Clipped on 2013-09-04 10:47:19 -0500

Boosting Your Rails Development Workflow

Ahmd Refat

Published March 28, 2013

This article is mainly for folks that are new to Rails. Most established Rails developers already have a beloved workflow. If you’re new or need a boost to your daily Rails productivity, keep reading!

Let’s explore few gems and scripts that will help you get things done faster and better.

A quick tip about installing Ruby and Rails for OS X and Windows machines: Try railsinstaller. It will get you up and running in few minutes without any fuss.

Gems You Must Install

Here are five scripts/gems you must install before starting work with Rails. You have no choice, I’m sorry! :)

​1. oh_my_zsh script

  1. laptop script
  2. awesome_print gem
  3. zeus gem
  4. guard-livereload gem

1. oh_my_zsh

Before installing oh_my_zsh you should have zsh installed already. oh_my_zsh is distinguished by it’s Themes which are cool and easy to customize, Plugins, and Auto Complete helpers that will save you loads of time. You’ll notice, also, that oh-my-zsh asks you to install updates periodically, which is a good thing.


As I’ve mentioned, you should have zsh shell already installed. Then, run this command to make it the default shell: chsh -s /bin/zsh

And run this line to download it install it:

> curl -L | sh


To change the theme, open up the ~/.zshrc in a text editor and set the value of ZSH_THEME to the name of the theme. Here’s the list of all available themes. You should test drive a few and find one that works. Also, if you do presentations, you may want to find one that looks good on a projector (hint: white on black is bad…)

To add/remove plug-ins, open the ~/.zshrc file and add/remove the plugin name from the plugins array. Here’s the list of all available plugins. You’ll find the full source of oh-my-zsh on your machine under ~/.oh-my-zsh.

2. laptop

This script is for OS X machines only. Quoting the from laptop github page:

Laptop is a script to set up a Mac OS X laptop for Rails development.

To install this script, you have to install gcc, set zsh as your default shell(we’ve done that already) and then run this line:

> zsh <(curl -s

This link lists of all the stuff that will be installed. We’ll highlight a couple of them:

3. awesome_print

The first thought that might come to you when you run any code in the rails console for the first time, is “How anyone can read this?!” You are right, it’s really hard, especially if the result is complex or you’ve retrieved a large number of objects. Here comes awesome_print to save the day.


To install awesome_print run this command:

> gem install awesome_print

To use it with rails you’ll have to add it your Gemfile, and bundle

> group :development do
>   gem 'awesome_print'
> end


If you want awesome_print to be running by default in irb or the console, add the two lines to your .irbrc shown here. Otherwise, you could prepend the line in the console with ap

> require "awesome_print"
> ap object, options = {}


This is an example of awesome_print output:

> # {
>                :id => 1,
>           :user_id => 5,
>       :assigned_to => 7,
>              :name => "Hayes-DuBuque",
>            :access => "Public",
>           :website => "",
>   :toll_free_phone => "1-800-932-6571",
>             :phone => "(111)549-5002",
>               :fax => "(349)415-2266",
>        :deleted_at => nil,
>        :created_at => Sat, 06 Mar 2010 09:46:10 UTC +00:00,
>        :updated_at => Sat, 06 Mar 2010 16:33:10 UTC +00:00,
>             :email => "",
>   :background_info => nil
> }

4. zeus

While you are working on a Rails project, will need to restart your server, run various commands like console, rake, generate, rspec and test. This can take a bit of time, especially when your project grows and the number of classes and tests increase. That’s why you need zeus, which preloads your Rails app so all your tasks will run much more quickly.


To install zeus run this command, or you could add it to your Gemfile, and bundle

> gem install zeus


All you have to do is navigate to your Rails project and run zeus start

zeus will take few seconds to start and then it will list all available commands. You’ll need to open a new shell window and run other commands such as

> zeus s # to start rails server
> zeus c # to start rails console
> zeus test # to run tests
> zeus generate model  # go generate modle

5. guard-livereload

Guard is a tool to easily handle events on file system modifications. guard-livereload is one of a long list of gems that depends on Guard, but is customized for a specific kind of file structure and application. For instance, guard-rspec monitors rspec files and launches rspec to run the specs when they change.

guard-livereload does a similar job by reloading your Rails view as it’s changes. It’s like changing them from your browser Developer tools, so you’ll see your view changes as you go.


You’ll have to install guard gem first and guard-livereload by running this:

gem install guard
gem install guard-livereload

or you could add them to your gem file:

> group :development do
>   gem 'guard'
>   gem 'guard-livereload'
> end

and then run this, which will create the Guardfile that will contain the configuration for guard:

> bundle
> guard init
> guard init livereload

The last part of installing guard is to add a couple of gems to your Gemfile. This is for Efficient Filesystem Handling, and you may just need to add one of them depending on your OS.

> group :development do
>   gem 'rb-inotify', :require => false # for OS X
>   gem 'rb-fsevent', :require => false # for Linux
>   gem 'rb-fchange', :require => false # for Windows
> end

For guard-livereload, you’ll need to install the rack-livereload gem to see your changes live in the browser:

gem install rack-livereload

and add this line to config/environments/development.rb

> MyApp::Application.configure do
>   config.middleware.insert_after(ActionDispatch::Static, Rack::LiveReload)
> end


​1. better_errors gem

  1. rails_panel gem
  2. sextant gem
  3. quiet_assets gem

1. better_errors

better_errors replaces the standard Rails error page with a MUCH better one. It even adds the awesome feature of a live REPL in the browser! It’s relatively new, but developers are picking it up so fast because the difference between default error page and the better_errors is huge.


Add the gem to your Gemfile. If you want to use the live REPL, you need to add the binding_of_caller gem also and then bundle

> group :development do
>   gem "better_errors"
>   gem "binding_of_caller"
> end


Any time your Rails app throws an error you’ll see a better error page. In that page, you’ll find a full stack trace and all the local and global variables associated with the request. If you have asynchronous requests, you can trace the last error by navigatint to “”. You can even configure the gem to open the source in your editor with the BetterErrors.editor method.

2. rails_panel

This gem requires a specific Google Chrome extension. The gem is meta_request and the Chrome extension is rails_panel.

RailsPanel is a Chrome extension for Rails development that will end your tailing of development.log. Have all the information about your Rails app requests in the browser – in the Developer Tools panel. Provides insight to db/rendering/total times, parameter list, rendered views and more.


Add the gem to your Gemfile and bundle. Also, here’s the Google Chrome extension

> group :development do
>   gem 'meta_request', '0.2.1'
> end

3. sextant

This gem was merged into rails 4.0 under However, if you are developing a rails 3.2+ app, you’ll have to install the gem.


Add the gem to your Gemfile and bundle

> group :development do
>   gem 'sextant'
> end


Navigate to and you’ll see the output of the command rake routes in your browser.

4. quiet_assets

Tracing the server logs is a bit difficult when it logs all of the asset requests. Most of the time, you don’t care about these requests, so this gem hides the assets logs. This declutters the logs immensely and lets you focus on the requests that are important.


Add the gem to your Gemfile and bundle

> group :development do
>   gem 'quiet_assets'
> end

Front-end and JavaScript MVC Frameworks

This section will give you an overview about the gems that wrap some frameworks and serve them through the Rails assets pipeline. I won’t cover the details of each framework or how to use them or which is better. I want to focus on how these gems help things come together really fast in Rails.

​1. twitter_bootstrap gem

  1. backbone-rails

1. twitter_bootstrap

This is not an official gem from the twitter bootstrap maintainers, but it a popular one and it works great.

Bootstrap is a toolkit from Twitter designed to kickstart development of webapps and sites. It includes base CSS and HTML for typography, forms, buttons, tables, grids, navigation, and more.


Add the gems to your Gemfile and bundle

> group :development do
>   gem "twitter-bootstrap-rails"
> end

To install the bootstrap to your project run

rails generate bootstrap:install static


To add the layout of bootstrap:

rails g bootstrap:layout application fixed

You can also add a theme to a specific resource by running:

> rails g scaffold Post title:string description:text
> rake db:migrate
> rails g bootstrap:themed Posts

2. backbone-rails

This gem helps you setup backbone.js in your Rails projects. It creates the backbone.js file structure and serves the libraries via the asset pipeline.

Backbone.js gives structure to web applications by providing models with key-value binding and custom events, collections with a rich API of enumerable functions, views with declarative event handling, and connects it all to your existing API over a RESTful JSON interface.


Add the gems to your Gemfile and bundle

> group :development do
>   gem "rails-backbone"
> end

Then run the bootstrapper:

rails g backbone:install


The gem provides three generators to help get started with backbone.js

Model Generator

rails g backbone:model

Routers Generator

rails g backbone:router

Scaffolding Generator

rails g backbone:scaffold

Authentication and Administration

Most of your apps will need Authentication and some of them might need Administration. We all know how essential and sensitive these tasks are, so it’s better to use well-tested gems to handle them.

​1. devise gem

  1. active_admin gem
  2. Rails Composer

1. devise

devise is a very popular gem in the Rails community and it really requirees no introduction.


Add the gem to your Gemfile and bundle

> group :development do
>   gem "devise"
> end

To install devise in your Rails project:

rails generate devise:install


Run the following command with the appropriate model name to generate a devise model. This model will have all the authentication features that devise provides.

rails generate devise MODEL

You should add this line inside any controller that you want to be accessed only by authenticated users, or add it to your ApplicationContrller to require authentication throughout your app:

before_filter :authenticate_user!

3. active_admin

active_admin is one of the best administration gems with a very good UI and documentation. here’s a demo site using active_admin

Active Admin is a framework for creating administration style interfaces. It abstracts common business application patterns to make it simple for developers to implement beautiful and elegant interfaces with very little effort.


Add the gem to your Gemfile and bundle. You need to add a couple of other gems if you are running Rails 3.1 or higher:

> gem "activeadmin"
> gem 'sass-rails'
> gem 'meta_search', '>= 1.1.0.pre'

To install activeadmin in your Rails project:

> rails generate active_admin:install
> rake db:migrate

The full installation docs can be found here.


Navigate to and login using

Password: password

To register a model, run:

rails generate active_admin:resource [MyModelName]


Rails Composer is an awesome script that could bootstrap your project in a few seconds with minimal configuration required. Rails Composer definitely uses most of the gems that we’ve mentioned above, so if you want the fast way you can use the script and if you want a specific gem you can pick up whatever helps you.

To create a project with Rails Composer, run the the rails new command as usual with your project name and pass the the -m parameter as following

> rails new myapp -m

You’ll face about twenty question covering almost all the aspects that you could think about when starting a new rails project. Everything from the app structure, web server, templating engine, testing, front-end frameworks, authentication, and even github repository are covered. You can find the full list of options here.

Wrapping up

We’ve covered about twenty gems and scripts to help you achieve your Rails goals more efficiently. If you are using an awesome gem that magically helps you finish things in a better way I’d love to hear about it.

2 Reader comments

  1. Boris Barroso April 2, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    Just wanna say devise is great for starting but once you have to do more complicated stuff you wish you would not have used devise, create your own auth, it’s simple and it’s a core feature in any app, I have also read many complains about active_admin, it’s great for simple stuff but not good for more control.

  2. Jacek Podkanski April 5, 2013 at 4:17 am

    What’s the point installing sextant if rake:routes is good enough? With regards to quiet_assets copying custom initialiser will do the same job as well. But if Better Errors give you REPL then I am definitely going to try it. Last gem on the list, rails-compser is something I want to try as well. The rest don’t seem to be worth trying for my current projects.

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