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Bundler v2.3: Locking the version of Bundler itself

by David Rodríguez on

2021 saw a fair amount of development in the RubyGems & Bundler repositories. We tried to release more often than ever to catch and fix bugs and distribute our improvements as early as possible to our users. That has led to 33 patch-level versions in the Bundler 2.x series released about a year ago.

Our goal for Bundler 2.3 was to implement a long-wanted feature of being able to fully control the version of Bundler itself an application runs. There’s a long story with this feature, because it was shipped a few years ago in a manner that was too strict and ended up causing more harm than good, so had to be partially reverted.

So, how did things work before Bundler 2.3?

Up until now, RubyGems would try to activate the version of Bundler recorded in the Gemfile.lock file if already installed, and would fall back to the highest version installed otherwise. That’s better than nothing, but it did not ensure the exact version in the lockfile was always used, which led to workarounds like manually parsing the lockfile and then installing that version.

And how do they work now?

In Bundler 2.3 and up (if you also have RubyGems 3.3 or higher), running bundle install will use the exact version from the BUNDLED WITH section of the lockfile. If that version is not installed before you run bundle install, the running version of Bundler will install the locked version, and then run your original command using the newly-installed locked version.

So, if you have a lockfile ending with


and you only have Bundler 2.3.5 installed, you’ll see the following output when running bundle install.

$ bundle install
Bundler 2.3.5 is running, but your lockfile was generated with 2.2.33. Installing Bundler 2.2.33 and restarting using that version.
Fetching gem metadata from
Fetching bundler 2.2.33
Installing bundler 2.2.33

After that all your commands will automatically use Bundler 2.2.33, as specified by your lockfile. If you want to upgrade the Bundler version used by your application, you can run bundle update --bundler, and your lockfile will be regenerated using the latest version. From that moment, all users of the lockfile will automatically pick up the new version, no matter whether they have a newer or older version installed instead.


Why are we doing this?

Being able to lock the version of Bundler itself, just like Bundler is able to lock other dependencies, has been a goal of the Bundler team for years. There are a number of benefits of locking your dependencies, like avoiding dependency nightmares where your application breaks due to third party releases, or avoiding “works on my machine” issues. Bundler has a ton of features and edge cases, and

  • We sometimes introduce regressions when trying to improve things. Locking the version of Bundler prevents those issues from hitting you.

  • Once in a while we need to put a security fix out there. Being able to lock the Bundler version allows you to ensure that every user of your application gets a secure version of Bundler.

  • Occasionally, you might want to use a new feature of the Bundler DSL in your Gemfile. However, old versions of Bundler don’t understand this feature and you don’t want to suddenly break things for the users of yours that use those old versions. With version locking this is no longer a concern. Bundler is now able to upgrade itself to the version that your application understands.

All in all, we aim to provide a less surprising, less error prone and more consistent experience when using Bundler, and let each application be in control of the version that they use, and the moment that they upgrade.

What’s coming next?

Future enhancements to this feature might include:

  • Full support for gem "bundler", "<arbitrary_requirement>" in Gemfile.
  • Automatic update of Bundler when running bundle install without a lockfile.
  • Automatic update of Bundler when running bundle update.

In other words, our end goal is to be able to treat Bundler just like any other dependency of your application.