ASIN vs ruby-aaws

I recently wrote about using ruby-aaws on Heroku. I used it for creating a virtual bookshelf on my website, so anybody interested in what I read can have a look at the ISBN, price, description and some reviews (in german). Since this is a trivial scenario it covers only a fragment of features that ruby-aaws offers.

I always felt that using ruby-aaws was way too complicated! This is how you call Amazon for the title of a book:

require "amazon"
require "amazon/aws"
require "amazon/aws/search"
il ='ASIN', { 'ItemId'=>asin })
rg ='Medium')
req =
resp =, rg)
puts resp.item_lookup_response.items[0].item.item_attributes.title.to_s

I also had to monkeypatch some stuff to get it working with Heroku the first time:

  • allow .amazonrc to be on a different location that can be used on Heroku
  • remove restriction to Ruby 1.8.7 and patch related Stuff

If you look into the source and documentation of ruby-aaws you will see that it is no fun to patch anything in there… I think I would not have done it without the help of Ian Macdonald.

Another thing was, that I could not use the builtin caching facility of ruby-aaws, cause it simply does not work on Heroku’s readonly file-system.

simplicity with ASIN

Given these restrictions, I decided to build a minimum featureset gem tailored for my requirements:

  • provide access to the Amazon-E-Commerce-API via REST
  • simple configuration points
  • minimum amount of code to write for a request
  • maximum flexibility

If you have a look into the Amazon documentation you see that it is quite easy to call the API via REST. Just append some query parameters to your desired endpoint (f.e. and as a result you get the desired information from Amazon. The tricky thing is, that since recently you have to sign your request with your AWS credentials. I did not find any specs on how to do that on the documentation, but Cloud Carpenters had a nice example using Python that I adapted for Ruby.
There is also the nice Amazon API signing service that frees you from self signing your requests. The reason I did not use it, is that it supports the endpoint only (I need

requests with ASIN

Using ASIN is simple. You just have to provide your credentials to the configuration method, the rest is covered with sensible defaults that you can override if you wish:

require 'asin'
include ASIN

# use the configure method to setup your api credentials
configure :secret => 'your-secret', :key => 'your-key'

# you can override the api endpoint if you wish
configure :secret => 'your-secret', :key => 'your-key', :host => ''

After this setup you can call the REST api via the lookup method:

# lookup an item with the amazon standard identification number (asin)
item = lookup '1430218150'

# have a look at the title of the item
=> Learn Objective-C on the Mac (Learn Series)

# provide additional configuration options like the response group
lookup(asin, :ResponseGroup => :Medium)

Title is currently the only attribute that is directly supported from the Item class, but this is no restriction. ASIN uses Hashie::Mash for the internal data representation of the Amazon REST XML response. The Item class stores the response in a raw attribute that can be accessed for read:

# access the internal data representation (Hashie::Mash)
=> $39.99

You can tailor the Item class to your needs by opening up the class and provide the methods you like or doing something entirely different with the raw attribute.

OR, just fork me on GitHub!

Maximum flexibility with some syntactic sugar!

Heroku with ruby-aaws

The first step of migrating my Rails app to Heroku included only a reduced feature set.

I completely removed all parts dealing with the Amazon-API, because ruby-aaws could not be installed as a gem on Heroku. The ruby-aaws gem is build on Ruby >= 1.8.7 while Heroku is running 1.8.6 #fail.

I asked Ian Macdonald, the creator of ruby-aaws, if there might be a workaround for this problem. Ian told me that this should not be a blocker and pointed me to some things I should take care of.

How to make ruby-aaws run with 1.8.6

Here are the steps that I performed to get things running:

# install gemsonrails to freeze the gem into the app
sudo gem install gemsonrails

# go to your rails folder
cd rails/yourapp

# install gemsonrails for your app

# freeze the app
rake gems:freeze GEM=ruby-aaws

This will freeze the gem into vendor/gems/. Then I removed the tests and the examples, because they are not necessary and contain code that won’t work.
The app won’t start up until I fixed some little load path error:

# vendor/gems/ruby-aaws-0.7.0/init.rb
# add amazon to the path
require_options = ["ruby-aaws", "ruby/aaws", "amazon"]

The ruby-aaws library expects some login-credentials for the Amazon-API which are usually stored in a ~/.amazonrc file. Since Heroku gives no access to a user home (at least I did not manage to get access to it), I worked around it by putting the file in the RAILS_ROOT and adding some glue code in Amazon::Config:

# vendor/gems/ruby-aaws-0.7.0/lib/amazon.rb
# add rails-file
config_files << File.join(RAILS_ROOT, '.amazonrc') if defined?(RAILS_ROOT)

The next thing to fix was the usage of String.bytesize, which is not available in 1.8.6:

string.gsub( /([^a-zA-Z0-9_.~-]+)/ ) do
  # replace .bytesize with .size
  '%' + $1.unpack( 'H2' * $1.size ).join( '%' ).upcase