Better Service Oriented Architecture Project Development With Scripts, Foreman, and NGINX


Everyone knows more is better. More kittens, more money, more apps. Why settle for one Ruby project, when you can have three? We’ll take one Rails app for authorization and one to serve an API. Hey, let’s throw in a Sinatra proxy server serving up an AngularJS app to while we’re at it! Now we’re cookin’!

There are many ways organizations stand to gain by splitting their application into multiple projects running in symphony. If we’re being good programmers and following the Single Responsibility Principle (SRP), it makes sense to embrace it at all levels of organization, from our methods and classes up through our project structure. To organize this on the macro level, we can use a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach. In this article, we’ll explore some patterns that make it easier to develop SOA apps with a minimum of headaches.

Service Oriented Architecture

In the mid-2000s, some programmers began to organize their applications in a new way. Led by enterprise behemoths like Microsoft and IBM, the programming community saw a rise in the use of Web Services: applications that provide data or functionality to others. When you stick a few of these services together, and coordinate them in some kind of client-facing interface, you’ve built an application using SOA. The benefits of this approach remain relevant in modern web development:

  • Data storage is encapsulated
  • You can reuse services between multiple applications (e.g. authentication)
  • You can monitor messages sent between services for business intelligence
  • Services are modular, and can be composed into new applications without repetition of common functionality

A Sample Project

To illustrate some processes that make it easier to develop an SOA project, we’ll imagine that we’re building a project called Panda, that is composed of three services:

PandaAPI: A RESTful API that serves data about Giant Pandas
PandaAuth: Login page and user authentication service
PandaClient: An AngularJS app sitting atop a Sinatra proxy server

Setting Up GitHub

To deal with an SOA project like this, it’s helpful to make sure you have everything well-structured on GitHub, so that all developers working on it can get up to speed quickly, and stay in sync with each other. I recommend creating an organization, and setting up all of the service project repositories under that organization. For Panda, I would start with a structure that looks like this:

panda-org (organization)
|- panda-auth (repo)
|- panda-api (repo)
|- panda-client (repo)
|- processes (repo)

The first three repos will hold the actual service projects, and the processes repo will hold scripts and processes that are shared between them.

Git Your S#*& Together

It can be pretty annoying to have your projects all out of sync. To make it easier to keep things up to date, here’s a bash script you can use to pull all of your projects down and update them in one go. Inside of the processes folder, touch a file called


: ${BRANCH:="master"}

cd ../panda-auth   && git checkout $BRANCH && git pull origin $BRANCH
cd ../panda-api    && git checkout $BRANCH && git pull origin $BRANCH
cd ../panda-client && git checkout $BRANCH && git pull origin $BRANCH

When executing this script, you can specify the branch by running sh ./git_update <feature-name>.

We can do something similar for bundling and running migrations.

Create the file.

It should look like this:


# Load RVM
[[ -s "$HOME/.rvm/scripts/rvm" ]] && source "$HOME/.rvm/scripts/rvm" # Load RVM into a shell session *as a function*
export PATH="/usr/local/bin:/usr/local/sbin:~/bin:$PATH"
[[ -s "$HOME/.rvm/scripts/rvm" ]] && . "$HOME/.rvm/scripts/rvm" # Load RVM function

cd ../panda-auth   && bundle && bundle exec rake db:migrate
cd ../panda-api    && bundle && bundle exec rake db:migrate
cd ../panda-client && bundle && bundle exec rake db:migrate

Now the projects are all updated and ready to go, and we want to begin developing some features. We could write another script to go start rails server in each of our directories, but there is a better way.

Call In The Foreman

The foreman gem is my favorite way to manage multiple applications: it runs them all in a single terminal session. It’s pretty simple to get set up, and saves you having to run a lot of shell sessions (and a lot of headaches).

First, we’ll need to gem install foreman, to make sure we have the global executable available. Then, we’ll set up a Procfile to tell it which processes we want it to run. We’ll create ours in the processes directory, since that’s where we’re keeping things that pertain to all of the projects in our SOA app.


auth:     sh -c 'cd ../panda-auth   && bundle exec rails s -p 3000'
api:       sh -c 'cd ../panda-api    && bundle exec rails s -p 3001'
client:   sh -c 'cd ../panda-client && bundle exec rails s -p 3002'

This will work great as long as all of your apps are running on the same gemset. If not, you will need to check out the subcontractor gem.

From the processes folder, run foreman start. Sweet. Now everything is all set up. Just open up your browser and navigate to http://localhost:3000. Oh, and pop open two more tabs for http://localhost:3001 and http://localhost:3002 in them.

Man, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just run everything under a single host name?


To get around the problem of having three different localhosts, we can use NGINX. If you’re not familiar with NGINX, it’s an Apache alternative that acts as “a web server, a reverse proxy server and an application load balancer” (from the official site). We can use it to serve up all three of our apps from the same host, and make things a whole lot easier on ourselves.

To install NGINX, I recommend using Homebrew. If you have Homebrew, installation is as simple as brew install nginx. If you don’t, you can try one of these alternatives.

Once NGINX is installed, we’ll want to locate our nginx.conf. If you installed using Homebrew, it will be located at /usr/local/etc/nginx/nginx.conf. Otherwise, you’ll want to use ack, mdfind, or another search tool to locate it.

Once you’ve located it, open it in your text editor and locate the server section. Find the block that starts with location / (line 43 for me) and replace it with the following:


http {

  server {
    listen       8080;

    # Client
    location / {
      proxy_set_header  X-Real-IP  $remote_addr;

    # Auth
    location /auth {
      proxy_set_header  X-Real-IP  $remote_addr;

    # API
    location /api {
      proxy_set_header  X-Real-IP  $remote_addr;


Now start NGINX with the nginx command. With these proxy_pass settings in place, we should be able to visit see all of our apps from http://localhost:8080:

  • / takes us to the client app
  • /auth takes us to the auth app
  • api takes us to the API app

Dealing With Redirects

One last tricky part of developing SOA apps is figuring out how to deal with url redirects between our apps. Let’s say that you want the client app to redirect users to the auth app if they haven’t logged in yet.

You would probably want to start with something like this in the client app:


class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base
  before_action :check_user


  def check_user
    if !session[:user_id]
      redirect_to '/auth'

Looks good, and it should work locally.

But it could be a problem if some of your apps are served from subdomains in production. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to get around this.

Create a config/service_urls.yml file in each project. Inside of it, define the url for each app:


defaults: &defaults
    panda-api: 'localhost:8080/api'
    panda-auth: 'localhost:8080/auth'
    panda-client: 'localhost:8080'

  <<: *defaults

  <<: *defaults

    panda-api: 'TBD'
    panda-auth: 'TBD'
    panda-client: 'TBD'

We’ll also need to register this configuration file in config/application.rb:


module PandaClient
  class Application < Rails::Application
    # In Rails 4.2, you can use:
    Rails.configuration.urls = config_for(:service_urls)[Rails.env]

    # For older Rails versions, use:
    Rails.configuration.urls = YAML.load_file(Rails.root.join('config', 'service_urls.yml'))[Rails.env]

With this configuration in place, we can now update the url redirect to look like the following, and it will work in all environments.

That will look something like this:


class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base
  def check_user
    if !session[:user_id]
      redirect_to auth_url

  def auth_url
    @auth_url ||= Rails.application.config.urls['service-urls']['panda-auth']

With these changes in place, our applications will now redirect to the appropriate url in all environments.

All Your App Are Belong To Us

By now, you sould have a better idea of what it takes to develop an application using SOA principals. We’ve taken a look at using shell scripts to keep our files in sync, foreman to run several servers at once, and NGINX to pull everything together into a single host address that makes it easier to work with all our services in the browser.

Juggling several services can be pretty confusing, but if you start with the right set up, it makes things a lot easier. All your apps will be under control if you manage them from a central place, and using the strategies discussed in this article should help make the process less painful. Good luck!

P.S. What tricks do you use when you’re developing SOA apps? Did I leave anything out? If you think so, leave us a comment, or tweet at me @fluxusfrequency.