Since Ruby on Rails is not the fastest web framework out there you sometimes need to improve the performance in order to keep up. This post will list 42 of my favorite performance tips for making your app faster.
This is very long so here are my personal favorites if you don’t feel like reading the whole thing:
- Use rack-mini-profiler
- Puma tuning
- Use the Google pagespeed module
- Eliminate N+1 queries
- Use proper indexes for full text search
- Page and Action caching
- Use a fast JSON gem
- Try a timed cache
- Use a faster language for jobs
Let’s get started!
Temper your expectations
Ruby and by extension Ruby on Rails is not known for its performance. View rendering in particular is quite slow so you should not expect to get to those sub-millisecond view renderings that you can get in Elixir for example. A good benchmark is to aim for the classic 100ms target.
Having metrics like average page load times, how much of the request is spent in the database and so on is vital to performance optimizations. New Relic is a good way to do this but it is quite expensive for a side project. Skylight is another option that is free for the first 100k requests each month.
rack-mini-profiler is an amazing way to get helpful metrics. Once installed it will display a badge in your browser with the total request time. If you click it you get metrics for each view renderedas well as every database query that was run. It will also display how much time was spent rendering templates and how much time was spent in the database.
Measure twice, optimize once
Always make sure that you know what you are optimizing and why. It makes little sense to do view optimization when the issue is in the database.
Also known as the Pareto principle. Simply put, it says that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. The takeaway here is that you should not spend your time on microoptimizations when there are bigger things to fix. It is for example probably not worth spending hours to shave another millisecond off that database query when the view rendering takes a second to render that list.
Use updated versions of Ruby and Ruby on Rails
This goes without saying but performance is better in each version of Ruby. Make sure you use the latest versions. Ruby on Rails 6.0 just went beta and that has parallel testing built in for example. Definitely worth checking out!
Make sure to measure in production mode
By default Rails will for example not cache things in the development environment so make sure to either use the production environment or manipulate the configuration manually to get the same setup as the production application.
Run things in the background
Further reading and resources
Servers and hardware
Use servers with good single core performance
Having a CPU with a high clock rate will do wonders for the performance of a Ruby on Rails application. On DigitalOcean for example you can get a VPS with ~30% higher clock speed if you use optimized droplets instead of regular ones. They run at ~2.6GHz. If you want a dedicated server and don’t need ECC RAM then you can get a server with an i7-8700k at Hetzner. It has a base clock speed of 3.7GHz which will do wonders. Again, make sure that you benchmark this before committing to something that might not make a difference.
Puma is the default web server for Ruby on Rails since version 5.0. By default it will launch a single worker process and use threads to process requests. To get optimal performance you should tinker with this. A good starting point is to have one worker for each CPU core on your server. You can change this in
config/puma.rb and what you are looking for is the
workers configuration. Keep in mind that each worker is a forked process and this will use a lot of RAM so make sure that you don’t run out.
Try the pagespeed module from Google
Google has pagespeed modules for both Apache and Nginx. They can do all sorts of optimizations for you but the one I will recommend here is the one that does inline CSS. What it does is that it will attempt to find the CSS rules needed to render the page correctly and then inline that CSS instead of loading it from an external file. This means that the client does not have to wait for the external CSS to load before the page is rendered and this can increase loading times. You need to compile Nginx with support for this first and the configuration then looks a little something like this in the http block:
Make sure the server is not swapping
This goes without saying but make sure you have enough RAM. Rails is very memory hungry and it adds up quickly with multiple Puma processes and background workers.
Have server metrics
You need to know how your servers are doing. Are they swapping? How much CPU load do you currently have etc. The tools I use for this is Telegraf+Influxdb+Grafana. Telegraf will collect metrics from my servers and push them to Influxdb. Grafana will then graph this setup for me and can even send warnings to Slack for example if something is wrong.
Eliminate N+1 queries
This is a classic problem. If you load a User with
user = User.first and then loop through the comments by doing for example
user.comments.each... then Rails will execute a query for each comment. You can eliminate this by doing
user = User.includes(:comments). The Bullet gem can find these problems automatically for you. You can also use the rack-mini-profiler for this but Bullet is superior for this.
Missing database indexes
The rack-mini-profiler above might flush out slow queries and a lot of the time this is caused by missing or suboptimal indexes. To easily find which indexes are missing you can use the lol_dba gem. It will find any simple cases where an index is missing and I highly recommend using it as a baseline.
Use the database Luke!
Make sure that you use the database whenever it is convenient to do so. Keeping giant arrays in memory and sorting them, grouping them, etc can take up a lot of CPU time if done with Ruby. The database can do this much faster but sometimes you will have to drop down to using raw SQL to get it done. If you are uncomfortable with SQL or simply don’t want to use it unless you have to then you can probably skip this hint. However, this leads us to the next one….
This one is controversial but I find that while you can certainly create complex applications without knowing any SQL in Rails you might still want to learn how to write SQL queries. If you know what you are doing you can do wonderful optimizations or certain things by using SQL. You will also be able to figure out why that Activerecord-query is so slow if you know things like how to use the EXPLAIN command.
Beware of pagination
If your query is slow then pagination can be a huge problem, especially if you are grouping in the query. You can often get good results by modifying how the pagination is done by not including a row count. If the pagination doesn’t have to do a count to find the total number of rows then that will often improve performance significantly. You should also take a look at the modern Pagy gem that is much faster than other solutions.
I was informed by the author of the Pagy gem that they have recenty added the countless extra to not have to execute an additional count query like I mention above.
Faster Postgres counting
If you have a very large amount of data then simply counting the rows can be problematic, especially if it is a big query. You can use Count estimates to solve this problem but it is a bit of a pain to use.
Eager or preloaded queries
You should always use
includes to improve the performance of relationships in ActiveRecord. This will however always be a least one extra query. You can avoid this by using
eager_load which will make a single query instead. However, this is not always faster and it can lead to significant memory usage. Benchmark this carefully before using it. For more details you can read this article
Use proper indexes for full text search
If you just do the simple
ILIKE '%foobar%'in Postgres for example then that will be very slow when there is a lot of data to search. Postgres can be very performant for full text searches if you setup the proper indexes for it. You can also use the pg_search gem to make this easier. Personally I find that Elasticsearch with the Searchkick gem is easier to use. However, do not immediately reach for it the second you need full text search. It’s another thing to maintain and there are other drawbacks when using this solution.
Don’t insert massive amounts of data using ActiveRecord
If you just loop over a giant JSON blog for example and insert records using ActiveRecord then you might find that it is very slow. I recommend using the activerecord-import gem to make this much much faster.
The best way to make code faster is to not run it at all. So caching your data and executions makes sense in any language but especially one that is not the best performer like Ruby. There is a lot of stuff to cover here so let’s get started.
Use a proper cache store
A cache store is where the cached data is stored in a Rails application. The default is to store the cache in the file system which is much too slow for production use. You can have an in-process memory cache store by using
ActiveSupport::Cache::MemoryStore but that is not shared between processes and will not survive a restart. A production Rails application will most likely have multiple processes serving requests, by using Puma in clustered mode for example, and having a cache that is not shared between processes is quite bad. My recommendation is to use Memcache or Redis.
If you are doing background work with Sidekiq then you already have a Redis server available so you can then use that as the cache. Be careful though if you shared the Redis instance for caching with the one for Sidekiq. Redis can easily be filled up with cache data leaving no room for the Sidekiq jobs. This is easily solved in Redis 4 though by using the
volatile-lfu eviction policy. It will use smart algorithms to evict the best data possible. Since all the cache will have the volatile flag set it will remove the cached data to make room for Sidekiq jobs if need be.
Use HTTP caching but be careful
HTTP caching is a bit complicated so you really should read a dedicated article about it. I recommend the one at Heroku. Using
expires_in can be a very powerful tool whenever it is ok that the data is not completely fresh. A list of articles in a blog for example does not necessarily need to be fresh on every request. Setting a 5 minutes cache on this together with a proxy server and/or a CDN can really speed things up, especially when you use it in an API so you don’t have to worry about sessions.
Page and Action caching
Page and Action caching were both removed in Rails 4.0. Page caching saves the entire HTTP response and the next one did not even hit the Rails stack at all. Action caching hits the controller but does not execute the controller action if it finds cached data. You can use the actionpack-action_caching gem to use this in Rails 4+.
Page caching is mostly about caching static pages such as the 404 or the 500 page and perhaps some long lived static pages in your app. It is much too heavy handed for other things since it will for example ignore any query parameters.
Action caching can be very powerful since it is very fast. You can also control the cache behavior by using the
cache_path option. Perhaps you want the cache only JSON responses for example or only cache data for users that are not logged in to your application. You can use the cache keys described in the Fragment caching section as well here. It is much faster than fragment caching so I recommend using this whenever possible, especially for mostly static applications like a blog or a CMS.
This is also known as “Russian doll caching”. This is done in the view templates by using the
cache method. You can cache each layer of the view. For example if you have a blog with multiple posts then you use something like
render partial: 'posts/post', collection: @posts, cached: true to cache the rendering of the posts. Rails will then cache each post with it’s own key as well as with a key that will change if any of the posts change. When nothing has changed it will fetch the cache with a single call to the cache and if a single post has changed it will only re-render that one. The others will be fetched from the cache like normal.
You can then nest these caches by using
cache blocks to cache for example the comments for each post or expensive partial rendering within each post. Since the Ruby on Rails view rendering is quite slow then using this technique can really speed things up.
Another way to cache things is to use the
Rails.cache.fetch method. This will cache the result of the block given to it like so:
The next time you run this code with the same cache key Rails will instead fetch the result of the block from the cache. This can be used anywhere in the Rails application and it is a good way to cache external APIs and other slow data fetching stuff.
Use a fast JSON gem
If you have an API for example and use the ActiveModelSerializers gem then you should try the fast_jsonapi gem from Netflix. It has much better performance. You can also try the oj gem for regular JSON work. This can make a huge difference for large amounts of JSON data.
As a friendly individual pointed out in an email there is also the Nativeson gem which generates the JSON data in the database itself. This is thus very fast!
Use link prefetching
If you start loading the next page when the user hovers over a link you can make the site appear faster. See this article for more details.
Do not render with a loop
If you have an
each-loop in your views for example to render a partial for each item in a collection then this can get very expensive. Instead, use the collection rendering feature like so:
<%= render partial: 'item', collection: @item, as: :item %>. This is a lot faster because in that case Rails will only initialize the template once rather than once for each item if rendered with a loop.
Use find_each instead of find for big database collections
If you want to loop over a big chunk of data then you don’t have to load all of it into memory at once. Simply use the
ActiveRecord#find_each method instead of
all for example to batch the loading. By default Rails will then load 1000 items at the time.
Use a CDN for your assets
application.js file can be huge and then it doesn’t matter much if you save 100ms on the request time since the site will still be slow. I recommend using Bundlephobia to find the size of any npm package before you add it to your site.
Does it have to be real time? No? Try a timed cache!
If you for example have an expensive calculation or a slow external API call in your application that doesn’t need to be real time then you can use a timed cache like so:
Then your app will perform the expensive operation only once an hour.
These tips are a bit more advanced and time consuming to setup correctly. For emergency use only!
JRuby is a a Java implementation of Ruby that runs on the JVM and it should be faster than MRI for most applications. It will consume more memory however. Keep an eye on Truffleruby for more exotic performance improvements.
Use a faster language for jobs
If you have a lot of background work and Ruby simply isn’t fast enough then you can use another language to process the queues. There is a version of Sidekiq that uses Crystal and that is much faster than Ruby. There is also Faktory which allows you to use multiple programming languages to process the jobs. You can also use Amazon SQS with any language(s) of your choice. This can be integrated with your application by using the Shoryuken gem. Faktory and Shoryuken both support ActiveJob so you don’t have to change much to use them. I would personally start with Crystal since that is a language that has a similar syntax to Ruby and it is very fast.
Asynchronous partial rendering
As we previously discussed, view rendering in Rails can take up quite a bit of the request time. If you have parts of the site that are slow to render then you can try loading them asynchronously instead. This means that the server will load the partials with ajax. You can use the render_async gem to help you with this.
You can load the next page in the background using ajax which will make the page load seem instantaneous. There are several ways to do this like using Instantclick to load the next page when the user hovers a link or quicklink to load new pages while the browser is idle. You can also combine Turbolinks with Instantclick by using a few tricks that I write about in this post.
Use materialized database views
A database view is sort of like a virtual table that is created by an SQL query. You can save a big query as a view and then access it as if it was a table. A materialized view is like a view but it also saves the result of the query. It is thus sort of like a cached dataset. Obviously this is very fast but the data will be old. Used sparingly it can do wonders for the performance however. You can use the scenic gem to handle all your database view needs. Make sure you use a recent version of PostgreSQL though(>= 9.4).