A Brief Introduction to Rake

2 min read

Rake is a task runner written in Ruby. It performs repetitive tasks, such as

  1. Making database backup
  2. Running tests
  3. Watch for file changes and compile the changed files

In the words of late Jim Weirich, the creator of rake,

The essence of rake is to take a task and break it down into its component pieces to specify what needs to be done to do the bigger task you are trying to do.


Put the following code in a Rakefile.

desc "Compile Code"
task :compile do
  puts "Compiling the code."

Run the task by running the following command

> rake compile

The description is listed when you run rake --task to see all available tasks.

> rake --task

rake compile         # Compile code

Dependent Tasks

task :interpret do
  puts "Interpreting the code"

task compile: "interpret" do
  puts "Compiling the code"
> rake compile
Interpreting the code
Compiling the code

To run multiple dependent tasks, provide their names as an array of symbols.

task compile: %i(clean sanitize interpret) do
  puts "Compiling the code"

Providing Defaults

Use the default task to specify all tasks to run when you run the rake command, without any arguments.

task default: %i[clean sanitize]

desc "Cleaning the code"
task :clean do
  puts "Cleaning the code"

desc "Sanitizing the code"
task :sanitize do
  puts "Sanitizing the code"
 > rake
 Cleaning the code
 Sanitizing the code


You can scope tasks with similar names under different namespaces.

task :backup do
  puts "Database backup"

namespace :file do
  task :backup do
    puts "File backup"
rake backup
> Database backup

rake file:backup
> File backup

Access Environment Variables

task :show_state do
  puts "State = #{ENV["STATE"]}"
> export STATE=paused

> rake show_state
State = paused

Rake also allows you to pass the environment variable for the particular command. It’s only valid for that specific command, though.

> rake show_state STATE=running
State = running

> rake show_state          
State = paused

What’s Possible?

First, it’s all Ruby code. You can do anything in rake that you can do in Ruby. There’s no limit.

task :sum do
  result = 0
  (1..10).each do |n|
    result += n
  puts result

However, rake is perfect for file manipulation. It includes the FileUtils standard library. So you can use all standard file manipulation commands.

desc "Taking a backup of the Rakefile"
task :backup do
  mkdir_p "data/backup"
  cp "Rakefile", "data/backup/Rakefile"

You can also run shell commands. This is especially handy when you want to run git add, git commit, and git push commands.

desc "git add, commit, and push"
task :track do
  sh "git add ."
  sh "git commit -m '#{ENV['m']}'"
  sh "git push origin main"

Run the command as follows:

>  rake track m="initialize project"

Finally, rake can run Ruby scripts, too.

task :run do
  ruby "greet.rb"


Rake is a task runner Jim Weirich wrote in Ruby. It allows you to specify dependent tasks to run them in order as well as automate repetitive tasks. You can leverage the power of shell and Ruby, which makes it very powerful. It’s a tool that you should know, even if you are not a Ruby developer.