Dreamhost codes

I’ve had my ups and downs with Dreamhost and I’m now running nano RAILS on a kick ass VPS with gentoo.

But for a starter ruby site (nano RAILS was hosted there for over a year!), it is hard to beat their price, and they do run quite nicely with fcgi. If you want to run multiple apps, using mongrel, then sure it is not for you.

I’m also running lots of wordpress blogs (Home Recipes and Why not create a Side Business) and I’m happy with the no hassle way to get them setup and how smoothly they run.

Any way, to make a long story short, Dreamhost has finally decided to update the way you create codes for their Coupons.

So if you want to get started with a pretty good host, and need a new domain name, you can get that domain for free for the life of your account by using the code NANODOMAIN (plus you get the max $50 off, which is a nice chunk of change).

Or if you already have a domain, but want a unique IP, you can use NANOIP (and you also get $50 off).

Or you can take advantage of that last week to get $97 off with NANO97.


in News | 211 Words

Out with Dream Host, in with Rails Playground

Well, well, well, almost a year after signing up with Dream Host, after going through many turbulent times, trying to fix things up myself, and again, surviving an unannounced, and not so welcome upgrade, after hoping for mongrel support, it really came down to a severe case of overselling. Performance had become abysmal, database connections hard to come by, site was down for longer and longer periods of time. Sometimes several hours without much I could do to revive it.

Don’t get me wrong, not all overselling is bad as long as it is managed properly. In my case, it came down to cpu and resource usage (database, memory). I mean, a rails application like typo is no small app. It routinely had 3 fcgi processes, each 70Mb plus, which on a 4 Gb machine is over 5% of memory, ouch! A good thing that not everyone there runs typo! But I don’t think that was the problem though. On average, the load of the machine was between 10 to 20, which is high but could be sustainable if it wasn’t for the fact that cpu usage seems to be above 90% all the time. This does not give much for a little boost when needed. And on that front, Dream Host needs to make some improvements quickly!

To be honest, this does not seem to be a big issue to run something like wordpress and my other sites on the same machine seem to be doing just fine and I don’t plan to move then anywhere anytime soon. I mean, it is hard to beat the amazing storage space and bandwidth allotment.

So with all that in mind, it was time for a new host! I knew what I wanted:

  • mongrel support
  • ssh support
  • no need for extravagant bandwidth
  • no setup fee, reasonable month to month cost

To find the best contenders, I used Google and the Hosting page on rubyonrails.org.

The best fit: Rails Playground. This post is hosted there, and so far, so good. For $12/month, that looks like a very competitive plan for a rails app. Granted I can only run one app with 2 mongrels, but that will do great for now.

The transition went really smoothly, all things considered.

First thing was to export the database, and I hit a first snag trying to get the data. I could not get a database connection to dump the data, fortunately, I was able to do the export using phpMyAdmin.

On the Rails Playground side, it came down to setting up a database, importing the data, setting up Capistrano, and putting out a request for mongrel setup. Less than a couple hours works and the request for mongrel setup was completed overnight.

Then the only thing left was to switch dns (so the old site was still up, at least as much up as it can be while the dns change propagates), and that’s where the only hitch happened. I ran into a perl error on the Dream Host control panel. Nothing their support couldn’t solve, and an hour later the whois database was updated, and dns servers all over started to pick up the change, and Voila! Rails Playground, here I come!

I now have the distinct (ahem… cough) advantage of having the 2 biggest processes running on this new machine but shush, don’t tell anyone…

And what a difference this makes. Average cpu usage seems to be below 5% and so far, not dreaded 500 error page :)

Note: if you read this via RSS, this may get delayed because as I write this, FeedBurner is still polling the old site. Hopefully this will update by tomorrow.

Dreamhost router upgraded

DreamHost just completed the replacement of their main router and everything seems to be back to normal, hopefully for good.

If you’ve experienced some bumpy turbulences on this site over the past 4 days, please accept my apologies. This should not happen anymore.

Thank you DreamHost for keeping things mostly afloat while waiting for the new hardware and keeping us informed along the way. That helped!

in News | 65 Words

Install your own ruby on a shared host

Since I upgraded to Typo 4.0, and in the process rails 1.1.6 I have had a few occurrences where nanoRAILS would hang, several bloated processes would be sitting there and not respond, and the only option at that point was to kill all ruby processes once I realized what was happening, which could be several hours. Suffice it to say, this is not a good option.

So after struggling during last rails upgrade to 1.1 on my host, the next logical step is to also use my own version of ruby so I can have better control on its environment, and even apply patches if necessary.

The following steps apply on a lot of systems. More specifically, my host is DreamHost (aff), and as best I can tell, I’m on a host with Debian Sarge.

Build your own Ruby

Download ruby from http://www.ruby-lang.org. The latest version is currently ftp://ftp.ruby-lang.org/pub/ruby/ruby-1.8.4.tar.gz

Create the makefile using

 ./configure prefix=[YOUR_OWN_RUBY_PREFIX]

Since you most likely don’t have root access, you need to override where ruby think it resides, and the way to do that is to set the prefix to somewhere into your home directory. Something like /home/USERNAME/ruby for example. From that point on, libraries, other builtin ruby files, gems will automatically install into your own ruby repository so you never have to worry about getting in trouble with an unforeseen upgrade.

Optionally, you can apply the patch used by Railsbench, with hardcoded default values because I haven’t figured how to set the environment variables for the dispatch.fcgi process (since apache in my case determines that). Download my version of rubygc.patch .

 patch gc.c rubygc.patch

Build and install ruby

 make install

Additionally, so that the command line uses the same version of ruby, add this to your .bashrc or equivalent for your shel.


Install your own gems

Now you are ready to install your own gems. Here’s the bare minimum you need.

First, install rubygems

 wget http://rubyforge.org/frs/download.php/11289/rubygems-0.9.0.tgz
 tar xzvf rubygems-0.9.0.tgz
 cd rubygems-0.9.0
 ruby setup.rb

Then install the minimum set of gems:

 gem install mysql
 gem install fcgi
 gem install rails --include-dependencies

Now, the only thing you need is to change the path to ruby in your dispatch file (dispatch.rb for mod_cgi, dispatch.cgi for regular cgi, and dispatch.fcgi for FastCGI/fcgid)

Typically, replace

#!/usr/bin/env ruby



Replace [YOUR_OWN_RUBY_PREFIX] by your own value you used earlier.

Can you host a modified GPL software and not release it?

Here’s the question I was faced with today.

If you install a software that is licenced under the GPL license on a server, and let people interact with the software, do you have to make the source available? And furthermore, if you did modify that software, are you obligated to release that software along with the source.

A good example of that would be Joomla!. It is not uncommon to want to customize it, fix bugs very specific to your use of the software, etc…

Based on my understanding on the GPL, my inital thinking that you had to make your modifications available. But I had enough doubts that I wanted to find out more. After a few hours of research, it turns out I was wrong.

Essentially, the section 0 of the GPL clearly states that it only covers distribution, copying, and modifications (that you allow others to copy or that you distribute).

In fact, the GPL FAQ specifically addresses that issues under

A company is running a modified version of a GPL’ed program on a web site. Does the GPL say they must release their modified sources?.

The GPL permits anyone to make a modified version and use it without ever distributing it to others. What this company is doing is a special case of that. Therefore, the company does not have to release the modified sources.

It is essential for people to have the freedom to make modifications and use them privately, without ever publishing those modifications. However, putting the program on a server machine for the public to talk to is hardly “private” use, so it would be legitimate to require release of the source code in that special case. We are thinking about doing something like this in GPL version 3, but we don’t have precise wording in mind yet.

In the mean time, you might want to use the Affero GPL for programs designed for network server use.

Interestingly enough, this is appears to be a question that comes up often enough to be included in the FAQ and it mentions that they were considering addressing that issue in version 3. Based on my reading of the current draft of GPL 3, this has not happened yet, and unlikely to happen at this juncture.

That FAQ entry also points to an alternative license that would require you to release the code if you host the GPL software on a server: The Affero GPL or AGPL. Section 2.d has additional requirements on top of GPL:

2…d) If the Program as you received it is intended to interact with users through a computer network and if, in the version you received, any user interacting with the Program was given the opportunity to request transmission to that user of the Program’s complete source code, you must not remove that facility from your modified version of the Program or work based on the Program, and must offer an equivalent opportunity for all users interacting with your Program through a computer network to request immediate transmission by HTTP of the complete source code of your modified version or other derivative work.

The fact that someone felt they had to modify the text of the GPL to make it more epxlicit should in itself be proof enough that GPL does not cover it, and that therefore does not require you to release sources.

The AGPL is not a license that has a very wide adoption, but you can find quite a few projects using it beyond affero.org.

I’ve also found a discussion between Richard Stallman himself and Steve- Parker that yields the same answer:

Scenario 2) I modify GPL code – eg a CGI library – to suit my own needs for
use on a publicly-available web server. This code is being run, by the
general public, on my web server. Should I, in this case, make the code
available? Under the GPL, must I?

And Richard Stallman’s answer:

The GPL does not require it. But is not very good for the community
when people do this, so I am looking at a way that GPL 3 could
require publication in this case.

You will also find the discussion on the Open Source Law Blog relevant. What makes it more interesting is that Paul Arne is a lawyer that specializes in Open Source Software licensing.

So in conclusion, you can be fairly confident that the answer to my original question is “Yes, you can host a modified GPL software, and not be required to release your modifications”. Of course, by doing so, you lose the benefits of GPL, but that’s a debate for another day.

in News | 777 Words

Selecting a rails hosting service

Is there is one thing you could agree with, it is that there are many hosting options for your Ruby on Rail application. And this is a good thing for you. This is good because this means that there are a lot of companies competing for your business.

But it can be easy to get lost in this multitude of offers. So you need to define a selection process before you begin. Write down the criteria that you find important. And as you do your research, that list may change, and that’s ok. This is only a starting point. If you change that list too much, this may be warning flag that you are getting influenced too much but what you are reading.

To help you get started, here’s the list I used when selecting a hosting service:

rails support: that’s the main reason you are looking for a hosting solution. So get the best you can get! This one almost trumps all the others. Ideally you want to find someone that has had quite a bit of experience with rails, and has had a chance to fine tune their systems over time. You also want to make sure they offer more than just plain CGI, something like FastCGI, or FCGI, or even offer LightTPD support. If you don’t have to set it up, any of these will do. In my experience, it is not so important that they provide the latest gems and rails versions as you are better off freezing your gems.

Subversion support: to use Capistrano, this is something which is going to be helpful. You may be able to get CVS working, but subversion is a much better solution overall.

Capistrano support: with ssh and svn, you should be good
Price: Price matters, but most offerings are in the same ballpark, making this secondary. Get something you are comfortable with.

Disk space: you need enough to get your application running. If you envision something with a lots of graphics, sounds or movies, then you will need a lot.

Bandwidth: same as for disk space. You can start small to keep the price down, and most hosting companies will let you upgrade to their next offering, which generally gives you more bandwith, and only charge you the price difference.

Number of domains: how many domains do you really need? 5 to 10 should be more than you need. The thing you really need is the ability to have real domains, without some sort of redirection or frame redirecting to a subdirectory to your main domain.

Number of subdomains: I would not settle for less than an unlimited domain.
Number of databases: you only generally need just 1 or 2 for your application, but why you be charged by the database? They already limit the disk space and the bandwidth. So you’ll get the more serious ones by selecting one that doesn’t limit you.

Backup: once your application reaches production state, you need backups (trust me on that one, you don’t want to get caught without a backup). Site5 has a very nice feature where you get to restore your onw backups whenever you want.

Statistics: you need at least decent statistics. although you may feel the need to use a specialized service, such as Google Analytics, SiteMeter, or more analytics options which will give you a lot more details that what most hosting services give you.

SSH access: this one is a must. To run Capistrano, you need this. Plus this generally comes with ftp access, you get to run rails by hand if necessary, etc.
Email: that’s a no brainer, and I would just look for a good spam solution to go with that.

Excellent uptime: 99.9… or so. You can only go with what the vendor claims. If they are willing to back it with some refund, then they really mean it.
Moneyback: all the serious hosting company will let you try it for at least a month. To weed out the less serious, insist on 60 days or more.

Once you’ve defined your list of criteria, do some research, use google, ask your friends, look for what other people are using.

Create a spreadsheet where you list the various plans for each hosting company with some notes on each criteria.

Very quickly, the top 2 or 3 will start to emerge. Then you can dig a bit deeper, look for what others are saying, look to see if there are a lot of people complaining. For the price, you may even want to give your top 2 or 3 a test drive and see for yourself.

Good luck!

Freeze all your ruby gems on a shared host

Things started to go downlhill when I had to check back on a previous article I had written about (Allowing full access to a sub directory in Apache Server) and my server would just hang!
Well, not a problem, let’s just try to hit the refresh key, hmmm, nothing. Ok, for good measure, let’s hit the button, just to be sure. Hmmm, still nothing.
Ok, let’s check out the logs, started from the apache logs.

[Tue Mar 28 21:04:31 2006] [error] [client] FastCGI: incomplete headers
(0 bytes) received from server “/home/psq/blog.nanorails.com/current/public/dispatch.fcgi”

Ok, yep, something’s wrong. Next, let’s hit the production.log. Nothing useful.

Next, a trick I learned before (aren’t you glad it is not your first time troubleshooting FastCGI?). Let’s call public/dispatch.fcgi directly:

/usr/local/lib/site_ruby/1.8/rubygems.rb:194:in `report_activate_error’:
    RubyGem version error: activerecord(1.13.2 not = 1.14.0) (Gem::LoadError)
    from /usr/local/lib/site_ruby/1.8/rubygems.rb:136:in `activate’
    from /usr/local/lib/site_ruby/1.8/rubygems.rb:162:in `activate’
    from /usr/local/lib/site_ruby/1.8/rubygems.rb:161:in `each’
    from /usr/local/lib/site_ruby/1.8/rubygems.rb:161:in `activate’
    from /usr/local/lib/site_ruby/1.8/rubygems/custom_require.rb:23:in `require’
    from ./../config/boot.rb:14
    from ./../config/environment.rb:8:in `require’
    from ./../config/environment.rb:8
    from ./dispatch.fcgi:21:in `require’
    from ./dispatch.fcgi:21

Ah ha! Bingo. What does it all mean, though?

It has been hard to miss that Rails 1.1 is not officially out. Yeahh!!! I wonder whether Dreamhost (aff) has maybe, just maybe, decided to upgrade.

gem list|grep rails

Ah ha! again. Yes, rails is is now 1.0 and 1.1. So I futz a little bit to try to freeze the gems manually, to not avail :(. So I go home, and fortunately, thanks to Capistrano, I have a full copy on my home machine! After doing a little reading, I figure the solution has to be:

rake freeze_gems

So first things first, I get home, rush to my machine, run the magic command, then run what was going to solve all the recent woes:

cap deploy -q

and hit the refresh button…
Duh! Still doesn’t work. Major Bummer!

Next step is to get a copy of all my gems (for typo):

 cd vendor/rails
 gem unpack activerecord
 gem unpack activesupport
 gem unpack actionpack
 gem unpack actionmailer
 gem unpack actionwebservice
 mv activerecord-1.13.2/ rails/
 mv actionmailer-1.1.5/ actionmailer
 mv actionpack-1.11.2/ actionpack
 mv actionwebservice-1.0.0/ actionwebservice
 mv activerecord-1.13.2/ activerecord
 mv activesupport-1.2.5/ activesupport

Your versions may vary depending on your install.

Then, committed everything, and redeployed.

and Ta Da! everything’s now back to normal! Phew…

The moral of the story, it that wasn’t clear already is:

Do not rely on the gems installed on your shared host!
Make sure your freeze all your gems

And I can worry on my own time to upgrade to rails 1.1 in my production environmment.

Update about 2 hours later:
Assuming you can run rake (which I couldn’t because of some broken dependency), an other method to lock down to rails 1.0 is to use:
rake freeze_edgeREVISION=3303

this assumes that’s you are using rails directly from svn already.

Update about 18h later:
An other solution is to lock down the versions of the gems you use in environment.rb using what suggested on Ruby On Rails Wiki. Thank you, Miles Barr for the tip!