DIY PaaS – staging an app

Perhaps the best way to feel confident using Cloud Foundry is to know how it works. And perhaps the best way to learn how it works is to rebuilt it from the ground up. In the DIY PaaS articles, we will re-build Cloud Foundry from the ground up piece-by-piece. This is article number 2, and we’re going to take a specific application, stage it into a generic droplet, and run it.


At the core of Cloud Foundry, or your own DIY PaaS, is a way to run arbitrary applications – Ruby, Java, PHP. The DEA, which actually runs applications, doesn’t know anything about types of applications. Something else needs to create the droplets for the DEAs which know about Ruby language and about Ruby on Rails framework, for example.

It’s a stager that creates droplets.

Skip the tutorial, just run something quickly for me!

You’re busy. You want to see something shiny. Here, run this and you’ll see a Stager and a DEA running, and being told to stage and then run a Ruby/Sinatra application via a message bus:

cd /tmp
git clone
cd staging-apps-in-cloudfoundry
git submodule update --init
foreman start
# in another terminal
[2013-02-14 11:25:28] Setting up temporary directories
[2013-02-14 11:25:28] Downloading application
[2013-02-14 11:25:28] Unpacking application
[2013-02-14 11:25:28] Staging application
[2013-02-14 11:25:29] # Logfile created on 2013-02-14 11:25:29 -0800 by logger.rb/31641
[2013-02-14 11:25:29] Auto-reconfiguration disabled because app does not use Bundler.
[2013-02-14 11:25:29] Please provide a Gemfile.lock to use auto-reconfiguration.
[2013-02-14 11:25:29] Creating droplet
[2013-02-14 11:25:29] Uploading droplet
[2013-02-14 11:25:31] Done!

Now, if you’d like to learn more about what just happened, then let’s get started!


Everything in this tutorial can be done on your local computer. The wonders of cloud computing are for another day. I already have Ruby 1.9.3 installed on my laptop and available in my $PATH.

As I go along, I’ll clone/submodule the Cloud Foundry repositories that I need and show the bare minimum configuration files. The final product is available in a git repository as a demonstration of the minimum parts of Cloud Foundry required to run an application.

Feeding the DEA with droplets

Each time you "add an instance" (1) of a running application, the DEA takes a packaged version of an application (a droplet), unpacks it, and runs a single startup script. The DEA knows nothing about Ruby or Java or PHP; it only knows about the startup script within the package. How does the package get created?

The package that includes an executable startup script and the original application is known to the DEA as a "droplet". It is created during a staging step. It is the staging step that knows about Ruby and Java and PHP applications and how to run them. This article investigates how Cloud Foundry stages an application and creates the package for DEAs.

The stager is nicely isolated from the rest of Cloud Foundry. Its only external dependencies are:

  • NATS server
  • HTTP endpoint for getting a zipped version of the application
  • HTTP endpoint for posting the droplet package

As I go along, I’ll reference the projects/repositories that I need and show configuration files and helper scripts.

Creating a droplet

The heart of the staging code is in vcap-staging

The goal of vcap-staging is to create a new folder structure that contains:

  • the user’s application (in app dirctory)
  • startup & stop scripts for the runtime/framework of the application
  • logs dirctory for the application’s STDOUT & STDERR logs
  • tmp dirctory for… temporary things; its the $TMPDIR for the application

To stage a specific application framework you choose a StagingPlugin subclass, initialize it and invoke #stage_application.

For example, I can stage an example sinatra application (in apps/sinatra)

staging_plugin_class = StagingPlugin.load_plugin_for("sinatra")
staging_plugin = staging_plugin_class.from_file(cfg_filename)
staging_plugin.stage_application # requires $PLATFORM_CONFIG

There are two prerequisites for the code above: the cfg_filename YAML file and another YAML file located at $PLATFORM_CONFIG.

An example config file for $PLATFORM_CONFIG is:

cache: /tmp/staging-apps-in-cloudfoundry/.vcap_gems
insight_agent: /var/vcap/packages/insight_agent/

An example config file (for cfg_filename) is:

source_dir: 'apps/sinatra/app'
dest_dir: '/tmp/staging-apps-in-cloudfoundry/staging/sinatra'
  services: []
    name: sinatra
      - ruby18:
          default: true
      - ruby19:
          default: false
      - "*.rb": "\\s*require[\\s\\(]*['\"]sinatra(/base)?['\"]" # .rb files in the root dir containing a require?
      - config/environment.rb: false # and config/environment.rb must not exist
    name: 'ruby19'
    executable: 'ruby'
    version: '1.9.3'
    memory: 256
    disk: 256
    fds: 1024

The resulting startup script is for our Sintra application is:

export RACK_ENV="${RACK_ENV:-production}"
export RUBYOPT="-rubygems -I$PWD/ruby -rstdsync"
export TMPDIR="$PWD/tmp"
mkdir ruby
echo "\$stdout.sync = true" >> ./ruby/stdsync.rb
cd app
%VCAP_LOCAL_RUNTIME% app.rb [email protected] > ../logs/stdout.log 2> ../logs/stderr.log &
echo "$STARTED" >> ../


This token is replaced by the DEA when it unpacks the staged package to use the runtime selected for the application. In this example, this might be the ruby executable for either the ruby18 or ruby19 runtimes.

Staging as a service

This staging code is not run within the DEA, nor is it run within the public API (called the Cloud Controller). It is its own service within a running Cloud Foundry installation.

We can fetch the Cloud Foundry stager service source code:

git clone git://
cd stager
cd ..

It is stager (distributed also as a rubygem vcap_stager) that uses the StagingPlugin library demonstrated above.

Like the DEA, the stager uses NATS to communicate. So let’s start nats-server and our stager.

$ nats-server &
$ env BUNDLE_GEMFILE=./stager/Gemfile ./stager/bin/stager -c config/stager.yml
["Starting nats-server version 0.4.28 on port 4222"]
[2012-11-13 17:08:57.317744] vcap.stager.server INFO -- Subscribed to staging
[2012-11-13 17:08:57.319005] vcap.stager.server INFO -- Server running

What is config/stager.yml?

  level: debug2
pid_filename: /tmp/staging-apps-in-cloudfoundry/stager/
nats_uri: nats://
max_staging_duration: 120
max_active_tasks: 10
queues: ['staging']
secure: false

Above we are running one stager. You can run multiple stagers within Cloud Foundry. Each of them watches a NATS queue staging (configuration queues above) and pops the requests off into an internal thread pool (configuration max_active_tasks sets the thread pool size, if you’re into optimizations based on the RAM & CPU of server running the stager).

That is, we can tell a stager to stage an application in preparation for deploying it to a DEA by publishing a message to NATS on a queue ‘staging’.

Talking to the Stager service

We use NATS to submit a request to a stager:

request = {
  "app_id"       => app_id,
  "properties"   => properties,
  "download_uri" => dl_uri,
  "upload_uri"   => ul_hdl.upload_uri,
NATS.request('staging', request.to_json) do |result|
  output = JSON.parse(result)

The properties document is equivalent to the cfg_filename contents from the vcap-staging example above.

See below for a fleshed out example. But first we need to look at download_uri and upload_uri.

What makes playing with the stager in isolation tricky is that you need to host the original source code via an HTTP URI (download_uri above). And even more tricky, you need to provide an HTTP endpoint for uploading the resulting staged package, (upload_uri above), which will then be used by DEAs.

In Cloud Foundry, the download/upload endpoints are in the Cloud Controller.

# routes.rb
post   'staging/droplet/:id/:upload_id' => 'staging#upload_droplet', :as => :upload_droplet
get    'staging/app/:id'                => 'staging#download_app',   :as => :download_unstaged_app

So, for our little isolation test of the stager we need a simple HTTP server to pretend to be the Cloud Controller.

# apps/staging_client_service/app.rb
require 'sinatra'
get '/download_unstaged_app/:id' do
  p params
  unstaged_app_tgz = File.expand_path("../../", __FILE__)
post '/upload_droplet/:id/:upload_id' do
  p params
  src_path = params[:upload][:droplet][:tempfile]
  droplet = params[:upload][:droplet][:tempfile].read
  puts "RECEIVED DROPLET: stager uploaded staged droplet #{src_path}"

Run our staging client app (our fake Cloud Controller, so to speak), in addition to the NATS server and stager application that are already running:

ruby apps/staging_client_service/app.rb -p 9292

We now have the three running pieces of the stager demonstration:

  • nats-server
  • stager
  • fake stager client endpoints

Finally, we need a little script to request the stager downloads a zipped application, and upload the staged version of it (called a "droplet") to our fake stager client.

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
# USAGE: bin/request_stager_to_stage_app
require "nats/client"
require "json"
QUEUE = 'staging' # as agreed in config/stager.yml
app_id = "my-sinatra-app"
stager_client = "http://localhost:9292"
upload_id = "upload_id"
NATS.start do
  NATS.subscribe('>') { |msg, reply, sub| puts "Msg received on [#{sub}] : '#{msg}'" }
  staging_request = {
    app_id: app_id,
    download_uri: "#{stager_client}/download_unstaged_app/#{app_id}",
    upload_uri: "#{stager_client}/upload_droplet/#{app_id}/#{upload_id}",
    # properties == 'environment' from config/stage-sinatra.yml
    properties: {
      services: [],
      framework_info: {
        name: "sinatra",
      runtime_info: {
        name: 'ruby19',
        executable: 'ruby',
        version: '1.9.3'
      resources: {
        memory: 256,
        disk: 256,
        fds: 1024
  NATS.request(QUEUE, staging_request.to_json) do |result|
    output = JSON.parse(result)
    puts output["task_log"]

It is the staging_request that tells the stager:

  • where to download a zipfile containing the application to be staged (download_uri)
  • where to upload the staged application, called a droplet
  • application details, such as framework (rails, lift, etc)

When we run our script it returns the task log from the stager, to tell us how the staging process went and to confirm that the droplet has been uploaded to where we told the stager to upload it.

$ ./bin/request_stager_to_stage_app
[2012-11-13 22:13:08] Setting up temporary directories
[2012-11-13 22:13:08] Downloading application
[2012-11-13 22:13:08] Unpacking application
[2012-11-13 22:13:08] Staging application
[2012-11-13 22:13:10] # Logfile created on 2012-11-13 22:13:10 -0800 by logger.rb/31641
[2012-11-13 22:13:10] Auto-reconfiguration disabled because app does not use Bundler.
[2012-11-13 22:13:10] Please provide a Gemfile.lock to use auto-reconfiguration.
[2012-11-13 22:13:10] Creating droplet
[2012-11-13 22:13:10] Uploading droplet
[2012-11-13 22:13:12] Done!


Cloud Foundry has a standalone service, stager, that listens for requests on NATS to stage a zipped application into a droplet – a package that contains the original application together with startup and stop scripts.

The only external dependencies are:

  • NATS server
  • HTTP endpoint for getting a zipped version of the application
  • HTTP endpoint for posting the droplet package

The stager has two main code bases:

  • stager – staging as a service, aka vcap-stager rubygem
  • vcap-staging – framework plugins for how to stage an application


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