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Overmind 🪬, a better bin/dev for your Procfile

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Overmind 🪬 is like foreman and bin/dev on steroids — it does everything that they do and more, it's deeply customizable, and it integrates with tmux so you can attach to a running process for live debugging.

I wish I had learned about Overmind sooner! foreman and bin/dev were fine, but now that I've discovered Overmind, I don't see myself ever going back.

Table of Contents

Overmind 🪬 is what you'd get if foreman and bin/dev had a baby... and then put the baby on steroids... and made it lift weights 💪👶. OK not quite, but you get the idea.

Overmind is a Procfile manager — the most advanced one there is (probably).

If we give Overmind a Procfile like this —

Procfile
web: bin/rails server -p 3000
redis: redis-server
worker: bundle exec sidekiq

We can use Overmind to run all these processes simultaneously, by running overmind start.

That's pretty standard stuff though (and no different from foreman and bin/dev).

But Overmind takes Procfiles to the next level — it's deeply integrated with tmux, it can restart, attach to, and kill running processes, and it has a multitude of configuration options. This makes it great for debugging, and let's you do some cool things that bin/dev can't.

If you're not satisfied with bin/dev — maybe you don't like how hard it is to attach a debugger, or you want to restart processes on the fly — then Overmind is what you've been looking for.

If you've never heard of foreman and bin/dev, read this — foreman, bin/dev and Procfile.dev.

And if you've never heard of tmux... well... you're probably in the wrong place 😅. But if you're keen to learn, start learning tmux here.

In this article, I'll walk you through installing and using Overmind — I'm going to show you what makes Overmind great. Plus, I've got some cool things that we can do with Overmind (but we can't do with bin/dev) that I think you'll like.

If you're familiar with Overmind, you've probably also heard of its little sister, Hivemind.

In most cases, I think it's fine to completely ignore Hivemind. If you think that Overmind is too advanced for you, that's OK! I recommend just sticking with foreman and bin/dev.

Before we start, we need to install Overmind.

Installing Overmind

Overmind is compatible with Mac and Linux (sorry Windows folks, you're out of luck).

You can also read the official installation docs.

Installing Overmind on Mac is easy, thanks to brew.

Overmind uses tmux to connect to our processes, so install tmux first —

Terminal
brew install tmux

From there, install Overmind by running —

Terminal
brew install overmind

If you're running Linux, the setup is a little bit more involved — I recommend this great StackExchange thread which covers how to install Overmind on Ubuntu.

Overmind Basics — what makes Overmind a better bin/dev?

Now that we've got Overmind installed, let's dive into what makes it so powerful.

You can use overmind in your Ruby on Rails apps to run a Procfile.dev by typing —

Terminal
overmind start -f Procfile.dev
# shorthand: overmind start -> overmind s

The -f Procfile.dev flag is important since by default Overmind will look for a Procfile, not a Procfile.dev. The -f flag lets us adjust that.

Observe as overmind brings your processes to life —

Terminal
overmind start -f Procfile.dev

system | Tmux socket name: overmind-overmind-test-kGX8OotSbMDa8MH1ZG8nF
system | Tmux session ID: overmind-test
system | Listening at ./.overmind.sock
css    | Started with pid 85484...
web    | Started with pid 85483...
web    | => Booting Puma
...
web    | * Listening on http://127.0.0.1:3000
web    | * Listening on http://[::1]:3000
web    | Use Ctrl-C to stop
css    |
css    | Rebuilding...
css    | Done in 173ms.

So we've got the processes in our Procfile.dev running — so what? Everything we've done so far is stuff that foreman and bin/dev can also do.

Not anymore. This is where we depart from the world of foreman, and enter the Overmind 🪬.

Connect to a running process with overmind connect

To start, we can connect to a running process with overmind connect [process], like this —

Terminal
overmind connect web
# shorthand: overmind connect -> overmind c

This connects us to the tmux session of our running process (which Overmind automatically started).

This can be extremely useful, especially for debugging!

Debugging with foreman and bin/dev is usually quite tricky, since you can't attach to the web: process.

Overmind changes that. Here's an example where we connect to a web: process, to debug a controller action —

With Overmind, we can connect directly to the web: process and interact with the debugger.
With Overmind, we can connect directly to the web: process and interact with the debugger.

We call debugger inside our controller action, and then use Overmind to connect directly to our web: process and the debugger instance.

Terminal
overmind connect web

# inside tmux for web: process
Started GET "/posts" for ::1 at 2023-07-26 12:30:16 +1000
Processing by PostsController#index as HTML
...
[2, 11] in app/controllers/posts_controller.rb
     4|   # GET /posts or /posts.json
     5|   def index
     6|     @posts = Post.all
=>   7|     debugger
     8|   end
=>#0    PostsController#index at ~/Documents/projects/random-apps/overmind-test/app/controllers/posts_controller.rb:7
...
(rdbg) puts @posts # debug our @posts array

Note: A helpful Redditor pointed out that if you're already using tmux for your terminal, running Overmind inside your tmux instance can make it impossible to overmind connect to your processes (since they're nested in your tmux). I haven't looked into this myself, but I wanted to give any tmux aficionados a heads-up.

Stopping and Restarting Processes with overmind stop and overmind restart

Overmind makes it easy to stop running processes, as well as restart them.

When I was writing this article, I was faced with the question — Why would you want to do this?

Some ideas I had:

  • Perhaps you want to test how your running Rails app handles disconnections from its background worker, or from Redis.
  • Or maybe you want to restart a Sidekiq worker whose memory usage has ballooned.
  • And maybe... you just have an... er... interesting way of getting your kicks.

Regardless of your reasons, you can stop a running Procfile process with overmind stop

Terminal
overmind stop redis

...
redis  | Interrupting...
redis  | 94740:signal-handler (1690354454) Received SIGINT scheduling shutdown...
redis  | 94740:M 26 Jul 2023 16:54:14.813 # User requested shutdown...

Similarly, you can restart a running process (or start a stopped process) with overmind restart

Terminal
overmind restart redis
# shorthand: overmind restart -> overmind r

redis  | Exited
redis  | Restarting...
redis  | 97145:C 26 Jul 2023 16:56:20.994 # oO0OoO0OoO0Oo Redis is starting oO0OoO0OoO0Oo
...
redis  | Restarted with pid 97144...

More detailed terminal output, thanks to tmux control mode

If you run a Redis or Sidekiq process using overmind, you should notice extra output in your terminal, compared to launching them with bin/dev.

Say that we have a Procfile.dev with a redis: and a sidekiq: process.

Running bin/dev and foreman will give you this (less output 👎) —

The bin/dev script and foreman dont run our processes interactively, so you won't see their full output.
The bin/dev script and foreman dont run our processes interactively, so you won't see their full output.

Whereas running overmind start will give you this (more output 🥳) —

Overmind captures the full process output, so we get to see some pretty ASCII pictures — yay!
Overmind captures the full process output, so we get to see some pretty ASCII pictures — yay!

Much cooler 😎.

Both foreman and overmind run both processes the same way, but Overmind displays more output than Foreman.

This is because overmind uses the tmux control mode to capture the output of our processes. This lets it grab more information than bin/dev and foreman.

foreman and bin/dev don't run our processes in an interactive terminal (unline Overmind), so the graphics aren't displayed.

In actual usage, these graphics make absolutely no difference. I think it's cool though — a bit like a hidden gem of using overmind over foreman and bin/dev.

Moving configuration into a .overmind.env file

Overmind supports lots of command line arguments — you used one when you passed -f Procfile.dev, but there are a lot more, and most come in handy!

It would be great though if you didn't have to pass these flags each time you wanted to run overmind start, otherwise you'll quickly end up with a mess like this —

overmind start -f Procfile.dev -c migration -r web,worker -T -m web=2,worker=2

Fortunately, we can store these options in one of Overmind's configuration files, rather than passing them via the command line.

Overmind makes it easy to do this. From the Overmind docs —

The [configuration] files will be loaded in the following order:

~/.overmind.env

./.overmind.env

./.env

$OVERMIND_ENV

In most cases, I think it makes sense to create a .overmind.env file in the root directory of your Rails app (or add them to .env if you're using ENV variables instead of Rails credentials).

Create a .overmind.env file inside the root of your Rails app, so you can permanently set the -f Procfile.dev argument —

Terminal
# run inside your Ruby on Rails app
touch .overmind.env
echo OVERMIND_PROCFILE=Procfile.dev >> .overmind.env

Now, your project will have a .overmind.env file like this —

.overmind.env
OVERMIND_PROCFILE=Procfile.dev

From the Overmind documentation, we can see that OVERMIND_PROCFILE is the matching environment variable for the -f flag.

Some other handy .overmind.env variables that you might find useful, from the Overmind docs

  • OVERMIND_SHOW_TIMESTAMPS=1 will display inline timestamps next to the process logs (foreman and bin/dev do this by default, Overmind doesn't).
  • OVERMIND_PROCESSES=web,worker will only run the web: and worker: processes and no others (adjust the process names as you need).
  • OVERMIND_IGNORED_PROCESSES=redis will not run the redis: process (making it the inverse of the OVERMIND_PROCESSES variable).
  • OVERMIND_FORMATION=web=2,worker=5 will run multiple instances of the web: and worker: processes.
  • OVERMIND_CAN_DIE=migrate will allow a process called migrate to terminate, without shutting down the other running processes (we use this in the next section).

Cool things we can do with Overmind (that we can't do with bin/dev)

Since Overmind is so much more powerful than foreman and bin/dev, there are some cool tricks and extra things we can do with it.

I plan to add to this section as I use Overmind more and discover uses for it.

Automatically run your Database Migrations

There is one handy configuration option for Overmind that opens up heaps of new possibilities for processes — OVERMIND_CAN_DIE.

Usually, when Overmind or foreman detects that a process has died, they shut down all our other running processes.

But what if we want to run a one-off task like database migrations?

With Overmind, we can do exactly that.

First, add a new process to your Procfile. I've added the migration process below, which will run any pending database migrations whenever we start our app —

Procfile.dev
web: bin/rails server -p 3000
css: bin/rails tailwindcss:watch
migration: rails db:migrate

Then tell Overmind that the process is allowed to die —

.overmind.env
OVERMIND_CAN_DIE=migration

And you should see that when you run overmind start, the process runs, finishes and dies, without stopping the other running processes.

Terminal
overmind start

migration | Started with pid 86462...
web       | Started with pid 86460...
css       | Started with pid 86461...
...
migration | == 20230726011609 CreatePosts: migrating ======================================
migration | -- create_table(:posts)
migration |    -> 0.0007s
migration | == 20230726011609 CreatePosts: migrated (0.0007s) =============================
migration |
migration | Exited
css       |
css       | Rebuilding...
css       |
css       | Done in 175ms.
web       |

I think this pattern has a lot of potential! I used it here for database migrations, but you could use it for running bundle or npm install, running (idempotent) database seeds, etc etc.

Conclusion

I hope you found this article useful! I enjoyed diving into Overmind — I love foreman and the bin/dev script, and Overmind builds on from where foreman left off to deliver something even more impressive.

And credit to the brilliant Sergey Alexandrovich for creating both Overmind and it's little sister Hivemind.

Resources:

Introducing Overmind and Hivemind | EvilMartians

Overmind on Github

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