Table of contents

This page was imported from the opsmanual on github.gds. It hasn’t been reviewed for accuracy yet. View history in old opsmanual

Set up a new Rails app

Getting a new Rails app configured and deployed to the integration and production infrastructure involves several steps across multiple repositories and services.

Bootstrapping a new application

The quickest and easiest way to start a new Rails application on the GOV.UK stack is to use the govuk-rails-app-template repository. This will create a new Rails application, installing and configuring common features such as: rspec for testing; JSON-formatted logging; a healthcheck endpoint; coverage reporting; scripts for Jenkins CI builds; and airbrake for errbit-based error reporting.

The following instructions asssume you’re trying to configure a new Rails 4.2 application named myapp that was created with the above script.

Naming conventions

There are a few conventions for naming apps in the Puppet configuration and elsewhere:

  • Puppet classes, hieradata and CI job names should use snake_case - eg. content_store
  • Hostnames, deployment scripts and CI parameters should use spinal-case - eg. content-store

Defining the app in the development repository

You first need to add the app to the development-vm configuration in puppet.

Add the app to the Procfile and assign it the next available port number.

myapp: govuk_setenv myapp ./ ../myapp bundle exec rails s -p 3456

If the app is dependent on other apps, you’ll also want to add it to the Pinfile and define its dependencies.

process :myapp => :anotherapp

To be able to access your app via a browser, you need to add it to the hosts list in hieradata for development. See govuk-puppet for more information.

You should then be able to view it at

Defining the app in Puppet

There’s a guide explaining how to add a new app to the Puppet repository.

Be sure to use the same port number which you assigned in the Procfile.

Setting up DNS entries

If the app requires the creation of new external (publicly accessible) subdomains, speak to the infrastructure team. They can create these for you and point them to the correct boxes.

Adding deployment scripts

After the app has been configured and defined in Puppet, the deployment scripts are the next step to getting the app running on the boxes. Deployment scripts are bespoke to each application, but they live together in the govuk-app-deployment repository; All Rails apps use Capistrano for deployment, and common deployment steps have been extracted into the recipes directory.

It’s recommended to copy the deploy scripts from an existing app as a starting point. The deployment scripts for the content-store are fairly generic and have little custom behaviour, which may be useful.


If the names of the app and repository are not the same, make sure to configure the repository correctly. If you don’t, the repository location will be inferred from the app name and the deploy will fail. It must be set after the load statements to override the defaults.

# myapp/config/deploy.rb
load 'defaults'
load 'ruby'

set :repository, ''

If you don’t load deploy/assets in your deploy script, none of your applications assets (css, images) etc will be copied to your app’s public folder when it’s deployed. If the asset isn’t in public it can’t be rendered.

load 'deploy/assets'

Configuring the application for each environment

Use environment variables to set environment-specific configuration and secrets for your app. Envvars are created by Puppet (content-store is a good example again) and there are defined types which make it simpler to configure apps to connect to their databases.

Configuring the app for Jenkins

If you used the the govuk-rails-app-template repository to create your application, your app will already have Jenkinsfile. If you you didn’t, you will need to create a [Jenkinsfile](testing/application-testing) in your application repo.

You also need to add a Jenkins integration to the repo on Github:

  1. In github, go to Settings -> Integrations & Services
  2. Add Jenkins (GitHub plugin)
  3. Add the link to the CI github webhook
  4. Make sure Active is ticked

Add the app to the list of deployable_applications and you’ll automatically get a job on CI and a deployment task on Jenkins.

You should add the name of the directory containing the deployment scripts. Jenkins will attempt to cd into this directory at the start of the deploy. It should be the same as the name of the repository on GitHub.

Configuring Signon accounts

If users need to sign in to your app, if your app needs to authenticate API clients, or if your app needs authenticated access to another app’s API, you’ll need to configure Signon.

(These examples assume you use GDS-SSO for authentication and the GDS API adapters to connect to APIs. If you don’t, you’ll have to figure out the equivalents for your libraries.)

To configure your app so users (or API clients) can authenticate:

  1. Run the applications:create Rake task from Signon in Integration and Production, as described in Signon’s repo No need to run this in Staging as Production credentials will be copied over.
  2. Save the OAuth ID and OAuth secret this command gives you into the GDS-SSO configuration in the initializers_by_organisation directory for your environment, as described above. Example: Maslow’s SSO config.

To configure your app so it can talk to an existing API application:

  1. Create an API user for your client app using the API Users section in Signon (you’ll need to be a signon superadmin to access this).
  2. Add an application token for this user to access the necessary application.
  3. Save the access token this generates into the API adapters client configuration in the initializers_by_organisation directory for your environment. Example: Maslow’s API config.

You need separate IDs, secrets and tokens for preview and staging/production, but staging and production should use the same keys, as production data replicates to staging overnight. Ideally, you should do this once in preview and once in production, then let the replication run its course. If you don’t have a night to spare, you can also do the configuration in staging and update the Application object manually from a Rails console.

Configuring Errbit

If you used the the govuk-rails-app-template repository to create your application, your app will already have the airbrake gem installed and a configuration file in config/initializers. If not, install the airbrake gem and copy the configuration from the rails template app.

To complete the setup, do the following:

Create the app in all 3 Errbit instances


You’ll need to have the admin role in Errbit to do this. Access to Errbit is controlled from Signon.

In all 3 environments create the app in Errbit. Errbit URLs are:

On the apps tab, “Add a New App”.

  • Give it a name. This should match the deployed hostname (in title-case), as opposed to the repo name where they differ (e.g. Signon, not Signonotron2).
  • Fill in the GitHub repo (in the form <organisation>/<repo>, eg alphagov/whitehall).
  • Tick “Resolve errs on deploy”
  • Save

You’ll need the generated API key in a later step.

Update puppet to include the environment variables for airbrake

# modules/govuk/manifests/apps/myapp.pp
class govuk::apps::myapp(
  $enabled = false,
  $errbit_api_key = undef,
) {
  $app_name = 'myapp'

  if $enabled {
    if $errbit_api_key {
      govuk::app::envvar {
        varname => 'ERRBIT_API_KEY',
        app     => $app_name,
        value   => $errbit_api_key;

Add the secret key environment variable to the deployment repository

For each environment, set the govuk::apps::myapp::errbit_api_key variable with the API key that was generated by Errbit:

# e.g. preview.yaml
govuk::apps::myapp::errbit_api_key: 'INSERT_GENERATED_API_KEY_HERE'


The final step is to deploy your app. You’ll want to run the deploy:setup task the first time round to create the required directories on each box.

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