Sinatra application support on CF right now is a little bit of a CF. It's very basic and somewhat brute force. If you're running a single file sinatra application, it will probably work. However if you're running anything remotely complex, it's not going to work without considerable effort. Noah is even more of a special case because it's distributed as a gem. This actually has some benefit as I'll mention farther down. However it's not really "compatible" with the current setup on Cloud Foundry. Here's the deal:

If you look here, You'll see that the way your sinatra application is start is by calling ruby (with or without bundler depending) against what it detects as your main app file. This is done here which leads us all the way to this file:


Essentially for sinatra applications, the first .rb file it comes across with 'require sinatra', is considered the main app file. Bummer. So is out. The next step is to rename it to a '.rb' file and try again. This is where I spent most of my troubleshooting. There's a gist of the things I tried (including local testing) here:


Don't jump to the solution just yet because it's actually incomplete. This troubleshooting led to another command you'll want to remember:

vmc files myapp logs/stderr.log

I found myself typing it a lot during this process. For whatever reason, possibly due to bundler or some other vcap magic I've not discovered yet what works at home does not work on Cloud Foundry exactly the same. That's fine, it's just a matter of knowing about it. It also didn't help that I wasn't getting any output at all for the entire time I was trying to figure out why didn't work.

Thanks to Konstantin Haase for his awesome suggestion in #sinatra. The trick here was to mimic what rackup does. Because the currently released Noah gem has a hard requirement on rack 1.2.1, his original suggestion wasn't an exact fit but I was able to get something working:

So what did we do?
Ensure that the wrapper file is picked up first by making sure it's the ONLY rb file uploaded with `require sinatra` at the top.
Because of a bug in rack 1.2.1 with, I HAD to create a file called The fix in rack 1.2.2 actually honors passing all the options into the constructor without needing the file.
Explicitly connect to redis before we start the application up.

The last one was the almost as big of a pain in the ass as getting the application to start up.

I think (and I'm not 100% sure) that you are prohibited from setting environment variables inside your code. Because of the convoluted way I had to get the application started, I couldn't use my sinatra configuration block properly (`set :redis_url, blahblahblah`). I'm sure it's possible but I'm not an expert at rack and sinatra. I suppose I could have used Noah::App.set but at this point I was starting to get frustrated. Explicitly setting it via Ohm.connect worked.

I'm almost confident of this environment variable restriction because you can see options in 'vmc help' that allow you to pass environment variables into your application. That would work fine for most cases except that I don't know what the redis values are outside of the app and they're set dynamically anyway.

So where can things improve?
First off, this thing is in beta. I'm only adding this section because it'll serve as a punch list of bugs for me to fix in vcap ;)

  • Sinatra support needs to be more robust.

You can see that the developers acknowledged that in the staging plugin code. There are TODOs listed. It's obvious that a sinatra application of any moderate complexity wasn't really tested and that's fine. The building blocks are there and the code is opensource. I'll fix it myself (hopefully) and submit a pull request.

  • Allow override of the main app file from VMC.

It appears from the various comments that the node.js support suffers some of the same brute force detection routines. An option to pass in what the main applictation file is would solve some of that.

  • Document the environment variable restrictions.

I didn't see any documentation anywhere about that restriction (should it exist). I could be doing something wrong too. It's worth clarifying.

  • Better error reporting for failed startups

I'm not going to lie but I spent a LONG time troubleshooting the fact that the app simply wasn't starting up. The default output when a failure happens during deploy is the staging.log file. All this EVER contained was the output from bundler. It should include the output of stderr.log and stdout.log as well. Also an explicit message should be returned if the main app file can't be detected. That would have solved much of my frustration up front.

That's just the stuff I ran into to get things going. The first item is the biggest one. If you're writing a monolithic single-file sinatra app, the service will work GREAT. If you aren't, you'll have to jump through hoops and wrapper scripts for now. Supporting rackup files for Sinatra and Rack apps will go a long way to making things even more awesome.

One pleasant surprise I found was that, despite what I was told, I didn't need to include every gem in my Gemfile. Because Noah itself has its deps, Bundler pulls those in for me.

I've created a git repo with the code as well as a quickstart guide for getting your own instance running. You can find it here:


Alex-SF said...

Great write up. No doubt you've shed some light on what could be a frustrating getting startup process.

George Ornbo said...

Nice write up. I also encountered issues with a Sinatra app. Basic one worked fine. Agree on the documentation - I guess it is early days. Given that it is an open source project blog posts like this will help massively! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this up. I know that rack support is currently l├ącking and its a shame. I do know that the teamn wanbts to fix this very soon and make rack a first class citizen as it should be. I mean if there is a at the top level then we should just use that and not care if its sinatra or rails or who knows what as long as its rack right?

Thanks for diving in, this will get fixed.