Joey Aghion

Half a Mind

by Joey Aghion

Ruby dependencies

Mike Perham published an excellent rant pleading with developers (and especially developers of Ruby gems) to Kill Your Dependencies.

This is a common enough idea (see A quick note on dependencies in Ruby on Rails projects), and anyone responsible for maintaining a large, complex, or elderly codebase has probably arrived at the conclusion independently. Still, a reminder is in order. I’ve certainly been guilty myself of leaning a little too heavily on the casual contributions of others.

To his excellent list, I’ll add a few practices that we’ve started applying at Artsy:

Each addition to your Gemfile should include a comment explaining the choice. Instead of the Gemfile being a simple list, think of it as a table with 3 columns: gem name, optional version constraint, and justification. A sample from one of our recent projects:

gem 'unicorn'  # avoid timeouts on single web process
gem 'stringex'  # clean up extended characters in email names
gem 'newrelic_rpm'  # track errors, transactions
gem 'gridhook'  # handle sendgrid event notifications

Avoid adding gems that monkeypatch external code or behave differently based on what other dependencies have been loaded. And especially, avoid writing such gems. When some enterprising developer tries to trace the dependencies’ usage years later in the hope of removing or replacing them, full-text searches won’t reveal a thing. Stay within your namespace if at all possible.