Creating a RubyGems plugin

Send to Kindle

Do you know when you install a gem and it adds a custom command to RubyGems? Then you can just run gem <custom-command> <params> and it does something cool? Well, that is just a RubyGems plugin, and although it’s not very well documented, it’s not that hard to create one.

Our goal

Our goal here is just to understand what are the pieces that we need to put together to create one of these plugins. We are not going to create something that is amazingly useful. Here’s what it will do: It will add a repo command, that will just open a GitHub repository in your browser.

$ gem repo ruby/ruby

# should open in your browser

So let’s get our hands dirty.

It’s just a gem

A RubyGems plugin is just a normal gem, with some specific characteristics. To create a gem you can use any template or generator you like. I’ll use bundle gem repo to create the skeleton for our plugin.

$ bundle gem repo

├── Gemfile
├── LICENSE.txt
├── Rakefile
├── bin
│   ├── console
│   └── setup
├── lib
│   ├── repo
│   │   └── version.rb
│   └── repo.rb
└── repo.gemspec

And the first step is to update the repo.gemspec file with your plugin details. It could look something like this:

# coding: utf-8
lib = File.expand_path('../lib', __FILE__)
$LOAD_PATH.unshift(lib) unless $LOAD_PATH.include?(lib)
require 'repo/version' do |spec|          = "repo"
  spec.version       = Repo::VERSION
  spec.authors       = ["Your name"]         = [""]

  spec.summary       = %q{Opens github repo}
  spec.description   = %q{Opens github repo}
  spec.license       = "MIT"

  spec.files         = `git ls-files -z`.split("\x0").reject { |f| f.match(%r{^(test|spec|features)/}) }
  spec.bindir        = "exe"
  spec.executables   = spec.files.grep(%r{^exe/}) { |f| File.basename(f) }
  spec.require_paths = ["lib"]

  spec.add_development_dependency "bundler", "~> 1.8"
  spec.add_development_dependency "rake", "~> 10.0"

After you run git add ., you should be able to build your gem with gem build repo.gemspec and check that a file called repo-0.1.0.gem was created. We are good to go!

The RubyGems requirements

RubyGems will look for a file called rubygems_plugin.rb in the root of the require_path that was defined in the gemspec. In our case, it’s in the lib directory, so we will create this file there:

# lib/rubygems_plugin.rb

require "rubygems/command_manager"


Here we are just registering a new command, so RubyGems will be able to find it when someone tries to execute our gem repo.
That’s the same way the builtin commands are registered, as you can see here.

After our custom command is registered, we need to create the class that will be executed when someone calls this command. RubyGems will look for a class in rubygems/commands, that matches our command name. In our case, repo_command.rb.

# lib/rubygems/commands/repo_command.rb

class Gem::Commands::RepoCommand < Gem::Command
  def initialize
    super("repo", "Open github repository")

  def execute

We create our Gem::Commands::RepoCommand, that extends from Gem::Command. The execute method is our guy, it’s the one that will be called when we run the command.
Again, that’s exactly how the builtin commands work. If you check this directory, you will see all these commands. It’s also a great place to find inspiration and see how the commands that you use every day work.

Implementing the functionality

Implementing our functionality is just a matter of calling a command in this execute method. I’ll just use the open command here, that should work just for OS X, fell free to implement it the way you like.

def execute
  repo = options[:args].first
  system "open{repo}"

Notice that we have this options hash with some useful information, like the list of arguments we received. In this case, we just need the first one, that is the repository name.

And that should be it! Here’s the final structure that we should have:

├── Gemfile
├── LICENSE.txt
├── Rakefile
├── lib
│   ├── repo
│   │   └── version.rb
│   ├── rubygems
│   │   └── commands
│   │       └── repo_command.rb
│   └── rubygems_plugin.rb
├── repo-0.1.0.gem
└── repo.gemspec

Installing the plugin

Let’s install this plugin to make sure it works.
First, remove the old repo-0.1.0.gem that we created before:

$ rm repo-0.1.0.gem

Then make sure all your files are tracked:

$ git add .

Rebuild you gem:

$ gem build repo.gemspec

And install the plugin:

$ gem install repo-0.1.0.gem

# Successfully installed repo-0.1.0
# Parsing documentation for repo-0.1.0
# Done installing documentation for repo after 0 seconds
# 1 gem installed

Now the repo command should already be available:

$ gem repo ruby/ruby

# should open in your browser


There are a few methods that you can override in your class to better explain how the command works. I couldn’t find them documented anywhere, but you can just check the base command class. The methods that you can override have a comment explaining its purpose.
One example is the usage method, that I probably don’t need to explain. These information are shown when someone runs gem help <command>. You can check gem help install for an example of a very well documented command.

In the RubyGems website you can find a list of plugins. There are certainly hundreds more out there, but this is a good list to start with and see how things are done.


Since people seem to be more interested in building RubyGems plugins than I thought, I decided to create a plugin generator. You can find it on my github. It’s basically an automation for the things I covered here.

Get fresh articles in your inbox

If you liked this article, you might want to subscribe. If you don't like what you get, unsubscribe with one click.