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Polis is an AI powered sentiment gathering platform. More organic than surveys and less effort than focus groups, Polis meets the basic human need to be understood, at scale.

For a detailed methods paper, see Polis: Scaling Deliberation by Mapping High Dimensional Opinion Spaces.

Docker Image Builds E2E Tests

๐ŸŽˆ ๐Ÿช Start here! ๐Ÿช ๐ŸŽˆ

If you're interested in using or contributing to Polis, please see the following:

If you're trying to set up a Polis deployment or development environment, then please read the rest of this document ๐Ÿ‘‡ โฌ‡๏ธ ๐Ÿ‘‡

โšก Running Polis

Polis comes with Docker infrastructure for running a complete system, whether for a production deployment or a development environment (details for each can be found in later sections of this document). As a consequence, the only prerequisite to running Polis is that you install a recent docker (and Docker Desktop if you are on Mac or Windows).

If you aren't able to use Docker for some reason, the various Dockerfiles found in subdirectories (math, server, *-client) of this repository can be used as a reference for how you'd set up a system manually. If you're interested in doing the legwork to support alternative infrastructure, please let us know in an issue.

Quick Start

cp example.env .env
make start

That should run docker compose with the development overlay (see below) and default configuration values.

Visit localhost:80/createuser and get started.

Docker & Docker Compose

Newer versions of docker have docker compose built in as a subcommand. If you are using an older version (and don't want to upgrade), you'll need to separately install docker-compose, and use that instead in the instructions that follow. Note however that the newer docker compose command is required to take advantage of Docker Swarm as a scaling option.

Many convenient commands are found in the Makefile. Run make help for a list of available commands.

Building and running the containers

First clone the repository, then navigate via command line to the root directory and run the following command to build and run the docker containers.

Copy the example.env file and modify as needed (although it should just work as is for development and testing purposes).

cp example.env .env
docker compose up --build

If you get a permission error, try running this command with sudo. If this fixes the problem, sudo will be necessary for all other commands as well. To avoid having to use sudo in the future (on a Linux or Windows machine with WSL), you can follow setup instructions here.

Once you've built the docker images, you can run without --build, which may be faster. Run

docker compose up

or simply

make start

Any time you want to rebuild the images, just reaffix --build when you run. Another way to easily rebuild and start your containers is with make start-rebuild.

If you have only changed configuration values in .env, you can recreate your containers without fully rebuilding them with --force-recreate. For example:

docker compose down
docker compose up --force-recreate

To see what the environment of your containers is going to look like, run:

docker compose convert

Production Mode Shortcuts

The commands in the Makefile can be prefaced with PROD. If so, the "dev overlay" configuration in will be ignored. Ports from services other than the HTTP proxy (80/443) will not be exposed. Containers will not mount local directories, watch for changes, or rebuild themselves. In theory this should be one way to run Polis in a production environment.

You need a prod.env file:

cp example.env prod.env (and update accordingly).

Then you can run things like:

make PROD start

make PROD start-rebuild

Testing out your instance

You can now test your setup by visiting http://localhost:80/home.

Once the index page loads, you can create an account using the /createuser path. You'll be logged in right away; email validation is not required.

When you're done working, you can end the process using Ctrl+C, or typing docker compose down if you are running in "detched mode".

Updating the system

If you want to update the system, you may need to handle the following:

  • โฌ†๏ธ Run database migrations, if there are new such
  • Update docker images by running with --build if there have been changes to the Dockerfiles
    • consider using --no-cache if you'd like to rebuild from scratch, but note that this will take much longer

๐Ÿš€ Production deployment

While the commands above will get a functional Polis system up and running, additional steps must be taken to properly configure, secure and scale the system. In particular


We encourage you to take advantage of the public channels above for support setting up a deployment. However, if you are deploying in a high impact context and need help, please reach out to us

๐Ÿ’ป Development tooling

Once you've gotten Polis running (as described above), you can enable developer conveniences by running

docker compose -f docker-compose.yml -f up

(run with --build if this is your first time running, or if you need to rebuild containers)

This enables:

  • Live code reloading and static type checking of the server code
  • A nREPL connection port open for connecting to the running math process
  • Ports open for connecting directly to the database container
  • Live code reloading for the client repos (in process)
  • etc.

This command takes advantage of the overlay file, which layers the developer conveniences describe above into the base system, as described in the docker-compose.yml file. You can specify these -f docker-compose.yml -f arguments for any docker command which you need to take advantage of these features (not just docker compose up).

You can create your own docker-compose.x.yml file as an overlay and add or modify any values you need to differ from the defaults found in the docker-compose.yml file and pass it as the second argument to the docker compose -f command above.


We use Cypress for automated, end-to-end browser testing for PRs on GitHub (see badge above). Please see e2e/ for more information on running these tests locally.

Miscellaneous & troubleshooting

Docker Problems

A lot of issues might be resolved by killing all docker containers and/or restarting docker entirely. If that doesn't work, this will wipe all of your polis containers and volumes (INCLUDING THE DATABASE VOLUME, so don't use this in prod!) and completely rebuild them:

make start-FULL-REBUILD

see also make help for additional commands that might be useful.

Git Configuration

Due to past file re-organizations, you may find the following git configuration helpful for looking at history:

git config --local include.path ../.gitconfig

Running as a background process

If you would like to run docker compose as a background process, run the up commands with the --detach flag, and use docker compose down to stop.

Using Docker Machine as your development environment

If your development machine is having trouble handling all of the docker containers, look into using Docker Machine.

Resolving problems with npm not finding libraries

Sometimes npm/docker get in a weird state, especially with native libs, and fail to recover gracefully. You may get a message like Error: Cannot find module .... bcrypt.

If this happens to you, try following the instructions here.

Issues with Apple Silicon (M1 & M2) chips

You may find it necessary to install some dependencies, namely nodejs and postgres stuff, in a Rosetta terminal. Create an issue or reach out if you are having strange build issues on Apple computers.

ยฉ๏ธ License

AGPLv3 with additional permission under section 7