7 Practical Tips for Maintaining Legacy Rails Applications

It is difficult to sustain legacy applications, especially when they were first developed using the earlier Rails version, for both developers and businesses. And so, similar to the cars left behind as better models are developed, we are left with old technology still in use, while other more advanced systems exist.

One of the first steps in effectively managing legacy Rails applications is to hire Ruby on Rails developers who are skilled in modern development practices and comfortable working with older versions of the framework.

The major challenge is to find people who are willing to learn and work for a company interested in maintaining and developing older software, it is not always easy to find programmers with this type of interest.

  • Understanding the Existing Codebase

To maintain a legacy Rails application effectively, it’s important to understand its existing codebase thoroughly. It goes beyond the process of scanning through line after line of code, but it entails the relationship that an application has in terms of structure and functions with other applications, its required inputs, and its outputs.

Having a place where all findings are documented and even having a knowledge base that anyone who works on the project in the future has to look at is a good idea that developers should consider. This documentation becomes valuable since the personnel that takes up the tasks may change after some time.

  • Updating and Refactoring Gradually

One common mistake is trying to refactor and update large parts of a legacy application all at once. Slower changes are more reasonable because they decrease the probability of introducing new errors.

Start by updating small pieces of logic and slowly increase the scope of these updates. Each change should be thoroughly tested before moving on to the next. This is a gradual approach to a more structured and high-performing app because it is integrated gradually piecemeal.

  • Leveraging Automated Testing

Automated testing is a critical component of maintaining legacy applications. This strategy ensures that whenever a change is made in the application, the built suite of tests will check whether that change has broken any other functionality or not.

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For legacy Rails apps, it’s important to focus on integrating tests gradually. Start with high-impact areas and build out the test suite over time. This is not only beneficial in achieving stability but also in putting more confidence when making changes to the code.

  • Managing Dependencies

Legacy applications often rely on outdated libraries or versions of software that no longer receive updates or support. Managing these dependencies carefully is important. Assess which libraries are essential and consider updating or replacing those that could potentially pose security risks or compatibility issues.

Sometimes, maintaining a separate internal repository for outdated dependencies can be helpful, especially when external updates are no longer available.

  • Streamlining the Development Environment

Setting up a consistent development environment can be challenging with older applications, as modern tools might not be fully compatible with them. Use containerization technologies like Docker to replicate the production environment accurately.

It also enables new developers to get into the project more easily and has a check against the “It works on my machine” issue across the development cycle.

  • Engaging the Community

Even for older versions of Rails, there are still communities and forums where developers share their experiences and solutions. Interaction with such groups of people usually yields more strategies and approaches specifically for use in traditional systems.

Further, there is always the chance when engaging the community one might find that they have patches or updates for an older system that are worthwhile to have.


Updating a legacy Rails application can be somewhat tricky, especially if the idea is not only to update but also to preserve the integrity of the remaining system. This proper kind of approach to maintenance is not only thrifty but also helps prolong the valuable existence of the software.

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