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Proxy-Cluster Server: The New Kid on the Block
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A proxy-cluster server is a new and very powerful way to deploy your Rails application stack. This type of architecture has come to dominate the Rails deployment world in recent months due to its stability, flexibility, and ease of use. In this configuration, the web server and the Rails server are two separate entities, as shown in Figure 11-2. The web server handles the incoming requests on the standard HTTP port (80), and then redirects those requests to separate Rails server instances that are running either on the same machine or separate machines.
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CHAPTER 11 DEPLOYING YOUR RAILS APPLICATIONS
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Figure 11-2. Proxy-cluster server configuration
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As you can see from Figure 11-2, all requests to the application initially go to the web server. Then the web server acts as a proxy handler and passes the request on to a specialized Rails server. By far, the most popular of these servers at the moment is Mongrel (created by Zed Shaw).
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Mongrel (http://mongrel.rubyforge.org) has some interesting features. First, it s singlethreaded; that is, a single running Mongrel process can respond to only a single request at a time. This is why we need a cluster of several Mongrel processes. Mongrel gets a request, sends back the response, and is ready for another request. By running two or more processes, we are allowing the operating system to handle the resource sharing. Mongrel doesn t need to use a protocol like FCGI to interface with a Rails application, because it works natively in Ruby. That s right Mongrel is written in Ruby. Small parts of the application are compiled from C on the native system, so you end up getting a very fast wrapper around Rails. Making this even more interesting is that a Mongrel process acts as a web server itself, but a very specialized one. On a system, you might launch five Mongrel processes and have them take up ports 8000, 8001, 8002, 8003, and 8004. A request to http:// mywebserver.com:8000 will positively respond by displaying the application. You ve skipped the proxy and gone straight to one instance. A request to http://mywebserver.com (on the default port 80) will end up being proxied to any of the available Mongrel processes. This might mean it gets passed on to port 8002, or it might go to port 8003. The proxy balancer makes the decision. The web server (it could be Apache, Lighttpd, Pound, or several others) isn t doing anything dangerous and definitely doesn t need to be restarted when new code is deployed. So the end result is that your front-end server is always up. Web servers are built to be as stable and fast as possible. This is even more true when they are doing the simple task of proxying. So you always know you have a friend on the front lines. Even if all of the Mongrel instances choke and die, your web server is still there to react. You can set your web server to have a Temporary Problem page that s displayed if the pack of Mongrels is dead.
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CHAPTER 11 DEPLOYING YOUR RAILS APPLICATIONS
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Let s talk about when you re upgrading the code base. You upgrade the code, then tell each of the Mongrel instances to restart, in sequence only. This means that port 8000 goes down and then comes back up, while the other four are waiting their turn. Because each Mongrel restarts in sequence, you can ensure that any requests during the upgrade are serviced. The proxy server notices the few seconds that each Mongrel is down and just moves on to the next one.
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Three popular servers can act as your front-end web server that handles the proxy to the Mongrel instances: LightTPD (http://lighttpd.net): LightTPD, or Lighty, was designed to be a simple front-end server without all of the features of Apache or IIS. It handles file serving and proxying. It also provides extensive support for virtual hosts. Apache (http://apache.org): The granddaddy of all open source web servers, Apache can do everything. If you want to run Subversion, virtual hosts, a chat server, and a proxy, Apache can do all that and more. Pound (http://apsis.ch/pound): Pound is only a proxy server. It won t send out any of the static file requests. It sends every request to Mongrel. While this makes file serving a bit slower, it means that Pound lets your Mongrel cluster run at very fast rates, because it simply gets out of the way of dynamic content. Nginx (http://nginx.net/): Nginx is a super fast, high-performance HTTP server that makes a great front-end for Mongrel. It boasts a small resource footprint, stands up under heavy load, and is easy to configure.
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