Interactive books for computer science
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Runestone Interactive Server and API

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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.

  1. Install and make a Python virtualenv

    • 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

  1. 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 OS X 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.

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.

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.

On Windows machines, some of the installations may not go smoothly with pip.

  • For dulwich, you will need a C++ compiler.

Install Microsoft Visual C++ Compiler for Python 2.7 from I had to also run: pip install setuptools --upgrade

that fails, you can try installing from a wheel file at

2. 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.

  1. Get familiar with the Runestone Components, which were installed with pip. The come from and there are good quick start instructions there.
  2. 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.

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
  1. 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.
  2. 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
  Enter name of role to add: <yournamehere>
  Shall the new role be a superuser? (y/n) y

* On both mac and Ubuntu you can now do the following:
$ createdb --owner=<yournamehere> runestone

$ exit

psql runestone
psql (9.5.3)
Type "help" for help.

runestone=# \q

If you did not give yourself a password then, on Ubuntu, you will need to edit /etc/postgresql/9.5/main/pg_hba.conf In that file find the line that looks like this

host    all             all               md5

change the md5 to trust and you will be good to go without password protection. (NOT recommended for production)

  • Figure out your database connection string. It will be something like postgres://username:passwd@localhost/dbname

  • Tell web2py to use that database
    • Create a file applications/runestone/models/, with the following line: settings.database_uri = <your_connection_string>
      • NOTE: Don't put this inside an if statement, like it shows in models/1.prototype
    • If you're running https, edit settings.server_type in models/

    • on windows, you will also need to edit models/
      • remove the line from os import uname
      • remove the section beginning if 'local' in uname()[1] or 'Darwin' in uname()[0]:
    • set and export environment variables for DBHOST, DBUSER, DBPASS and DBNAME

  • Edit /applications/runestone/books/<yourbook>/
    • set the master_url variable for your server, if not localhost
  1. Run web2py once, so that it will create all the tables
    • cd web2py/
    • python
  2. 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.
  • If you're on windows where rsync doesn't work, here's the alternative
    • rm -r applications/runestone/static/<your book name>
    • cd runestone/books/<your book name>
    • mv build/<your book name> ../static/

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 its 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

Whats 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 file in this directory named README_new_book.rst.

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.

Notes on running under Windows

As I mentioned up front, I'm not a windows user, But, others have figured out how to get the whole works running under windows anyway. Here are some tips:

  1. In models.0 you will want to add this:
     from os import uname
     def uname():
         return ['0', 'windows']

Now you can add a test for windows, and set your database settings accordingly.
  1. In the file we use cp to copy some files into place. I think the equivalent on Windows is copy or copy.exe.