November 19, 2016

Don't let your Passenger app choke your server

If you’ve made a choice not to go with Heroku, and deploy your Rails onto a VPS that you operate, then I would say that there is a relatively good chance that you are doing that to save yourself some money every month. A valid choice, costs add up, and if your app needs a few more dynos, then your Heroku bill could rapidly start costing you well over the $20 a month that it costs me to host this blog.

A new set of problems can be the result. These small machines can be a bit stretched thin for RAM at times. One of these challenges is that as you run your Passenger application, the size of the memory footprint can grow as more stuff is loaded into the Ruby VM by the app, and can grow quite aggressively if you do happen to have a memory leak in your application. The even worse news for this situation is that the actual cause of the problem can be very tough to track down to fix, and of course in the meantime you’d probably like to keep running your application and taking requests, doing all the things that it was made to do.

All is not lost. You can receive requests and run your app while you figure out your problem and stop your Passenger instances from devouring your free RAM in its entirety, keep your app running, even if it’s a little rough around the edges and has some memory bloat.

Monit to the rescue

So we have a server that is running a Rails app using passenger, and as it takes requests, the memory footprint is growing, giving it the potential to eat all the available RAM and stop your server operating. We don’t want this.

If you are running the enterprise version of Passenger you can set a memory limit that each instance can use, and if you are so inclined, this is an excellent choice. It’s not the only way though to take care of this. Another good way to keep your Passengers in check is to use Monit to keep an eye on them and restart them when required.

Obviously, I am all about automation and repeatability, so to install and manage Monit we are going to use our Ansible playbooks that can get it running for you super easily.

Monit Role

In our Ansible playbook we can add a role for Monit Passenger, some variables for it to use, then a pretty simple main task:

In our main playbook:

passenger_app_root_for_monit: /home/deploy/APP_NAME/current/public
passenger_app_restart_file: /home/deploy/APP_NAME/current/tmp/restart.txt


- name: Install Monit
  become: yes
  become_method: sudo
  apt: name=monit state=latest
    - install_passenger_monit

- name: Copy the Passenger restart command file into place
  become: yes
  become_method: sudo
    src: restart_passenger.j2
    dest: /etc/monit/restart_passenger

- name: Make restart file executable
  become: yes
  become_method: sudo
  raw: chmod a+x /etc/monit/restart_passenger
  notify: restart monit

- name: Enable monit status
  become: yes
  become_method: sudo
    dest: /etc/monit/monitrc
    block: |
      set httpd port 2812
      use address localhost
      allow localhost
      allow admin:monit

  notify: restart monit

- name: Copy Passenger monit config into place
  become: yes
  become_method: sudo
    src: passenger.j2
    dest: /etc/monit/conf.d/passenger
  notify: restart monit

When we run this, start to finish, it’ll install monit and make sure it’s the latest version running for us. Then it’ll copy over a file that holds the command needed to restart our passenger server if it exceeds our criteria and makes it executable:



sudo -u deploy -H sh -c "touch passenger_app_restart_file"

opens up a process that can be accessed locally and give us some status information. It then copies the config for monitoring of the passenger software, the 150 MB memory limit is arbitrary; I just chose a number:


check process passenger matching "Passenger RubyApp: "
  if memory usage > 150.0 MB then exec /etc/monit/restart_passenger

then restarts monit and we are ready to go.

After that, if we are on the server and run our monit status command, we get some information back about the software we are monitoring.

deploy@ubuntu:/etc/monit$ sudo monit status

/etc/monit/monitrc:290: Include failed -- Success '/etc/monit/conf-enabled/*'
The Monit daemon 5.16 uptime: 0m
Process 'passenger'
  status                            Resource limit matched
  monitoring status                 Monitored
  pid                               15341
  parent pid                        1
  uid                               1000
  effective uid                     1000
  gid                               1000
  uptime                            2d 16h 59m
  threads                           5
  children                          0
  memory                            102.7 MB
  memory total                      102.7 MB
  memory percent                    5.1%
  memory percent total              5.1%
  cpu percent                       0.0%
  cpu percent total                 0.0%
  data collected                    Wed, 16 Nov 2016 10:16:06

System ''
  status                            Running
  monitoring status                 Monitored
  load average                      0.01 [0.00]
  cpu                               0.0%us 0.0%sy 0.0%wa
  memory usage                      220.1 MB [11.0%]
  swap usage                        4 kB [0.0%]
  data collected                    Wed, 16 Nov 2016 10:16:06

If like in the above example the resource limit has been reached, our command is executed, the app restarted and the memory consumed can go back down. Restarting Passenger when the resource limit you’ve set has been reached it stops the application server growing to a size that causes a problem.

Longer term

In the longer term, you will want to isolate any causes of memory leaks, and fine tune the number of passenger instances you have running to be optimal for the server you are running.

If restarting the application seems to be too often or aggressive then reducing the number of Passenger instances or potentially an upgrade of your server capacity or even moving to a multi-application server setup could well be a better solution.

You don’t want to have to stop taking requests and doing business while you figure this out. Don’t have a new feature go rogue in a way you don’t expect and grind your application to a halt. Let Monit keep an eye on things for you and stop things getting out of control.

Did this help you? Have any thoughts, feedback? Leave a comment, or send me an email, I’d love to hear from you.


I've changed how I run my blog now and have decided to not integrate comments into this new version. I am happy to answer any questions though, feel free to send me an email through the link at the top of the screen. Happy Programming.