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Farley Knight
Farley Knight

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Docker Rails Deployment How to Deploy a Rails Application to AWS with Docker - Part 1

Why Use Docker for Deploying to AWS?

There are so many good reasons to use Docker, it would be hard to fully sell all of the benefits in a few paragraphs. On the outside, it seems like a lot of abstraction without immediate benefit. However, the ability to codify your infrastructure makes it possible for your web/cloud hosting solution to respond to changes in traffic. Since containers are small enough to be run on a developer's machine, development and production environments are nearly identical, reducing the chances of platform dependent bugs. Their small size also means you can run many containers on one machine.

You can read the following links if you're not familiar with Docker (and containerization in general), and to learn why it could be beneficial for your project's architecture.

Assuming you are already convinced, let's get down to business.


Before beginning this tutorial, this article assumes that:

  • Your Rails application uses MySQL for its database. Or you're okay with using MySQL for your next Rails project. Either way, don't sweat it. We'll be creating a sample one along the way.
  • You have a AWS account, where you can test this out. If you happen to have an AWS account for your employer, you may run into issues with credentials. There is some advice from AWS about using the CLI and managing multiple AWS accounts.
  • You have Docker installed on your development machine.
  • You also have the AWS CLI installed on your development machine.

A Sample Rails Application

I know from experience that trying to add a big architectural change to an existing application can be tricky sometimes, causing lots of headaches. To ensure that you do not run across the same trouble I had, we'll create a sample application to go along with this tutorial.

If your configurations stray from this example, and need some guidance, feel free to reach out. If your existing application is drastically different, you should consider a smaller, more incremental change, which might be outside the scope of this article. Hence, for this tutorial, I created a sample Rails application, which uses MySQL by default.

First verify you have MySQL running:

$ brew services list
Name              Status  User    Plist
mysql             started fknight /Users/fknight/Library/LaunchAgents/homebrew.mxcl.mysql.plist
mysql@5.7         started root    /Library/LaunchDaemons/homebrew.mxcl.mysql@5.7.plist
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Make sure you see mysql here, otherwise you'll have trouble connecting to the database. Next we will create the Rails app.

$ rails --version
$ rails new the-greatest-rails-app-ever --database=mysql
      create  Rakefile
      create  .ruby-version
      create  .gitignore
      create  Gemfile
         run  git init from "."
      Initialized empty Git repository in /Users/fknight/code/amazon_ecs/the-greatest-rails-app-ever/.git/
      create  package.json
      create  app
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To ensure that our Rails application can talk to the database, we will create a simple UI to store blog posts. Rails gives us the ability to generate very simple UIs automatically, using scaffolds. We will generate a UI scaffold for blog posts using the rails generate scaffold command. This command creates a database table and a set of web pages to create new blog posts, edit existing blog posts, etc.

$ cd the-greatest-rails-app-ever
$ rails generate scaffold blog_post title:string content:text
Running via Spring preloader in process 97195
      invoke  active_record
      create    db/migrate/20200209213701_create_blog_posts.rb
      create    app/models/blog_post.rb
      invoke    test_unit
      create      test/models/blog_post_test.rb
      create      test/fixtures/blog_posts.yml
$ rake db:create
Created database 'the-greatest-rails-app-ever_development'
Created database 'the-greatest-rails-app-ever_test'
$ rake db:migrate
== 20200209213701 CreateBlogPosts: migrating ==================================
-- create_table(:blog_posts)
   -> 0.0168s
== 20200209213701 CreateBlogPosts: migrated (0.0169s) =========================
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Verifying the Rails App Works

Run the Rails app:

$ rails server
=> Booting Puma
=> Rails application starting in development
=> Run `rails server -h` for more startup options
Puma starting in single mode...
* Version 3.12.2 (ruby 2.4.5-p335), codename: Llamas in Pajamas
* Min threads: 5, max threads: 5
* Environment: development
* Listening on tcp://localhost:3000
Use Ctrl-C to stop
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Now go to your browser with this URL: http://localhost:3000. If everything worked as expected, you should see this image:

Alt Text

Now to go http://localhost:3000/blog_posts. Try creating a new blog post.

Alt Text

And save it.

Alt Text

If you see this screen, your app is connected to your database. We're on our way to a dockerized app!

Adding a Dockerfile

A Dockerfile is a way to describe a docker image. It starts with a basic image, in this case we're using ruby:2.4.5-stretch which is based on Debian's Stretch distribution. There are lots more to talk about how Dockerfiles work. But that is the subject for a future blog post. Here is one that I propose we use for this series of posts.

FROM ruby:2.4.5-stretch

# Update the package lists before installing.
RUN apt-get update -qq

# This installs
# * build-essential because Nokogiri requires gcc
# * common CA certs
# * netcat to test the database port
# * two different text editors (emacs and vim) for emergencies
# * the mysql CLI and client library
RUN apt-get install -y \
    build-essential \
    ca-certificates \
    netcat-traditional \
    emacs \
    vim \
    mysql-client \

# Install node from nodesource
RUN curl -sL | bash - \
  && apt-get install -y nodejs

# Install yarn
RUN curl -sS | apt-key add - \
  && echo "deb stable main" | tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/yarn.list \
  && apt-get update -qq \
  && apt-get install -y yarn

# Create a directory called `/workdir` and make that the working directory
ENV APP_HOME /workdir
RUN mkdir ${APP_HOME}

# Copy the Gemfile
COPY Gemfile ${APP_HOME}/Gemfile
COPY Gemfile.lock ${APP_HOME}/Gemfile.lock

# Make sure we are running bundler version 2.0
RUN gem install bundler -v 2.0.1
RUN bundle install

# Copy the project over

# Map port 8080 to the outside world (your local computer)

ENTRYPOINT ["sh", "./"]
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The ENTRYPOINT directive is the final line as that will be the script we use to start the application. The contents of the file are below.

#!/usr/bin/env bash

# Precompile assets
bundle exec rake assets:precompile

# Wait for database to be ready
until nc -z -v -w30 $MYSQL_HOST $MYSQL_PORT; do
 echo 'Waiting for MySQL...'
 sleep 1
echo "MySQL is up and running!"

# If the database exists, migrate. Otherwise setup (create and migrate)
bundle exec rake db:migrate 2>/dev/null || bundle exec rake db:create db:migrate
echo "MySQL database has been created & migrated!"

# Remove a potentially pre-existing for Rails.
rm -f tmp/pids/

# Run the Rails server
bundle exec rails server -b -p 8080
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Docker Image Hygiene

In our Dockerfile, we used the COPY command to copy all of the files into our container. We would like to ignore some of those files. In that case, we include a .dockerignore file in our project:

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Adding a docker-compose.yml

Docker Compose is a tool for running multiple containers that must maintain network support between them. For example, a database and a web application must be in constant communication in order to persist, query, and then dynamically display information.

The following file describes two services: db and web:

version: '3'
  image: mysql:5.7
    MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: the-greatest-root-password-ever
    - db
  build: .
    - "8080:8080"
    MYSQL_USER: root
    MYSQL_PASSWORD: the-greatest-root-password-ever
    MYSQL_PORT: 3306
    MYSQL_HOST: db
    RAILS_ENV: development
    - ".:/workdir"

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  • The first (db) is based on the dockerhub mysql image, which is robust enough for our needs.
    • The environment variable MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD was provided to the mysql:5.7 section based on configuration advice available on the website. If we want a user with enough permissions to create their own database, we'll need to use the root user and provide the password for root.
  • The second (web) is what we're calling our web application's container. We can keep these names short because they only need to exist in this file.
    • The web container requires that the db container be available first, so we add the section depends_on and include db in the list.
    • Since web is based on our Rails app, we specify the build is happening in the current directory.
    • We specify that we're mapping the ports 8080:8080, which means that we're exposing it to the host (your computer).
    • These environment variables should conform to your purposes. In this example, I went with the Rails environment as development to allow us to have the most freedom while deploying. You will likely want either staging or production here.
    • These environment variables will be discussed again later, in the AWS context. We'll be using different values there.
    • The volumes should mention the WORKDIR from your Dockerfile.

Updating config/database.yml

We're going to rely on docker-compose to run the database instance for us when we need to bring up the service. Because we are letting docker-compose handle our environment variables as well, we're going to refer to them into our config/database.yml. In other words, we'll be including the environment variables MYSQL_USER, MYSQL_PASSWORD, etc.

The contents of your config/database.yml file should look something like this:

default: &default
  adapter: mysql2
  encoding: utf8
  pool: <%= ENV.fetch("RAILS_MAX_THREADS") { 5 } %>
  username: <%= ENV['MYSQL_USER'] %>
  password: <%= ENV['MYSQL_PASSWORD'] %>
  host: <%= ENV['MYSQL_HOST'] %>
  port: <%= ENV['MYSQL_PORT'] %>

  <<: *default
  database: the-greatest-rails-app-ever_development

  <<: *default
  database: the-greatest-rails-app-ever_staging

  <<: *default
  database: the-greatest-rails-app-ever_test

  <<: *default
  database: the-greatest-rails-app-ever_production
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Verifying Your Docker Image

After adding the Dockerfile and updating the config/database.yml, we can build and run our container to verify it works properly.

Checking the Database Connection (optional)

If your Rails application has trouble getting access to the database, it could be a networking issue. You can check if the application container has access to the database container by following these steps:

Log into Docker container

This involves running docker ps and looking for the container ID. Use that container ID to then run docker exec -it <container-ID> /bin/bash. This should log you into the container. Once inside the container, check your environment variables by trying echo $MYSQL_HOST or echo $MYSQL_USER.

Look for environment variables, $MYSQL_USER, $MYSQL_PASSWORD, making sure they are being set properly.

$ echo $MYSQL_USER
$ echo $MYSQL_HOST
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Try connecting via mysql. If those seem okay, you can attempt to log into the database by running.

$ docker exec -it 324a9d4aa153 /bin/bash
root@324a9d4aa153:/workdir$ mysql -h $MYSQL_HOST -u $MYSQL_USER -p$MYSQL_PASSWORD
Welcome to the MariaDB monitor.  Commands end with ; or \g.
Your MySQL connection id is 3
Server version: 5.7.29 MySQL Community Server (GPL)

Copyright (c) 2000, 2018, Oracle, MariaDB Corporation Ab and others.

Type 'help;' or '\h' for help. Type '\c' to clear the current input statement.

MySQL [(none)]>
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Building and running from docker-compose

Once you've set everything up, you can build it using docker-compose build.

$ docker-compose build
db uses an image, skipping
Building web
Step 1/15 : FROM ruby:2.4.5-stretch
 ---> a14928bdfa34
Step 2/15 : RUN apt-get update -qq
 ---> Using cache
 ---> 0387647b8229
Step 3/15 : RUN apt-get install -y     build-essential     ca-certificates     netcat-traditional     emacs     vim     mysql-client     default-libmysqlclient-dev
 ---> Using cache
 ---> 206407159286
Step 4/15 : RUN curl -sL | bash -   && apt-get install -y nodejs
 ---> Using cache
 ---> 1a0efb43afa5
Step 5/15 : RUN curl -sS | apt-key add -   && echo "deb stable main" | tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/yarn.list   && apt-get update -qq   && apt-get install -y yarn
 ---> Using cache
 ---> 5e43706cab49
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Once it has finished building, you can run them with docker-compose up.

$ docker-compose up
Starting the-greatest-rails-app-ever_db_1 ... done
Recreating the-greatest-rails-app-ever_web_1 ... done
Attaching to the-greatest-rails-app-ever_db_1, the-greatest-rails-app-ever_web_1
db_1   | 2020-02-10 16:19:58+00:00 [Note] [Entrypoint]: Entrypoint script for MySQL Server 5.7.29-1debian9 started.
db_1   | 2020-02-10 16:19:58+00:00 [Note] [Entrypoint]: Switching to dedicated user 'mysql'
db_1   | 2020-02-10 16:19:58+00:00 [Note] [Entrypoint]: Entrypoint script for MySQL Server 5.7.29-1debian9 started.
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Your Rails App has Been Dockerized! 🎉

You now have a version of your Rails application running on a local Docker container. We did this to make sure it is working locally before deploying it to the rest of the world. In the next part of this series, we'll talk about getting your container running on AWS.

Top comments (2)

pamit profile image
Payam Mousavi

Great article!

I think after we specify the working directory in Dockerfile (WORKDIR ${APP_HOME}), we won't need to specify the directory in next commands like COPY so:

COPY Gemfile Gemfile.lock ./
COPY . ./
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chiwenchen profile image
Chiwen • Edited

I got error when building the Dockerfile Package 'mysql-client' has no installation candidate
and change mysql-client to default-mysql-client solve the issue