Managing Ruby

In the Ruby community you have a lot of choices when it comes to versions of the language and implementations. This is part of the reason I love Ruby but it can also become hell unless you have a way of managing your development environment and project specific dependencies. What you need is an easy way to switch between Ruby versions along with the context on either a local directory or system-wide basis.

I recently changed Ruby version manager and thought I’d write it down for posterity and in case others might like to do the same.

  1. Ruby version switcher - chruby
  2. Ruby version installer - ruby-install
  3. Switch Ruby version based on context - .ruby-version
  4. Project specific dependency management - bundler

Ruby Version Switcher

chruby is new when compared with the other options like rvm or rbenv however I decided to make the switch because I like it’s design simplicity and I feel it adheres to the Unix Philosophies better than the other. For instance, rvm doesn’t just do one thing, it can install Ruby versions, manage gemsets and more. In addition it overrides cd for context switching which for many is a major violation. rbenv on the other hand only manages Ruby versions however it does context switching through a series of shims each time any Ruby or gem binary is executed and requires you to run rbenv rehash whenever a new binary is installed. This is very cumbersome and unnecessarily complicated.

chruby takes a different, simpler approach. At it’s core, it only modifies a few environment variables so the correct binary and set of libraries are loaded and uses PROMPT_COMMAND to switch between contexts.

There are several ways of installing chruby. Since I develop on OSX, I used the following with Homebrew.

brew install chruby

Next, add the following line to your profile file (e.g. .bashrc or .zshrc, etc). This will allow chruby to search for installed Ruby versions (located in ~/.rubies or /opt/rubies by default):

source /usr/local/opt/chruby/share/chruby/

Note: Terminal in OSX opens a login shell and doesn’t source ~/.bashrc like other *inux flavors. To solve this, “require” the ~/.bashrc file by adding the following to your ~/.bash_profile:

[[ -s ~/.bashrc ]] && source ~/.bashrc

Ruby Version Installer

Since I like the approach of chruby I decided to use ruby-install by the same author instead of ruby-build for Ruby version installing. This is necessary because chruby only “changes” the version being used. Type the following to install it on OSX with Homebrew:

brew install ruby-install

Once installed, ruby-install makes it dead simple to install Ruby versions. To see a list of available Ruby versions type:


To install Ruby MRI 2.0 and 1.9, type:

ruby-install ruby
ruby-install ruby 1.9

Auto-switching Ruby versions

With chruby, you can auto-switch your Ruby version when you cd (change context) between different projects. When you enter a directory containing a .ruby-version file, chruby will automatically switch things for you. To opt in to this feature, add the following to your profile (e.g. .bashrc or .zshrc, etc):

source /usr/local/share/chruby/

With auto-switching enabled, you can set your “default” Ruby version to 1.9 by dropping a .ruby-version into your $HOME directory with the following:


You can also specify which version of Ruby to use on a project by project basis by adding a .ruby-version file to the “root” directory.

Installing project dependencies

With Bundler, you can easily share your project across development environments and other team members. It maintains a consistent environment by installing dependencies specified in a Gemfile and make them available to your application.

Type the following to install:

gem install bundler

Next, create a Gemfile in the “root” directory of your project. This can be done by running the following in Terminal:

bundle init

Open the Gemfile add your specific dependencies:

source ''

gem 'rack'
gem 'rspec', :require => 'spec'

By default, bundler will install dependencies to your default system location for gems. While this is great, I prefer to keep things local whenever possible. To install them to vendor/bundle type:

bundle install --path vendor/bundle

This creates a Gemfile.lock file in your project. This file is basically a manifest that describes the specific versions of the dependencies when your application last worked correctly.

To run executables that come with a gem installed with bundler use:

bundle exec rspec spec/models

Or you can create scoped shortcuts to the executables. By typing the following, bundler will install them into the bin directory of your project:

bundle install --binstubs

To execute them, type the following:

bin/rspec spec/models


Below are the entries for my ~/.bashrc file:

if [[ -e /usr/local/share/chruby ]]; then
  source /usr/local/opt/chruby/share/chruby/
  source /usr/local/share/chruby/
  chruby $(cat ~/.ruby-version)

Overall I think that chrbuy with bundler is a simple and elegant solution for managing Ruby versions and individual project dependencies.

Published 31 Dec 2013 in Programming with tags: Tools, Ruby, CLI.

Urban Faubion

Urban is a designer and developer with a love for creating digital products and services. He has a broad range of professional expertise in design, design research, interaction and user experience design, user interface development, software engineering and prototyping. He also enjoys playing soccer, bike touring, rock climbing, teaching mountaineering and traveling as much as possible.