Include Phoenix Channels in a Rails App

Posted on 01 Mar 2017 by Eric Oestrich

My side project Worfcam has a home page that lists the most recent photo taken from a device. It used to poll every 3 seconds for updates to the photos. I now use Phoenix channels to push new photos to the home page. This is how I did that. I got part of the idea from this blog post at

Security note: it should be pointed out that this has very lax security as it trusts the rails process and elixir process are on the same machine and firewalled away from the world outside of connecting through nginx.

Rails Configuration

First include phoenix.js in your javascript. I managed to get it included by vendoring a hand compiled version straight from the phoenix github. After this is in place, you write your javascript the same way as you would a normal Phoenix app.

To connect the proper socket I load it from the environment. I add a new method to my AppContainer and use it in the javascript when connecting to the Phoenix socket. For local development this is ws://localhost:5300/socket. On production it is wss://

class AppContainer
  # ...
  let(:channels_url) do

Pushing Events

The phoenix app will have the following route:

  scope "/", Channels do
    resources "/events", EventController, only: [:create]

The controller will simply broadcast whatever gets sent in. This is why it trusts the network is locked down. A simple way to add authentication to this could be basic auth or digest auth. Or even OAuth 2.0 server to server workflow.

defmodule Channels.EventController do
  use Channels.Web, :controller

  def create(conn, %{"topic" => topic, "event" => event, "body" => body}) do
    Channels.Endpoint.broadcast(topic, event, body)
    conn |> send_resp(204, "")

I have the Ecto Repo pointing to the same database and the models have a schema that matches what rails uses. My channels enforce that only the correct users can connect to channels. Channels will be straight forward normal channels.

To push events over from Rails I have a sidekiq job that sends the data required by the create action. Once in place events flow from Rails to Phoenix to the web browser.

class EventPushWorker
  include Sidekiq::Worker

  def perform(topic, event, body)
    return if Rails.env.test?
    response = do |req|
      req.headers["Content-Type"] = "application/json"
      req.body = {
        topic: topic,
        event: event,
        body: body,

nginx Configuration

The only tricky part from here is getting Rails to talk to Phoenix in production. Local development works because you can talk directly to the server. For production I have nginx set up a location before the default location that passes to Rails.

upstram worfcam {
  server localhost:5000;

upstream channels {
    server localhost:5300;

location /socket {
    proxy_http_version 1.1;
    proxy_set_header Upgrade $http_upgrade;
    proxy_set_header Connection $connection_upgrade;
    proxy_set_header Origin $http_origin;
    proxy_pass http://channels;

location / {
    proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
    proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-Proto https;
    proxy_set_header Host $http_host;
    proxy_redirect off;
    proxy_pass http://worfcam;

Once this is in place, your Rails app doesn't even need to know that it's talking to Phoenix from the front end.

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