Rack::Unreloader is a rack library that reloads application files when it detects changes, unloading constants defined in those files before reloading. Like other rack libraries for reloading, this can make application development much faster, as you don't need to restart the whole application when you change a single file. Unlike most other rack libraries for reloading, this unloads constants before requiring files, avoiding issues when loading a file is not idempotent.


gem install rack-unreloader

Source Code

Source code is available on GitHub at github.com/jeremyevans/rack-unreloader

Basic Usage

Assuming a basic web application stored in app.rb:

require 'roda'

class App < Roda
  route do |r|
    "Hello world!"

With a basic config.ru like this:

require './app.rb'
run App

Change config.ru to:

require 'rack/unreloader'
Unreloader = Rack::Unreloader.new{App}
require 'roda'
Unreloader.require './app.rb'
run Unreloader

The block you pass to Rack::Unreloader.new should return the rack application to use. If you make any changes to app.rb, Rack::Unreloader will remove any constants defined by requiring app.rb, and rerequire the file.

Note that this causes problems if app.rb loads any new libraries that define constants, as it will unload those constants first. This is why the example code requires the roda library normally before requiring app.rb using Rack::Unreloader.

However, if app.rb requires more than a single file, it is more practical to tell Rack::Unreloader to only unload specific subclasses:

require 'rack/unreloader'
Unreloader = Rack::Unreloader.new(:subclasses=>%w'Roda'){App}
Unreloader.require './app.rb'
run Unreloader

When the :subclasses option is given, only subclasses of the given classes will be unloaded before reloading the file. It is recommended that you use a :subclasses option when using Rack::Unreloader.

Dependency Handling

If your app.rb requires a models.rb file that you also want to get reloaded:

require 'roda'
require './models.rb'

class App < Roda
  route do |r|
    "Hello world!"

You can change app.rb from using:

require './models.rb'

to using:

Unreloader.require './models.rb'

The reason that the Rack::Unreloader instance is assigned to a constant in config.ru is to make it easy to add reloadable dependencies in this way.

It's even a better idea to require this dependency manually in config.ru, before requiring app.rb:

require 'rack/unreloader'
Unreloader = Rack::Unreloader.new(:subclasses=>%w'Roda Sequel::Model'){App}
Unreloader.require './models.rb'
Unreloader.require './app.rb'
run Unreloader

This way, changing your app.rb file will not reload your models.rb file.

Only Reload in Development Mode

In general, you are only going to want to reload code in development mode. To simplify things, you can use rack-unreloader both in development and production, and just not have it reload in production by setting :reload to false if not in development:

dev = ENV['RACK_ENV'] == 'development'
require 'rack/unreloader'
Unreloader = Rack::Unreloader.new(:reload=>dev){App}
Unreloader.require './models.rb'
Unreloader.require './app.rb'
run(dev ? Unreloader : App)

By running the App instead of Unreloader in production mode, there is no performance penalty. The advantage of this approach is you can use Unreloader.require to require files regardless of whether you are using development or production mode.


This reloader also handles modules. Since modules do not have superclasses, if you are using the :subclasses option to specify specific subclasses, you need to specify the module name if you want to reload it:

Unreloader = Rack::Unreloader.new(:subclasses=>%w'MyModule'){App}


To correctly handle modules and superclasses, if a change is made to a module or superclass, you generally want to reload all classes that include the module or subclass the superclass, so they they pick up the change to the module or superclass.

You can specify the file dependencies when using rack-unreloader:

Unreload.record_dependency('lib/module_file.rb', %w'models/mod1.rb models/mod2.rb')

If lib/module_file.rb is changed, rack-unreloader will reload models/mod1.rb and models/mod2.rb after reloading lib/module_file.rb.

You can provide directories when requiring dependencies. For example:

Unreload.record_dependency('helpers', %w'app.rb')

will make it so the addition of any ruby files to the helpers directory will trigger a reload of app.rb, and future changes to any of those files will also trigger of reload of app.rb. Additionally, deleting any ruby files in the helpers directory will also trigger a reload of app.rb.

You can also use a directory as the second argument:

Unreload.record_dependency('mod.rb', 'models')

With this, any change to mod.rb will trigger a reload of all ruby files in the models directory, even if such files are added later.

When using record_dependencies with a directory, you should also call require with that directory, as opposed to specifically requiring individual files inside the directory.

Classes Split Into Multiple Files

Rack::Unreloader handles classes split into multiple files, where there is a main file for the class that requires the other files that define the class. Assuming the main class file is app.rb, and other files that make up the class are in helpers:

# inside config.ru
Unreloader.require 'app.rb'

# inside app.rb
Unreloader.require 'helpers'
Unreloader.record_split_class(__FILE__, 'helpers')

If app.rb is changed or any of the ruby files in helpers is changed, it will reload app.rb and all of the files in helpers. This makes it so if you remove a method from one of the files in helpers, it will reload the entire class so that the method is no longer defined. Likewise, if you delete one of the files in helpers, it will reload the class so that the methods that were defined in that file will no longer be defined on the class.


Rack::Unreloader#require is a little different than require in that it takes a file glob, not a normal require path. For that reason, you must specify the extension when requiring the file, and it will only look in the current directory by default:

Unreloader.require 'app.rb'

If you want to require a file in a different directory, you need to provide the full path:

Unreloader.require '/path/to/app.rb'

You can use the usual file globbing to load multiple files:

Unreloader.require 'models/*.rb'

If you want to load all files in a given directory you should just give the directory path:

Unreloader.require 'models'

The advantage for doing this is that new files added to the directory will be picked up automatically, and files deleted from the directory will be removed automatically. This applies to files in subdirectories of that directory as well.

Speeding Things Up

By default, Rack::Unreloader uses ObjectSpace before and after requiring each file that it monitors, to see which classes and modules were defined by the require. This is slow for large numbers of files. In general use it isn't an issue as generally only a single file will be changed at a time, but it can significantly slow down startup when all files are being loaded at the same time.

If you want to speed things up, you can provide a block to Rack::Unreloader#require, which will take the file name, and should return the name of the constants or array of constants to unload. If you do this, Rack::Unreloader will no longer need to use ObjectSpace, which substantially speeds up startup. For example, if all of your models just use a capitalized version of the filename:

Unreloader.require('models'){|f| File.basename(f).sub(/\.rb\z/, '').capitalize}

In some cases, you may want to pass a block to require, but inside the block decide that instead of specifying the constants, ObjectSpace should be used to automatically determine the constants loaded. You can specify this by having the block return the :ObjectSpace symbol.

Usage Outside Rack

While Rack::Unreloader is usually in the development of rack applications, it doesn't depend on rack. You can just instantiate an instance of Unreloader and use it to handle reloading in any ruby application, just by using the require and record_dependency to set up the metadata, and calling reload! manually to reload the application.


Rack::Unreloader was derived from Padrino's reloader. The Padrino-specific parts were removed, and it now requires the user manually specify which files to monitor. It has additional features, improvements, and bug fixes.


Unloading constants and reloading files has a ton of corner cases that this will not handle correctly. If it isn't doing what you expect, add a logger:


Unloading constants causes issues whenever references to the constant are cached anywhere instead of looking up the constant by name. This is fairly common, and using this library can cause a memory leak or unexpected behavior in such a case.

Approaches that load a fresh environment for every request (or a fresh environment anytime there are any changes) are going to be more robust than this approach, but probably slower. Be aware that you are trading robustness for speed when using this library.

Implementation Support

Rack::Unreloader works correctly on Ruby 1.8.7+ and Rubinius. It only works on JRuby if you use a proc to specify the constants to unload.




Jeremy Evans <[email protected]>