Last updated January 30, 2019

Why I wrote this blog post

I’ve been building Rails apps for some time now. I’ve been mostly relying on Heroku to for my deploys.

I love Heroku. They make an excellent product, and it’s great for quick prototypes and small hobby servers. But for more involved projects, the cost and lack of control don’t work for me. I figured it was time to start managing my own infrastructure.

Additionally, the Ruby on Rails 6 beta just came out, and I wanted to spin up a demo project and check it out.

Writing the blog post helped me to learn and solidify my understanding of what all goes into taking a Rails 6 beta project from 0 to AWS, and I hope you find it helpful as well.

Who should read this blog post

This blog posts assumes some prior knowledge of Ruby on Rails. I learned what I know from:

It also assumes knowledge of command line interfaces, SSH, VIM, and git. Here are some good places to start for that:

This blog should help you if:

  • You also want to start moving your projects off Heroku.
  • You have told someone you could move their project off Heroku and on to AWS and you have never done that before.
  • You’ve never done server configuration before, but you’ve got to learn very quickly.
  • You’d like to correct my personal mistakes via blog post.

How this blog post works

I’ll be writing out each step of my process in creating a blank Rails 6 application and deploying it to a barebones EC2 instance. I will focus special attention on the steps that tripped me up as I performed them.

I’m going to use my actual commands, filepaths, and project names. That means you’ll likely need to do some substitution as you follow along, depending on your specific use case. Each command will be preceded by local$ or ubuntu$ to denote if you should be in your local terminal, or a shell on your EC2 instance, respectively. At the top of each codeblock is a comment with the working directory or file.

By the end of the blog post, you should have a fresh Rails 6 application running on an Amazon EC2 instance, and the ability to push local changes to your server using Capistrano.

Step 1: Get Rails 6

I’m going to assume you already have ruby, bundler, and rails installed on your local dev machine, because you have some Ruby on Rails experience. If that’s the case, all you need to do is get the latest rails gem.

# ~
local$ gem install rails --pre 

Step 2: Create a Rails 6 project

Make a new project with the Rails 6 beta

# ~/dev
local$ rails _6.0.0beta1_ new trackerr
local$ cd trackerr

An initial bundle install never hurts

# ~/dev/trackerr
local$ bundle install 

Check that the rails app works

# ~/dev/trackerr
local$ rails s

In your browser, you should see something like this at localhost:3000

Rails 6 Default Index Screenshot

This is my favorite place for an init commit in git: It’s fresh, it’s new, it works. I haven’t broken anything yet.

# ~/dev/trackerr
local$ git add . 
local$ git commit -m "init commit"

Step 3: Push to GitHub (or other similar platform).

I use GitHub for my repositories, so YMMV, but I’m going to get this fresh Rails project checked into GitHub ASAP.

Here’s the GitHub doc for creating a new repository, or you can follow along below:

  1. Go to
  2. Sign in or sign up.
  3. Click the plus sign button
  4. Click New Repository
  5. Name it trackerr (or whatever you’d like to name your project).
  6. Add a description. For my project, that description is: Full Suite State Legislation Tracker
  7. GitHub allows unlimited private repos now, but I’ll keep it public, because I love open source.
  8. Don’t initialize the repo, you’ve already got one on your machine.
  9. Follow the on-page instructions for pushing an existing repo from command line

I use SSH keys for my GitHub access, and setting that up is beyond the scope of this blog post, but here is a good guide on how to do that.

# ~/dev/trackerr
local$ git remote add origin<YOUR ADDRESS HERE>
local$ git push -u origin master 

Voila, you’ve got a Rails 6 project installed on your machine and checked in to your GitHub.

Step 4: Get the sample page ready

In order for your Rails app to actually work on the EC2 instance, you’ll need to set up a root path in your configuration, and a corresponding controller and view.

You can use the rails controller generator, if you like, or you can add it yourself. Since this blog post doesn’t cover testing or assets or any of the other nice rails magic created in the controller generators, I’m going to just manually add the bare minimum here.

In config/routes

# ~/dev/trackerr/config/routes.rb 
root "pages#index"

In app/controllers

# ~/dev/trackerr/app/controllers/pages_controller.rb
class PagesController < ApplicationController
    def index

And a corresponding view

# ~/dev/trackerr/app/views/pages/index.html.erb
<h1>You did it! Great job!</h1>

Add your changes and push them up to git

# ~/dev/trackerr
local$ git add .
local$ git commit -m "add home page"
local$ git push 

Now your barebones Rails 6 app is just about ready to live on a server.

Step 4: Setup Capistrano

We’re going to be using Capistrano to manage our deploy tasks. I’ll be using information found in this article to describe these steps, so feel free to read along with the original article or with this tutorial.

First, we’ll need to add Capistrano to the application, including some capistrano gems to manage our particular stack.

# ~/dev/trackerr/Gemfile
gem 'capistrano'
gem 'capistrano-rails'
gem 'capistrano-bundler'
gem 'capistrano-rbenv'

Run bundle install to check that this worked.

# ~/dev/trackerr
local$ bundle install

If everything worked, go ahead and commit this change (I like to make very small commits, especially when I’m working solo - so I can always see where I messed up when things eventually break)

# ~/dev/trackerr
local$ git add .
local$ git commit -m "add capistrano to gemfile"
local$ git push

With Capistrano securely in your Gemfile and repository, it’s time to begin configuring it. Generate the Capistrano config files by running:

# ~/dev/trackerr
cap install STAGES=production

This creates three files: Capfile, config/deploy.rb and config/deploy/production.rb.

In the Capfile, uncomment the following lines:

# ~/dev/trackerr/Capfile
require "capistrano/bundler"
require "capistrano/rails/assets"
require "capistrano/rails/migrations"
require "capistrano/rbenv"

I’ll set up my config/deploy.rb to look like:

# ~/dev/trackerr/config/deploy.rb
set :puma_conf, "/var/www/trackerr/shared/config/puma.rb"
set :application, 'trackerr' 
set :repo_url, ''
set :deploy_to, '/home/ubuntu/trackerr'
set :use_sudo, true
set :branch, 'master'
set :linked_dirs, fetch(:linked_dirs, []).push('log', 'tmp/pids', 'tmp/cache', 'tmp/sockets', 'vendor/bundle', 'public/system')

We’ll configure config/deploy/production.rb later, since it requires some EC2 specific information, which we won’t have until we set up the instance. So let’s get to it!

Step 5: Set up your Amazon EC2 Instance

Go to Amazon AWS Console

Sign in, or sign up.

Once you’re logged in and have an account ready to go, click Services.

In the dropdown menu, select EC2 under the Compute menu.

On this new page, click Launch Instance.

Choose the Ubuntu Server 18.04 LTS (HVM), SSD Volume Type.

Click the Select button.

Since this is a starter project, I’m going to choose the t2.micro instance, eligible for the free tier.

Click Next: Configure Instance Details - nothing to change here, unless you want to.

Click Next: Add Storage - I’m going to keep the defaults here, as well, since this is really just a proof of concept kind of thing.

Click Next: Add Tags - again, nothing to go here.

Click Next: Configure Security Group

  1. Select the Create a new security group radio button
  2. There’s already an SSH open on port 22 to
    • Amazon will tell you this is insecure, and they’re right. This allows people to connect via SSH from anywhere on the internet. If you have the ability to lock down your own IP address, you should choose a restricted SSH set, and limit it to your IP. I won’t go into that, and for now we aren’t setting up anything sensitive enough to really go wrong here.
  3. Next, add a new rule. Here’s what I created:

Image depicting Amazon EC2 sample security group

Security rule settings:

  • Type: Custom TCP
  • Protocol: TCP
  • Port Range: 80
  • Source: Custom:

Keeping port 80 open to the world is desired behavior - you want anyone to be able to access your site once it’s live.

Click Review and Launch

Confirm everything looks the way you want, and finally click Launch.

Amazon will ask you to select an existing key pari or create a new key pair. I’m assuming you either haven’t done this before (and therefore have no key pair), or, like me, are trying to set up a fully sandboxed Rails App. So let’s select Create a new key pair.

Name it. I’m naming mine trackerr-key-pair

Click Download Key Pair.

Image depicting Amazon EC2 Key Pair Dialogue

Save the file.

Click Launch Instances.

Once the instances launch, amazon will give you an option to view it (along with a lot of other helpful information you should check out).

I like to name my EC2 instances. If you click on the link provided by Amazon pointing to your instance, you can view your EC2 console.

Under the Name column, you can click the pencil icon to edit its name. I chose Trackerr. Here’s what my Resource Groups look like after that.

Image depicting Amazon EC2 Resource Groups

Great! Now you’ve got a Rails App on your machine and in GitHub, and you have a plain EC2 instance running on AWS. It’s almost time to marry them together.

Before we get to that, though, let’s set up convenient access to the server.

First, find that .pem key file you downloaded from Amazon. I’m on a Mac + FireFox, so mine ended up in ~/Downloads

I personally like to keep these kinds of files in ~/server-keys.

So go ahead and make a folder called server-keys (or whatever you like) and drop it in your home directory (or wherever you like).

You’ll need to set the permissions on your key so it isn’t publicly viewable. To make sure that’s the case, run:

# ~/server-keys/
local$ chmod 400 trackerr-key-pair.pem

Then you’ll want to connect to your instance using its Public DNS.

The command looks like ssh -i "tracker-key-pair.pem"

If you need a more specific command for your keypair name and DNS address, click the Connect button in the Amazon Resource Groups panel.

Step 6: Configure easy access to your EC2 instance

Let’s make that SSH access even more convenient by setting up an alias. I use zsh and oh-my-zsh, so I’m going to open up my .zshrc file.

In command line:

# ~
local$ vim .zshrc

Everyone’s config is going to be different. Towards the bottom of my file, I’m going to add:

alias ssh_trackerr="ssh -i ~/server-keys/trackerr-key-pair.pem";

With the correct address in it.

Once you write and save to the zsh (or whatever shell) config, restart your shell. For me, it’s just:

# ~ 
local$ zsh 

Then I can run

# ~ 
local$ ssh_trackerr

And I’m in. I now see a new shell prompt which looks like ubuntu@ip-xxx-xx-xx-xxx:~$.

Step 7: Configure Capistrano Production deploy tasks

Now let’s give Capistrano the ability to grab our app from GitHub and deploy. We’ve got all the information we need to configure trackerr/config/deploy/production.rb (thanks to this helpful StackOveflow thread)

# ~/dev/trackerr/config/deploy/production.rb 

server '', user: 'ubuntu', roles: %w{web app db}
set :ssh_options, { 
  forward_agent: true, 
  auth_methods: %w[publickey],
  keys: %w[/path/to/your/keypair/keypair-name.pem]

Step 8: Preparing the server to run Capistrano tasks

Use your shiny new alias to hop in to the EC2 instance:

# ~
local$ ssh_trackerr

Create the directory that the app will live in:

# ~
ubuntu$ sudo mkdir -p /var/www

By default, the ubuntu user doesn’t have access to this directory, so change the ownership:

# ~
ubuntu$ sudo chown ubuntu /var/www

Update all existing packages on the server:

# ~
ubuntu$ sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get -y upgrade

Then install the dependencies required to install Ruby:

# ~
ubuntu$ sudo apt install autoconf bison build-essential libssl-dev libyaml-dev libreadline6-dev zlib1g-dev libncurses5-dev libffi-dev libgdbm5 libgdbm-dev libsqlite3-dev

Once those dependencies install, install rbenv. Clone the rbenv repo:

# ~
ubuntu$ git clone ~/.rbenv

then, add ~/.rbenv/bin to your $PATH so you can use its CLI.

# ~
ubuntu$ echo 'export PATH="$HOME/.rbenv/bin:$PATH"' >> ~/.bashrc

Add this command to your bash profile so you can load rbenv automatically.

# ~
ubuntu$ echo 'eval "$(rbenv init -)"' >> ~/.bashrc

Restart bash to get those changes to apply.

# ~
ubuntu$ source ~/.bashrc 

Then we’ll install the ruby-build plugin to add rbenv install which simplifies the install process for new Ruby versions (which we will surely need for Rails 6)

# ~
ubuntu$ git clone ~/.rbenv/plugins/ruby-build

Now you’ll be able to see all the available ruby versions with this command:

# ~
ubuntu$ rbenv install -l

For Rails 6, we need Ruby 2.5.0 or newer. At the time of writing, Rails 6 sets it at 2.5.1

# ~
ubuntu$ rbenv install 2.5.1

The installation may take some time. This is a good spot to make some coffee.

Up next, set your global default ruby version using

# ~
ubuntu$ rbenv global 2.5.1

You can check with

# ~
ubuntu$ ruby -v

Now we need to configure our ability to work with gems. First, let’s turn off local documentation generation by adding a setting to our ~/.gemrc file

# ~
ubuntu$ echo "gem: --no-document" > ~/.gemrc

With our gem process configured, let’s install bundler. This step gave me issues before, and I realized I installed the latest bundler, but Rails 6 generated using 1.17.1. Make sure to specify your version - the version you download on the server should match what’s written in your Gemfile.

# ~
ubuntu$ gem install bundler -v 1.17.1 

Step 9: Install a Javascript Runtime on EC2

The Rails Asset Pipeline requires JavaScript runtime, so let’s get Node.js

# ~
ubuntu$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:chris-lea/node.js

Then update apt-get and install the Node.js package:

# ~
ubuntu$ sudo apt-get update
ubuntu$ sudo apt-get install nodejs

Step 10: Install a Node package manager

With Node installed, we’ll want to download the yarn package manager, since Rails 6 uses it by default.

# ~
ubuntu$ curl -sS | sudo apt-key add -
ubuntu$ echo "deb stable main" | sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/yarn.list
ubuntu$ sudo apt-get update
ubuntu$ sudo apt-get install yarn

Step 11: Set up your EC2 server with your git credentials

If you’re using SSH keys to access your GitHub account, you’ll need to set up those credentials on your server. You can do this by following the guide at here, or you can follow along with me.

Basically, you’ll run:

# EC2 ~
ubuntu$ ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096 -C ""

You’ll be prompted for a file to save the key in, choose Enter to select the default location.

You’ll be given an option to type a secure passphrase, but it’s optional, and I usually don’t.

Now you can go to ~/.ssh and run vim

Copy that file, go to GitHub, click on Settings, then click SSH and GPG keys. Click New SSH key or Add SSH Key.

Select a title, then paste you rkey into the key field.

Click Add SSH Key and confirm your password at the prompt.

Step 12: Give your server access to your master.key

In Rails 5.2+, you have the ability to manage credentials and other secrets using the master.key file. You can read about this excellent feature here.

Capistrano requires a bit of extra configuration to get this configuration quite right. You can follow these instructions or read along with me.

Copy your local master.key file to your server at /var/www/trackerr/shared/config/master.key

In your application’s config/deploy.rb file, add:

# ~/dev/trackerr/config/deploy.rb 
set :linked_files, %w{config/master.key}

Step 13: Configure the Puma application server

We’ll be using the Puma application server for our rails app since it ships standard with Rails, and it should meet our needs. Capistrano requires some extra configuration for this, as well.

In your Gemfile:

# ~/dev/trackerr/Gemfile
gem 'capistrano3-puma' 

Add this configuration to your capfile

# ~/dev/trackerr/Capfile
require 'capistrano/puma'
install_plugin Capistrano::Puma  # Default puma tasks
install_plugin Capistrano::Puma::Workers  # if you want to control the workers (in cluster mode)
install_plugin Capistrano::Puma::Jungle # if you need the jungle tasks
install_plugin Capistrano::Puma::Monit  # if you need the monit tasks
install_plugin Capistrano::Puma::Nginx  # if you want to upload a nginx site template

Now we’ll want to configure Puma on the server, since our local Puma configuration won’t work for the EC2 instance. On your EC2 server, create a new file at /var/www/trackerr/shared/config/puma.rb, enter the following:

# Change to match your CPU core count
workers 2

# Min and Max threads per worker
threads 1, 6

app_dir = File.expand_path("../..", __FILE__)
shared_dir = "#{app_dir}/shared"

# Default to production
rails_env = ENV['RAILS_ENV'] || "production"
environment rails_env

# Set up socket location
bind "unix://#{shared_dir}/sockets/puma.sock"

# Logging
stdout_redirect "#{shared_dir}/log/puma.stdout.log", "#{shared_dir}/log/puma.stderr.log", true

# Set master PID and state locations
pidfile "#{shared_dir}/pids/"
state_path "#{shared_dir}/pids/puma.state"

on_worker_boot do
  require "active_record"
  ActiveRecord::Base.connection.disconnect! rescue ActiveRecord::ConnectionNotEstablished

Step 14: Set up NGINX

We’re going to install and configure Nginx on our server now.

Head back to your home directory and install nginx.

# ~
ubuntu$ sudo apt-get install nginx

Next, let’s configure the default server block:

# ~
ubuntu$ sudo vim /etc/nginx/sites-available/default

Add the following, but replace the application and path values with yours, if you’ve changed it.

upstream app {
    # Path to Puma SOCK file, as defined previously
    server unix:/var/www/trackerr/shared/tmp/sockets/puma.sock fail_timeout=0;

server {
    listen 80;
    server_name localhost;

    root /var/www/trackerr/public;

    try_files $uri/index.html $uri @app;

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

    error_page 500 502 503 504 /500.html;
    client_max_body_size 4G;
    keepalive_timeout 10;

Save and exit. This configures Nginx as a reverse proxy, so HTTP requests get forwarded to the application server via a Unix socket. Feel free to make any changes as you see fit. Make sure you overwrite the default config. The first time I did this, I just appended to the file, and I coudln’t figure out what was going wrong.

Restart Nginx:

# ~
ubuntu$ sudo service nginx restart 

Step 15: Commit your local changes to git and deploy to server

We’re at a place where updates to the master branch of our repo will work correclty in a Capistrano deploy. Here’s how to try it out:

# ~/dev/trackerr
local$ git add .
local$ git commit -m "update with capistrano configuration"
local$ git push 
local$ cap production deploy

Step 16: Check your work!

Head back to your EC2 Resource console, and find the value listed under Public DNS (IPv4) - then paste that into your browser.

You should be good to go! Congrats! You did it!

Next steps:

You might want to do a few things now that you’ve got the skeleton of your application working:

  1. Set up the DNS records
  2. Set up a production-level database for the application
  3. Actually build the application.

These tasks are outside the scope of this tutorial, but are covered in additional blog posts.