Serve - Delicious ERB, Haml, and Sass

Serve is a small Rack-based web server that makes it easy to serve HTML, ERB, Haml, or a variety of template languages from any directory.

Serve is meant to be a lightweight version of the Views part of the Rails MVC. This makes Serve an ideal framework for prototyping Rails applications or creating simple websites. Serve has full support for Rails-style partials and layouts.

Serve is made with Rack & Tilt.


Serve is distributed as a Ruby gem and can be installed from the command prompt. Just type:

gem install serve -v 1.5.2

Some systems, like the Mac, may require that you type:

sudo gem install serve -v 1.5.2

If you are new to the command prompt and are a Mac user see:

Search Google for “command prompt windows” if you are on a PC to find a simple tutorial.

Basic Usage

Once the gem is installed the `serve` command will be available from the command prompt. To launch Serve, just type the command and press enter:


This will launch a simple web server which you can access from any web browser at the following address:


Once the server is going it will output a running log of its activity. To stop the server at any time, type CTRL+C at the command prompt.

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Creating a Structured Serve Project

For simple projects, you don't need to structure your files in a specific way. All ERB, Haml, and Sass files will be processed wherever they are found in the project root. But for more complex projects you may want add a bit of structure.

To create a structured Serve project in the “project” directory, type the following on the command line:

serve create project   # create a new project in the project directory

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Layouts & Partials

Serve has full support for Rails-style layouts and partials.

Serve layouts are stored in “_layout.erb” or “_layout.haml” files in the same directory as the page they are rendering.

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Serve partials (much like PHP includes) are rendered using the familiar render syntax:

<%= render "footer" %>

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View Helpers

If you drop a file called “view_helpers.rb” in your views directory, you can define custom helpers for your Haml and ERB views. Just create a ViewHelpers module and define your custom helper methods there:

module ViewHelpers

  # Calculate the years for a copyright
  def copyright_years(start_year)
    end_year =
    if start_year == end_year
      start_year.to_s + "&#8211;" + end_year.to_s


You can then use your custom helper methods inside a view or layout:

<%= copyright_years(2010) %>

Serve also provides a number of stock helpers methods that are very similar to their Rails counter parts.

Learn more:


To export your project, use the new “export” command:

serve export project output

Where “project” is the path to the project and “output” is the path to the directory where you would like your HTML and CSS generated.

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“Design First” Prototyping

If you use a “Design First” methodology, you may find Serve especially useful for prototyping your applications. Create a separate “prototype” project for your application (using Serve) and copy views over into actual application when they are ready to go. This workflow allows the designer to focus on presentation and flow, while the developer can focuses on implementation. One benefit to this approach is that the designer can identify and fix a large number of design-related problems before a feature is ever touched by the developer. Once a feature has been completed in the prototype project it can also be estimated with a high degree of accuracy.

Website & Documentation

Detailed documentation is available on the Serve website: Build status:

Mailing List

Have questions? Please don't be ashamed to ask. Post them on the mailing list:


Serve is released under a MIT-style license and is copyright © 2007-2011 John W. Long and Adam I. Williams. Portions have been contributed by Robert Evans and others. A copy of the license can be found in the LICENSE file.