Get started right with RVM

07 Sep 2010

I’ve always run Ruby, and I’ve always used RVM. But it’s not until recently when I attended Aarhusrb and @chopmo gave a talk on RVM, that I realized how wrong I was using RVM. Basically, I’m somewhat always using system Ruby, installing all gems with sudo. However, digging into RVM I found useful features, such as gemsets, installing gems on a user basis, .. Thus I realized I ideally should run my entire Ruby environment through RVM, instead of only using RVM for anything not supported by my system install.

Here are my new discoveries, compiled down to a blog post. Most of this can be found in the great RVM documentation.

Installing RVM

If you don’t already have RVM installed, you should do it now. It’s fairly simple to install:

$ bash < <( curl )

If there are > 1 users on your system wishing to use RVM, you may want to look into a system-wide installation

And then add what it says to .bashrc, .bash_profile or whatever you use.

$ echo '[[ -s "$HOME/.rvm/scripts/rvm" ]] && source "$HOME/.rvm/scripts/rvm"' >> .bashrc

What I hate about installing gems is that it’s slow due to ri and rdoc. I never use this local documentation anyway, and it’s faily easy to disable the generation of it; speeding up your gem installs a great deal. Just put this in your ~/.gemrc:

gem: --no-ri --no-rdoc

Verify whether the rvm command works, and use the chance to also check your system notes:

$ rvm notes

Uninstalling all gems in system Ruby (Optional)

Now this is not required, I just did it to clean my system. Therefore you can safely skip this step.

Now that you have RVM installed, you can simply empty the gemset (this’ll all make more sense later):

$ rvm gemset empty

Before running this you can take a backup of all your currently installed gems:

$ rvm gemset export backup.gems

This leaves you with a file, desribing all your system’s gems. (Quite a file, in my case). If you at some point need to install all these gems again, it’s simply a matter of running:

$ rvm gemset import backup.gems

We’ll talk a bit more about rvm gemset {import,export} later; why it’s as nifty as it is.

Installing Rubies

Rubies are essentially Ruby versions, let’s go ahead and get Ruby 1.9.2 first, and set that as our default interpreter. Afterwards, we’ll install Ruby 1.8.6. And then we’ll try to switch between the two environments.

Installing 1.9.2 is very easy, it’s simply a matter of issuing:

$ rvm install 1.9.2

It can take a while to install, since it compiles from source.
Let’s switch to it; verify it all works!

$ rvm 1.9.2
$ ruby -v
ruby 1.9.2p0 (2010-08-18 revision 29036) [i686-linux]

We want 1.9.2 to be our default interpreter:

$ rvm --default 1.9.2

Restart your shell, and run ruby -v to verify it’s all working as expcted. Let’s install 1.8.6 along with 1.9.2:

$ rvm install 1.8.6

And then we can switch to it, like we switched to 1.9.2 before:

$ rvm 1.8.6

(Which is a shortcut for rvm use 1.8.6). You are now up and running with two Ruby environments, congratulations!



The shortest explanation, is found within the name. Gem-sets.
RVM’s documentation puts it like this:

RVM gives you compartmentalized independent ruby setups. This means that ruby, gems and irb are all separate and self-contained from system and from each other.
You may even have separate named gemsets.
Let’s say, for example, that you are testing two versions of a gem with ruby 1.9.2-head. You can install one to the default 1.9.2-head and create a named gemset for the other version and switch between them easily.

Ideally you have a Gemset for each project that you are working on. This keeps your system clean, and eliminates “Gem clutter”. Also running bundle install will use the project defined gemset to also store the gems.

Creating and using a gemset

So let’s go ahead and create a gemset:

$ rvm gemset create foo # Create gemset 'foo'
'foo' gemset created (/home/sirup/.rvm/gems/ruby-1.9.2-p0@foo).

$ rvm 1.9.2@foo # Switch to Ruby 1.9.2 with gemset 'foo'
$ gem list # Lists installed gems
*** LOCAL GEMS ***

Let’s try to install a few gems in our new gemset, note again, we do shouldn’t use sudo to install gems, as that would install it outside of your gemset:

$ gem install rails
$ gem list
gem list
*** LOCAL GEMS ***

abstract (1.0.0)
actionmailer (3.0.0)
actionpack (3.0.0)
activemodel (3.0.0)

Great! Let’s switch back to our global gemset (this is the default gemset, you can also switch to it more explicitly with rvm 1.9.2@global):

$ rvm 1.9.2

And gem list here returns an empty list, as expected since no gems are installed in the global gemset.

Dumping and loading gemsets

Let’s try that export feature, that I previously explained as a backup solution, again:

$ rvm 1.9.2@foo
$ rvm gemset export rails.gems
$ cat rails.gems
abstract -v1.0.0
actionmailer -v3.0.0
actionpack -v3.0.0
activemodel -v3.0.0

You are then free to send rails.gems to someone else, and that person would simply import the gemset like so:

$ rvm use 1.9.2@rails --create # Shortcut to create, then switch to it
$ rvm gemset import rails.gems

Which would install all the gems from rails.gems, and the exact same versions. This is great when you work in teams, because we all tried messing up the versions..

The global and default gemset

Two interesting gemsets are the global (~/.rvm/gemsets/global.gems) and default (~/.rvm/gemsets/default.gems) gemsets.
Gems in the global gemset, will be added to the global gemset in every new Ruby you install. rake and rdoc are good examples of handy global gems.
The default gemset is the gems included in every new gemset.


Now there are different kinds of rvmrc files:

The most interesting one is the project .rvmrc. Every time you cd, RVM looks for a file called .rvmrc. If it finds it, it executes it.
Ouput from bash says more than a thousand words:

$ echo "rvm 1.8.6@project" > ~/projects/ruby-1.8.6-project/.rvmrc

I recieved a tip from @wayneeseguin, that we can be even more sneaky about this:

$ rvm --create --rvmrc 1.8.6@project

This will create the gemset, and the .rvmrc file!

~/projects $ ruby -v
ruby 1.9.2p0 (2010-08-18 revision 29036) [i686-linux]
~/projects $ cd ruby-1.8.6-project/
~/projects/ruby-1.8.6-project $ ruby -v
ruby 1.8.6 (2010-02-05 patchlevel 399) [i686-linux]
~/projects/ruby-1.8.6-project $ rvm gemset name

My favorite configuration option is rvm_gemset_create_on_use_flag=1, having this line in /etc/rvmrc or ~/.rvmrc, gemsets will be automatically created when used:

$ rvm gemset list
gemsets for ruby-1.9.2-p0 (found in /home/sirup/.rvm/gems/ruby-1.9.2-p0)

$ rvm gemset use foobar
Now using gemset 'foobar'

@wayneeseguin sent in another tip about bash and zsh completion.

You can read more about rvmrc in RVM’s documentation.


This is all briefly describing what can be found in RVM’s (fantastic) documentation. For basic use, this article should cover the main topics, however, RVM can still do a whole lot more than I adressed here. The goal of this post was simply to get you started well, and right, with RVM.

Discuss this on Hacker News