The Silver Lining

A developer's view of Cloud Computing platforms & technologies.

Using the Heroku Shared Database with Sinatra and Active Record

with 6 comments

ActiveRecord is an amazing (mostly) database-agnostic ORM framework and so it’s a natural choice to use with non-Rails frameworks such as Sinatra. Note that I’ll be using sqlite3 locally but the Heroku Shared Database is a Postgres database so I’ll be setting my environments appropriately.

In this post I’ve assumed that you have a Sinatra app that is working locally and on Heroku.

Getting it working locally

First up you’ll need a few extra gems in your Gemfile, once again note that I’m using different databases in development, test and production environments.

source ''

gem 'sinatra'
gem 'activerecord'
gem 'sinatra-activerecord' # excellent gem that ports ActiveRecord for Sinatra

group :development, :test do
  gem 'sqlite3'

group :production do
  gem 'pg' # this gem is required to use postgres on Heroku

Don’t forget that you’ll need to install the gems using bundler.

bundle install

And you will need to “require” the appropriate files in either your app configuration or the main app controller, the choice is yours :)

require 'sinatra/activerecord'

At this point you need to provide information that tells your app how to connect to the database.

configure :development, :test do
  set :database, 'sqlite://development.db'

configure :production do
  # Database connection
  db = URI.parse(ENV['DATABASE_URL'] || 'postgres://localhost/mydb')

    :adapter  => db.scheme == 'postgres' ? 'postgresql' : db.scheme,
    :host     =>,
    :username => db.user,
    :password => db.password,
    :database => db.path[1..-1],
    :encoding => 'utf8'

You can include this information in your Sinatra app file but I suggest putting the information into a separate configuration file. I keep mine in a file ‘/config/environments.rb’. If you do this you’ll have to include it in your Sinatra app file(s).

require './config/environments'

In order to use migrations (to set up your object model) you’ll need to create a Rakefile with the following code.

# require your app file first
require './app'
require 'sinatra/activerecord/rake'

At this point you can use the typical ActiveRecord Migration syntax to create you migration files, for example:

rake db:create_migration NAME=create_foos

This creates a migration file in ‘./db/migrate’ and this file will be used to create your database table on migration. You will also need to create a class that is the “bridge” between your app and the database table.

class CreateFoos < ActiveRecord::Migration
  def self.up
    create_table :foos do |t|
      t.string :name

  def self.down
    drop_table :foos

As with the database environment details this code can be included in your main app class but you should put it into it’s own file and include that in your app instead. Once you’ve done this you can run the following to create the database tables – this is only a local operation for now.

rake db:migrate

At this point you should have a local table and method to apply any CRUD action to said table.

And now for Heroku

Before pushing your new app to heroku you’ll need to add the Shared Database addon.

heroku addons:add shared-database

Commit and push your code to Heroku after which you’ll need to rake the remote database.

heroku rake db:migrate

And that’s it. You now have a ActiveRecord working locally and remotely and can develop in a consist way. Aw yeah.

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Written by Wes

April 22, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Ruby

Tagged with , , , ,

6 Responses

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  1. Wes, curious why you choose to use sqllite on your local machine instead of postgres if you know this is going to end up on heroku?


    April 23, 2012 at 6:01 am

    • Ease of use really. I have run Postgres locally but it has a number of dependencies and eats my local resources like a little database monster. Sqlite just requires the gem inclusion and I don’t notice the resource usage.


      April 23, 2012 at 10:55 am

  2. Awesome writeup.

    I ran into a wall running heroku rake db:migrate:

    PGError: ERROR: invalid value for parameter “client_min_messages”: “”

    I ultimately fixed this by switching to the Heroku cedar stack:

    heroku create your app –stack cedar

    Below is further discussion but the solutions did not work for me:

    • Thanks very much! Most of my work is on the cedar stack at the moment including the work behind this post. Are you saying you got that error after running through my steps?


      April 23, 2012 at 10:56 am

  3. I found I needed an extra ‘/’ before it would create the sqlite…. set :database, ‘sqlite3:///foo.db’


    September 24, 2012 at 6:22 am

  4. [...] commenter pointed out that this post was partially inspired by a similar post here.  I had read this tutorial before and forgotten to attribute my source properly, so I’d like [...]

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