RubyGems /etc/gemrc

RubyGems now allows you to set the path to where your (and the systems) gems are installed using a System Wide Config File: /etc/gemrc. This is really useful to those packaging RubyGems for different operating systems as it avoids nasty hacks or coercing the GEM_PATH to a specific value every time RubyGems are run. The format of the file is like this:

gem: --no-rdoc --no-ri
gemhome: /var/ruby/1.8/gem_home
gempath:
 - /usr/ruby/1.8/lib/ruby/gems/1.8

Here it's specified that by default rdoc and ri should not be built when installing gems and the gemhome and gempath configuration variables are set. With the /etc/gemrc set as above `gem environment` gives this output:

RubyGems Environment:
  - RUBYGEMS VERSION: 1.2.0
  - RUBY VERSION: 1.8.6 (2007-09-23 patchlevel 110) [i386-solaris2.11]
  - INSTALLATION DIRECTORY: /var/ruby/1.8/gem_home
  - RUBY EXECUTABLE: /usr/ruby/1.8/bin/ruby
  - EXECUTABLE DIRECTORY: /var/ruby/1.8/gem_home/bin
  - RUBYGEMS PLATFORMS:
    - ruby
    - x86-solaris-2.11
  - GEM PATHS:
     - /var/ruby/1.8/gem_home
     - /usr/ruby/1.8/ruby/lib/gems/1.8
  - GEM CONFIGURATION:
     - :update_sources => true
     - :verbose => true
     - :benchmark => false
     - :backtrace => false
     - :bulk_threshold => 1000
     - "gemhome" => "/var/ruby/1.8/gem_home"
     - "gempath" => ["/usr/ruby/1.8/ruby/lib/gems/1.8"]
  - REMOTE SOURCES:
     - http://gems.rubyforge.org/

The actual values from /etc/gemrc are printed out in the "GEM CONFIGURATION" section, but they have actually had an affect on the "INSTALLATION DIRECTORY" (where gems are installed to), "EXECUTABLE DIRECTORY" (where gem binaries such as rails are installed to) and "GEM PATHS" which is the paths that the gem command will use to locate gems. This comes into effect when you run commands like `gem environment`, `gem query`, 'gem list --local` and most importantly when checking for dependencies when installing new gems.

Now the downside, the values for gempath and gemhome really are only used when running the gem command. They do not come into play when actually using a ruby gem. An example: As part of as system setup, the Ruby on Rails 2.1.0 gem is installed to /usr/ruby/1.8/lib/ruby/gems/1.8 using the --install-dir switch with `gem install`. Then the Ruby on Rails 2.0.2 gem is installed to the default Gem Home (/var/ruby/1.8/gem_home). The `rails` binaries installed by each are just wrapper scripts that call out to the rails gem, but the rails command does allow you to specify the version of Ruby on Rails that you want to use with the following syntax:

rails _2.0.2_ my_test_app

With "_2.0.2_" being the version that you want to use. If you run this with the setup as described above, where rails 2.1.0 is installed in one directory and rails 2.0.2 is installed in another and where you have only set the Gem Path through /etc/gemrc the following happens:

grond% rails _2.0.2_ my_test_app
 /usr/ruby/1.8/lib/ruby/site_ruby/1.8/rubygems.rb:580:in `report_activate_error': RubyGem version error: rails(2.1.0 not = 2.0.2) (Gem::LoadError)
        from /usr/ruby/1.8/lib/ruby/site_ruby/1.8/rubygems.rb:134:in `activate'
        from /usr/ruby/1.8/lib/ruby/site_ruby/1.8/rubygems.rb:49:in `gem'
        from /var/ruby/1.8/gem_home/bin/rails:18

This shows that it could not find the Ruby on Rails 2.0. gem anywhere on the path it was using to locate gems. The path it used was the default path constructed from the various paths in the Ruby config file: rbconfig.rb and as Ruby is installed to /usr/ruby/1.8 this is /usr/ruby/1.8/lib/ruby/gems/1.8 on OpenSolaris.

The fix is to use the GEM_PATH environment variable, if this is set, then the paths that it specifies will be included for any usage of Ruby Gems, be it the using the `gem` command or actually running the gems themselves.

When running the gem command a Gem::ConfigFile instance is create and it is this that actually reads and parses the /etc/gemrc file. The gemhome and gempath values are extracted from the ConfigFile instance by Gem::GemRunner which is the base class for running 'gem' commands, these values are then pushed into the Gem.path class variable which is used throughout RubyGems. However, when running or loading a gem, the only setting of the Gem.path is done by checking to see if GEM_PATH is set, if it is then it's values are used, if it isn't then the default path is used.

I can only suppose that this was done deliberately but I can't at the moment see why that would be. It seems to make sense that GEM_PATH and gempath (in /etc/gemrc) would do the same thing.

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