Upgrading Your Jumpstart Pro App
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance this will sound familiar…
You’ve decided to build your latest idea for a SaaS app with Jumpstart Pro.
Things are going great and you’re shipping code left and right. Then…as it tends to do, life gets in the way.
Sometime later, you find some time and renewed vigor to get back at it. But before getting back into development, you’d like to take advantage of any bug fixes or new features merged to Jumpstart since you initially started the app.
Blowing the dust off your old side project and getting things updated again can be a pretty daunting task. There’s a point most of us hit where we start wondering if the ol’ kill it with fire approach is the best path forward and start thinking about scrapping what you have and starting over.
I’ve been there…a lot. I’ve also been on projects that go so long without being updated or maintained, it hits a point where it seems impossible or at least improbable to get approval from the higher-ups.
That was something I wanted to avoid when I first started building SpotSquid. I wanted to take a long-term view and make sure things never get to the point of no return.
I have a few processes I’ve started using to keep my running SaaS app updated as a solo developer. I’ll be going through how I keep my Jumpstart Pro app updated while still shipping features and other changes.
Dependabot updates have been a huge help boost to keeping my app up to date. If you don’t make the time to try to stay on top of them though, they can quickly pile up and become a distraction.
Jumpstart Pro ships with configuration for Dependabot so you’ll start seeing these pull requests start coming in shortly after pushing to GitHub.
The current Jumpstart Pro default for how often Dependabot checks for updates is
"weekly". If this is a little optimistic for your taste, you can change the
interval value to
If you want to go in the opposite direction, you can also configure Dependabot to check for updates
package-ecosystems we’re telling Dependabot to watch for changes are
"github-actions", for the actions you’ve added and configured as part of your Build/CI process on GitHub, as well as
This will check NPM for updates to the JS packages and Bundler for ruby gem updates and open a pull request to our app bumping the versions.
This is an example of what you’ll see when you view the Dependabot pull requests in GitHub.
You’ll notice some nice labels are showing if each one of these is a dependency update and if it’s for JS or Ruby. You may also notice the failing builds, I haven’t had time or desire to fix that but I think this process can be pretty close to automatic where it merges after tests pass if you choose to do so.
One option is to merge each of these pull requests individually. This is how I was doing things at first, but it was a little time-consuming. Also, if any issues popped up, it was hard to pinpoint exactly where the problems were introduced.
What I’ve found works best for me is to create a new branch to merge the gem updates into and one to merge the JS updates into.
I used to only do a single upgrade branch but after running into a couple of issues with JS package updates, I keep those separate from everything else to be able to point a finger in the right direction if something goes wrong.
This way, if and when something does go wrong, you don’t have to worry about reverting it right away. You can just delete or ignore the upgrade branch or come back to it when you have more time.
Especially when this is a side-project, you may have hard stops on your time, this keeps your app from getting to a broken state so the next time you have some free time to work on it, you’ll spend it just getting things running again.
I start with the Ruby gems since that’s where I have the most experience with upgrades.
To start, I create a new branch from
main using something like:
This branch can be named anything but it’s not uncommon to have to change gears or run out of time in the middle of things so this is something that helps give me more context when I come back to things.
Then I push this branch up to GitHub, update the target branch for each gem upgrade PR to my upgrade branch
upgrades/ruby/07-19-23 and merge the changes.
After merging the updates to the upgrade branch, I pull down that branch and do some quick checks to make sure everything is working. I also rely on my test suite to let me know when things go south, but running things locally before merging makes sure when you come back to things, everything starts and works. Things like conflicts with local dependencies or gems that haven’t released a patch for known issues are all little snags you can hit that slow you down and steal precious time from your side project.
If everything looks good locally and all my tests pass on CI, I merge the changes and move on.
If things do go south, at least I know it’s an issue with some of the recent gems and can either
A) revert the changes and try to merge each gem individually to try to find where the problems are being introduced
B) Declare upgrade bankruptcy on this one and get try again the next round of updates. If you’re on the monthly interval, that might be a little more time than you’d like to put things off. The important thing is to find what works best for you.
Another big perk of merging things in groups like this is those issues are contained within the upgrade branch instead of merged into your main branch where you feel like you have to try to frantically fix a broken deployment.
Then I repeat the same process for the JS packages. I’m not pointing fingers but the JS packages seem more likely to introduce breaking changes in minor versions so I really try to keep these separate and make sure everything is working as a whole before merging.
Having a set of steps and processes for merging these updates lowers some of the friction to upgrading and makes it a little more enticing and manageable. Especially if you’re working solo, you have to get the most out of the limited time you have.
I would say currently, if most of the version bumps are pretty small, it takes me about 15-20 mins per week to keep everything updated.
Scheduled reminders and recurring tasks
Depending on your notifications, you probably see something when Dependabot opens a new pull request. However, this will not let you know when there are updates to the upstream repo (the repo you generated your Jumpstart Pro app from). It’s easy to forget about this and let your versions drift further and further from upstream. The longer it goes, the more involved the upgrade process can be.
As a way of gently nudging and reminding myself to upgrade, I have a monthly Slack reminder to ‘Check on upgrades’. That’s kind of a placeholder for Dependabot updates if they’re not already covered and to check on the upstream changes from Jumpstart Pro.
I also have a recurring Trello card that gets created once per month to at least check on the upgrades.
I don’t always have the time to upgrade my application as much as I like, but at least this way, I can stay updated with the changes and plan accordingly. An example of this was seeing there were updates to the Pay gem sending subscription reminders which was something I was planning on working on but was able to focus on other areas and pull the updates once they were merged.
It also helped to re-frame how I thought about these updates. Instead of thinking of pulling upstream changes as a chore, I started thinking about it more along the lines of leveraging what’s available to me.
Pulling these updates and staying on top of the changes allows you to take full advantage of the work being done to Jumpstart. Thinking of it that way as a time-strapped solo founder, why wouldn’t I want the GoRails team and other contributors porting changes that update and enhance my app?
Thinking of it as a perk instead of a chore made it sit a little better with me.
I’ve done quite a few upgrades to Jumpstart at this point and this is the process I’ve ended up with. Feel free to tweak as needed but I think having a process or some rules for how you approach these things saves your mental bandwidth for the interesting challenges your app is tackling. Finding a flow and set of steps that works well for you is important to making this something that’s repeatable and not so draining.
These steps are assuming you’ve set up your local repo according to the Jumpstart Pro Docs in particular
git remote rename origin jumpstart
First, I pull the latest changes from upstream (the main Jumpstart Pro repo).
$ git fetch jumpstart
Then, I create a branch in the same way I do for the gem updates
$ git checkout -b upgrades/july-19
I don’t usually have any other open upgrade branches while updating Jumpstarst so I don’t include anything noting this is for upstream changes but that might help.
After creating my upgrade branch, I merge the
jumpstart/main branch into my upgrade branch and push to GitHub.
$ git merge jumpstart/main
If you’ve been updating regularly, this is usually pretty smooth. You may have to resolve some conflicts before completing the merge. If it’s only a handful of conflicts and/or you feel comfortable resolving conflicts once everything is resolved and you’ve merged your branch you can push that branch up to GitHub to start comparing the changes.
If it’s been more than a couple of months since you’ve pulled updates from the upstream version of Jumpstart Pro, you’ll probably have a lot of conflicts to resolve. If you don’t want to tackle all of those conflicts at once, this is my process for making that a little easier.
When I need more time and more clarity to work through all the changes, I will create a branch with the code from Jumpstart upstream main branch. Then push that to GitHub and open a pull request to an upgrade branch or my main branch (depending on how brave I’m feeling).
Fetch the latest version on the Jumpstart remote and checkout the main branch
$ git fetch jumpstart
$ git checkout jumpstart/main
You’ll see a notice about ‘detached HEAD’ which is read-only. We need to switch branches so we’ll be able to make commits.
$ git switch -c jumpstart-updates-july
This gives us a local branch with the code we were trying to merge with
git merge jumpstart/main
Push the new branch to GitHub
$ git push origin jumpstart-updates-july
After pushing, I open a pull request on GitHub from the upgrade branch to the main branch. This gives me a nice visual diff of all the changes in a single spot. I’ve found this is much easier for me to digest than trying to do everything locally in Git.
It’s also helpful to mark the changes you’re comfortable with as ‘Viewed’ to help remind you of the files you’ve already reviewed if (and when) you have to come back to this and finish up.
(Screenshots of Diffs and collapsed changes)
This gives you a nice visual to see all the changes. After reviewing some of the changes you may want to do something like “just accept all the changes in lib” and “ignore the changes in app/views”. That’s really up to you and how you prefer to do things.
For me, I’m not actively working or making changes to
lib so feel ok marking those as reviewed and generally ignore all the changes to my views and cherry-pick or copy-paste any changes I’d like to include.
Resolving conflicts is beyond the scope of this post but the
--theirs flags for git can be a big help. You can read some more info on those here
As mentioned before, keeping this potentially hairy upgrade within its own branch giving you plenty of time to review and test before merging allows you to skip it entirely or pick back up where you left off whenever you run out of time. Merging the upgrade branch into your main branch this way also gives you the option to revert those changes with a single click.
The worst thing as a solo developer is being stuck trying to get my app running whenever I have time to work on it. Quarantining your upgrades lets you keep rolling as needed.
After running the upgrade branch locally and making sure everything seems to be in order, after feeling pretty comfortable about the changes I’ll merge and deploy to my staging server.
If everything looks good, or at least nothing looks bad, I deploy those changes to production.
I wouldn’t say I love all of the upgrading I’ve been doing but I will say it’s been a huge help in keeping my apps up to date and finding ways to help myself and others keep theirs updated as well.