Created: 2011-07-16 03:22
Updated: 2019-02-20 18:20
License: mit

CC Rails Portal Activity Authoring, Deployment, and Reporting System

Code Climate



Working git, ruby, and rubygems, wget

Core Extensions

Simple Getting Started

Local development

This example assumes that rvm is installed. This could be a good idea because we use an older version of ruby. You should install Ruby 2.2.6 first:

rvm install 2.2.6

If you use OS X and you see some errors related to SSL, you might need to use following command instead:

    rvm install 2.2.6 --with-openssl-dir=`brew --prefix openssl`
git clone portal
cd portal
echo 'rvm --create use 2.2.6@portal' >.rvmrc
rvm --create use 2.2.6@portal
gem install bundler -v '1.11.0'
bundle install
cp config/database.sample.yml config/database.yml (need to fix the mysql password and/or user)
cp config/settings.sample.yml config/settings.yml
cp config/app_environment_variables.sample.rb config/app_environment_variables.rb
rake db:setup
rails s

Now open your browser to http://localhost:3000

Using Docker

Install Docker and make sure that docker-compose is installed too (it should be part of the standard Docker installation).

git clone portal
cd portal
docker-compose up # this will take 15 minutes to download gems

Increase memory available to Docker to 4GiB-5GiB (OSX: Preferences... -> Advanced tab).

Now open your browser to On OS X this might take more than 5 minutes to load the first page. Look in the terminal where you ran docker-compose up to monitor progress.

Visit the Docker docs for how to use your portal running in docker. This also includes: instructions on speeding things up on OS X, using a local dns+proxy system to avoid port conflicts, and setting up ssh for capistrano deploys.

Setup Issues

If you get the following error

An error occurred while installing libv8 (, and Bundler cannot
Make sure that `gem install libv8 -v ''` succeeds before bundling.

To resolve the error install libv8 sepratelly with --with-system-v8

gem install libv8 -v '' -- --with-system-v8

If you get the following error

An error occurred while installing therubyracer (0.12.1), and Bundler cannot
Make sure that `gem install therubyracer -v '0.12.1'` succeeds before bundling.

Replace gem 'therubyracer', "~>0.12.1" entry in the Gemfile to gem 'therubyracer', "~>0.10.2"

If rails s -p 9000 fails due to mysql2 segmentation fault

gems/mysql2-0.3.21/lib/mysql2/mysql2.bundle: [BUG] Segmentation fault

It usually helps to remove mysql2 and install it again

gem uninstall mysql2
bundle install


After getting the server running it's good to confirm that all the tests pass before changing any code.

Prepare a database for use when running the spec tests:

rake db:test:prepare

Start SOLR in test environment (it works with cucumber tests too):

RAILS_ENV=test rake sunspot:solr:run

Run the rspec unit tests:

rspec spec/

Prepare a database for use when running the cucumber tests:

RAILS_ENV=cucumber rake db:create
RAILS_ENV=cucumber rake db:schema:load
rake db:test:prepare_cucumber

Run the cucumber integration tests:

cucumber features/

All these tests should pass. If you add features make sure and add tests for these new features.

SSO Clients and LARA (authoring) integration

If you want to provide authentication services to LARA, you need to:

  1. Create a new SSO Client using rake sso:add_client
  2. Add the client id and secret to LARA, by editing config/app_environment_variables.rb

Theme support & Rolling your own theme:

We are using the themes_for_rails gem Theme views go in app/themes/(name)/views/ Theme assets go in app/assets/theme/(name)/ Sample config files go in config/themes/(name)/settings.sample.yml

For now the best thing to do is to copy an existing theme. eg:

mkdir ./config/themes/<new_theme_name>

# configuration files:
cp ./config/themes/<old_theme_name>/settings.sample.yml

# view files:
cp -r ./themes/<old_theme_name> ./themes/<new_theme_name>

# assets:
cp -r ./app/assets/themes/<old_theme_name>

# finally change the theme setting in your config/settings.yml
open config/settings.yml

NCES District and School Tables

When a rails-portal instance is created two tables containing data for schools and districts in the US are created from data supplied by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

NCES maintains a database about US districts and schools called the Common Core of Data

The rake task: portal:setup:create_districts_and_schools_from_nces_data downloads 2006 NCES CCD data files from NCES website and imports data from these data files into the following models:

  • Portal::Nces06District
  • Portal::Nces06School

Only data from states and provinces identified in the config/settings.yml for the portal instance are imported.

The NCES district and school models are used to provide data from which districts and schools actively using the portal are be created.

The Portal::Nces06District includes about 50 different fields of data for each district.

The Portal::Nces06Schoolincludes about 500 different fields of data for each school.

PDF documentation for the NCES data schemas


Testing Frameworks

Rspec, Rspec-rails

Cucumber / Capybara

Feature specs that require javascript are run by Chrome via Selenium. By default Chrome will run in headless mode and there is nothing special you need to do inside of a Docker development environment.

However, if you would like to run Chrome in non-headless mode on your host machine, this is possible by setting an environment variable HEADLESS=false. You'll need to install chromedriver on your host machine and start it with the command: chromedriver --whitelisted-ips. Ensure you have no firewall running on your host machine, or if you do please open port 9515. Also ensure that Chrome is installed on the host machine.

Factory Bot

factory_bot allows you to quickly define prototypes for each of your models and ask for instances with properties that are important to the test at hand.

Running the rspec tests

*Running all the rspec tests:

bundle exec rake spec

Running a single file:

bundle exec rake spec SPEC=spec/routing/dataservice/bundle_contents_routing_spec.rb

Running a single directory:

bundle exec rake spec SPEC=spec/routing/dataservice

Running all the controller tests:

bundle exec rake spec SPEC=spec/controllers

Running the feature tests with cucumber

Running all the feature tests: bundle exec rake cucumber

Running all the feature tests using the ci_reporter gem that's used on the hudson CI system: bundle exec rake hudson:cucumber

Running a single feature:

bundle exec cucumber features/student_can_not_see_deactivated_offerings.feature

Running a single feature in non-headless mode:

HEADLESS=false bundle exec cucumber features/student_can_not_see_deactivated_offerings.feature

Using binding.pry with Cucumber tests


Integration tests are difficult to debug without accessing the content in the browser and inspecting the relevant elements. Using debugging tools in the command line or trying to view the problem from a screenshot is not helpful when the problem might be a hidden link or different element type, for example.


Using pry in non-headless mode in Chrome opens a new Chrome window showing you the state of the page where pry has paused the test. You can inspect elements in the page at that point in time to more easily identify the problem.

How to use:

Follow the instructions above to set up and start chromedriver.

For a particular cucumber test where JavaScript is enabled, find the step you want to test:

And I follow "Admin"

Find the corresponding step definition and insert binding.pry:

When /^(?:|I )follow "([^"]*)"$/ do |link|    
  first(:link, link).click    

Make sure chromedriver is running and run the test with HEADLESS=false prepended to the path

$ HEADLESS=false bundle exec cucumber features/admin_accesses_special_pages.feature

When pry is hit, a new Chrome window will pop up where you can inspect element and use the pry in the command line as usual.

note: Please see documentation regarding running chromedriver on your host machine above ☝️.

Understanding the Codebase

Some video walk-throughs

The Page Elements Model Part I:

screencast: The Page Elements Model PartI

Install github version of railroad with aasm patches from ddolar's repo

Generate a graph of the projects models using railroad: railroad -o -M

Open that file with omnigraffle, or traslate to some other image format using the dot tool.

Page Elements Model Part II:

screencast: Page Elements Model PartII

Using mysql query browser to view schema: Mysql gui-tools

Use the generator to generate page elements eg:

./script/generate element xhtml content:text

PageElement View partials:

screencast: PageElement View partials

Shows the relationship between:

  • pages/show.html.haml
  • pages/element_container.html.haml
  • shared/_embeddable_container.html.haml
  • <embeddable_type>/_show.html.haml

HAML, Compass and SASS:

screencast: HAML, Compass and SASS

Brief introduction to the technologies generally, and how we use them specifically

Javascript use in Portal

screencast: Javascript use in Portal

Javascript librararies we are using, and what things we have written by ourselves; Stuff we did:

Capistano Tasks:

Updating a staging server.

Once a development branch has been deployed to a development server, tested and found reliable enough to deploy to staging here's how to do it.

Our convention is to create dev, staging, and production branches in the git repository following that use the same name.

For example the xproject family have the following capistrano stages and branches in teh git repository:

  • xproject_dev_
  • xproject_staging_
  • xproject_production_

In the code below I will assume that we are using the xproject series of stages and branches.

If you don't already have a local branch of staging

git branch  --track xproject_staging origin/xproject_staging

Switch to the staging branch and merge from xproject_dev

git co xproject_staging
git merge xproject_dev

Push your copy of the staging branch to the gihub repository:

git push origin xproject_staging

Dump the production database to this file db/production_data.sql on the production server, download it to the local folder db/production_data.sql, the cleans up the production db/ folder.

cap xproject_production db:fetch_remote_db

Push the production database from the local db/production_data.sql to the staging server, then import the data into the database on staging, then cleanup.

cap xproject_staging db:push_remote_db

Run any migrations on the staging server:

cap xproject_staging deploy:migrate

There may be rake tasks that need to be run to update or fix data in the database.

These should have corresponding capistrano tasks.

Test the staging server:

If the authors confirm that there are no blockers then let people know when the update will take place and perform these tasks on the production server.

other Rake tasks:

  • rigse:make:investigations This task simply finds all activities with no parent investigation, and creates a new investigation for that activity. The created investigation has the same name and description as the activity it contains.


We use haml for some templates, see:

To install this plugin we followed this procedure:

  1. gem install --no-ri haml
  2. haml --rails path/to/rigse_app



We use haml for some templates, see:

to install this plugin we followed this procedure:

  1. gem install --no-ri haml
  2. haml --rails path/to/rigse_app


Building installers requires that you are running on a mac with a local installation of Bit Rock The rake tasks assume that bitrock is in the standard /Applications/ folder. You can override this by setting an environment variable in your shell which points to the correct path, eg: export BITROCK_INSTALLER=/path/to/


Every host should have its own config/installer.yml file. There is a config/installer.sample.yml file which can help get you started. The shortname field should be specific to that host. Because of limitations in bitrock, the shortname can not use spaces,dashes,underscore, &etc. The jnlp_url should point to a jnlp url on the target host. When you run the rake build:installer:build_all or cap installer:create tasks, the jnlp_url must be available.

Installer Rake Tasks:

Most of the installer building happens via rake tasks defined in lib/tasks/make_installers.rake. a complete list of tasks can be gotten using: rake -T installer

Here are the two useful tasks:

rake build:installer:build_all # build all installers
rake build:installer:new_release # create a new release specification interactively

Assuming that your installer.yml file is correct, running rake build:installer:build_all will take care of the rest. Build_all will automatically clean up, recache jars, and bump version numbers.

Installer Capistrano Recipes

There are two cap recipes in config/deploy.rb which take care of creating installers using remote hosts installer.yml files.

  • cap installer:copy_config copies the local installer.yml to the remote server. This would be useful if you ran new_release locally, and then wanted to copy those config settings to the remote server.
  • cap installer:create creates the installers and updates the remote installer.yml file, and deploys the installer images.

Sample session for building installers:

boot strapping an unconfigured server:

In this session we are assuming that we are working with a host which does not have a local installer.yml file. First we create a new local release. The first rake tasks asks a bunch of questions, which are answered from the point of view of the staging server.

 rake build:installer:new_release
 cap staging installer:copy_config
 cap staging installer:create

After running rake build:installer:new_releasewe end up with the following local installer file:

shortname: RitesStaging
version: "200912.00"
jnlp_config: [](

this file gets pushed up to staging. with cap staging installer:copy_config we only have to do that the first time we create an installer on staging. We could just as easily edit config/installer.yml.

The cap staging installer:create handles incrementing the version number, and pushing the new config files and installers onto staging.

creating a fresh installer for a host that has had installers


cap staging installer:create

not much to do.

Authentication, Sessions, and Cookies

User authentication with Devise

Devise is already setup. The routes are setup, along with the mailers and observers. Forgotten password comes setup, so you don't have to mess around setting it up with every project.

Devise uses the pepper parameter within settings.yml to encrypt user passwords. A default pepper is provided in settings.samles.yml You need to change this when deploying to a public server.

Devise is also setup to use user activation. Users which require activation are sent emails automatically.

Uses the Database for Sessions

Will Paginate

We use will_paginate in pretty much every project we use.

Exception Notifier

You don't want your applications to crash and burn so Exception Notifier is already installed to let you know when everything goes to shit.

config/initializers/exception_notifier.rb does the setup. Currently it reads "admin_email" from config/settings.yml and use it as the destination address. The setup can be modified to include multiple email addresses. See the homepage readme of exception notifier.


It seems rails 2.3.3 and 2.3.4 fails to deliver emails when someone passes multiple destination addresses as an array, which exception notifier does. config/initializers/fix_mailer_on_rails_2.3.4.rb fixes the problem.

The code is borrowed from Dmitry Polushkin


On OS X the mysql2 gem usually can't find the mysql client library that it needs to run. The command below fixes that. It assumes your mysql is installed in the default basedir of /usr/local/mysql/lib. And it assumes you are using bundler.

install_name_tool -change libmysqlclient.16.dylib /usr/local/mysql/lib/libmysqlclient.16.dylib \
  `bundle show mysql2`/lib/mysql2/mysql2.bundle

For newer versions of rvm and mysql2, you will see an error like this

  1.9.1/mysql2-0.3.15/mysql2/mysql2.bundle, 9): Library not loaded: libmysqlclient.18.dylib
  Referenced from: /Users/scytacki/.rvm/gems/ruby-1.9.3-p545/extensions/x86_64-darwin-13/\
  Reason: image not found - /Users/scytacki/.rvm/gems/ruby-1.9.3-p545/extensions/x86_64-darwin-13/\

So then to fix a command like this is needed:

install_name_tool -change libmysqlclient.18.dylib /usr/local/mysql/lib/libmysqlclient.18.dylib \


Rails 3 Asset Pipeline

The portal uses the"Rails 3 Asset Pipeline": stylesheets, images, javascript should all be placed in the app/assets/ directory structure. theme specific assets should be placed in app/assets/theme/themename/.

You should read the Rails guide for more information about the asset Pipeline.

themes_for_rails has been configured to play nice with the asset pipeline. See the initializer: config/initializers/themes_for_rails.rb

cap deploy should trigger the rake task assets:precompile to run.

You can also run locally by hand: bundle exec rake assets:precompile

The assets will be compiled to public/assets which should be ignored by .gitignore

When running in development mode you do not need to pre-compile your assets.

Solr & Sunspot

Sunspot is being used to provide search capabilities.

You will need to create solr cores if you want to update materials or publish. At the least you will need a 'development' solr core. Here is a basic set of directions:

  1. Make sure there are no solr processes running with ps auxxwww | grep solr
  2. scp -r solr
  3. cp -r ./solr/production ./solr/development
  4. vim ./solr/development/ (change name from production to development)
  5. bundle exec rake sunspot:solr:start
  6. bundle exec rake sunspot:solr:reindex (edited)

You could also create a test core by repeating steps 3 & 4.

In development mode you will need to create an index and start sunspot:

bundle exec rake sunspot:solr:start
bundle exec rake sunspot:reindex

You can then visit the web interface to the solar server by visiting localhost:8982/solr/admin/. Though I haven't found any good reason to do so.

Rspec testing with sunspot disabled & enabled:

For rspec tests see the helper methods defined in spec/support/solr_spec_helper.rb

For cucumber tests, you can use "Given The materials have been indexed" to update solr indexes after fixture data has been loaded.

Solr delpoyment and index-updating

If you make changes to how Solr does its indexing, you will have to run a cap task to tell it to reindex:

In theory a simple bundle exec cap <host> solr:reindex should work, but to be sure use: bundle exec cap <host> solr:hard_reindex to restart and reindex.

Application Settings & Settings YAML

There is a settings.yml file that contains site-wide stuff. The site name, url and admin email are all used in the Devise mailers, so you don't need to worry about editing them.

Database YAML

Enabling features via environment variables

Certain features of the portal are controlled via environment variables.

The PORTAL_FEATURES environment variable can take a string of the form "feature1 feature2" to include the following features:

  • geniverse_remote_auth: Remote authentication
  • allow_cors: Allow CORS requests (see below)
  • genigames_data: Genigames-related student sata saving
  • geniverse_wordpress: Geniverse-related Wordpress connection

If CORS is enable, by default it will allow any request from '*', to any route, but can be controlled by two additional environment variables:

  • CORS_ORIGINS="": Sets the allowed CORS origins to a specific whitelist
  • CORS_RESOURCES="/xyz": Sets the allowed CORS resources to a specific route

Technical debt.

Here is a brief list of things which need to be looked into:

  • the embeddables should be dryed up with some mixin / super class.
  • not all embeddables are using send_update_events, which is causing stale pages.
  • ocassionally browser rendering gets wonky and raw html and or javascript get displayed in the page.
  • transition to unobtrusive JS.
  • send_update_events might not do what we want it to do, tests should be written for it.


  • password and password_confirmation are set up to be filtered
  • there is a default application layout file
  • a page title helper has been added
  • index.html is already deleted
  • rails.png is already deleted
  • a few changes have been made to the default views
  • a default css file with blank selectors for common rails elements

Archiving a portal

A set of rake tasks is available under the archive_portal namespace that enable the portal data to be archived. These tasks are:

  • archive_portal:extract_and_upload_images - extracts the image binary data from the database and uploads it to S3
  • archive_portal:generate_teacher_reports - generates learner details reports for all teachers and uploads them to S3
  • archive_portal:generate_runnable_reports - generates learner details reports for all runnables and uploads them to S3

The rake tasks use a config file at /config/archive_portal.yml to specify the S3 bucket parameters to use when extracting images and to use when generating the url to those images in the reports. A /config/archive_portal.sample.yml file exists to be copied and updated with real values.

These tasks will take a long time. Easiest way to run them is to ssh to running server and run them in the background using nohup, e.g.:

nohup bundle exec rake archive_portal:extract_and_upload_images &

You can close your ssh session and the task will be still running. Logs will be saved in nohup.out.


CC Rails Portal is released under the MIT License.

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