Jaap Haagmans The all-round IT guy


Capture errors and debug your Ruby on Rails app

When developing or maintaining a Ruby on Rails app, you'll frequently run into errors and exceptions. In development, this is just part of the process (trial and error is the best software development tool I know). In production, errors can be a big problem.


Even so, in development you want to be able to quickly spot the error so you can move on. That's not always as easy as it sounds. Let's say you have a problem with a certain set of objects that don't behave like you expected them to.

<%= var.inspect %>

I've seen PHP programmers do this a lot. And when they start using Rails, they continue to do this. I'm not fond of this method. I've seen apps being deployed in production with these pieces of code still in them. You think it won't happen to you, but you won't always have time to fully review your code.

p var.inspect

This is not much better. You're not displaying anything on the page, but errors are still hard to track down.

gem 'debugger'

Now we're getting somewhere. The debugger gem enables you to stop code execution at some point, go to your console (where you'll now see a blinking cursor) and evaluate all variables available at that point in the code. This way you can easily dig deep into the variable, manipulate it and type "continue" when you're done to see the result in your browser.

group :development do
  gem 'better_errors'
  gem 'binding_of_caller'

Better Errors is a tool that extends Rails' error reporting framework. Where you'd normally see Rails' error page, you will now see a very nice page that will show you the portion of your code that triggered the error along with some relevant info and (thanks to the binding_of_caller gem) an interactive prompt that will, like debugger, enable you to do some digging.


However, gems like better_errors should never be used in production. I hope I don't have to explain the risks of anyone being able to use an interpreter in your app from their browser. However, it would be nice if you'd still be able to get in depth knowledge of errors popping up in production. If not, you will have to wait for phone calls from clients. So, there are some nice tools available.


Airbrake (formerly known as Hoptoad) is a service that you can integrate into your Rails application using a gem. In the Airbrake dashboard, you will see every error that has occurred up to a year ago, including relevant information about the request and extensive traces. Airbrake comes with Github integration, meaning it can create Github issues from errors. Paid plans start at $7.- per month for two developers and there is a free plan available for us loners.


Errbit is a self-hosted alternative to Airbrake. It's well maintained and it's free! And what I really love is that it has an integrated error reporting app for errors within Errbit itself! If they'd only have an app that can capture errors for the app that captures errors on the app that captures errors...


Honeybadger is the second alternative to Airbrake. It's not really that different from Airbrake, but I really like the interface. Furthermore, I like their Javascript error tracking functionality which works wonderfully. Javascript debugging is very hard, especially since every browser behaves differently. Honeybadger helps you detect the browser and OS the user is running on and gives a trace on the Javascript error. It can also send you a text message when an error pops up in your app. Paid plans start and $19.- / month and they have a 15-day free trial available.