Skip to content


Subversion checkout URL

You can clone with
Download ZIP
The Guardian's configuration library
Scala Shell
Pull request Compare This branch is 127 commits ahead of tackley:master.

Fetching latest commit…

Cannot retrieve the latest commit at this time

Failed to load latest commit information.

Guardian Configuration Framework

Framework support for a standard webapp configuration scheme.

Building it

  • Ensure you have SBT installed, we recommend 0.11.3-2 for maximum backward compatibility

Guiding Principles

  • Support the minimum viable requirement set

    An unnecessarily complex application configuration procedure additionally and unnecessarily complicates the building, testing, continuous integration, and deployment of that application.

  • Use puppet

    Configuration should use puppet where possible to manage operations type property specification. By managing properties in puppet which refer primarily to the systems organisation or the environment/stage in which the webapp is running, routine systems administration and reorganisation is decoupled from webapp deployment.

The Configuration Standard

Webapp properties fall into a number of categories and are acquired from files and classpath resources which are distributed in various locations, under puppet or version control, according to their variety:

  1. Installation properties: Properties relating to how a specific machine is installed, e.g. where the Solr home directory is located, how much memory to assign the container.

    These properties are provided as commandline Java parameters passed to the container in an init.d script and are managed by puppet.

  2. Setup properties: Stage environment and domain properties describing the machine on which the webapp container is running. These properties are not suitable for use in the webapp itself but are necessary for the configuration framework to correctly configure the webapp.

    These properties are provided by a puppet managed Java properties file located at /etc/gu/install_vars and must contain the following properties:

    • STAGE denoting the environment name, e.g. DEV, PROD, QA.
    • INT_SERVICE_DOMAIN denoting the DNS domain.
  3. Developer account override properties: Property settings used locally on developer machines to facilitate test runs or local integration testing. These settings should not used for any purpose other than as a temporary measure on a developer machine.

    These properties are provided by a local account managed Java properties file located at ~/.gu/<appname>.properties.

  4. Operations properties: Properties which are application specific and primarily of interest to operations, e.g. database connection strings, cooperating hosts, etc.

    (The term operations properties is used in preference to systems properties to avoid confusion with Java system properties.)

    These properties are provided by a puppet managed Java properties file located at /etc/gu/<appname>.properties. These properties are not subdivided like developer properties because puppet templating functionality is more suitable than multiple files.

  5. Developer properties(stage based): Properties which are application specific, primarily of interest to developers, and which vary by stage, e.g. stdout logging configuration, a send email enabling flag, etc.

    These properties are provided by a war resource usually located at /conf/<stage>.properties.

  6. Developer properties(service domain based): Properties which are application specific, primarily of interest to developers, and which vary by service domain.

    Stage based properties are preferable in nearly every case. However, if the stage is colocated then it may be necessary to specify properties that vary by service domain as well, e.g. colo specific load balancer URLs, etc.

    These properties are provided by a war resource usually located at /conf/<service.domain>.properties.

  7. Developer properties(common): Properties which are application specific, primarily of interest to developers, and which do not vary by stage or service domain, e.g. external web service urls.

    These properties are provided by a war resource usually located at /conf/

  8. Java System properties: Properties which are passed to the JVM when started. These should generally not be used unless required by deployment in a restrictive hosting environment, i.e. Heroku.

Only properties of types 3 through 7 should be provided to applications. They should be sourced as specified, first property definition wins, in the order listed above.

Extended Functionality

Most, if not all, applications can be configured entirely within the framework above.

Certain extended functionalities, described below, are presently supported but under consideration for deprecation. The concern is to find the correct balance between number of requirements and convenience.

Feedback and use cases which demonstrate a requirement for any of the following would be greatly appreciated.

Given the threat of deprecation these extensions should be avoided where possible.

  • Java System property placeholder expansion

    Property values may contain Java system property placeholder substrings of the form ${propertyname} which are substituted for actual values from java.lang.System.getProperties at runtime.

  • Environment property placeholder expansion

    Similarly, property values may contain environment property placeholder substrings of the form ${env.propertyname} which are substituted for actual values from java.lang.System.getEnv at runtime.


    Using developer account override properties in ~/.gu/<appname>.properties means applications can be developed and run in environments without any operations support at the cost of some custom maintanence.

    It can be desirable, however, for applications to run on unmanaged machines with zero configuration, e.g. open developed applications.

    Using global developer settings may not be appropriate if default values can be assumed. To this end, a default stage and service domain setting is assumed if none is available from /etc/gu/install_vars. In both cases, this default is taken to be the literal text default.

    The upshot is that a stage based developer properties and a service domain based developer properties are provided to applications when running in environments without setup properties. These both happen to be sourced from the same location,, so there is de facto a single source location for properties for unconfigured machines.

    The present implementation contains the possibility for very unexpected configuration if /etc/gu/install_vars is partially specified and a is provided.

    Use at your own risk.

Common Pitfalls

  1. Adding new requirements

    If your application configuration does not conform to this scheme, the default assumption should be that your configuration requirements should be revisited, rather than the logic in this framework is insufficient.

    Extended functionality may be necessary but the prejudice should be against augmenting this framework.

  2. Overriding installation properties with Java Systems properties

    This is a development convenience which is very inconsistent in production. Both the installation and Java Systems properties are configured by operations, there should be no call for overriding.

How to add Guardian Configuration to your webapp

Include the most recent version of the framework using your favourite dependency management tool.

  resolvers += "Guardian GitHub Repository" at ""
  libraryDependencies += "" % "configuration" % latestConfigurationVersion

To process configuration property files:

object Configuration {

   // Using typed public accessors facilitates better IDE inspection.
   lazy val dbpassword = configuration("db.password")

   private lazy val configuration = ConfigurationFactory("application-name")

This defaults to reading resource configuration property files from conf on the classpath. In the case where there is contention for the default location, the configuration source location may be specified in the getConfiguration call:

   private lazy val configuration = ConfigurationFactory("application-name", "conf/application-name")


MySolrIndexer is a Solr index population webapp running in a Jetty container which periodically downloads new source data from an FTP site, transforms it into Solr update documents and posts them to a Solr somewhere.

For purposes of illustration this example follows the actual configuration in a QA environment.

  1. Installation properties: The puppetted /etc/init.d/mysolrindexer daemon service script sets up jetty.home,, and various other properties of interest almost entirely to operations.

  2. Setup properties: The puppetted /etc/install_vars file for the QA environment looks like the following:


    It is of interest to application writers as it indicates the names of the property files which will be read later for stage and service domain specific configuration. In this example environment, stage specific configuration will be read from and service domain specific configuration will be read from

  3. Developer account override properties: The QA environment does not require any developer account overrides. The source is still checked. In this case is empty but it would have been located at ~/.gu/mysolrindexer in the home directory of the account running the webapp container.

  4. Operations properties: In this example, the operations properties include the base Solr URL for the Solr to index and a location to archive downloaded FTP source data. The following is puppeted to /etc/gu/

  5. Developer properties(stage based): The classpath resource /conf/ contains properties for accessing the slower QA version of the data source and the email address for incident reporting for the QA instance.

  6. Developer properties(service domain based): This property source is unused since the QA environment is not colocated or external but would have been located in the classpath resource at /conf/ in the webapp.

  7. Developer properties(common): The remaining properties are common across all stages and service domains and provided from the classpath resource at /conf/ Here we use the first definition wins feature to indicate a default

A Configuration for mysolrindexer is factoried in Scala code like follows:

val conf = (new ConfigurationFactory) getConfiguration "mysolrindexer"

And result in a conf.toString with contents:

# Properties from file:///home/jetty/.gu/

# Properties from file:///etc/gu/

# Properties from classpath:conf/

# Properties from classpath:conf/

# Properties from classpath:conf/

# Properties from Java System

Note that nonactive from is not reported.

Heroku Example

When deploying to Heroku, the file system is not available to read properties from. Heroku recommends Environment variables should be used when requiring properties from outside of the application.

An up to date article is available on Heroku about configuration but briefly, here is how you can use the Heroku CLI application:

heroku config:add -a my_app_name

You you view configuration:

heroku config -a my_app_name

Remove by:

heroku config:remove -a my_app_name
Something went wrong with that request. Please try again.