Deploying ExpressionEngine with Git and Capistrano

A tutorial on how to publish an ExpressionEngine website using Git and Capistrano.


I'm going to make a few assumptions in this article. Firstly that you are working on a POSIX compliant operating system. That might be OSX or Linux. This article does not support Windows although you might be able to get it working using Putty. Secondly I'm assuming that you are comfortable working with the shell (in this case bash).

Software requirements

Capifying ExpressionEngine

In order to prepare ExpressionEngine for use with Capistrano we need to shift our folder structure around a tiny bit. For my development I normally have all my ExpressionEngine files in one folder. For Capistrano to be able to do the magic we need to move all public files to a folder called public. Then we also need to create a folder called config.

So now my site folder structure looks like this:

  - public (holds ExpressionEngine files)
  - config

Optionally you can add a README file for other developers to get quick information on the project. So now it looks like this

  - public
  - config

Then when you are in the directory run the following command:

capify .

This creates two files Capfile and config/deploy.rb. The latter is the one we are interested in - we'll come back to that when we configure deployment.

Source control

So now we've got a folder structure and our source code in the right folders. We are going to add the whole thing to git. In the the directory run. (I assuming you have a bare git repo to push your commit to somewhere). You can find more information on setting up a bare git repo here.

git init
git add .
git commit -m 'initial commit'
git remote add origin 
git push origin master

Great - so now we've got a Capified folder structure and the source code in Git.

Publishing the website

We need to edit the /config/deploy.rb file. Here's my Capistrano recipe.

set :application, ""

set :repository,  "ssh://"
set :scm, "git"
set :branch, "master"

set :deploy_to, "/var/www/vhosts/#{application}"
set :deploy_via, :remote_cache
set :copy_strategy, :checkout
set :keep_releases, 3
after "deploy:update", "deploy:cleanup" 
set :use_sudo, false
set :copy_exclude, [".git/*"] 
set :copy_compression, :bz2

role :app, ""
role :web, ""
role :db,  "", :primary => true

desc "This is here to overide the original :restart"
deploy.task :restart, :roles => :app do
  # do nothing but overide the default

Set the relevant paths and setting, save the file and you are done.

And deploy

Deploying an ExpressionEngine website is now just a case of

cap deploy

This does the following:

That's it. The latest greatest version of your website is published.


Since moving to Capistrano for deployment I've saved a massive amount of time. I no longer have to track which files have changed and manually transfer them using FTP when a client is ready to deploy. I simply type one line on the command line and git does the heavy lifting for me.

I can easily and quickly roll back if there are any problems.

Shared folders

Advanced users might wish to use the Shared folder feature of Capistrano. This is a folder that shares content across releases. One example of this would be the FCKEditor folder that contains all the necessary code to generate a rich text editor. I don't particularly need to version this so I've extracted this from source control and it is in the shared folder.

More information

I appreciate that this tricky to set up so for more information the following links might be useful

Have an update or suggestion for this article? You can edit it here and send me a pull request.