Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Ruby on Rails IDEs and debugging

Note: The RichText blog has moved to

UPDATE: You might want to have a look at this post for details of using TextMate for Ruby On Rails development, or this post for NetBeans.

I'm primarily a .NET developer in my job but in my spare time I've recently been dabbling in a bit of Ruby on Rails (RoR) development. If you've never heard of it, check out - Its basically a new-ish web development framework based on the ruby scripting language.

To develop in RoR you don't need an IDE - you can get by with notepad and a console window but I've grown up on Microsoft Visual Studio so I felt the need for one.

So far, I've mainly been using RadRails, which is a pretty neat, free, open-source Ruby On Rails IDE based on Eclipse. This does most things I've needed, such as integrated Subversion source control support, syntax highlighting and various other Rails specific bits and bobs such as starting/stopping the Rails server etc (LightTPD, Mongrel and WEBrick Servers are supported).

However, at the time of writing RadRails is still missing rails debugging capabilities. Rails does come with a console "breakpointer" tool which lets you interrogate variables at certain points in the code, but there's no way of stepping-through rails server code (specifically the "controller" classes), while making requests from a browser, like Visual Studio does for ASP.NET. Apparently debugging will be included in Radrails 0.8, but 0.7 has only just been released and as a relative rails novice I've felt the need for a debugger quite frequently recently.

UPDATE (19 Sept 06): Radrails included debugging all along - check out my latest blog entry.

So, over the last few weeks I've been on a quest to find a decent RoR IDE with debugging, but with which I don't lose anything I've become accustomed to with RadRails, and which doesn't break the bank. This has proved not to be an easy task.

RubyInSteel is a free plug in for Visual Studio, which promised debugging, but after installing it I found that although it can debug ruby script, there is no support for rails debugging. Besides, the only SVN plug in I found for Visual Studio was ankh, which I couldn't get to work very well with my remote SVN repository.
(UPDATE: Since this was originally written, I've tried out the new version of RubyInSteel which does support rails debugging - see my next blog entry).

Arachno is a commercial standalone IDE which supports ruby on rails. This too claims to support rails debugging, and I found instructions in the ruby on rails wiki which detail how to set it up. I followed these instructions to the letter on my trial version of arachno, but to no avail. Maybe it was just lack of familiarity with this app, but I couldn't figure out why debugging wasn't working. The general feel of this IDE is a bit clunky and although it seems like there are lots of features, I wouldn't like to use it as an everyday editor. I never got as far as trying to get SVN to work with this one. Maybe if I can find out where I went wrong with the debugging, I'll give it a go, as arachno is pretty cheap at $49 for the personal version.

Komodo is another commercial standalone IDE supporting RoR, and I actually got this one to debug a controller method by following these very simple instructions. However, running your rails app in debug mode through komodo is very sluggish. For example, my rails server which normally fielded page requests almost instantaneously on my dev-PC sometimes took 30 or more seconds per page under debug mode in komodo.... but, when a breakpoint was actually hit, the IDE seemed to respond fairly well to clicking the step-over/in/out buttons. I also got SVN to integrate OK too, although I had to install a separate svn client - something which you don't need to do in RadRails - and accessing SVN functions caused the IDE to crash on me once. All in all, komodo is quite slick and if it wasn't for the weighty price tag of $295 for the professional edition (you don't get SVN support in the personal edition), I would be very tempted. The jury (me) is still out on this one.

So after all that I think that, in the short term, I'll have a bit more of a play with komodo during my free trial to see if it really justifies spending over 150 pounds. I might just sit it out and wait for RadRails 0.8, as it does everything else so well (and its free!).

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1 comment:

Bill said...

Great summary of the options! I look forward to more installments of the quest for a RoR debugger.