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Rails Session ArgumentError: key too long [SOLVED]


I am migrating an app from one version of Ruby to another. In my rollout I decided to first launch one server using the new version of Ruby 1.9.2 and adjust the load balancer to only move over about 10% of the traffic to it. I noticed in newrelic that within 10 minutes there were tons of exceptions like:

ArgumentError: key too long "rt:BAh7Czozg3OWY4MWRkMjAyYjlkNzljNmUwNWYwZDRhMDQ6F
Stack trace (hide Rails)
/path/shared/bundle/ruby/1.8/gems/memcache-client-1.8.5/lib/memcache.rb:703:in `get_server_for_key'
/path/shared/bundle/ruby/1.8/gems/memcache-client-1.8.5/lib/memcache.rb:920:in `request_setup'
/path/shared/bundle/ruby/1.8/gems/memcache-client-1.8.5/lib/memcache.rb:885:in `with_server'
/path/shared/bundle/ruby/1.8/gems/memcache-client-1.8.5/lib/memcache.rb:246:in `get_MemCache_read'
/path/shared/bundle/ruby/1.8/gems/actionpack-2.3.8/lib/action_controller/session/mem_cache_store.rb:31:in `get_session'

The interesting thing was that none of these errors were coming from the new server, but something on the new ruby server was breaking the other, so here is what I found was the problem.


The new server was configured to use the cookie store and the others were using memcached store. It sounds stupid and it is, but it wasn’t so easy to figure out at first. When I googled for the error I noticed that none of the issues had solutions, so thats why I decided to write this post.

In short, the session[:session_id] with the default cookie store passes both the session data and the session key into the cookie, and the memcached/db store’s only put the session_id from the cookie as session[:session_id].

May your session keys be truly keys!

Ruby 1.9.2, Encoding UTF-8 and Rails: invalid byte sequence in US-ASCII

Ruby 1.9.2, Encoding UTF-8 and Rails: invalid byte sequence in US-ASCII

written by Paul on January 20th, 2011 @ 12:05 AM

While working on a migration from ruby 1.8.7 to 1.9.2, I ran into some issues with encoding. Fortunately, we are using PostgreSQL and the database drivers are pretty good for UTF-8 support and encoding tagging, but there were still some snags in a few areas of my code.

My company, has pretty custom urls structures. Because of the concern of having multiple urls go to the same content and appearing to Google to be doing something bad, we have come code that ensures that the url that was requested is the same url that we would have generated and if it wasn’t we would redirect.

In this code, we generate a url and compare it to the value ofrequest.request_uri to see if we should redirect or not. On issue that came up is that Nginx and Passenger encode the unicode characters and Rack turns it into Binary, which is ASCII-8bit, but its really just means that no encoding is assigned.

In the browser a url might look like this:


But when my code genrated the url it looked like this:


The above could easily be fixed with this:


Then I had issued where I had a URL (request.request_uri) like:


It was ASCII-8bit which is really a way of saying that its binary or in other words that no encoding is set. The solution was pretty easy, I just assigned it the encoding that I knew it should be:

  # => "/h-336461-amboise_hotel-château_de_noizay"

Then I had an issue where templates/views were breaking due to some data in a haml view thinking that the test was ASCII: The test was supposed to look like this “Details for Château de Noizay,” but haml raised an exception “ActionView::TemplateError (invalid byte sequence in US-ASCII).”

After digging around a bit I was able to configure Apache (on my mac) by adding the following to the /etc/profile.

export LANG=en_US.UTF-8

Then after restarting Apache on my mac, I refreshed, and when I did, the text that was supposed to look like “Details for Château de Noizay” ended up looking like “Details for Ch 도teau de Noizay”.

I was about to write my own hybrid asian/latin based languages but instead added the following to my environment.rb and everything seemed to come together like I had hoped it would.

Encoding.default_internal = 'UTF-8'

Now that my app was able to run without encoding errors, I said “yeah!”

Hope this scribble scrabble helps some poorly encoded soul.

Thanks to a few articles I was not only reminded of some of the basics of encoding but learned to embrace the new changes within Ruby 1.9.2. We’ll see how tomorrow goes. 😉


Crawlable AJAX for SPEED with Rails

Recently at work we have been focusing our efforts on increasing overall performance of our site. Many of our pages have a lot of content on them, some might say too much. Thanks to Newrelic, we identified a couple of partials that were slow (consumed ~60% of the time) but could not just remove them from our page and the long term fix was going to be put into place over the coming weeks. Long story short, we though that it would be better to speed up the initial page load time and then call the more expensive partials asynchronously using separate AJAX calls. That way the page time would be faster and the slow parts would be split up between requests.

The Problem: Google’s Crawler doesn’t like AJAX (normally)

Googlebot still does not load javascript and perform AJAX calls. Because of this we don’t get credit from google for the content that we loaded on AJAX—which is a bummer and a show stopper for us. Duplicate content is bad forSEO and Google will come to our pages and see that they are similar, even though the user sees the relevant content as the page loads, it will “think” that our pages are mostly the same (header and footer, etc.)

The Solution: Google allows for Crawlable AJAX

On their site, Google suggests that sites that have AJAX on them use a particular approach to making them crawlable. I won’t go into the details of how google supports this because its all stated in their paper, but I did want to focus on how I implemented the solution.

Before I continue I want to say that I was hesitant to do this because at first glance I didn’t think it was be easy or effective, I was wrong and I apologize to my friend Chris Sloan for doubting him in the beginning as he proposed the idea. (he made me include this in the post and threatened my life if I didn’t)

Google basically wants to be able to see the ajaxified page as a whole static page, so they pass an argument to the page and in turn we are supposed to render the whole page without the need to call AJAX to fill portions of the page with content.

I wanted to funnel the AJAX calls for different partials though a single action within our site so I didn’t have to build out custom routes and custom actions for each partial, which would be extremely messy to maintain.

The Code

So here is a simple example of the approach we took:

Created a single action that tooked for specific classes and then made requests to the server passing a couple of key parameters: /ajaxified?component=&url=<%= request.request_uri %>

    module AJAXified # include this in a controller (or the app controller)

      # HOWTO
      # To add a new AJAX section, do the following:
      # 1) Write a test in crawlable_spec for the new container and url
      # 2) Add the new method/container to the the ALLOWED_CALLS array      
      # 3) Add the new method below so it sets required instance variables


      def is_crawler?

      # Actual Instance Setting Methods Are BELOW This Line

      # Note: each method needs to return the partial/template to render

      def bunch_o_things(options=nil)
        @thing ||= Thing.find(options[:params][:id])

        @things_for_view = @thing.expensive_call

      # Actual Instance Setting Methods Are ABOVE This Line

      public # below is the actual main ajax action

      def ajaxified
        raise "method \"#{params[:container]}\"is not allowed for AJAX crawlable" unless ALLOWED_CALLS.include? params[:container].to_sym

        raw_route = ActionController::Routing::Routes.recognize_path(params[:url],:method=>:get)
        request.params[:crawlable_controller] = raw_route[:controller]
        request.params[:crawlable_action]     = raw_route[:action]

        render :template => self.send(
          params[:container].to_sym, :params => request.params
        ), :layout => false


I needed to ensure that the method :is_crawler? is available within views as controller.is_crawler?

  hide_action :is_crawler?

In the controller action where the code would have normally been executed, we need to add a check for crawler so we don’t execute code that is not needed.

def show
    @thing = Thing.find(params[:id])

    if is_crawler?
      # sets @things_for_view

In the view:

<article id="things" data-crawlable="<%= controller.is_crawler? ? 'false' : 'true' %>">
  <% if controller.is_crawler? or request.xhr? %>
    <% @things_for_view.each do |thing| %>
      ... potentially expensive stuff ...
    <% end %>
  <% end %>

Because I had to water the code down a bit to show how it works ingeneral, this code is not tested nor has it been executed as is. I actually had to add more stuff around the project I did for work in order for it it work as we needed it to.

The general idea here is to centralize the partial render, reduce duplication within the controller and ensure that the code that slowed the partial down to begin with is not executed when the page is not being crawled.

In the end, we were able to reduce the initial request by ou users by 60% and google is able to crawl our site as it always had.


Saving time with Threads the Ruby way

I have been working on some projects that require me to do multiple serial webservice calls using soap and http clients. As you might guess without concurrency its such a waste waiting for the network IO and its ends up being accumulative in times—the more service calls the slower it gets (.5s+1s+2s+1s+1s = 5.5seconds). Originally I wasn’t worried because I knew I would come back and tweak the performance by using threads and so today was the day for me to get it going. Before I got too crazy coding i wanted to run some basic benchmarks just to see if it would really end up making things faster. Here is what I did: { |rep|"non-threading") { 
    1.upto(100) { |count|
      amount_rest = rand(4)
      # puts "##{count}: sleeping for #{amount_rest}" 
      # puts "##{count}: woke up from a #{amount_rest} second sleep" 
  }"threading") { 
    threads = []
    1.upto(100) { |c|
      threads << { |count| 
        amount_rest = rand(4)
        # puts "##{count}: sleeping for #{amount_rest}" 
        # puts "##{count}: woke up from a #{amount_rest} second sleep" 
    while !( == 1 and == false)
     # puts "will check back soon" 

benchmark        user     system      total        real
non-threading  0.100000   0.290000   0.390000 (142.005792)
threading          0.010000   0.020000   0.030000 (  3.182716)

As you can see, the threading in Ruby works really well as long as each thread is not doing anything CPU intensive. Even though ruby 1.8.7 does not support native threads, the threading, as you can see above, does work well. When all was said and done, I ended up making more than a 100% improvement and it will work a bit better if and when we have to do more requests concurrently.

I do however look forward to using ruby 1.9, but this will do the trick for me now.

Real Travel Acquired by Uptake and The Back Story

Today is the day that it has become public knowledge that my company Real Travel has been acquired by Uptake Networks. It’s been over 5 years since I wrote the first line of PHP code for Real Travel. I wanted to share a bit about my ride so far and I look forward to even more excitement within Real Travel as part of the Uptake Network.

Real Travel’s Conception

Over 5 years ago I was introduced by to Ken Leeder by a mutual friend of ours. After a few breakfast meetings with a few of us (Michael T., Christina B., and Ken L.) we put together some wireframes and I went to work in the moonlight. Six months later we had a pilot/prototype that was built by me using PHP/MySQL with some help from a contract designer who gave me some photoshop designs. (Christina also helped with some of the design.) The application was quite simple then; we had lists of hotels in destinations and a review form for hotels.

A few more months later I quit my job [yes, the link no longer works.:)] and the company was incorporated, and our initial seed round of fundingwas coming together. This was also the time that we hired a new CTO and Chief Architect (who are no longer with us.) The decision was made to rewrite the pilot using the then beta ASP.NET 2. I pushed back but other were more familiar with Microsoft technologies and won the battle. Knowing now what was coming next, in retrospect I wish I had fought harder for an open source LAMP stack that couldn’t scale.

The Pain of Learning What You Already Knew (Again)

There was a “culture” clash in respect to development and design approaches. Within three months we went from my pilot’s 5-10K lines of PHPcode and uber simple database schema, you know the kind that you can mange from the command-line without a plethora of GUI tools, to over 100K lines of code of C# and a object oriented db schema in PostgreSQL (not the built in kind of object oriented that PostgreSQL provides, but a new home grown schema that was designed for fourth normal form.)

I will never forget the day when our architect showed the database schema relation map, it looked like a ball of yarn with so many relationship lines that the shapes of tables themselves were indistinguishable as rectangles. This was my first run in with doing it the “right” way the first time fallacy, at least to this extreme. As an engineer with then 5 years of experience I expressed my concern with the complexity but was quickly extinguished by the group-think cliches like “this is how the big guys do it.”

We started to release our site weekly and launched our site at the Web 2.0 Conference Launch Pad. The development was slow due to the complexity of the database. Not kidding, it took about 10 SQL inserts in order to add a single photo to the database; tables for strings, dates, root objects, photo, photo renditions, and so on.

During the year or two following…. a lot of “fun” happened”….. and our site’s architecture was extremely brittle and we spent a good part of our time debugging strange bugs, slow queries (with at least 5 if not 8 joins in them,) and strange IIS bugs. (A very educational experience for me building the ivory tower inefficiently.)

Born Again

I was playing with a new toy on the side called Ruby on Rails and became really enchanted in the framework and the Ruby language its self. I finally felt free from the 90 second compile time and memory cache load that ourASP.NET app required between code changes. It reminded me of thePHP/MySQL days and I realizes just how horribly over engineered our system was. I started to propose a rewrite but it went over like a lead balloon, but this did not deter me. I did freelance projects in Rails and PHPjust to keep my sanity. I believed in Real Travel and didn’t want to leave; I was drawn in by the opportunity to be the catalyst for positive change the second I was given a chance. The time would come.

As time went on and our releases became more distant apart, and our site became slower and slower, my challenge to rewrite the site became that much more appealing, but it was becoming a bigger task each day. Each time I had to change a line of code I had to wait (And wait) for hours to compile the app, start it and test it, then more hours and even days to release it, I would say “if this were Ruby on Rails it would have been done a while ago.” We knew as a company that something had to be done and as a team we were unable to develop new features and move our company forward.

As a company, we were forced by the market to change our midset, and accepted that something had to be done but a port to Rails was still out of the question. We attempted to de-normalize our tables and rewrite the code base in ASP.NET and C#, but that only proved to take even more time and we were still on ASP.NET.

A New Chapter With Ruby on Rails

It wasn’t easy, but I continued to champion the move to Ruby on Rails and we started to build all of our new development on it. We ended up having two applications, the main one was APS.NET the new one Ruby on Rails. With a use of a load balancer we were able to make much of this transparent and we found ourselves spending must of out time where it could count—on the Rails application. In fact there was a time where only one Windows development machine existed on a desk in case we had to make a change to the old system we could make the change, test it, and then push the code to production. After many many long discussions and debates we finally made the decision to make the port to Rails. It was also about this time that we decided that unless we started to use SCRUM we would either all quit or jump off of a bridge.

SCRUM, Agile, TDD/BDD, Quality, and Accountability

We had all learned our lesson. As a company we went to SCRUM training and this was one of the most pivotal points in my tener at Real Travel (or in my career.) We began to form good process and better working relationships. I begin to jump into rspec and getting the quality built in to the product it was a start, each day getting better and better.

About 11 two-week sprints later (579 story points) we had a new version ofReal Travel up and running on Ruby on Rails. I had the pleasure of powering down the last windows server—it was nice after all of the pain.

Nothing was stopping us: continuous improvement, open communication, retrospectives, developer productivity, and backlog directed self organized team. Within a year we ported the system and made major improvements to our site and even started to make some decent revenue. The summer of 2009 was great for us, major traffic gains, increased revenue, and then the Google problems started. Although I did the Rails development I could not have done it without Chris Sloan and Francisco Marin as team members, peers, and heros.

Google: The Authoritarian Mime

I won’t bore you with the details in this post, but due to some spammed pages in our site Google had decided to kick us out of their index and not tell us why. Fortunately after some time we found the problem (we found and deleted some pages that were link spammed with V1agra links and had 5K links pointing into them) and once it was fixed our traffic started to come back a bit.

Then months later we had another problem with a load balancer configuration which caused our old site’s links to become 404s. This was not obvious to us right away, but like the other Google problems, it was a problems for us and affected our traffic. We fixed the problem but we were cut deeply but the two complications. Our traffic started coming back along with our revenues, but it was slower and was a long rough ride. Traffic and revenues were going in the right direction however. We knew we could get our traffic back and get things going so we marched on.

Becoming “That” Team and Company

Through the couple of years we started to tune our SCRUM process and went from two-week sprints to one week sprints, one day planning meetings to 1 hour planning meetings, and one a week releases to releasing multiple times we day with continuous release. It started to become really exhilarating when we could run an on the street low-fi paper test with the kind people of Palo Alto, come up with some up hypothesis on a change, push out a split test (aka. AB test) and then release the winner in a day. If there was a bug and it affected our site, we could have the fix out in minutes.

What Now?

With traffic bouncing back we were engaged by Uptake and I will let Tech Crunch, and the many other blogs tell the rest of the story. I consider myself privileged to be able to learn with and from my fellow team members and ride the ebbs and flos from the first line of code that I wrote on that first pilot and I look forward to the future as Uptake and Real Travel aim to provide the best travel experiences on the web.

So, Sloan, pull the next test from the top of the test queue and lets test it!

Mongrel to Passenger with CPanel

I host this blog on slicehost and used to have a couple of slices, one for rails, and one for client sites, php, email etc. Just a few hours ago I moved my blog from my Rails slice to what I call my CPanel slice using passenger and the process was smooth sailing. In the process I decided to leverage what I learned about Cpanel and Passenger and I created a gem calledcpanel-passenger which can be found on github.

The gem just installs a command called cpanel-passenger that takes a bunch of parameters to modify the Apache config in a way that will not make Cpanel upset.

There is a lot of work to do to make this script do all that one would want, but at least it makes setting up a rails app on passenger a simpler task with Cpanel. Feel free to fork the gem and add to it. Its just a matter of time and the Cpanel folks will bundle passenger as a supported module, but until then try this out on your VPS that is running Cpanel.


A default route gone 404 when it should

UPDATE: This worked for Rails < 2.0, but now you should follow something like this

Rails routes are a critical piece of a rails application. One issue about the routes is that there isn’t a default route for the home page of an application. Typically, one would create a controller and create a route for a default controller and default action. Here is what one of mine looks like:

map.root :controller => 'main', :action => 'home'

There is one problem with this. The url will go to the main controller and will throw an “no action/ no id given” exception which will result in a 500 error. This is not what you want for SEO or otherwise.

The solution is quite simple, all you have to do is add a method missing to the main controller and add a method missing that logs and renders a real 404 page and http status.

  def method_missing(method, *args)
    logger.warn "action #{method} dos not exist, 404" 
    render :file => File.join(RAILS_ROOT, 'public', '404.html'), :status => 404

There may be better ways to do this, but this is one way around the false 500 errors, especially if your likely to get old inbound links to your site.

Making the Rails Request Profiler and KCacheGrind Play

I have been working on optimizing my companies site after porting over many features. I have been finding the newer rails performance tools including the request profiler to be very helpful in this effort. Ryan Bates put out a great screencast on request profiling that will get you started, but if your app has any complexity, you will find out quickly like I did that the html file gets too large and is not very helpful when it crashes your browser. 😉

Assuming that you have already installed KCacheGrind on your Mac usingfink, you can do the following:

# Open up the request_profiler.rb in the actionpack gem (the code that is used by ./script/performance/request)

mate /Library/Ruby/Gems/1.8/gems/actionpack-2.2.2/lib/action_controller/request_profiler.rb

# Add the following lines of ruby to the show_profile_results method at the bottom. "#{RAILS_ROOT}/tmp/profile-call-tree.kcg", 'w' do |file|
           `kcachegrind #{file.path}` if options[:open]

Now next time you run the request profiler you will see the KCacheGrind open up with the call tree output in it, yeah!

Changing Session Store in Rails

TIP: If you change the sessions store in rails, I would recommend also changing the session_id so your app doesn’t blow up with 500 errors on every request.

I changed the store from cookie based sessions (the default) to memcached based sessions.

Automatic hidden form fields and lightview

Ever needed to automatically add a hidden field in a form? Here is what I did to make it happen.

Not sure if its the best solution, but it worked for me… at least until the next rails release. 😉

In the original form_for code it creates a form tag which prints out the templates in the blog that is passed to it. There is a method that creates the opening form tag and it already creates extra_tags. All I do it add an additional concatenated string to the fields with the result of a custom method that I created called my_custom_extra_tags. Anything the method returns will be added to each form.

module ActionView::Helpers::FormTagHelper

  # form_tag_html overridden on line 454 in actionpack-2.2.2/lib/action_view/helpers/form_tag_helper.rb

  # original
  # def form_tag_html(html_options)
  #   extra_tags = extra_tags_for_form(html_options)
  #   tag(:form, html_options, true) + extra_tags
  # end

  # modified
  def form_tag_html(html_options)
    extra_tags = extra_tags_for_form(html_options)
    tag(:form, html_options, true) + extra_tags + my_custom_extra_tags

  def my_custom_extra_tags
     (params[:lightview].blank? ? '' : hidden_field_tag(:lightview, params[:lightview]))


I used this to show the same controller action with different templates and in my application controller I determine which template to show from a passed in parameter that cannot be lost or the template will revert back to the default template. Now all I have to do is pass a parameter lightview to the iframe source and the correct template will show before and after the form inside the iframe is submitted.

Hope this was helpful.