In this post, I’ll talk about hot to get started developing Ruby applications for Windows Azure. I'll go over the basic things I’ll be using, optional things that are nice to have, and why I’m using some things instead of others.
If you have something that you think I’m missing that is useful when working with Ruby on Windows Azure, or that’s an alternative to one of the things I mention, leave a comment and I’ll add it to my list.

Basic Requirements

To start developing Ruby applications for the Windows Azure platform you’ll need a few things:

The Ruby language

There are several versions of the Ruby language, as well as variants such as IronRuby, JRuby, or Rubinius. For most of my blog posts I’ll be using plain old MRI Ruby.  Specifically I’ll be using RubyInstaller 1.9.2 and DevKit for my Windows environment and the MRI/YARV version that Ruby Version Manager installs for OS X.  If there’s a lot of interest in Ruby 1.8.7, IronRuby, JRuby, etc., I can write about those also (please leave a comment if you'd like me to). But, I believe the things I’ll be explaining should work mostly the same between recent versions and distributions.

A Windows Azure subscription

In order to use Windows Azure, you need a subscription.  There are a variety of offers, as well as a free trial.  http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/pricing/ has pricing information and links to the free trial and http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/gg433024.aspx provides information on the subscription process.

A web framework

Hosting an application on Windows Azure means hosting a service, generally a web service.  When I hear ‘Ruby’ and ‘web application’, I usually think Ruby on Rails.  Rails is a web framework that lets you quickly and easily create websites in Ruby.

There are other web frameworks though, such as Sinatra, which provides a more bare bones framework. I will try to keep my examples generic so that the concept can be used from whatever framework you’re developing with.

A web browser that runs Silverlight

The Windows Azure Management portal is a Silverlight web application that allows you to provision Windows Azure services and deploy applications.  You can bypass the portal to a certain extent by using REST APIs to provision services, or the waz-cmd tool that wraps some of the APIs and provides a command line interface for management tasks. Currently you can’t access everything through REST though, so the browser isn’t optional (yet.)

(Optional) a non-Azure Windows Installation

In general, a local version of Windows is optional.  Since Ruby isn’t a .NET language, and since you can access most of the services the Windows Azure platform provides via REST APIs or other HTTP based methods, you usually don’t need Windows for testing.  However, if you’re application uses a gem that includes a binary and you plan on deploying to Windows Azure, you can install the gems in question on a Windows environment and see if there are any problems.

A local Windows install also allows you to install the tools + SDK from http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/learn/getstarted/, which gives you Visual Studio 2010 and the Windows Azure Development environment. The development environment provides a compute (hosting) emulator and a storage emulator that are useful for testing deployment packages before deploying to Windows Azure.

(Optional) Visual Studio 2010

Visual Studio is also optional thanks to pre-packaged deployment solutions like Smarx Role and AzureRunMe.  These solutions generally make it easier to run Ruby applications in Windows Azure buy allowing you to customize the command line to run your application, pull your application code in from a .zip file, or even download it from a Git repository. However if you want to customize either of these solutions you’ll need Visual Studio.

I’ll either be using Smarx Role or AzureRunMe to deploy my code to Windows Azure.  I’ll save a discussion of both deployment options in a later post.

Other stuff

  • Waz-cmd: A gem that exposes some Windows Azure management APIs to the command line
  • Waz-storage: A gem that encapsulates the Windows Azure Storage Services REST APIs
  • TinyTDS: A FreeTDS library for connecting to SQL Server and SQL Azure. NOTE: Currently requires a manual build sequence in order to work with SQL Azure.

Setting everything up

Here’s the steps to install the basics that I’ll be using:

  1. Install a Ruby distribution for your operating system. For example, on Windows I’ll install RubyInstaller, then DevKit, then follow the steps at https://github.com/oneclick/rubyinstaller/wiki/Development-Kit to configure and test DevKit.
  2. Download Small.cspkg and ServiceConfiguration.cscfg from http://smarxrole.codeplex.com/releases/view/68772.
  3. Download AzureRuneMe.cspkg and ServiceConfiguration.cscfg from https://github.com/RobBlackwell/AzureRunMe.

To verify that you’ve successfully installed Ruby, create a file named hello.rb containing the following text:

puts ‘Hello world!’

To run this application, type ruby hello.rb. You should see “Hello world!” returned.

In the next post I’ll go into detail on deploying web applications to Windows Azure using the Smarx Role and AzureRunMe projects, and why you need these projects in the first place.