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Bundler and public applications

By Hongli Lai on January 19th, 2012

I think Bundler is a great tool. Its strength lies not in its ability to install all the gems that you’ve specified, but in automatically figuring out a correct dependency graph so that nothing conflicts with each other, and in the fact that it gives you rock-solid guarantees that whatever gems you’re using in development is exactly what you get in production. No more weird gem version conflict errors.

This is awesome for most Ruby web apps that are meant to be used internally, e.g. things like Twitter, Basecamp, Union Station. Unfortunately, this strength also turns in a kind of weakness when it comes to public apps like Redmine and Juvia. These apps typically allow the user to choose their database driver through config/database.yml. However the driver must also be specified inside Gemfile, otherwise the app cannot load it. The result is that the user has to edit both database.yml and Gemfile, which introduces the following problems:

  • The user may not necessarily be a Ruby programmer. The Gemfile will confuse him.
  • The user is not able to use the Gemfile.lock that the developer has provided. This makes installing in deployment mode with the developer-provided Gemfile.lock impossible.

This can be worked around in a very messy form with groups. For example:

group :driver_sqlite do
  gem 'sqlite3'

group :driver_mysql do
  gem 'msyql'

group :driver_postgresql do
  gem 'pg'

And then, if the user chose to use MySQL:

bundle install --without='driver_postgresql driver_sqlite'

This is messy because you have to exclude all the things you don’t want. If the app supports 10 database drivers then the user has to put 9 drivers on the exclusion list.

How can we make this better? I propose supporting conditionals in the Gemfile language. For example:

condition :driver => 'sqlite' do
  gem 'sqlite3'

condition :driver => 'mysql' do
  gem 'mysql'

condition :driver => 'postgresql' do
  gem 'pg'

condition :driver => ['mysql', 'sqlite'] do
  gem 'foobar'

The following command would install the mysql and the foobar gems:

bundle install --condition driver=mysql

Bundler should enforce that the driver condition is set: if it’s not set then it should raise an error. To allow for the driver condition to not be set, the developer must explicitly define that the condition may be nil:

condition :driver => nil do
  gem 'null-database-driver'

Here, bundle install will install null-database-driver.

With this proposal, user installation instructions can be reduced to these steps:

  1. Edit database.yml and specify a driver.
  2. Run bundle install --condition driver=(driver name)

I’ve opened a ticket for this proposal. What do you think?