Collaborative Team Facebook Development

Posted: January 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: posts | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

For as much as has been written regarding developing Facebook applications with Rails (which isn’t that much considering the staggering popularity of Facebook and Rails), there is even less written on developing Facebook applications in a team environment.

There are a couple of potential strategies. One of the few articles out there describes the challenges in developing apps as a team:

This sets up some challenges for a development team. First off, your application probably relies on Facebook services, meaning it can only be fully tested from within Facebook. This implies that the external Facebook server needs to be connected to your development server. Since many Rails developers run off their own development machine behind a firewall, this is potentially awkward. Similarly, the fact that the Facebook application has a single URL mapping makes it difficult for multiple developers to work on the same application without tripping over each others” work.

The author goes on to discuss the solution that their team is using, consisting of a series of Rake tasks and a staging server to facilitate testing in a team environment.

The other option, which is supported natively by Facebooker, is using an SSH tunnel from the local development workstation to an intermediary server and having the Facebook app point at that server. (This necessitates having an understanding IT team that doesn’t lose that much sleep over some open ports..) The SSH tunnel is discussed by many of the Facebooker tutorials available (here, here, and here).

We adapted the SSH tunnel strategy to our team environment. Each developer will have a development Facebook app and then will point that to their assigned port on our staging server. Then they can tunnel into the staging server from their local workstation. In this way, everyone can be testing their work independently without needing to coordinate deploys through to a staging and central test application. The below diagram illustrates this.

Ok, so we have our plan, but how to go about setting this up? In particular, the other tutorials don”t talk about what you do or do not have to do on the server side. In truth, the tunnel is fairly easy to configure and seems to be working well.

On the server side, the key is making sure that the ports you need aren”t blocked and are accessible for purposes of the tunnel. No need to configure virtual hosts or mongrels – the staging server is a simple relay. You will probably need to configure SSH to turn on GatewayPorts. That”s just a couple of quick steps:

  • sudo vi /etc/ssh/sshd_config
  • Find the line GatewayPorts if it”s there.
  • Change or add to: GatewayPorts yes
  • Restart SSH: sudo /etc/init.d/ssh restart

(based on other blog posts I came across, be sure to indicate GatewayPorts yes and not GatewayPorts clientspecified)

Now, via Facebook”s Developers application, each developer should configure an application for testing purposes. Set the Canvas Callback URL to (Facebook requires that you have a trailing slash) and you should be good to go. Depending on your application, you may need to configure other settings (other callback URLs or iFrame/FBML, but the canvas callback URL is the primary setting. Make a note of the API key and the secret key.

Finally, we can setup the tunnel. Go into the Rails app that you pulled down from your Git repp and edit config/facebooker.yml. Add in the API key and secret key from your development application you just configured. For the canvas page name, enter the name of your application, as configured on Facebook. Then change the callback URL to the same URL the app is configured for: (again, trailing slash!). Then enter the SSH username and hostname for your staging server, save the file, and you should be good to go.

At this point, you should be able to start your development server (ruby script/server) and then start the tunnel (rake facebooker:tunnel:start). If you’re on Windows, be sure to run these commands through Cgywin. At this point, you should be able to go to and see your development app. While the app is loading, you should also see the SSH command window and the Ruby Webrick/Mongrel window showing the incoming connection and the Rails system handling the requests.