Interactive books for computer science
Clone or download
Bradley Miller
Latest commit 1b90181 Oct 17, 2018
Failed to load latest commit information.
books Build with runestone components Jul 24, 2015
build update conf to include blank Aug 26, 2017
controllers Quick fix for gradebook crasher when practice not configured Oct 15, 2018
doctrees Scale all images. Jan 23, 2012
ext_test Merge ebook extensions back into main repository May 21, 2012
languages initial commit Jan 23, 2012
models set default course Oct 14, 2018
modules Following Professor Resnick's advice, I added a condition to the stat… Oct 9, 2018
rsmanage Clean: Prep for eventual move to Python 3 by calling print as a funct… Oct 5, 2018
scripts Clean: Prep for eventual move to Python 3 by calling print as a funct… Oct 5, 2018
static assignmentinfo is already parsed Sep 4, 2018
tests Fix: Rewrite new server test using pytest. Oct 15, 2018
views fix index Oct 14, 2018
.gitignore Add: A test book to populate the database. Oct 8, 2018
.gitmodules remove Java4Python submodule Mar 16, 2015
.travis.yml Refactor: Place test requirements in a separate file. Oct 8, 2018 Refactor: Place test requirements in a separate file. Oct 8, 2018
ChangeLog.rst update changelog Sep 1, 2014
LICENSE somehow the license reverted to the public domain. Mar 15, 2014
README.rst Update README.rst Oct 11, 2018 add at top-level so that module importing works correctly Sep 6, 2015
lti.config insurance in setting user timezone offset; update to lti config template May 24, 2018
pylintrc add site-packages to include pythonds and test Aug 21, 2014
requirements-test.txt Fix: Rewrite new server test using pytest. Oct 15, 2018
requirements.txt Refactor: Place test requirements in a separate file. Oct 8, 2018


Runestone Interactive Server and API

'Stories in Ready' Join the chat at

Build Status

Relationship to other Runestone components

If you just want to use Runestone's capabilities to build pre-existing books or to make your own books using Sphinx and directives like ActiveCode, then you won't need this repository at all.

This repository has the extra materials needed for running a web2py server with extra features for running courses using Runestone books and tools.


  1. Install python.

    First, make sure you have Python 2.7 installed. Web2py has not yet been ported to Python3. Even if you don't care about the web2py part of the install, the version of paverutils on pypi is still a Python 2.x package, although the development version is now at 3.x.

  2. Install and make a Python virtualenv

    Note, development works well with a Python virtualenv If you don't have root privileges on your computer I strongly recommend you install virtualenv and install all of the dependencies there.

    • Documentation here:

    • Video here:

    • For the impatient:

      $ sudo pip install virtualenv
      $ virtualenv /path/to/home/MyEnv
      $ source /path/to/home/MyEnv/bin/activate
    • You will need to do the last command every time you want to work on RunestoneServer. If you have not used Python virtual environments before I strongly recommend reading the docs or watching the video

  3. Install lots of other dependencies


    On a vanilla Ubuntu (16.04) installation you will need to do at least the following:

    sudo apt-get install python-pip
    sudo apt-get install libfreetype6-dev
    sudo apt-get install postgresql-common postgresql postgresql-contrib
    sudo apt-get install libpq-dev
    sudo apt-get install libxml2-dev libxslt1-dev


    On an macOS installation You must install Xcode and the command line tools. Free from the App Store. Then, I recommend you install homebrew ( then run the following commands:

    xcode-select --install
    brew install postgresql
    brew install libpng
    brew install freetype

    When you install postgresql make sure you follow the instructions at the end of the install for getting the server started. On a mac you can ignore the additional configuration instructions for postgres given below. For a recent homebrew just do brew services start postgresql to start the postgres database server. Your user will already be configured as an administrative user.


    On Windows machines, install PostgreSQL for Windows. (Tested with the EnterpriseDB interactive installer for PostgreSQL v 9.6).

  4. Install web2py. The easiest way to do so is to download the Source Code distribution from Here is a direct link to the zip archive. After you download it, extract the zip file to some folder on your hard drive. (web2py requires no real "installation"). I avoid the installation on OS X as it messes with the Python path. On Windows, the web2py.exe is also problematic because it won't find modules installed in a virtualenv.

  5. Get familiar with the Runestone Components, which were installed with pip. They come from and there are good quick start instructions there.

  6. Clone this repository into the web2py/applications directory. If you might be contributing to the project, please fork this repository first and then do a local clone onto your machine, in the web2py/applications. You will contribute back to the project by making pull requests from your fork to this one. When you make the clone you should clone it into runestone rather than the default RunestoneServer . All the web2py stuff is configured assuming that the application will be called runestone.

    There are a couple of prerequisites you need to satisfy before you can build and use this eBook. The easiest/recommended way is to use pip. You can simply install all dependencies by running the following command in main runestone directory:

    # cd /path/to/web2py/applications
    # git clone runestone
    # cd runestone
    # pip install -r requirements.txt
  7. Clone the book that you want to use, into the web2py/applications/runestone/books directory. You can see some of the available books at Again, if you might contribute back to the book, please fork the book repository first and then do a local clone onto your machine.

  8. Set up your local database

    • Configure Postgresql (or you can try mySQL, but there may be some issues with field lengths with that.)

    • Create a database

      • For Ubuntu you will need to do the following first:

        $ sudo -i -u postgres
        $ postgres@ubuntu:~$ createuser --interactive -P
        Enter name of role to add: <your name here>
        Enter password for new role: <a password for this user>
        Enter it again: <again>
        Shall the new role be a superuser? (y/n) y
        Password: <password for the default, postgres user>
      • For Windows, use the -U postgres flag to run all commands in the postgres role, which is automatically created during installation.

        C:\> "C:\Program Files\PostgreSQL\9.6\bin\createuser" --interactive -U postgres -P
        Enter name of role to add: <your name here>
        Enter password for new role: <a password for this user>
        Enter it again: <again>
        Shall the new role be a superuser? (y/n) y
        Password: <password for the default, postgres user>
      • On both Mac and Ubuntu you can now do the following; for Windows, use "C:\Program Files\PostgreSQL\9.6\bin\createdb" --owner=<yournamehere> -U postgres runestone. Enter the password for the default, postgres user (not for the newly-created user).

    $ createdb --owner=<yournamehere> runestone
    $ exit
    psql runestone
    psql (9.5.3)
    Type "help" for help.
    runestone=# \q
    • Figure out your database connection string. It will be something like postgresql://username:passwd@localhost/dbname
    • Tell web2py to use that database:
      • If you're running https, edit settings.server_type in web2py/applications/runestone/models/
      • Set and export environment variable for DBURL -- Note the url format for web2py is different from sqlalchemy. use postgres for web2py and postgresql for sqlalchemy. example: postgresql://username:pw@host/database where pw may be empty, and database is the database you created above, runestone.
      • Set and export environment variable WEB2PY_CONFIG. If set to production, it will get the database connection string from DBURL. If set to development, it will get the database connection string from DEV_DBURL. If set to test, it will get it from TEST_DBURL.
      • Set and export environment variable WEB2PY_MIGRATE. If set to Yes, web2py will check on each page load whether any database migrations are needed and perform them. If set to No, web2py will just assume that models match the database. If set to Fake, web2py will try to update the metadata it maintains about the database tables to match the models, but will not make any changes to the database; use that setting only for repairs when something has gone wrong.
      • If you want to customize other settings you can create a file applications/runestone/models/ using models/ as the template. If you have your environment variables set up as explained above you probably won't need to worry about this for your initial setup.
    export WEB2PY_CONFIG=production
    export WEB2PY_MIGRATE=Yes
    export DBURL=postgresql://username:pw@host/database
    export TEST_DBURL=postgresql://username:pw@host/database
    export DEV_DBURL=postgresql://username:pw@host/database
  9. run rsmanage initdb -- This will initialize the database so you can build your first book. The rsmanage command was installed when you ran pip install -r requirements.txt in a previous step. If you are upgrading you should run pip install -e rsmanage from the applications/runestone directory.


    Database errors

    If you get an error message that the session table already exists, you need to go into the database and drop the table. If you get other error messages about tables that either exist or do not exist when they should or should not, then your database is out of sync with the data in your databases folder created by web2py. This is not a happy spot to be in. rsmanage initdb --reset will definitely get things back in order for a new installation.

    If this is an old installation and you don't want to lose any data the you can try setting the WEB2PY_MIGRATE variable to 'Fake' But, this may cause cause even more problems, so only use it if you really know what changes you have made to the database schema and why. You may need to study sql.log to figure out which talbes need to be migrated by hand.

  10. Build the book.

    $ cd web2py/applications/runestone/books/<your book>
    $ runestone build
    $ runestone deploy
    • At the end of the build step it should say trying alternative database access due to No module named pydal and then, if things are working correctly, start outputting the names of the chapters.
  11. Additional Steps for TextBook as a Service (Build your Own Course)

This step is somewhat optional even for developers, depending on what you are working on. But if you want to be able to click on the build a course button you'll need to do the following.

$ cd web2py
$ cp applications/runestone/scripts/start .
$ cp applications/runestone/scripts/ .

Now you will want to edit the start script according to your setup. Then use the start script to start web2py and the scheduler together. Do not just run python directly.

More on Environment Variables

There are a few environment variables that you can use to control the runestone server out of the box:

  • WEB2PY_CONFIG You can set this to production, development, or test. Each mode can have a corresponding database connection environment variable. They are:
  • for development use DEV_DBURL
  • for test use TEST_DBURL
  • for production use DBURL Yes, its not quite consistent, but its backward compatible for the way we have been doing things.

Create an account for yourself

There are two methods you can use here. If the book you built above is thinkcspy or pythonds then there is an easy method. If you built some other custom book then it's a bit more work.

The Easy Way

  • restart web2py if it's not running
  • go to localhost:8000/runestone
  • click on the register button

The Harder Way

  • restart web2py if it's not running
  • go to localhost:8000/runestone/appadmin
  • create a course for the book
    • insert new courses
    • course_id can be blank
    • course name should be your book name, the directory name inside books/ (no spaces)
      • date is in format 2015-08-29
      • institution doesn't matter
      • base course should be same as course name
  • create an account for yourself
    • insert new auth_user
    • cohort id should be "id"
    • Course name should be the course name from above (not a number)
    • Do not make up a registration key or a reset password key; leave them blank
  • Make yourself the instructor for the course.
    • insert new course_instructor
    • Course is the number for the course (probably 5 if you just inserted one additional course)


Documentation for the project is on our official documentation site This includes the list of dependencies you need to install in order to build the books included in the repository, or to set up a complete server environment.

The Runestone Tools are not only good for authoring the textbooks contained in this site, but can also be used for:

  • Making your own lecture materials
  • Making online quizzes for use in class
  • Creating online polls for your course

What's New

  • We just recently updated the activecode directive to support two new languages: Javascript and HTML.

How to Contribute

  1. Get a Github (free) account.
  2. Make a fork of this project. That will create a repository in your account for you to have read/write access to. Very nice, complete instructions for making a fork are here:
  3. Clone the repository under your account to your local machine.
  4. Check the issues list, or add your own favorite feature. commit and pull to your fork at will!
  5. test
  6. Make a Pull Request. This will notify me that I should look at your changes and merge them into the main repository.
  7. Repeat!

How to Contribute $$

As our popularity has grown we have server costs. We were also able to make great progress during the Summer of 2013 thanks to a generous grant from ACM-SIGCSE that supported one of our undergraduate students. It would be great if we could have a student working on this all the time.

If this system or these books have helped you, please consider making a small donation using gittip

More Documentation

I have begun a project to document the Runestone Interactive tools

  • All of the Runestone Interactive extensions to sphinx:
    • Activecode -- Interactive Python in the browser
    • Codelens -- Step through code examples and see variables change
    • mchoicemf -- multiple choice questions with feedback
    • mchoicema -- multiple choice question with multiple answers and multiple feedback
    • fillintheblank -- fill in the blank questiosn with regular expression matching answers
    • parsonsproblem -- drag and drop blocks of code to complete a simple programming assignment
    • datafile -- create datafiles for activecode
  • How to write your own extension for Runestone Interactive

Enable Bug Reporting on Github

The Runestone server now has a controller to allow users to enter bug reports without needing a Github account. But for this to work you will need to configure settings.github_token in models/

Creating Your Own Textbook

To find instructions on using the Runestone Tools to create your own interactive textbook, see the instructions in the Runestone Components repository.

Browser Notes

Note, because this interactive edition makes use of lots of HTML 5 and Javascript I highly recommend either Chrome, or Safari. Firefox 6+ works too, but has proven to be less reliable than the first two. I have no idea whether this works at all under later versions of Internet Explorer.