Ruby is no stranger to the Internet. Not only can you write your own
SMTP server, FTP daemon, or Web server in Ruby, but you can also use
Ruby for more usual tasks such as CGI programming or as a
replacement for PHP.
You could use Ruby's regular expression features to parse
incoming query strings, look up environment variables, check tags,
substitute text into templates, escape special characters, format up
the HTML, and print it all out.
Or, you could use class CGI.
Class CGI provides support for writing CGI scripts. With it, you
can manipulate forms, cookies, and the environment, maintain stateful
sessions, and so on. It's documented in full in the reference section
beginning on page 497, but we'll take a quick look at its
When dealing with URLs and HTML code, you must be careful to quote
certain characters. For instance, a slash character (``/'') has
special meaning in a URL, so it must be ``escaped'' if it's not part
of the path name. That is, any ``/'' in the query portion of the URL
will be translated to the string ``%2F'' and must be translated back
to a ``/'' for you to use it. Space and ampersand are also special
characters. To handle this, CGI provides the routines
CGI.escape and CGI.unescape:
Using class CGI gives you access to HTML query parameters in two
Suppose we are given a URL of
/cgi-bin/lookup?player=Miles%20Davis&year=1958. You can access
the parameters ``player'' and ``year'' using CGI# directly:
CGI contains a huge number of methods used to create HTML---one
method per tag. In order to enable these methods, you must create a
CGI object by calling CGI.new, passing in the required level
of HTML. For these examples, we'll use ``html3''.
To make tag nesting easier, these methods take their content as code
blocks. The code blocks should return a String, which will be
used as the content for the tag. For this example, we've added some
gratuitous newlines to make the output fit on the page.
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 3.2 Final//EN"><HTML><HEAD>
<TITLE>This Is a Test</TITLE></HEAD><BODY>
<FORM METHOD="post" ENCTYPE="application/x-www-form-urlencoded">
<HR><H1>A Form: </H1>
<TEXTAREA NAME="get_text" ROWS="10" COLS="70"></TEXTAREA>
This code will produce an HTML form titled ``This Is a Test,''
followed by a horizontal rule, a level-one header, a test input area,
and finally a submit button. When the submit comes back, you'll have
a CGI parameter named ``get_text'' containing the text the
You can store all kinds of interesting stuff on an unsuspecting
surfer's machine using cookies.
You can create a named cookie
object and store a number of values in it. To send it down to the
browser, set a ``cookie'' header in the call to CGI#out.
Cookies by themselves still need a bit of work to be useful.
we really want is a session: a persistent state for some Web
surfer. Sessions are handled with CGI::Session
but provides a higher-level abstraction.
This will send a cookie to the user named ``rubyweb'' with a value of
9650. It will also create a disk file in $TMP/web-session.9650
with the key, value pairs for CustID and Part.
When the user returns, all you need is a parameter to indicate the
session id. In this example, that would be rubyweb=9650. With
that value in the parameters, you'll be able to retrieve the full
set of saved session data.
So far we've looked at using Ruby to create HTML output, but we can
turn the problem inside out; we can actually embed Ruby in an HTML
There are a number of packages that allow you to embed Ruby
statements in some other sort of a document, especially in an HTML
page. Generically, this is known as ``eRuby.'' Specifically, there
are several different implementations of eRuby, including eruby
and erb. The remainder of this section will discuss eruby,
written by Shugo Maeda.
Embedding Ruby in HTML is a very powerful concept---it basically gives
us the equivalent of a tool such as ASP, JSP, or PHP, but with the
full power of Ruby.
You can set up an Apache Web server to automatically parse
Ruby-embedded documents using eRuby, much in the same way that PHP
does. You create Ruby-embedded files with an ``.rhtml'' suffix
and configure the Web server to run the eruby executable on these
documents to produce the desired HTML output.
In order to use eruby with the Apache Web server, you need to
perform the following steps.
If desired, you can also add or replace the DirectoryIndex
directive such that it includes index.rhtml. This lets you use
Ruby to create directory listings for directories that do not
contain an index.html. For instance, the following directive
would cause the embedded Ruby script index.rhtml to be searched
for and served if neither index.html nor index.shtml existed in a
DirectoryIndex index.html index.shtml index.rhtml
Of course, you could also simply use a site-wide Ruby script as
And that's it! You can now write HTML documents that contain embedded
Ruby to generate forms and content dynamically. Be sure to see also
the Ruby CGI library, which is documented
beginning on page 497.
You can use Ruby to write CGI programs for the Web, but, as with most
CGI programs, the default configuration has to start up a new copy of
Ruby with every cgi-bin page access.
That's expensive in terms of
machine utilization and can be painfully slow for Web surfers.
The Apache Web server solves this problem by allowing loadable
Typically, these modules are dynamically loaded and become part of the
running Web server process---there is no need to spawn
another interpreter over and over again to service requests; the Web
server is the interpreter.
And so we come to mod_ruby (available from the archives), an
Apache module that links a full Ruby interpreter into the Apache Web
server itself. The README file included with mod_ruby provides
details on how to compile and install it.
Once installed and configured, you can run Ruby scripts just like you
could without mod_ruby, except that now they will come up much