Multiple Versions of Ruby With Stow

What is the best way to support multiple versions of ruby?

Some options:

  • Multiruby looks like it may do what I want. I already have it installed, because I am autotest-addicted (first coined by Dr Nic.

  • Michael Greenly posted this, which would work since I am running ubuntu.

  • A buddy recommended GNU Stow.

I chose to use stow. Call me old fashion, but I really prefer doing things be hand. I didn’t like the thought of having to type ruby1.8.6 vs ruby1.8.7 proposed by Michael Greenly, but I did pick up a few things from his article. I am interested in the testing against multiple version like multiruby provides. However, the main reason I want different ruby installs is because different clients have different environments. So here is how I did it. For reference, I am using Ubuntu 8.0.4.

  1. Remove all ubuntu ruby packages.


dpkg --list | grep -i ruby

to find all the packages you have installed. Then use

sudo apt-get remove <em>packagename</em>

to remove those packages. We are going to build all of these by hand.

  1. Make sure you have the ubuntu build packages

Run the following to make sure you have packages necessary to build ruby with

sudo apt-get build-dep ruby1.8

This will install stuff like autoconf and automake if you don’t already have them.

  1. Setup your filesystem for stow.

Let’s first make a directory under /usr/local named stow with

sudo mkdir /usr/local/stow

We will install everything here and then use stow to create symlinks in /usr/local/bin. Also, change the directory permission for /usr/local/stow so you can install stuff there as your user. This has the added benefit of alerting you if you configure wrong or try to overwrite something. We will only need to sudo to run the stow command. Run the following to see what groups you are in

groups username

Hopefully there will be a dev or adm or something similiar. I will use the adm group. Run the following to change the group and permissions on /usr/local/stow.

sudo chgrp -R adm /usr/local/stow


chmod -R 775 /usr/local/stow
  1. Install stow

Download the stow package with from Then

tar -zxf stow-1.3.3.tar.gz

to extract everything. Go into the directory and then run the following.

./configure --prefix=/usr/local

Then install it with make and sudo make install

I considered installing stow under the stow directory but figured it was overkill

  1. Install ruby1.8.6

Get the code with from Unzip and cd into the directory. Run

./configure --prefix=/usr/local/stow/ruby-1.8.6-p287

and then

make && make install

You shouldn’t need to sudo if you have the permissions correct. Run

make install-doc

if you want ri and rdoc, but it takes a while.

  1. Install ruby1.8.7

Much like the 1.8.6 version, get the code with Unzip and cd into the directory. Run

./configure --prefix=/usr/local/stow/ruby-1.8.7-p72

and then

make && make install

Again run

make install-doc

if you want.

  1. Update your path

Make sure that /usr/local/bin is on your path. Since we don’t have ruby installed anywhere else, you can put it at the end. You could put it earlier if you have other versions installed.

echo $PATH

to see if you already have it. If not, go to your .bashrc and add it where ever PATH is exported.

  1. Run stow

Lets set up ruby 1.8.7. Change to the /usr/local/stow directory and run

sudo stow ruby-1.8.7-p72

All the symlinks are created for you.

  1. Install rubygems, gems and then stow again


ruby -v

should show you it is version 1.8.7. You will need to install rubygems now. Get it from and then extract it into a directory. Change into that directory and run

ruby setup.rb

Now rubygems is installed in the ruby directory, but you will need run stow again. Change to /usr/local/stow and run

sudo stow ruby-1.8.7-p87

Running the command

which gem

should show you have it installed. You can now install gems like mongrel, rails etc. When you finish installing gems, be sure to run stow again so it will symlink the executables.

That’s it. Switching to ruby 1.8.6 is easy. Go to /usr/local/stow and run

stow -D ruby-1.8.7-p22 && stow -R ruby-1.8.6-p287

The -D removes all the symlinks.  Run the following to see all the options for stow

stow -h

Follow the instructions above to setup rubygems and all the gems again. Remember to rerun stow so the executable are symlinked. After you install the gems the first time, switching is simply a matter of stow -D and then stow -R. Pretty clean and easy.

A great thing about stow is I can use it for other packages as well, like mysql or php. I’ll note that ruby doesn’t have a

make uninstall

so it is ugly if you want to remove the packages. With stow, all you have to do is remove the directory.

Notes: I tried to cover most commands I used. If you need more unix reference, try something like this or this. Google is your friend.

In addition to the articles linked above, I also read the following when writing this post one and two