Ease up development with Phusion Passenger

Created by Floor Drees, @floordrees

There’s an app server for that

Make sure you followed the Push Your App to GitHub guide before you continue.

What follows is a guide to eases up developing your app (you know, the adding functionality and then checking if it actually works), with Passenger. The Ruby on Rails framework provides a builtin server tool, which you can access with the rails server command. The “rails server” is not an application server by itself, but just a small wrapper that launches your application in an application server. People do not use “rails server” in production (where other people can access and use your app). They use an application server such as Passenger.

Help from the coach

Passenger is an open source web application server. It handles HTTP requests, manages processes and resources, and enables administration, monitoring and problem diagnosis. For big shot developers there’s an Enterprise Edition as well.

Preparing your app

Install the Passenger gem

Open your app’s Gemfile and add “passenger”:

gem "passenger"

By adding Passenger to your Gemfile, rails server will launch Passenger instead of Puma. You get virtual bonus points from the Phusion Passenger team for deleting the following lines (if present at all in your Gemfile):

gem "unicorn"
gem "thin"
gem "puma"

Run bundle install to update your gem bundle.

The text in your terminal should say something like this:

bundle install
Installing passenger x.x.x
Your bundle is complete!

Nginx and Apache are web servers. They provide HTTP transaction handling and serve static files. Application servers make it possible for Ruby apps to speak HTTP. Ruby apps (and frameworks like Rails) can’t do that by themselves. In a typical production stack, one would use Nginx or Apache as the web server, Passenger as application server, and Capistrano as release automation tool. Passenger integrates with Nginx or Apache and manages the application and its resources.

Help from the coach

Sometimes you will need to specify the gem’s version: gem "passenger", ">= 5.0.25", require: "phusion_passenger/rack_handler"

Let’s check if that worked

Run the Passenger server with the following command:

bundle exec passenger start

Passenger is serving your app on Try and use your app a bit and then run bundle exec passenger-status to check your activity. Big (friendly, promised!) brother is watching you.

There are two ways to stop the server. The first is by pressing Ctrl-C in the terminal. The second way is by running passenger stop in a new terminal window:

cd /path-to-your-app
bundle exec passenger stop

When you switch back to the first terminal, you should see that Passenger has indeed stopped.

Passenger restarts processes that crash, load balances traffic between processes and scales processes up and down in order to handle more traffic or to conserve resources. All this is handled automatically, without you having to specify anything in your code! It might not make too much sense right now, but your future developer you will thank us.

For future reference you can use the passenger-config restart-app command to restart your application. This is more convenient than stopping and starting Passenger, which requires two commands.


Passenger also supports the magic file tmp/always_restart.txt. With this file, Passenger will restart your application after every request. This way you do not have to invoke the restart command often.

Activate this mechanism by creating the file:

mkdir -p tmp
touch tmp/always_restart.txt

Deactivate this mechanism by removing the file:

rm tmp/always_restart.txt
Help from the coach

Sometimes the carrierwave gem causes trouble. Adding require 'carrierwave/orm/activerecord' to the environment.rb file will often do the trick.

Deploying your app

Hosting your app

Before you select your host(ing infrastructure) and follow the guide to put your app online, let’s commit the changes we’ve made:

git add .
git commit -m "add passenger"
git push

You can also choose to follow the Heroku guide from here on.


Use the passenger --help command in your terminal to browse all available commands and their functionality. Most commands (like passenger start) have many ‘sub-commands’. For instance: run passenger start --help to see all the add-ons for the ‘start’ command.

Lost? Phusion Passenger has extensive documentation, including beginner’s guides: Passenger Guide

Knee-deep? Crawl through Passenger’s Troubleshooting guide with your coach.

Want to learn more? View more guides!