Shopify and Open Source: A Mutually Beneficial Relationship

Shopify and Rails have grown up together. Both were in their infancy in 2004, and our CEO (Tobi) was one of the first contributors and a member of Rails Core. Shopify was built on top of Rails, and our engineering culture is rooted in the Rails Doctrine, from developer happiness to the omakase menu, sharp knives, and majestic monoliths. We embody the doctrine pillars. 

Shopify's success is due, in part, to Ruby and Rails. We feel obligated to pay that success back to the community as best we can. But our commitment and investment are about more than just paying off that debt; we have a more meaningful and mutually beneficial goal.

One Hundred Year Mission

At Shopify, we often talk about aspiring to be a 100-year company–to still be around in 2122! That feels like an ambitious dream, but we make decisions and build our code so that it scales as we grow with that goal in mind. If we pull that off, will Ruby and Rails still be our tech stack? It's hard to answer, but it's part of my job to think about that tech stack over the next 100 years.

Ruby and Rails as 100-year tools? What does that even mean?

To get to 100 years, Rails has to be more than an easy way to get started on a new project. It's about cost-effective performance in production, well-formed opinions on the application architecture, easy upgrades, great editors, avoiding antipatterns, and choosing when you want the benefits of typing. 

To get to 100 years, Ruby and Rails have to merit being the tool of choice, every day, for large teams and well-aged projects for a hundred years. They have to be the tool of choice for thousands of developers, across millions of lines of code, handling billions of web requests. That's the vision. That's Rails at scale.

And that scale is where Shopify is investing.

Why Companies Should Invest In Open Source

Open source is the heart and soul of Rails: I’d say that Rails would be nowhere near what it is today if not for the open source community.

Rafael França, Shopify Principal Engineer and Rails Core Team Member

We invest in open source to build the most stable, resilient, performant version to grow our applications. How much better could it be if more people were contributing? As a community, we can do more. Ruby and Rails can only continue to be a choice for companies if we're actively investing in the development, and to do that; we need more companies involved in contributing.

It Improves Engineering Skills

Practice makes progress! Building open source software with cross-functional teams helps build better communication skills and offers opportunities to navigate feedback and criticism constructively. It also enables you to flex your debugging muscles and develop deep expertise in how the framework functions, which helps you build better, more stable applications for your company.

It’s Essential to Application Health & Longevity

Contributing to open source helps ensure that Rails benefits your application and the company in the long term. We contribute because we care about the changes and how they affect our applications. Investing upfront in the foundation is proactive, whereas rewrites and monkey patches are reactive and lead to brittle code that's hard to maintain and upgrade.

At our scale, it's common to find issues with, or opportunities to enhance, the software we use. Why keep those improvements private? Because we build on open source software, it makes sense to contribute to those projects to ensure that they will be as great as possible for as long as possible. If we contribute to the community, it increases our influence on the software that our success is built on and helps improve our chances of becoming a 100-year company. This is why we make contributions to Ruby and Rails, and other open source projects. The commitment and investment are significant, but so are the benefits.

How We're Investing in Ruby and Rails

Shopify is built on a foundation of open source software, and we want to ensure that that foundation continues to thrive for years to come and that it continues to scale to meet our requirements. That foundation can’t succeed without investment and contribution from developers and companies. We don’t believe that open source development is “someone else’s problem”. We are committed to Ruby and Rails projects because the investment helps us future-proof our foundation and, therefore, Shopify. 

We contribute to strategic projects and invest in initiatives that impact developer experience, performance, and security—not just for Shopify but for the greater community. Here are some projects we’re investing in:

Improving Developer Tooling 

  • We’ve open-sourced projects like toxiproxy, bootsnap, packwerk, tapioca, paquito, and maintenance_tasks that are niche tools we found we needed. If we need them, other developers likely need them as well.
  • We helped add Rails support to Sorbet's gradual typing to make typing better for everyone.
  • We're working to make Ruby support in VScode best-in-class with pre-configured extensions and powerful features like refactorings.
  • We're working on automating upgrades between Ruby and Rails versions to reduce friction for developers.

Increasing Performance

Enhancing Security

  • We're actively contributing to bundler and rubygems to make Ruby's supply chain best-in-class.
  • We're partnering with Ruby Central to ensure the long-term success and security of through strategic investments in engineering, security-related projects, critical tools and libraries, and improving the cycle time for contributors.

Meet Shopify Contributors

The biggest investment you can make is to be directly involved in the future of the tools that your company relies on. We believe we are all responsible for the sustainability and quality of open source. Shopify engineers are encouraged to contribute to open source projects where possible. The commitment varies. Some engineers make occasional contributions, some are part-time maintainers of important open source libraries that we depend on, and some are full-time contributors to critical open source projects.

Meet some of the Shopify engineers contributing to open source. Some of those faces are probably familiar because we have some well-known experts on the team. But some you might not know…yet. We're growing the next generation of Ruby and Rails experts to build for the future.

Mike is a NYC-based engineering leader who's worked in a variety of domains, including energy management systems, bond pricing, high-performance computing, agile consulting, and cloud computing platforms. He is an active member of the Ruby open-source community, where as a maintainer of a few popular libraries he occasionally still gets to write software. Mike has spent the past decade growing inclusive engineering organizations and delivering amazing software products for Pivotal, VMware, and Shopify.

Wherever you are, your next journey starts here! If building systems from the ground up to solve real-world problems interests you, our Engineering blog has stories about other challenges we have encountered. Intrigued? Visit our Engineering career page to find out about our open positions and learn about Digital by Design.