Deploying a 12-Factor App with Capistrano

Deploying Heroku-style 12 factor applications outside of Heroku has been an issue for lots of people. I've written several different systems that scratch this particular itch, and in this post I'll be describing a version that deploys one particular app using a Heroku-style buildpack, Foreman, and launchd on Mac OS X via Capistrano.

I've been deploying a customized version of ledger-web on my Mac mini using dokuen for almost six months. A few nights ago, however, I tried to deploy a version and discovered my Dokuen install was completely busted. Instead of doing the correct thing and fixing my Dokuen install I wrote a completely new deployment system using Capistrano.

Essentially, this deployment uses the standard :checkout deploy strategy with hooks that clone and run a buildpack, build a .env file, and run Foreman to create launch scripts.


This config depends on the following on the deployment target:

  • Mac OS X
  • Ruby 1.9.3 (installed from homebrew)
  • the Foreman gem


There's a bunch of config that happens at the top of file. First, the standard config settings:

set :application, "ledger"
set :repository,  ""
set :deploy_to, "/Users/peter/apps/ledger"
set :scm, :git

role :web, "lionel.local"
role :db,  "lionel.local", :primary => true

set :user, "peter"

These define my app, the repository, and a few other standard things. It also sets my Mac mini, named lionel to be the deployment target.

default_run_options[:pty] = true
default_run_options[:shell] = '/bin/bash'

:pty and :shell are required by several scripts that run later.

Next are settings that are used by my custom hooks:

set :base_port, 6500
set :buildpack_url, ""
set :buildpack_hash, Digest::SHA1.hexdigest(buildpack_url)
set :buildpack_path, "#{shared_path}/buildpack-#{buildpack_hash}"
set :concurrency, "web=1"
set :launchd_conf_path, "/Users/peter/Library/LaunchAgents"

These set up my buildpack, more deployment paths, etc. Of particular note are :concurrency, which controls what Foreman exports, and :base_port which is what Foreman will set as the first port for the web procfile entries.

set :deploy_env, {
  'DATABASE_URL' => 'postgres://user@dbhost/database',
  'LEDGER_FILE' => '/path/to/ledger.txt',
  'LEDGER_USERNAME' => 'username',
  'LEDGER_PASSWORD' => 'password',
  'LANG' => 'en_US.UTF-8',
  'PATH' => 'bin:vendor/bundle/ruby/1.9.1/bin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/bin',
  'GEM_PATH' => 'vendor/bundle/ruby/1.9.1',
  'RACK_ENV' => 'production',

:deploy_env sets up a hash of environment variables that will be exported later. I don't run bin/release because I found that it will always return the same set of environment variables and I don't care about the default procfile entries or addons. If you do, feel free to parse out the results of bin/release, which returns a YAML hash.


So now that the setup is done, deploy happens as normal with just a few hooks. First, a before deploy hook that sets up the buildpack and build cache:

before "deploy" do
  run("[[ ! -e #{buildpack_path} ]] && git clone #{buildpack_url} #{buildpack_path}; exit 0")
  run("cd #{buildpack_path} && git fetch origin && git reset --hard origin/master")
  run("mkdir -p #{shared_path}/build_cache")

Next, after the normal deploy happens but before the symlink is switched, we hook in and run the buildpack:

before "deploy:finalize_update" do
  run("cd #{buildpack_path} && bin/compile #{release_path} #{shared_path}/build_cache")

  env_lines = []
  deploy_env.each do |k,v|
    env_lines << "#{k}=#{v}"
  env_contents = env_lines.join("\n") + "\n"

  put(env_contents, "#{release_path}/.env")

This hook also writes out the environment variables we defined earlier in a way that Foreman can pick up.

Finally, we redefine the deploy:restart task to run Foreman and restart the generated LaunchAgent:

namespace :deploy do
  task :restart do
    sudo "launchctl unload -wF #{launchd_conf_path}/ledger-web-1.plist; true"
    sudo "foreman export launchd #{launchd_conf_path} -d #{release_path} -l /var/log/#{application} -a #{application} -u #{user} -p #{base_port} -c #{concurrency}"
    sudo "launchctl load -wF #{launchd_conf_path}/ledger-web-1.plist; true"

This hardcodes the plist name that Foreman generates because it was late and I was tired. Also, sudo didn't like my initial stab at a for loop and I cut my losses. It wouldn't be too hard to write out a tiny script and execute it, though.


Dokuen was also managing my nginx configuration for each app. I added a simple proxy definition for ledger instead:

server {
  listen 443;
  ssl on;
  location / {
    proxy_pass http://localhost:6500/;


At this point I think this is a better model than Dokuen for deploying 12 factor applications on my own hardware. There are no extra daemons to keep running, there's no extra software on the server (except Foreman), there's no weird sudo definitions.

Deploying on a cluster is a slightly different story. I would probably change this do build a tarball on an Anvil server and then distribute the tarball out to the rest of the machines instead of building on every machine, among other changes.