The Blog

Posts from January 2010

Jan 29

Getting started with data_fabric

By David Czarnecki

The data_fabric gem “provides flexible database connection switching for ActiveRecord”. If you’re not concerned with database sharding, you might want to skip this blog post. Or not. Either way, I’m not going to be offended.

I have a requirement that certain data in an application that I’m developing will probably have to be sharded because, if you’ll excuse my English, there will a “shit ton” of data. This only affects one model out of the few models I have in the application. I don’t have a requirement that the data will be replicated (which is another feature supported in data_fabric), so I’m not going into that here. In any event, here is a rundown of how I got started developing and testing with data_fabric.

  • Configure the data_fabric gem in your config/environment.rb file.
config.gem 'data_fabric'
  • In your model(s), decide on which column or how the data is going to be shared.
data_fabric :replicated => false, :shard_by => :initial_code

In this case, inital_code is a method that looks at a piece of the model’s data and gives me the correct shard.

  • Setup the database shards in your config/database.yml file. I actually setup only one shard for development and testing environments to make things easier. I’m just including the one for the test environment here. You can read on the data_fabric site about the naming convention for sharded database connections.
adapter: mysql
encoding: utf8
reconnect: false
database: myapp_test
pool: 5
username: root

# This is the database shard
adapter: mysql
encoding: utf8
reconnect: false
database: myapp_test_testenv
pool: 5
username: root
  • In config/initializers/my_app_model.rb, I actually stub out the initial_code method to return a single value for the development and test environments. This is merely convenience so I don’t have to include every single database shard for development and testing.
require 'mocha'

if 'development'.eql?(RAILS_ENV)

if 'test'.eql?(RAILS_ENV)
  • I copied part of the Rakefile from the data_fabric gem to actually be able to migrate the database for the sharded database connections. This was definitely missing from the data_fabric README.
require 'fileutils'
include FileUtils::Verbose

namespace :db do
  task :migrate do
    require 'erb'
    require 'logger'
    require 'active_record'

    reference = YAML::load("config/database.yml")).result)
    env = RAILS_ENV = ENV['RAILS_ENV'] || 'development'

    ActiveRecord::Base.logger =
    ActiveRecord::Base.logger.level = Logger::WARN
    ActiveRecord::Base.configurations = reference.dup
    old_config = reference[env]
    reference.each_key do |name|
      next unless name.include? env
      next if name.include? 'slave' # Replicated databases should not be touched directly

      puts "Migrating #{name}"
      ActiveRecord::Base.configurations[env] = reference[name]
      ActiveRecord::Base.establish_connection RAILS_ENV
      ActiveRecord::Migration.verbose = ENV["VERBOSE"] ? ENV["VERBOSE"] == "true" : true
      ActiveRecord::Migrator.migrate("db/migrate/", ENV["VERSION"] ? ENV["VERSION"].to_i : nil)
  • In my test classes that use the sharded model, I have setup and teardown methods that activate and deactivate the shard.
def setup
  DataFabric.activate_shard(:initial_code => 'testenv')

def teardown
  DataFabric.deactivate_shard(:initial_code => 'testenv')

I did find that I needed to delete all the objects in the database for the sharded model. I’m still digging into why that’s the case. My ActiveRecord_fu isn’t that strong I guess.

All in all, sharding is relatively easy with data_fabric. Pimping, however, “ain’t easy.” But that’s for another blog post I guess.

Jan 15

I Am Git (And So Can You!)

By David Czarnecki

It’s amazing how a few months can change your mindset around the version control system you use. Ever since I joined Agora Games in May 2008, we have used Subversion (SVN). Subversion is a fine version control system. We have one new project using Subversion and we will probably have a few legacy projects that will always use Subversion. However, last year, one of our project teams made the switch to Git and ever since then, new projects have been using Git.

Looking at CruiseControl, here’s the breakdown of Subversion and Git projects:

Subversion: 4

Git: 7

Here is what I found personally about my Git transition experience.

  • If you look at the simple examples or cursory blog post introductions of using Git as a version control system, you’re probably not going to switch. I didn’t find those examples or Git blog posts enlightening at all. I just thought to myself, “Great, Git can track changes to files just like Subversion, so why should I switch?”.
  • Git is something I can use independent of a service like GitHub locally to implement version control on projects that might never make it off of my machine.
  • Git can be taken to the extreme where every “change” can be separated from the main branch of development and then merged at a later point. At Agora, we’ve taken a more balanced approach where major features go into a new branch and then are reviewed and merged back into the main branch, after which the new branch can be safely removed (e.g. replacing an authentication system).
  • Although tools like SmartGit exist, I needed to get comfortable by using Git from the command-line.
  • There are a lot of Git commands and capabilities I haven’t used yet, and that’s OK.
  • I love the idea of the Git stash, where you can scurry away local changes and revert to a clean working directory, but then recover those changes later.

Git is just something you need to try. I’m no expert in Git (yet). Git’s barrier to entry feels very minimal when compared to other version control systems.

P.S. I realize this blog post falls under the “cursory blog post introductions of using Git as a version control system” category. Whatever.


Jan 4

Scaling Ruby and Rails Part 1

By David Czarnecki

I wish scaling applications and systems these days consisted solely of “ Just Add Scaling!”. But you know what? It’s not. I also forget where I read it, but the quote went something like, “Programming languages don’t scale, architectures scale.” Scaling is driven by proper iterative design, implementation and testing.

In a series of blog posts I want to cover how we have approached scaling out various parts of our Ruby and Rails infrastructure here at Agora Games using real-world examples on very high-traffic sites such as the Guitar Hero and Call of Duty community sites.

Here I’ll cover the “Deep Dive”. I originally came from BigCo. and there we used a concept called the “Deep Dive”, which involved taking a specific requirement in combination with an approach or technology and following a thread of execution that would take you through the entire technology stack, or a “deep dive” through the system. At the end you would either prove or disprove the technology or approach. But it was done in the context of a real set of requirements.

The following is the e-mail (project/features names changed to protect the innocent … the important concept here is the Deep Dive, not the project/features) I sent around to our engineering team in September of last year after doing a Deep Dive on a queue system.

From: David Czarnecki

To: Engineering

Clearly Defined Requirement(s)

Ultimately, to do a deep dive correctly, you need clearly defined requirements to evaluate your technology or approach against. In the case of PROJECT X, with the use of a queue, we had the following:

Setup queue Decide event(s) Send to queue Aggregate from/to queue Put into message creation Send back to the app

Narrowing the Field

I spent a day looking at various queue packages in Ruby and other languages to understand:

Features - What features do we get out of the package? API - How easy is it to setup/create/interact with the queue from actual code? Aliveness - Is this an ongoing effort or was it thrown on RubyForge and ultimately abandoned? Community - Where is this package being used? How many developers or contributors commit to the project? Language - Are we expanding our technology stack by introducing a queue written in one language with an interface in another language?

Pork, aka The Other Other Requirements

And don’t forget about the other “unspoken” requirements.

Ease of setup Speed Failsafe Scaling

At the end of the day, whichever package is picked, you want some guarantee that the package you’ve chosen is “good” or at least “good enough”. But what if the Guarantee Fairy’s a crazy glue sniffer? Next thing you know there’s change missing from your dresser and your daughter’s knocked up. I’ve seen it a hundred times. Although you’ve got a set of requirements that define how you’re going to use a technology or approach operationally, there are still requirements that need to be addressed, even if there isn’t anything formally specified.

Let’s Get Ready To Rumble

I chose Sparrow and Rabbit/AMQP since these passed the “ease of setup” requirements with flying colors. - Pure Ruby

Erlang Queue Server/Ruby interface to Queue

Next up it was time to prove out the feasibility of the two technologies looking at the “soft” requirements in the context of the “hard” requirements. This meant setting up the two systems to:

Setup queue Send event(s) to queue Aggregate from/to queue

The other “hard” requirements would be addressed based on the outcome of this initial sanity check.

2 Queues Enter, 1 Queue Leaves … Wait, what?

Although I wanted to use this to prove out “FEATURE X”, I also wanted to address its use in “FEATURE Y”. “FEATURE Y” involves converting a song file into an MP3. So I setup a test to evaluate the two systems which was:

1k, 8k, 16k, 32k, 64k messages do
  25.times do
    10000 messages do
      publish message to queue
      read message from queue

In other words, publish 10000 messages to the queue (in one process) and read those messages from the queue (in another process), noting how long it took to publish and read. Do this 25 times to get a min/max/average time for each of the different message sizes.

I have attached the spreadsheet of the results which show: the larger the message, the longer it takes to publish and read from the queue. However, it also shows that Sparrow could handle the 64k messages while Rabbit/AMQP could not. Sparrow got slower to process those 10000 64k items from the queue, but it never failed as with Rabbit/AMQP. Ultimately, the deep dive was not about fixing a broken AMQP adapter.

The Devil is in the Details

One benefit of using Sparrow is that persistence is built into the server. If you take down Sparrow and there are messages on the queue, it will write those out to an SQLite3 database. Ultimately this lead me to look at the size of the field it was using for queue data which would need to be patched from its current 255 characters.


So, I’ve now got a queue server that I feel comfortable setting up and using and that can probably handle the load of data we’re going to throw at it come launch. The queue server/queues were integrated into PROJECT X in the context of the “FEATURE X” to prove its feasibility in addressing that feature in a future sprint.

And one more thing …

There are tests for the various bits that make up “FEATURE X”. I’m most happy with the integration test which fires up a Sparrow server, fires up a foo, creates a bar, runs the aggregator, and checks to see that a baz was created for the account (oh and then cleaning up the queue server and the subscriber). 14 LOC, but there’s a lot of code that it exercises behind the scenes. And yes, it passes :)

So, there you go. Hopefully you have enough information to do your own Deep Dive.

Ultimately for FEATURE X and FEATURE Y, Sparrow more than met our needs. Advances and changes to AMQP and its associated libraries have been made which I’m sure make it a more than viable candidate. At the time however, with just getting the system to work for a day to prove out the Deep Dive, it just didn’t meet our needs. Again, the point of this blog post is to talk about the Deep Dive in the larger context of its use in Scaling Ruby and Rails.