[rails] Using ActionCable in production when using passenger+apache2

So on the server for work we use apache2+passenger to host all our rails servers. We now have about 10-ish, not too much, not all are used heavily, all are long-living, most are still rails 4. On my own server, with a similar setup, the rails versions vary from 4 to 6.

Recently I started a new project, and of course used rails 6. And I had the awesome idea to try out stimulus-reflex as this seems an interesting addition in the js front-end world. It really is a very interesting and different approach, and since the new/upcoming version 3.3 includes morphs, actually well-suited for our use-case which almost always involves a leaflet map (so we definitely need control over which area of the page to refresh). It works! Great. I will write in more detail about that at some other time.

So I had a working part of the website, enriched using stimulus/stimulus-reflex, and now I wanted to deploy it.

Only to realise ... passenger does not support ActionCable on apache2. ActionCable is one of those new tools I still need to investigate in detail, but yes, stimulus-reflex uses ActionCable to get a highly efficient channel between the browser and the server.

So now I am presented with two options:

  • we replace apache2 on our server with nginx. Frankly: this does not feel like a bad thing to do, however I am a bit hesitant to do this, since this seems to be a larger operation and will cause some down-time for our other applications.
  • use passenger-standalone and make apache2 proxy to it ---ha this seems interesting!

So I had to perform a few steps:

  • configure action-cable for deployment
  • install and run passenger standalone
  • change my apache2 config for my site

Configure ActionCable

Actually, this is amazing, but in development everything just works. Of course in production there are apparently a lot of options to deploy it.

I choose for the simplest setup: let my rails process host the websockets (and thus passenger), and use postgresql as the backend (I am not using redis yet).

So in my config/routes.rb I had to make sure we mount the ActionCable server

   mount ActionCable.server => '/cable'

In my config/environment/production.rb I specified our allowed domains:

  config.action_cable.allowed_request_origins = [ 'http://geotrax.be', /http:\/\/geotrax.*/ ]

And to use postgresql instead of redis is actually really simple (we were already using postgresql as our db backend). In your config/cable.yml just write

   adapter: postgresql 

Install passenger-standalone

I imagined this was easy, but it was only until I got all the steps correctly it worked. In short:

First I added the passenger gem to my Gemfile in the production block and move the puma to :development/:test

then create a Passengerfile.json file specifying the environment, port, user and instance_registry_dir

  // Run the app in a production environment. The default value is "development".
  "environment": "production",
  // Run Passenger on the given port. In this example, we use port 80,
  // the standard HTTP port.
  "port": 4000,
  // Tell Passenger to daemonize into the background.
  "daemonize": true,
  // Tell Passenger to run the app as the given user. Only has effect
  // if Passenger was started with root privileges.
  "user": "geotrax",
  "instance_registry_dir": "/srv/geotrax/tmp"

Somehow we still had to start passenger with the correct instance-registry-dir (specifying it in the Passengerfile did not work?). So we start passenger as follows

RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec passenger start --instance-registry-dir=/srv/geotrax/tmp

Then we have a running/waiting passenger instance. Now all that remains ...

Configure apache2 correctly

This was actually the hardest part. Also the passenger document just glosses over the subject. It is easy to write an apache site configuration that passes all http requests to passenger, but the websockets ... ?

To start you need the correct modules

sudo a2enmod proxy proxy_http proxy_wstunnel rewrite

(in my case this ment just adding the proxy_wstunnel mod, the other were already installed/used)

Then I edited my site.conf as follows:

<VirtualHost *:80>
    DocumentRoot /srv/geotrax/applications/geotrax/current/public

    ServerName  www.geotrax.be
    ServerAlias geotrax.be

    ErrorLog  /srv/geotrax/applications/geotrax/current/log/error.log
    CustomLog /srv/geotrax/applications/geotrax/current/log/access.log combined

    RewriteEngine on
    RewriteCond %{HTTP:Upgrade} websocket [NC]
    RewriteCond %{HTTP:Connection} upgrade [NC]
    RewriteRule /(.*) "ws://$1" [P,L]

    ProxyPass /
    ProxyPassReverse /
    ProxyRequests Off


Since we are using both http and websockets from the same domain, we are using the rewrite rules as explained in mod_proxy_wstunnel documentation

This took me a #$@!#$$%@#@ while to figure all out, I hope this helps someone to get started a little quicker (even if it is me the next time).

Next step: switch out apache2 and use nginx (but for now it is a little less urgent).

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