Upload images with your Rails app using Active Storage and Cloudinary

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One of the first issues I encountered when deploying my Rails apps to production is that I could no longer store images locally as I was doing in the development environment. For example, if you are using Heroku to deploy your app with Active Storage’s default local storage setup, the images you upload will be stored only temporarily in Heroku’s filesystem.

Luckily, Active Storage supports uploading files to a cloud storage service like Amazon S3, Google Cloud Storage, Microsoft Azure Storage or, like in this case, Cloudinary. Services like Amazon S3 are widely used but they have the inconvenient that, even if you have access to a free quota, you have to fill in your credit card details and get exposed to unexpected charges if you accidentally exceed such quota. As a beginner developer who just wanted to have his personal projects deployed to production, I didn’t like the idea of making a mistake or even being hacked with the consequences of receiving a huge bill for overusing my cloud storage, like that story of a guy who got a bill of $2700.

This is when I learned about Cloudinary. Cloudinary is a cloud storage service that has a free plan which does not require credit card and allows to store up to 25GB of data or 25GB of viewing bandwidth. Moreover, it has a gem that simplifies the integration with any Rails app. This covered all my needs, so I went ahead.

In order to set up Cloudinary in your Rails app, first create a free account on their website. Then, as usual with any other Rails gem, add it to your Gemfile :

And run

Next step is adding your Cloudinary’s credentials. You can see these if you download the cloudinary.yml file from your Cloudinary dashboard. As with any other credentials, it is good practice to store them in a configuration file out of Git while adding them to your environment variables.

In order to do this, if you are running the app locally, you can use a gem called Figaro. Once installed, Figaro creates a config/application.yml file and adds it to your .gitignore. Therefore, in your config/application.yml, add your credentials as in the example below:

Then, Figaro will parse this YAML file and load all the values into ENV.

However, when deploying the app to production, you will have to do this in a different way depending on the service you are using. For example, in Heroku you will have to add the credentials to your config vars. You can easily do this from your Heroku dashboard, just remember to write the variable names in upper case (API_KEY, API_SECRET, CLOUD_NAME, etc).

Next is to set up Active Storage to work with Cloudinary. First you will have to declare the service in the config/storage.yml file:

Then configure Active Storage in the config/environments/production.rb file commenting out the default local setup:

This will change your production environment setup. If you are going to use Cloudinary in your development and test environments as well, just do the same in the corresponding development.rb and test.rb files.

In order to upload images to a cloud storage service, Active Storage will have to upload directly from the client to the cloud. This functionality is called Direct Uploads and it has to be included in your application’s JavaScript bundle.

If you are using an old version of Rails (5 or below) you will have to do this using the asset pipeline by adding the following line in app/assets/javascripts/application.js :

However, this is not relevant to new Rails 6 applications where Webpack is used. Instead you will have to use the npm package including the following line in app/javascript/packs/application.js :

Now you are able to upload images using Rails forms like in the example below:

When displaying images from the cloud, you can still use the image_tag method as usual:

I hope this helped!

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