Production Rails apps

December 19, 2014

This isn’t a go-live checklist, just a couple of things that aren’t too difficult to setup and will give you a bit more peace of mind when you deploy your app to the big bad world.

Catching Errors

Knowing what errors are troubling your users is essential to building a quality product. Many services offer error tracking and reporting but often have restrictive limits or charge too much to be viable for a side project.

I use the exception_notification gem because it’s free, simple to setup and emails me every time an exception occurs in production. I really like this approach because emails bug me and I will fix the problems quicker.

# Add this to your Gemfile
gem 'exception_notification'

# Add this to the bottom of config/environments/production.rb
# (Don’t forget to update the details!)
config.middleware.use ExceptionNotification::Rack,
  :email => {
    :sender_address => %{"My App Exception" <>},
    :exception_recipients => %w{}

Friendly error pages

Customising the default Rails error pages is something I all too often forget. All you need is your apps logo and a friendly, sympathetic message. If you have setup exception_notification you can also mention that you have recorded the error and are working to fix it, and not be lying :)

Don’t forget to point nginx or heroku to your custom error pages if your app is offline or undergoing maintenance.

# Sample nginx config with custom error pages
server {
  listen 80 default_server;
  root /var/www/;

  # nginx conf for errors
  error_page 404 /404.html;
  error_page 500 /500.html;
  error_page 502 /500.html; # Displayed when you app is offline/unreachable

  passenger_enabled on;
  passenger_app_env production;


No excuses for launching an app without SSL as provide free certificates. It can be a little intimidating if you haven’t setup SSL before but it’s worth learning how to setup. Use the openssl command line util available on OS X or linux to create your key and certificate signing request. Once you have a CSR you can paste that into startssl and they will provide you with a .crt certificate file.

# Generate a private key (yes keep it private!)
$ openssl genrsa -out 2048

# Generate a signing request (to be pasted into StartSSL)
# Make sure the 'Common Name (e.g. server FQDN or YOUR name) []:'
# is the domain name i.e.
$ openssl req -new -sha256 -key -out

Don’t forget to test your SSL configuration with SSLlabs to make sure you’re not vulnerable to common exploits/weaknesses. My goto nginx configuration for SSL sites is as follows:

server {
  listen 80;
  listen 443 ssl spdy;
  server_tokens off;
  root /var/www/;

  add_header Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=31536000";

  ssl_certificate /etc/nginx/ssl/;
  ssl_certificate_key /etc/nginx/ssl/;
  ssl_protocols TLSv1 TLSv1.1 TLSv1.2;
  ssl_prefer_server_ciphers on;

  access_log  /var/www/;
  error_log   /var/www/;

  passenger_enabled on;
  passenger_app_env production;

Once you have the certificate from StartSSL (or whoever else) configured you want to make sure your Rails app redirects to SSL and sets HSTS headers. Add the following to config/environments/production.rb

# Force redirects to SSL version and only
# provide cookies over a secure connection
config.force_ssl = true

Data backups

You never want to lose data no matter how un-mission-critical your app is. When not running on heroku I use the wonderful backup gem to backup my databases and any other important data.

All of my source code is on a couple of machines + GitHub and all file uploads are usually stored on amazon S3, the only thing I normally need to backup is the database (this may differ on an app to app basis).

My basic backup configuration looks like:, 'db1 backup') do

  database PostgreSQL do |db|               = :all
    db.username           = "postgres"
    db.password           = "[hidden]"               = "localhost"
    db.port               = 5432

  compress_with Gzip

  store_with S3 do |s3|
    s3.path               = 'bkp'
    s3.max_retries        = 5
    s3.retry_waitsec      = 60
    s3.keep               = 15 # days

  notify_by Mail do |mail|
    mail.on_success           = true
    mail.on_warning           = true
    mail.on_failure           = true

    mail.delivery_method      = :sendmail
    mail.from                 = ''                   = ''


Preventing attacks

Preventing some harmful attempts can be easier than you think. I’m not suggesting this is all you need to secure your app, but hopefully from the example below you can see how beneficial rack-attack can be.

# Add to Gemfile
gem 'rack-attack'

# Add to config/application.rb
config.middleware.use Rack::Attack

# Create: config/initializers/rack_attack.rb
class Rack::Attack
  throttle("logins/ip", limit: 10, period: 20) do |req|
    if req.path == "/users/sign_in" &&
      Rails.logger.error("Rack::Attack Too many login attempts from IP: #{req.ip}")

  throttle("logins/email", limit: 10, period: 20) do |req|
    email = req.params['user'].kind_of?(Hash) && req.params['user']['email'].presence
    if req.path == "/users/sign_in" &&
      Rails.logger.error("Rack::Attack Too many login attempts for email: #{email} ip: #{req.ip}")

  throttle('req/ip', limit: 1000, period: 60) do |req|
    Rails.logger.error("Rack::Attack IP over 1000reqs/min #{req.ip}")

Pete Hawkins

Hey 👋 I’m Pete a web developer, who loves to ship products and build cool things with React and React Native.
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