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they're evil



Recently, branch support for Subversion was added to externals.

Subversion does not have a branch feature. Instead, subversion users use the copy feature to copy directories within the repository (branch), a switch command to switch the URL that the working directory points at (checkout), and a merge feature to merge directories (merge).

ext handles branches in Subversion by splitting the URL given by ‘svn info’ into a repository part and a branch part.

If you find yourself doing this:

ext checkout svn+ssh://someserver/somepath/repository/branches/new_feature

Then you almost certainly mean to do this:

ext checkout svn+ssh://someserver/somepath/repository -b branches/new_feature

For ext to use branch-related features with Subversion repositories, the repository must be known. For subprojects this is never a problem, but for the main project, it’s important that there is a repository field under [.] in the .externals file. This can be accomplished by using -b with commands like ‘ext checkout’ and ‘ext init’ or by manually editing the .externals file.

For example, if you are working on svn+ssh://someserver/somepath/repository/current then you want your .externals file to look like this:

scm = svn
repository = svn+ssh://someserver/somepath/repository

Notice how I left off “/current” from the repository URL. “current” is the branch and not part of the repository from ext’s perspective.

Published on 09/28/2011 at 09:49AM under , .

Missing ExceptionNotifiable module with exception_notification plugin

It looks like the exception_notification plugin is undergoing a pretty big overhaul to get it working well with rails3. The official git repository for that plugin only has one branch, master. What should you do for your existing rails2 applications that are not ready for migration to rails3?

If you are getting something somewhat like this:

rake aborted!
uninitialized constant ApplicationController::ExceptionNotifiable
.../rails/activesupport/lib/active_support/dependencies.rb:102:in `const_missing'

You can fix it by using commit e8b603e523c14f145da7b3a1729f5cc06eba2dd1 of that plugin.

Something like this should do the trick:

cd vendor/plugins/exception_notification
git checkout -b rails2 e8b603e523c14f145da7b3a1729f5cc06eba2dd1

That particular commit is from November 13, 2008. It is the last commit not having anything to do with rails3, and it is a very stable commit and unlikely to need modification for existing projects.

if you are using externals to manage your subprojects, you can quickly fix it like this (from the main project directory):

ext freeze exception_notification e8b603e523c14f145da7b3a1729f5cc06eba2dd1

Published on 01/26/2010 at 06:26PM under , , .

uninstall feature added to ext

I’ve added an uninstall command to for removing subprojects from being managed by externals.


ext uninstall some_project

To stop tracking some_project. This will not remove the files in some_project’s directory. If you want to do that, use the -f/–force_removal option:

ext uninstall -f some_project

This will remove all of the files and the some_project directory itself.

To switch a project to a new repository, you can do something like the following:

ext uninstall -f some_project
ext install new/repository/url/some_project

This is the type of thing I added the feature for. I moved a couple plugins from subversion to git recently, and didn’t feel like manually changing the .externals and ignore features.


Published on 02/25/2009 at 12:40PM under .

freeze feature added to ext

have added a freeze feature to ext

It works like this:

ext freeze project_name [revision]

This records the revision in the .externals file under that subproject’s entry. When it is checked out/exported it fetches that revision.

If you leave the revision off of the command, it uses the revision the project is currently checked out at.


Published on 10/17/2008 at 11:48PM under .


What is externals and what is it used for?

externals allows you to make use of an svn:externals-like workflow with any combination of SCMs. What is the svn:externals workflow? I would describe it roughly like this:

You register subprojects with your main project. When you checkout the main project, the subprojects are automatically checked out. Doing a ‘status’ will tell you the changes in the main projects and any subprojects from where it’s ran. You commit changes to the the projects all seperately as needed. If somebody else does an update, they will get the changes to the subprojects as well.

For a more detailed explanation of why I started the externals project, please visit It’s largely a rant about git-submodule.

On with the tutorial


ext should run on unix-like systems and windows systems. All the unit tests pass on Linux and Windows vista (with cygwin).

First we need to install externals. The first, and easiest, method is to use gem:

gem install ext

The other method is to use github:

git clone git://
chmod u+x externals/bin/ext

If you install using git clone instead of rubygems, be sure to add the externals/bin directory to your path.

Creating a repository to play around with

I will use git for the main project, and will use git and subversion for the subprojects (the tutorial would be mostly identical if I used svn for the main project, that’s part of the point of ext.)

Now let’s create a repository for use with our project. I like to test out stuff like this in my ~/tmp/ folder.

mkdir tmp
cd tmp

mkdir repo
mkdir work

cd repo
mkdir rails_app.git
cd rails_app.git
git init --bare

Now let’s go to our work directory and make a rails app to push to this repository.

cd ../../work/
rails rails_app
cd rails_app
git init
git add . 
git commit -m "created fresh rails app"
git remote add origin ../../repo/rails_app.git 
git push origin master

If you’re like me, you consider empty directories in your project’s directory structure to be part of the project. Git will not track empty directories. So, here’s our first use of ext:

ext touch_emptydirs
git add .
git commit -m "touched empty dirs"
git push

This adds a .emptydir file to every empty directory so that git will track these folders.

Using “ext install” to register subprojects.

Now for our second use of ext. Let’s add the current edge rails to our application:

ext install git://

It should take a moment because rails is a large project.

Now that that’s done, let’s see what “ext install” did.

$ cat .externals 
scm = git
type = rails

path = vendor/rails
repository = git://
scm = git

.externals is the externals configuration file. This is the file used to keep track of your subprojects. Projects are stored in the form:

repository = urlfor://project.repository/url
branch = somebranch
scm = git/svn

The format is very similar to ini format. The section name is the path to the project. The main project’s settings are stored under [.]

Some things to notice: externals was automatically able to figure out that we’re using git for the main project (scm = git under [.]) Also, note that the type of the main project has been detected as rails (type = rails) This means that we can leave the paths off of the repositories in .externals (when using “ext install”) and ext will automatically know where to install stuff (if it’s called rails it goes in vendor/rails otherwise it goes in vendor/plugins/) Let’s make sure it’s there.

$ ls vendor/rails
Rakefile      activemodel     activesupport  pushgems.rb
actionmailer  activerecord    ci             railties
actionpack    activeresource  doc            release.rb

That’s not all, take a look at the ignore file:

$ cat .gitignore

This makes sense because we don’t want the main repository to track any of the files in the subproject. The files in the subproject are tracked by their own repository, possibly of a different SCM than the main project.

Let’s add some more subprojects: some rails plugins this time. We’ll add a couple that are tracked under subversion and one tracked under git to demnostrate how ext is scm agnostic.

ext install git:// -b edge
ext install svn://
ext install svn://

let’s see if our plugins made it

$ du --max-depth=2 -h vendor/plugins/ | grep lib
252K    vendor/plugins/foreign_key_migrations/lib
340K    vendor/plugins/redhillonrails_core/lib
24K vendor/plugins/engines/lib

looks good

$ cat .externals 
scm = git
type = rails

path = vendor/rails
repository = git://
scm = git

path = vendor/plugins/engines
repository = git://
scm = git
branch = edge

path = vendor/plugins/redhillonrails_core
repository = svn://
scm = svn

path = vendor/plugins/foreign_key_migrations
repository = svn://
scm = svn

…and the ignore file…

$ cat .gitignore 

also looks very good!

Something worth noting: if we were using svn for our main project, ext is smart enough to set the ignores using ‘svn propset svn:ignore’ on the appropriate directories.

Let’s now commit and push our work.

git add .
git commit -m "added 4 subprojects"
git push

Using “ext checkout” and “ext export”

And now let’s delete and check it out again to make sure we get the sub projects

cd ..
rm -rf rails_app
ext checkout ../repo/rails_app.git

It will take a moment as it clones rails from github again.

Let’s make sure all of the subprojects were checked out properly:

$ cd rails_app
$ du --max-depth=3 -h vendor/ | grep lib
12K     vendor/plugins/acts_as_list/lib
66K     vendor/plugins/foreign_key_migrations/lib
162K    vendor/plugins/redhillonrails_core/lib
382K    vendor/rails/actionmailer/lib
1.5M    vendor/rails/actionpack/lib
104K    vendor/rails/activemodel/lib
791K    vendor/rails/activerecord/lib
92K     vendor/rails/activeresource/lib
2.4M    vendor/rails/activesupport/lib
584K    vendor/rails/railties/lib

let’s also make sure the engines plugin is on a branch called “edge” (which is tracking the remote repository’s edge branch)

$ cd vendor/plugins
$ git branch -a
* edge

Notice how the subprojects were automatically fetched. As mentioned in the why ext article, the main project is usually incapable of functioning without it’s subprojects, so it makes sense to fetch the subprojects when we do a checkout or export. (This is what svn checkout does when it checks out a folder that has svn:externals set on it. It fetches the external projects automatically, which is very convenient.)

Note that you can use “ext export” instead of checkout if you don’t want histories to accompany the files. This tells ext to use “svn export” for subversion managed (sub)projects and “git clone –depth 1” for git managed (sub)projects. This can save a lot of time and is useful for deployment.

looks good, let’s go back to the rails_app directory to continue the tutorial

cd ../../../

“ext status” propagates through subprojects

Let’s modify a subproject.

echo "lol, internet" >> vendor/plugins/foreign_key_migrations/README

And now let’s check the status

$ ext status
status for .:
# On branch master
nothing to commit (working directory clean)

status for vendor/rails:
# On branch master
nothing to commit (working directory clean)

status for vendor/plugins/acts_as_list:
# On branch master
nothing to commit (working directory clean)

status for vendor/plugins/redhillonrails_core:

status for vendor/plugins/foreign_key_migrations:

As expected, foreign_key_migrations has a modified file. This same (very common) task is a bit of a pain in the neck with git-submodule (unless I’m missing something), and impossible in this situation where the subproject is not managed under the same source control system as the main project (as in this example.)

Deployment with capistrano

Most commands also have a short version of the command. The short versions only operate on the subprojects and not the main projects. “ext checkout” or “ext export” fetches the main project and subprojects but “ext co” and “ext ex” (meant to be ran in the working folder of the main project, use –workdir to do it from elsewhere) will fetch all subprojects and doesn’t touch the main project.

If you deploy with capistrano, you can have all your subprojects fetched on deployment by adding the following to your deploy.rb:

task :after_update_code, :roles => :app do
  run "ext --workdir #{release_path} ex"

Notice how I chose to use “ex” instead of “co” This is because I never do work from a deployed project’s working directory, so the history is pointless.

If people find externals usefull, I’d be happy to add a :ext scm type to capistrano so that it runs ext instead of git/svn. Then it would pickup all the subprojects during a deploy without having to supply the above after_update_code task. I could also add a switch to rails “./script/plugin install” (perhaps -X) to tell it to use ext to manage the project (kind of how you can use -x to tell it to use svn:externals.) Though, this isn’t really any easier to make use of than just doing “ext install”

A few other tips

“ext help” will show you all the available commands. Also, feel free to manage the .externals file manually if you wish.


For issue tracking, at the moment I’m using lighthouseapp. Report bugs to

I also have a rubyforge account for this project at if you would prefer to submit bugs/feature requests via rubyforge’s tracking system. I’ve used both sites but never managed a project with either, so I don’t know which is better. Rubyforge seems to be more feature complete.

Externals is my first attempt at contributing a useful open source project to the community. If you have some tips for me in this regard, please feel free to share them.


Published on 09/06/2008 at 11:58PM under , , .

Why externals?

Externals allows you to make use of an svn:externals-like workflow with any combination of SCMs. What is the svn:externals workflow? I would describe it roughly like this:

You register subprojects with your main project. When you checkout the main project, the subprojects are automatically checked out. Doing a ‘status’ will tell you the changes in the main projects and any subprojects from where it’s ran. You commit changes to the the projects all seperately as needed. If somebody else does an update, they will get the changes to the subprojects as well.

Probably like you, I’ve started using git for some projects/plugins. Git has a feature called git-submodule that is supposed to work similar to svn:externals. Git-submodule’s annoyances are what inspired me to start the externals project, and here are some of the problems I have with git-submodule’s workflow:

  • When you clone/pull an existing project, you have to do git-submodule init/update manually to get the subprojects (or to update them.) You may be thinking this isn’t a big deal, but it’s an extra step. The main project is almost never functional without the subprojects so why would you ever want to pull in only the main project? Having to run extra steps every time is annoying.
  • With git-submodule, the subprojects are pulled in at a specific commit, not at a branch tip. This is not a commit at some point in some branch’s history. It’s a commit with the working directory completely disconnected from any branch. If you want to make any edits to a subproject, you first have to checkout the branch you want to work with. This is extremely annoying. When I start adding a new feature to the main project, I can’t predict which subprojects may need to be modified along the way. Should I go to them all manually and do a checkout? If not, this usually means that as I’m stepping through the debugger I have to keep track of what subprojects I’m about to change, stop what I’m doing and go to them and checkout a branch. Not only is this disruptive to my workflow, on more than one occasion I have forgot to checkout a branch before making edits, and wound up issuing the wrong commands to do the checkout once I realized I was detatched. The result was I wiped out all of my changes in the subproject. This can be extremely irritating.
  • Status doesn’t propagate through the subprojects. This means that when it’s time to make some commits, you have to go to every single subproject and do a ‘git status’ because you aren’t 100% sure which ones you’ve made changes too.
  • Because of #2, when you do make changes to a subproject, you have to remember to do a ‘git add path/to/subproject’ so that the new commit is pointed to by the main project.

However, even if git-submodule was as useful to me as svn:externals, I would still see a need for ext: when you have a project with subprojects managed by different SCMs. What I’ve been doing is if the main project is git, all subprojects of type git I would manage with git-submodule, all subprojects using subversion I would simply commit the whole subversion work directories into my git repository. When the main project is subversion I’ve been using svn:externals for managing subprojects that use subversion, and checking whole git repositories into my main project’s repository. Now with externals, I can have a uniform workflow regardless of SCM combination.

For info on how to use externals, please see:

Published on 09/04/2008 at 07:09PM under , , .

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