Modular Workers for Easier Testing and Development

Dotan Nahum, Dec 4

A background worker in the Ruby world can find its place either assiting a Rails stack, or having a life of its own.

I argue that in either case, giving a worker a life of its own will be highly productive in the long run. Having the worker modeled as a stand-alone library or a gem, a module if you will, is even more productive.

What's a Modular Worker?

Simply put, a modular worker is a worker that is a library or a project of its own. You can export it to a gem and then depend on it, and in turn, it can declare what it depends on - like any other software project.

A modular worker is a first-class software project, that can be iterated upon independently and quickly.

One strategy of creating a modular worker architecture is to extract all your worker code into 2 projects.

  1. Shell worker project
  2. Actual worker logic project

Illustrated above - is a shell project, where you wire up your worker logic against an actual worker logic project. Within such a shell project, you would set up:

This frees the core AcmeCorp::Handler project to be:

With this layout, 90% of the time - you'll be maintaining the actual logic of handling messages, while being assured that other concerns like deployment, integration tests, etc. are just taking 10% of your time and can also be maintained by other non-domain relevant members of the team (devops?).

To recap, now you'll be treating workers like so:

Sneakers Does Modular Workers by Default

Using Sneakers, you're already doing this without noticing. If you'll take a look at Sneakers' test suite, you'll find that testing is easy and simple, and that workers are modular enough that you can pack any of them into gems easily.

In fact I mostly start a Sneakers worker project by doing a bundle gem my_worker and then including Sneakers into the gemspec.

Sneakers packs the shell and logic aspects as a singular project, which is good for most if not all use cases. You can include your operational concerns within it, as well as your message handling logic - no harm done.

If you find you need that extra-degree of separation, Sneakers makes it very easy to take apart your worker project into 2 separate projects as discussed above.


Testing a system which depends on a real queue can be nasty (much like testing against a real database).

However with this layout it becomes easy and manageable:

  1. Unit testing, simple - because AcmeCorp::Handler is a simple Ruby project.
  2. Integration testing / acceptance testing - focused within the Shell Project, you can do all of the typical 'dirty' test-harness tricks there.

The Price: Modular Messaging

Getting these immense gains from such an architecture, comes at a price of making sure the architecture supports modular messaging.

Plainly spoken, you will need to be sure a message is self-contained which means you can't just send off an ID of an item in the database; you'll have to send off the entire object.