John Bohn

My thoughts on software, tech, business, and more

Installing Ruby with rbenv

The need for multiple versions of Ruby

As you work on different Ruby project over time, you’ll find that different projects projects require different versions of Ruby. To handle this, a few tools have been created. My personal favorite is rbenv. I recommend all rubyists use it even if you’re just starting out. If makes installing new versions, tying certain versions to certain projects, and much more a breeze.

rbenv vs rvm

Besides rbenv, there is another ruby version manager that has been out for some time and at one point, was the de facto standard. That tool was RVM. RVM is still fairly popular although it’s popularity is waning in favor of rbenv. Why is rbenv more popular? Because it does less. Programmers generally like software that does one thing and does it well. In terms of managing multiple versions of Ruby, rbenv just does less. More specifically, from the rbenv wiki:

rbenv does…

  • Provide support for specifying application-specific Ruby versions.
  • Let you change the global Ruby version on a per-user basis.
  • Allow you to override the Ruby version with an environment variable.

In contrast with RVM, rbenv does not…

  • Need to be loaded into your shell. Instead, rbenv’s shim approach works by adding a directory to your $PATH.
  • Override shell commands like cd or require prompt hacks. That’s dangerous and error-prone.
  • Have a configuration file. There’s nothing to configure except which version of Ruby you want to use.
  • Install Ruby. You can build and install Ruby yourself, or use ruby-build to automate the process.
  • Manage gemsets. Bundler is a better way to manage application dependencies. If you have projects that are not yet using Bundler you can install the rbenv-gemset plugin.
  • Require changes to Ruby libraries for compatibility. The simplicity of rbenv means as long as it’s in your $PATH, nothing else needs to know about it.

Installing rbenv

If you’re on a Mac, the recommended way to install rbenv is via Homebrew. If you don’t have Homebrew yet, I highly recommend it.

To install rbenv via Homebrew, just run:

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brew install rbenv ruby-build

Now that you have rbenv installed, you need to add a line to your profile so everything loads up correctly when you start your terminal. The location of your profile varies depending on how your system is set up, but it will typically be either ~/.profile, ~/.bash_profile, or ~/.bashrc. If you’re using Zsh, it will probably be ~/.zshrc. Add the following line to your profile:

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eval “$(rbenv init -)”

To test that it works, run:

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type rbenv

You should get something like the following back if it worked:

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rbenv is a shell function

Installing a new ruby with rbenv

Awesome, you should now have rbenv installed and you’re ready to roll. Well, almost ready. rbenv by itself doesn’t do much good. Let’s add a ruby version. As of this writing, the latest version of Ruby is 2.1.2. Pro tip: you can view all versions available to rbenv by running the follow from your terminal:

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rbenv install -l

To install Ruby 2.1.2, run the following:

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rbenv install 2.1.2

And, if you want to make that version your default global version, you can run:

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rbenv global 2.1.2

Wrapping up

That’s it! I hope this helps you get set up with rbenv. There are a few other things that you’ll be able to do, such as installing alternate versions of Ruby (like Rubinius). If you want to learn more about rbenv, check out the README on github.

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