Summary of Overcoming RoR Performance Challenges Meetup on Wed 2/29/12

Overcoming RoR Performance Challenges Meetup

The talk was on best practices and some tips on looking for problems and how the panelists worked around them. There are no “magic” bullet like Ruby or RoR has 🙂


  1. Watch out when using ActiveRecord. It make it too easy to use DB. It make it too easy to use DB. One more time, it make it too easy to use DB.

    Essentially, ActiveRecord and DB is not always the right tool. Sometime using other tool could work better for a particular problem.

    Things mentioned:

    • Using Redis as a queueing system, to buffer writes, which later go to DB. (this is what Blitz, Bleacher Report use to increase their performance).
    • Use NoSQL (CouchBase, Mongo and Cassandara were mentioned as being used by panelists).
    • Cache results as much as possible. Don’t hit DB all the time.
    • Hand optimize queries might be needed. ActiveRecord is not the best at generating optimized DB calls.
  2. Cache as much as possible. Bleacher Reports put in caching layer everywhere, memcache, front end web cache, etc. They also have scripts that pre-warmed their cache (“goal is to never have users be the one who triggered a cache request”).

    Use the cache in newer RoR (3.2).

  3. Write code in ways that make it easy to update to latest Ruby and RoR.

    Ruby EE has flags to allow you to use more memory for internal cache. Sometime it make sense to test for and try different memory configuration there (based on 2 panelists’ experiences).RoR 3.2 has good Rack/Rails cache. Read the doc and use them.

  4. Background processes.
    • Use bg proc whenever possible.
    • Anytime you need to make calls to external website (external API), use a bg process, to not tie up your RoR web process.
    • Blitz put jobs into Redis queue, then bg server check Q for job, run it and put partial results back into Redis, Ajax call then check and format/display result to web client.
    • Bleacher Reports and Mixbooks also do similar things. They use Redis as a job queueing system, among other things (see 1 above).
  5. They all mention using other web server for production (not using webrick). The following were mentioned as being used by panelists.
    • Passenger
    • Thin
    • Unicorn
  6. Related to (ActiveRecord) above is the N+1 problem. Where you add 1 line of code and the DB calls increased manifold.
    • Advice essentially say to develop and use coding best practices and train developers to look out for them.
    • There is a possible test that can be use to automated looking out for N+1 issue.
    • Solving n+1 problem with special tests: Query testing – see PDF of slides page 75
    • Panelists all recommended RSpec for automated testing.
  7. Monitoring for issues and performance.
    • All panelists point to NewRelic as the tool they use all the time.
    • The host of the meeting Blitz also did a marketing spiel on their tool to use for performance testing (it look really good, and available as a plugin on Heroku). I am going to test it and see about using it for performance/load testing our site.
  8. For ease of scaling infrastructure, leverage AWS EC2, Heroku, Engine Yard and other cloud providers.

Migrating from Bamboo to Cedar (calendon stack) on Heroku

We just migrated from Bamboo (bamboo-ree-1.8.7) to Cedar (calendon rails 3.1 stack) on Heroku. Here are the steps I took to make it work. Note that I didn’t do the code migration, my dev handle that, I do the server and infrastructure part.

Basically this mean moving from Rails 2.x (and ruby 1.8.7) to Rails 3.1 (ruby 1.9.2). Some of the changes require upgrading gem packages. Things such as images, css and js has to be put into an asset bundle.

On the site itself, I left the old site running, e.g., and created a new site at

We created a new git dev branch and pushed to newsite, e.g.

git push heroku dev:master

Since we use SSL, I have to make sure custom_domains addon is there. But…

heroku addons:add custom_domains:basic custom_domains:wildcard

I can’t add the ssl addon until I am ready, because Heroku requires that I defined the domains for the app first! Chicken and egg, as it mean I have to take down the currently running production site.

So, make sure everything is running on new site first. Because the next steps mean production site will be down during the changes.

0. Make sure your SSL cert is up-to-date and you have both part, domain.cert and private.key. And most importantly, your key is passphrase-less!

1. Make sure your DNS records are updated and have shortest possible TTL. You are changing them.

2. Wait till DNS changes (TTL) have settle, could be a few hours. Then update your production site CNAME from * to

3. Clear out the domains in your old Heroku site:

heroku domains:clear --app oldsite

4. Add domains to new site:

heroku domains:add '*' --app newsite
heroku domains:add '' --app newsite

5. Upload SSL cert to your new app:

heroku ssl:add yourdomain.crt private.key

6. Now you can add the ssl addon.

heroku addons:add ssl:hostname

7. You should get an email from Heroku that has the hostname for your SSL DNS record to point your DNS to. The name should be something like this:

Update your DNS CNAME for to point to this name.

8. Test, test, and test again your spanking new site. Add the New Relic addon if you haven’t (life saver!) and monitor traffic to your new site.

9. Monitor the log of your new site:

heroku logs -t --app newsite

10. Check the processes:

heroku ps --app newsite

11. Wait a week, if everything look good, you can take down the oldsite.