Jean-Philippe Doyle (j15e)

Developer, homebrewer & more

What is a Gemfile versus a Gemspec

28 Jun 2013

Foreword : when I started working with ruby a few years ago, it took me quite some time to figure out the whole stack and every subtil detail of it. I will write a few articles about the ruby toolbox and my current understanding of it, stuff I would have love to have been told long ago.

In plain english, here is what they do and why you should use them. I think the best way to start explaining this, is to know where they come from and what is their respective purpose.

Gemspec was created in 2006 by Rubygems and is the way to define a ruby package (a gem), publish it on and install them with the gem command.

When you define a gem, you set a name, a version, an author, etc. and you also specify which gems your gem depends on, and this is where things might get confusing at first.

Gemfile was created in 2009 by Bundler (Engine Yard, Andre Arko) as a way to define a project gems dependency, deal with dependencies version and lock versions to use the same environment across developpers & deployments.

When using a Gemfile, bundler is resolving each gem's gemspec and gather them all to find out what conflicts might occurs and what which most up to date version of a gem is compatible among all your dependencies.

When you are doing a ruby project which isn't a gem, you should only use a Gemfile. It deals with dependencies versions, it locks versions in a file because you need to share same gems versions among developers & deployments.

When you are building a gem, your sure need a gemspec. And, optionally, if you would like to either keep a track of dependencies that aren't part of the real gem dependencies (ex. tests framework, debugging tools) you may create a Gemfile. In either case, you can tell bundler in the Gemfile to read the gemspec :

# Gemfile
source ''

# Gems for gem development
group :debug do
  gem 'debugger', :platform => 'mri'
  gem 'awesome_print'
  gem 'gem-release'

group :test do
  gem 'contest'
  gem 'rake'
  gem 'mocha'

# Bundler will get other dependencies from the gemspec.

Some pure rubyist might told your is wrong and that you should never include a Gemfile in a ruby gem since bundler is a system for deployments and has nothing to do with a gem.

I agree to disagree.