Integrating Multiple Ruby Web Applications

November 4, 2013

Using multiple Ruby application stacks in production environment can be useful. Following simple steps will introduce one possible approach to do that.

In my previous article I discussed a ways to implement a live streaming with Server-Sent Events and EventMachine. Unfortunately, if we are not using EventMachine compatible application server, we could not integrate this solution into Rails application. Starting applications on separate ports/domains will violate CORS policy in browser. Additionally, sharing cookie authorisation will not be possible too.

Assume SSE example from previous article. I have a Rails application with cookie based authorisation (implemented with Devise) hosted on Unicorn, port 8080. I also have Sinatra application hosted on Thin, port 4567. I want to issues streaming request to the Sinatra application from Rails template. I also want to prevent this request in Sinatra if user is not authorised in Rails application.

Using Nginx as reverse proxy

I knew that I can use reverse proxy to avoid issues with different domains. This will also open possibilities to share encrypted cookies and sessions between applications.

Nginx probably is the most popular reverse proxy implementation. Using proxy_pass directive you can redirect request to the specific application server. For our case I will do the following Nginx configuration:

http {
    upstream railsapp {

    upstream sinatra {

    server {
        listen       8081;
        server_name  localhost;

        location / {
            proxy_pass http://railsapp;

        location /stream {
            proxy_pass http://sinatra;

In configuration file I defined railsapp and sinatra endpoints with upstream directive. I mapped /stream routes to the Sinatra application and all other routes to the Rails application. Two things I want to mention:

Once started Nginx will be available with non-blocking SSE application on the port 8081. Another thing to mention, it won’t probably work since Nginx uses connection buffering by default, thus it is required to turn off buffering by applying correct header value in Sinatra application:

get '/stream/:channel' do
  channel = params[:channel]
  pub_sub =

  content_type 'text/event-stream'
  response.header['X-Accel-Buffering'] = 'no'

  stream :keep_open do |out|
    # PubSub code

After restart Sinatra application will able to handle SSE requests from Rails application. Along with initial request Nginx will pass cookies from the Rails application, so it will be possible to manipulate them in Sinatra.

Sharing encrypted cookies between applications

Sharing cookie between Sinatra and Rails 3 application is an easy task, since they are using Rack::Session::Cookie. Situation is different for Rails 4 application, since it uses ActionDispatch::Session::CookieStore. I have found the article with possible solution for mounted Sinatra application, but unfortunately it will not work for us.

Quickly scanning through the sources, I thought that it is possible to decrypt cookie with ActionDispatch::Cookies::EncryptedCookieJar. It requires parent_jar and key_generator as constructor parameters. So I did a minimal implementation to check this idea by using secret_key_base from Rails initialiser. This code worked, so I decided to wrap it into Rack middleware. My Rack/Sinatra skills are not that great, so I expect this implementation can be a bit ugly:

require 'action_dispatch'

class RailsCookieMiddleware
  def initialize(app, options)
    @app = app
    @key = options[:key]
    @secret = options[:secret]

    parent_key_generator =, iterations: 1000)
    key_generator =

    @parent_jar =, nil, false)

    @cookie_jar =, key_generator, {
      encrypted_cookie_salt:         'encrypted cookie',
      encrypted_signed_cookie_salt:  'signed encrypted cookie'

  def call(env)
    cookie = CGI::Cookie::parse(env['HTTP_COOKIE'])
    if cookie[@key]
      session_cookie = { @key => cookie[@key].first }
      env[@key] = @cookie_jar[@key]

This code is basically extraction from the Rails sources. It requires secret_key_base and session_store_key from Rails initialiser. It uses ActionDispatch cookie jar and ActiveSupport implementations so I added actionpack to the Gemfile.

After that I changed Sinatra application to use this middleware and to check if session contains user data. This data is stored under the Warden key with path warden.user.user.key.

class SSE < Sinatra::Base
  use RailsCookieMiddleware,
    key: '_devise_example_session',
    secret: 'your_secret_key_base'

  get '/stream/:channel' do
    session = env['_devise_example_session']
    return unless session['warden.user.user.key']

    # code for authorised user

I could also implement another authorisation strategy, like using CanCan or assigning some token to the user’s session.

With this relatively simple steps I was able to implement non-blocking SSE application using separate Ruby web stack. At the same time main Rails application provides authorisation mechanism for the streaming application and has a Redis based message channel to publish arbitrary data at the arbitrary time intervals. More importantly I’m not exhausting Rails application during streaming and I did not have to change my current production stack.

Full application code with example Nginx configuration can be found in my github repository.

Updated 2013-11-03:

I have spent some time reviewing my initial approach with middleware, and found a better solution. I will present it as a part of Rack up file:

require 'warden'
require './app'

@secret_key_base = 'your secret key'
def key_generator
  @caching_key_generator ||= begin
    key_generator =, iterations: 1000)

use Rack::Config do |env|
  env['action_dispatch.key_generator'] = key_generator
  env['action_dispatch.secret_key_base'] = @secret_key_base
  env['action_dispatch.signed_cookie_salt'] = 'signed cookie'
  env['action_dispatch.encrypted_cookie_salt'] = 'encrypted cookie'
  env['action_dispatch.encrypted_signed_cookie_salt'] = 'signed encrypted cookie'

use ActionDispatch::Session::CookieStore,
  key: '_devise_example_session',
  secret: @secret_key_base

use Warden::Manager do |manager|
  manager.failure_app = App
  manager.default_scope = :user

run App

This is again just a piece of Rails source codes. But instead of using custom middleware I included ActionDispatch::Session::CookieStore. I also added Warden middleware to get some helpers like authenticated? (Warden is available in Sinatra from environment variables, env['warden'])