Moonshine: What burns blue makes your blues go away

Written By : Rails Machine Operations Team

March 18, 2009

We’re happy to announce the release of Moonshine, the system we’re using to make the deployment and configuration management of our new customers’ Rails applications a no brainier. Moonshine combines all of the good parts of Puppet, ShadowPuppet and Capistrano into an amazingly simple solution for deploying your Rails application.

Look at all the choices I’m not making

One of the things that separates Moonshine from other solutions like Chef and Sprinkle is that out of the box, Moonshine comes with recipes for the same Ubuntu/Ruby Enterprise Edition/Apache/Passenger/MySQL stack that’s in production use at Rails Machine. We’re open sourcing this stack as a part of Moonshine for a couple reasons:

  • To make it easier for Rails developers to deploy an application to any host, not just Rails Machine.
  • To allow our customers to have a say in what they want in a Rails stack. If there’s something missing or a choice we’ve made that you don’t agree with, fork Moonshine, make your changes, and send us a pull request.

Since Rails Machine was founded in 2006, we’ve been dedicated to making the deployment of Rails applications easier for our customers. With the release of Moonshine, we’re taking that one step further by making Rails application deployment and configuration management easier for everyone!

So, how do I get started?

Moonshine is distributed as a Rails plugin. To get started with Moonshine, install this plugin and run the included generator:

ruby script/plugin install git://
ruby script/generate moonshine

You’ll notice a couple new files:


The first file is the Moonshine::Manifest for your application. A Moonshine Manifest is a Ruby class that contains ShadowPuppet recipes – essentially just instance methods – that install packages, create configuration files, and run system commands. The manifest that’s been generated for your application is actually subclass of Moonshine::Manifest::Rails, which contains the entire Rails Machine production stack as recipes.

The second file is a hash serialized to YAML that contains the configuration for your application’s deployment. You’ll notice that this file contains variables you may be used to configuring in Capistrano – the location of your source code repository, the user to execute commands on the server as, and the deploy_to location on your server. Configure these just as you would in Capistrano – this configuration hash will be available to both Capistrano and Moonshine.

If your application doesn’t have any requirements in addition to the gems specified in your config/environment.rb (you have specified all of your gem requirements using config.gem calls, right? If not, stop reading and do this now), then you’re ready to deploy your app!

Deploying your Application with Moonshine

Once you’ve installed the Moonshine plugin, generated a manifest, configured Moonshine, and committed all of these changes to your repo, you’re ready to deploy! To work with Moonshine, your server needs to satisfy these requirements:

  • Ubuntu 8.10
  • Has a user with sudo privileges that can access your applications’ repository. (Moonshine uses rails as the default user – this is configurable in config/moonshine.yml)

This server doesn’t need Ruby, MySQL, or anything installed on it. That’s what Moonshine is for!

Once your server has been provisioned, capify your application and replace the stock config/deploy.rb with this one-liner:

server "", :app, :web, :db, :primary => true

Once that’s in place, run the following command:

cap deploy:setup deploy

First, in the deploy:setup task, Moonshine will install Ruby Enterprise Edition, Git, and ShadowPuppet and setup your deploy_to directory. What happens next, during the deploy task, is what makes Moonshine so awesome.

On the first deploy of your application, all requirements defined by recipes are installed, configuration files are created, and services started. In repeated tests on a Ubuntu 8.10 server running in VMWare, this first deploy takes between 10-15 minutes to install everything needed for a Rails application. You read that right – less than 15 minutes after running cap deploy:setup deploy on a stock Ubuntu 8.10 server, your Rails app will be up and running.

Idempotent Deployment

On each and every deploy of your Rails application, your Moonshine Manifest is applied and verified. This means no more failed deploys because of a missing gem or package, and more importantly, you’ll never have to SSH to your server to install a package again.

For example, say you have a Rails app in production using Moonshine and you’ve added file uploading using Paperclip. After adding a config.gems 'paperclip' line to config/environment.rb, run rake moonshine:gems to cache your gem dependencies, commit the changes to your repo, and then deploy. Moonshine will automatically install Paperclip and ImageMagick (!!!) during the deploy. Done. Awesome, right?

Brew Your Own

So the default Rails stack we’ve included is just the tip of the iceberg. As we use Moonshine more and more at Rails Machine, we’ll be adding built in support for things like Memcached to the recipes in Moonshine::Manifest::Rails. And the plugin support in Moonshine makes it ridiculously easy for you to create reusable of recipes to share between apps, or even to include Moonshine recipes as a part of your plugin! If none of you beat me to it, I’ll be forking Thinking Sphinx and pouring some Moonshine on it pretty soon.

Use the Source, Luke

So what are you waiting for? The source and RDocs are up on GitHub – go nuts.

Moonshine at Rails Machine

Moonshine is currently available for all customers of our Application Management services at Rails Machine. If you’re an existing customer on a CentOS server and are interested in using Moonshine without the expert management, 24/7 monitoring, and proactive support that comes with our Application Management services, you will be able to redeploy to a new Ubuntu-based system very soon. Stay tuned!