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Proof of concept Slack chatbot hosted entirely inside nginx


The main motivation for this was an extension of work I did for my SysAdvent 2014 post on Nginx, Lua and OpenResty. For that post I created a docker container to run the examples/tutorials. Part of those tutorials were a couple of Slack RTM clients - one of which was nginx/openresty operating as a websocket client.

I got it in my head that I could write a hubot clone using that.

How it works

This is a prefab container like the previous example. A Makefile is provided to set everything up. You'll need to create a Slack Bot User and optionally you'll need an incoming webhook url (if you want to use rich formatting) as the RTM Api doesn't support those yet

Build and start the container like so: DOCKER_ENV='--env SLACK_API_TOKEN=xoxb-XXXXXXX --env SLACK_WEBHOOK_URL=""' make all

(future invocations after the initial build can use make run in place of make all)

You can watch the logs via tail -f var_nginx/logs/error.log.

How it works

During startup, one of the nginx worker threads will connect as a websocket client to the RTM api. During the authentication response from Slack, the user/group/etc data is loaded into a shared dict. This is largely unused right now.

The bot will be auto-joined to the #general channel. I'd suggest either opening a private message session with it or a dedicated private channel.


Hubot has plugins. Lubot has plugins but they're "different". The way lubot plugins work are:

  • A message prefixed with the botname (default lubot) is noted.
  • The first word after the botname is considered the command (this will change)
  • The command is parsed and an http request is made to<command> (this is a content_by_lua_file script - var_nginx/lua/lubot_plugin.lua)
  • The plugin is executed in a fairly "safe" manner and the response is returned to be sent to slack via the existing websocket connection
  • If the result has an attachment element, it attempts to send that over the incoming webhook. If you've not provided a webhook url the fallback text required by the slack api is used instead and sent over websockets. If you do not provide a fallback yourself, the fields of your attachment will be converted to build a fallback message.

Plugin location

The plugins are located in the var_nginx/lubot_plugins/ directory. There are three sub-directories:

  • core: core plugins
  • contrib: third-party plugins
  • user: local plugins

The lua search path for lubot will look in the following order: user -> core -> contrib. This feels like the sanest mechanism for overrides.

They currently have the following restrictions:

  • Must be named lubot_<command name>.lua and must return a table matching an RTM message object
  • If returning an attachment, you must follow the slack formatting rules for attachments returned as a table of attachments

For examples see the three existing plugins. The status plugin sends an attachment.

One nice thing about these plugins is that you can test them with curl:

jvbuntu :: ~ » curl -XPOST -d'{"channel":"foo","user":"test","text":"lubot image me foobar","expects":"foobar"}' http://localhost:3232/api/plugins/test/image


Some plugins don't have any assertions you can provide. Take the ping plugin:

jvbuntu :: ~ » curl -XPOST -d'{"channel":"foo","user":"test"}' http://localhost:3232/api/plugins/test/ping  
{"expected":"^pong .*$","passed":true,"got":"pong (1420583382)"}


You may have noticed in the plugin testing section, the call to /api/plugins. Pretty much everything inside lubot is an api call to itself. This provides the benefit of being able to use it with multiple tools. Lubot listens on two ports - 3232 and 3131. Public communications are handled over 3232. However internally, all api calls go to 3131. You should never expose 3131 to the public. Instead you should proxy_pass requests to the private port. The api called for testing does just that (var_nginx/conf.d/lubot.conf):

  location /api {
    lua_code_cache off;
    proxy_pass_request_headers on;
    proxy_redirect off;
    proxy_buffering off;
    proxy_cache off;
    rewrite ^/api/(.*) /_private/api/$1 break;
    proxy_pass http://private_api;

The corresponding private api config (in var_nginx/conf.d/private.conf):

  location /_private/api {
    lua_code_cache off;
    content_by_lua_file '/var/nginx/lua/api.lua';


More customization information is available from the web ui inside lubot. These are just markdown files served by lubot and they are available in var_nginx/content/html/docs

The general idea for customization is a combination of:

  • nginx includes at critical points
  • environment variables
  • predefined site-specific directories on the lua load path before core load paths

In general you should not need to touch ANY shipped files unless you are developing core functionality.

Production ready

Actually...yeah...kinda. I'll probably move the websocket connection back out of the init_by_lua and into the worker the way it works in the sysadvent container. Also note that having a worker handling the websocket stuff means that worker cannot service nginx requests because it's being blocked.


  • Create a management API and page to be served
  • Possibly migrate the websocket logic back into init_worker_by_lua
  • Maybe consider porting this to hipchat or something


Lua Chatbot running inside OpenResty



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