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The top 20 plugins to create a Rails application

Rails is now closer to its official third release and all plugins and gems authors are working to ensure compatibility of their products with the new version of the framework.

Among the many Rails plugins released by the community, I make a list of 20 most used (and useful) in our projects at DevInterface.


  • Authlogic: this plugin is definitely the more common among Rails 2.x applications. It was releases as release replacement for the powerful but verbose “RESTful Authentication”, pioneer of Rails authentication during the 1.2.x version.
  • Devise: provides a complete implementation of all authentication problems with support for sign up, password recovery and more. Its modularity, combined with the fact of being Rack based, candidates this plugin to become the reference for authentication in Rails 3.
  • Subdomain_fu: great plugin for managing subdomains. Take a look at our authlogic_subdomain_fu_startup_app to get an idea of how it works together with Authlogic. Rails 3 provides native support for conditional routing based on subdomains, so this feature of the plugin will be removed in future versions.

User Interface

  • LessCSS is a library that essential gives a way to write stylesheets quickly and DRY. The syntax provided by this framework allows to define variables and to include other existing chunks of style. It’s also perfectly compatible with the CSS syntax, so just rename the css file into a .less one to be already half done.
  • More: This plugin allows you to automatically use LessCSS in Rails applications. Together with Blueprint CSS allows the development of templates in a agile and cross-browser way.
  • HAML and “Sass” represent an alternative to ERB templating by giving the possibility to write HTML pages in a concise and fast way. As well as LessCSS, Sass provides an excellent solution to quickly write CSS with a concise and reusable syntax.
  • Formtastic: plugin that allow you to build forms for your model in an elegant and functional way. Note that the plugin automatically translates the labels of attributes using the language file associated with ActiveRecord.
  • Show_for is the complementary of Formtastic to view our models details in “show” pages.
  • Paperclip: great plugin for handling attachments and well handled by Formtastic.

Business Logic

  • Inherited Resources is an excellent plugin for writing controllers quickly and DRY. The use of this plugin will left our controller classes a little “empty” …
  • Active Scaffold: this plugin is useful especially to manage the CRUD of any models in the administration pages of the site. It’s easy to configure and offers a great versatility to handle all situations.
  • CanCan is a small plugin for managing ACL (access control list) quickly and easily. Useful if you want to restrict access to resources without the need to build a more complex solution.
  • Will_paginate: a must for anyone who wants to paginate his dataset.


  • Configatron: With this plugin you can configure application parameters without constants or global variables.
  • Delayed Job, plugins that can handle long asynchronous processes that run in the background. Useful for newsletter management.


  • Cucumber: large library for developing Rails applications following the BDD (behaviour driven development). It ’s a great tool if used continuously and extensively, but requires a bit high learning curve. You could easily duplicate features and steps if you have no knowledge of what has already been implemented by other team members.
  • RSpec represented a revolution in the world of testing for the Rails community, shifting the focus from TDD (test driven development) to BDD. Excellent to test models and controllers. The stories have been replaced by Cucumber’s features.
  • Shoulda: plugin, originally created to apply BDD in Test::Unit classes, that perfectly fits into RSpec and very useful for testing of models.
  • FactoryGirl, plugin created as an alternative to the verbose and not very maintainable fixtures.
  • Mocha: needed to make the tests decoupled from the database, provides a clean syntax to create stubs and mock of our models.

This is only a short list of the most useful plugins available. Probably someone will choose some others for his top 20, someone else will agree with me. What do you think?

Please share your preferences.

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