Sass with Rails – avoiding disappearing stylesheets in production

In: General

7 Aug 2008

A few days ago I noticed that some of the pages on the Hotels app on were completely unstyled. They turned out looking rather Jakob Nielsen-istic: Hotels - no CSS

But we were attached to our ugly shade of green to leave those pages in their naked glory. Preliminary CSI work told me that some cached stylesheets generated by Rails were empty files. Why is this is happening?

stylesheet_link_tag and the :cache option

Was I overriding the stylesheets generated by Rails in different pages? Because we have a lot of cobranded sites and country sites on, I use the :cache option when using stylesheet_link_tag very often.

For example, the main site’s layout template has a stylesheet_link_tag like this (in reality there are a whole lot more stylesheets):

<%= stylesheet_link_tag 'yui/reset-fonts', 'search',  :cache => 'cache/search/listings' %>

When I need to make a new page for a cobranded site, I’ll create a new layout template with this:

<%= stylesheet_link_tag 'yui/reset-fonts', 'search', "sites/#{current_site}/cobrand", :cache => "cache/#{current_site}/search/listings" %>

Oftentimes I’d copy and paste (boo and hiss all you want!) the stylesheet_link_tag from one layout template to another and forget to update the cache path (the :cache => '/path/to/stylesheet' part). Two different stylesheet sets being cached to the same path is naturally a very stupid thing to do. So this wasn’t it, but it’s good to point this out because I have made this mistake at least 2 times!

Don’t check in generated CSS files by accident

Next, since I was using Sass, I was by now pretty sure that was it. First things first: did I check in a generated CSS file into source control (we use Git)? It’s another amateur mistake, but unsurprisingly, I’ve done this a couple of times. I think I’d wasted about an hour hunting down the reason for a style change that just wouldn’t show up. Yeah, I could have just added *.css to .gitignore, but I’m still using a mix of pure CSS and Sass templates.

The problem

In the end, I found this blog post by Ari Lerner on the CitrusByte blog about similar woes with Sass in production that set me on the path to a solution. It seems that when Rails encounters stylesheet_link_tag calls, it starts to pull together all the stylesheets and sometimes Sass is unable to generate the CSS files fast enough. Rails then throws an exception about not being able to find the CSS files and outputs an empty CSS file to the cache path.

The solution

The solution? Generate all the CSS files from Sass templates prior to restarting Rails when deploying. I added a rake task for updating all the Sass stylesheets:

namespace :sass do
  desc 'Updates stylesheets if necessary from their Sass templates.'
  task :update => :environment do

Then, I created a mirror of this as a Capistrano task:

namespace :sass do
  desc 'Updates the stylesheets generated by Sass'
  task :update, :roles => :app do
    invoke_command "cd #{latest_release}; RAILS_ENV=#{rails_env} rake sass:update"

  # Generate all the stylesheets manually (from their Sass templates) before each restart.
  before 'deploy:restart', 'sass:update'

Now, whenever I do a cap deploy, the stylesheets are generated before the Rails processes are restarted, ensuring that Rails’ stylesheet_link_tag helper is always able to find the pure CSS files when trying to merge them together and caching them to a single file.

17 Responses to Sass with Rails – avoiding disappearing stylesheets in production



August 7th, 2008 at 11pm

Not experienced this yet but its nice to know. I’ve added a those Rake and Cap tasks to my deployment now so I should manage to avoid it in future.


A Fresh Cup » Blog Archive » Double Shot #265

August 8th, 2008 at 6pm

[…] Sass with Rails – Avoiding Disappearing Stylesheets in Production – A good thing to know about dynamic stylesheets. […]



August 13th, 2008 at 9am

I didn’t realise Rails 2.1 has cache option for the stylesheet link helper. Thanks for the info!


David Salgado

August 13th, 2008 at 4pm

Just curious – what’s your objection to checking in the generated CSS files?

I love using Sass while I’m tweaking my pages in development, but I prefer deploying with the generated CSS files. Or, do you have some clever dynamic CSS going on?



August 20th, 2008 at 7pm

Good tip. I really love using Sass, going back to regular CSS feels so clumsy now.



August 31st, 2008 at 2pm

“I found this blog post by Ari Lerner[…]”

the correct url is:


Chu Yeow

September 12th, 2008 at 2pm

@David Salgado: Actually, I have no objections against checking them in. Would save me quite a few headaches too like the one I just wrote about in this post!



September 14th, 2008 at 2pm

Real great tip and i had learned a lot today. Thank you.


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October 7th, 2008 at 11pm

[…] Sass with Rails – avoiding disappearing stylesheets in production. this bit me in the ass moments ago. […]



December 22nd, 2008 at 12am

I also came to the conclusion that I needed to make production deployment generate CSS from SASS – but for a slightly different reason: I have a static asset server that I wanted the generated CSS to be served from without having to have the requests go to an app server.

Nice writeup on the rake task.


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December 23rd, 2008 at 4pm

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December 19th, 2009 at 9am

This totally saved my bacon today, thank you!


taco jimmy

January 20th, 2010 at 5am

This technique is also useful for integrating Sass with asset packagers like Jammit.


Oshoma Momoh

April 6th, 2010 at 9am

Thanks for posting this, we ran into the same problem with disappearing CSS in our production environment.


Rytis Lukoševi?ius

July 1st, 2012 at 3am

Thank you, you just saved my evening :) Because after more than a year of the site working just fine today stylesheets disappeared after deployment ;)



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August 31st, 2014 at 11am

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