Interactive Shells in Capistrano

Capistrano is a very popular deployment tool written in Ruby. If you’ve deployed Ruby or Rails applications, chances are you’ve heard of it even if you haven’t had the chance to use it.

Capistrano was a crucial part of our deployment process at Loco2 long before overhauling our hosting infrastructure with Terraform and Docker.

Having recently left Loco2, I found myself back on a project that uses Capistrano. As powerful as it is, it frustratingly doesn’t include support for interactive shells. Whilst this is by design, it’s a bit annoying if you want to boot a rails console or run another command that allows input from the user.

After doing some Googling I managed to piece together something that calls ssh directly, allowing us to run a command in an interactive shell:

namespace :rails do
  desc "Start a rails console"
  task :console do
    exec_interactive("rails console")

  desc "Start a rails dbconsole"
  task :dbconsole do
    exec_interactive("rails dbconsole")

  def exec_interactive(command)
    host = primary(:web).hostname
    env = "RAILS_ENV=#{fetch(:rails_env)}" # add other ENV variables
    command = "cd #{release_path}; #{env} bundle exec #{command}"

    puts "Running command on #{host}:"
    puts "  #{command}\n\n"

    exec %(ssh #{host} -t "sh -c '#{command}'")

The primary(:web).hostname just fetches the hostname for the first/primary web host. It’s worth mentioning this because it might not be desirable. You could quite easily fetch all of the remote hosts and provide a menu that allows the user to select the host they want to connect to. For my purposes though, I just wanted to run a rails console without having a custom script that fetched our hostname via the AWS command line tools.

You may want to consider safeguarding production access by adding a warning message when fetch(:rails_env) == "production", or perhaps add the --sandbox option to protect your data.

I believe developers should be trusted to have direct access to all live environments, including production. These sorts of small convenience scripts really help to avoid friction when troubleshooting or debugging data issues on non-local environments.