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Installing Discourse on Ubuntu and DigitalOcean

Copyright 2013 by Christopher Baus Licensed under GPL 2.0

NOTE: There is now official Ubuntu installation instructions from Discourse

I will be updating these instructions as a supplement to their recommendations shortly.


Discourse is web forum software by Jeff Atwood (et al.). Considering the state of forum software, and Jeff's previous success with StackOverflow, I'm confident it is going to be a success. With that said, if you are not an experienced Linux or Ruby on Rails administration, getting a Discourse site up and running can be daunting.

Hopefully the document will be useful for someone who has some Linux administration experience and wants to run and administrate their own server. I am erring on the side of verbosity.

Create DigitalOcean VPS with Ubuntu 12.10x64

While these instructions should work fine on most Ubuntu installations, I have tested them on Digital Ocean. DigitalOcean offers low cost VPS hosting, but I can not vouch for their reliability.

I decided on Ubuntu 12.10 x64 which is the most recent Ubuntu release and contains the most recent packages. You may want to consider Ubuntu 12.04 LTS which has guaranteed support until 2017, but the installation instructions are a bit different due to the availability of some packages.

Before creating your DigitalOcean instance, you should register the domain name you want to use for your forum. I'm using for this instance, and as the FQDN.

After creating your account at DigitalOcean, create a Droplet with at least 1GB of RAM [1], and select the Ubuntu
OS image you want to use. I set the Hostname to

DigitalOcean will email the IP address and root password to you. You should go to your domain registrar and set the DNS records to point to your new IP. I've set both the * and @ records to point to the VPS IP. This enables the root domain and all sub-domains to resolve to VPS instance's IP address.

[1] A minimum of 1GB of RAM is required to compile assets for production.

Login to your server

I will use when a domain name is required in the installation. You should replace with your own domain name. If you are using OS X or Linux, start a terminal and ssh to your new server. Windows users should consider installing Putty to access your new server.

# From your local shell on OS X or Linux
# Remember to replace with your own domain.
~$ ssh
# Enter the root password provided by DigitalOcean

Change your root password

Since your password has been emailed to you in clear text, you should immediately change your password for security reasons.

root@host:~# passwd
# # Enter your new password

Create a user account

It is poor practice to admin your system from the root account. Create an administrative account. I'm going to call the new user "admin."

Adding the user to the sudo group will allow the user to perform tasks as root using the sudo command.

~# adduser admin --gecos ""
# Note: --gecos suppresses prompts for the user meta data such as name, room number, work phone, etc.
~# adduser admin sudo

Login using the admin account

~# logout
# now back at the local terminal prompt
$ ssh

Use apt-get to install core system dependencies

The apt-get command is used to add packages to Ubuntu (and all Debian based Linux distributions). DigitalOcean, like many VPS's, ships with a limited Ubuntu configuration, so you will have to install many of the software the dependencies yourself.

To install system packages, you must have root privileges. Since the admin account is part of the sudo group, the admin account can run commands with root privileges by using the sudo command. Just prepend sudo to any commands you want to run as root. This includes apt-get commands to install packages.

# Install required packages
$ sudo apt-get install postgresql-9.1 postgresql-contrib-9.1 make g++ \
libxml2-dev libxslt-dev libpq-dev ruby1.9.3 git redis-server nginx postfix

During the installation, you will be prompted for Postfix configuration information. Postfix is used to send mail from Discourse. Just keep the default "Internet Site."

At the next prompt just enter your domain name. In my test case this is

Also, make sure you system packages are up to date.

$ sudo apt-get update

Editing configuration files

At various points in the installation procedure, you will need to edit configuration files with a text editor. Vi is installed by default and is the de facto standard editor used by admins, so I use vi for any editing commands, but you may want to consider installing the editor of your choice. I like emacs, so I installed it with:

$ sudo apt-get install emacs

Set the host name

DigitalOcean's provisioning procedure doesn't correctly set the hostname when the instance is created, which is inconvenient since they know your hostname at the point the instance is created. I'd recommend editing /etc/hosts to correctly contain your hostname.

$ sudo vi /etc/hosts

The first line of my /etc/hosts file looks like: forum localhost

You should replace with your own domain name.

Install the Bundler app which installs Rails dependencies

$ sudo gem install bundler
$ sudo gem install therubyracer -v '0.11.3' (is this still needed?)

Configure Postgres user account

Discourse uses the Postgres database to store forum data. This is an easy way to setup the Postgres server, but it also creates a highly privileged Postgres user account. Future revisions of this document may offer alternatives for creating the Postgres DBs, which would allow Discourse to login to Postgres as a user with lower privileges.

$ sudo -u postgres createuser admin -s -P

Pull and configure the latest version of the Discourse app

Now we are ready install the actual Discourse application. This will pull a copy of the Discourse app from my own branch. The advantage of using this branch is that it has been tested with these instructions, but it may fall behind the master which is rapidly changing.

# Pull the latest version from github.
$ git clone
$ cd discourse
# Now install the application dependencies using bundle
$ bundle install

Set Discourse application settings

You must set the Discourse application settings appropriately. The configuration files are in a directory called "config" There are sample configuration files now included in the master branch, so you need to copy these files and modify them with your own changes.

$ cd ~/discourse/config
$ cp ./database.yml.sample ./database.yml
$ cp ./redis.yml.sample ./redis.yml

Now you need to edit the configuration files and apply your own settings.

Start by editing the database configuration file which should be now located at ~/discourse/config/database.yml

$ vi ~/discourse/config/database.yml

Edit the file to add your Postgres username and password to each configuration in the file.

Add host: localhost to the production configuration because the production DB will also be run on the localhost in this configuration.

For the production configuration make sure the host_names variable references your domain. This is important to make sure links in emails are generated properly.

When you are done the file should look similar to:

  adapter: postgresql
  database: discourse_development
  username: admin
  password: <your_postgres_password>
  min_messages: warning
  host: localhost
  pool: 5
  timeout: 5000
    - "localhost"

# Warning: The database defined as "test" will be erased and
# re-generated from your development database when you run "rake".
# Do not set this db to the same as development or production.
  adapter: postgresql
  database: discourse_test
  username: admin
  password: <your_postgres_password>
  min_messages: warning
  host: localhost
  pool: 5
  timeout: 5000
    - test.localhost

# using the test db, so jenkins can run this config
# we need it to be in production so it minifies assets
  adapter: postgresql
  database: discourse_development
  username: admin
  password: <your_postgres_password>
  host: localhost
  pool: 5
  timeout: 5000
    - # Update this to be the domain of your production site

  adapter: postgresql
  database: discourse_development
  min_messages: warning
  host: localhost
  pool: 5
  timeout: 5000
    - "localhost"

I'm not a fan of entering the DB password as clear text in the database.yml file. If you have a better solution to this, let me know.

Deploy the db and start the server

Now you should be ready to deploy the database and start the server.

This will start the development environment on port 3000.

$ cd ~/discourse
# Set Rails configuration 
$ rake db:create db:migrate db:seed_fu RAILS_ENV=development
$ thin start

I tested the configuration by going to

Installing the production environment

WARNING: very preliminary instructions follows

Setup the www-data account

$ sudo mkdir /var/www
$ sudo chgrp www-data /var/www
$ sudo chmod g+w /var/www

Configure nginx

$ cd ~/discourse/
$ sudo cp config/nginx.sample.conf /etc/nginx/sites-available/discourse.conf
$ sudo ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/discourse.conf /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/discourse.conf
$ sudo rm /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/default
$ sudo service nginx start

Deploy Discourse app to /var/www

This needs more discussion...

$ rake secret
$ sudo vi config/intializers/secret_token.rb
$ export RAILS_ENV=production
$ rake db:create db:migrate db:seed_fu
$ rake assets:precompile
$ sudo -u www-data cp -r ~/discourse/ /var/www
$ sudo -u www-data mkdir /var/www/discourse/tmp/sockets
$ sudo cp /var/www/discourse/config/environments/production.sample.rb /var/www/discourse/config/environments/production.rb

Start Thin as a daemon listening on domain sockets

$ cd /var/www/discourse
$ sudo -u www-data bundle exec thin start -e production -s4 --socket /var/www/discourse/tmp/sockets/thin.sock

Start Sidekiq

$ sudo -u www-data bundle exec sidekiq -e production -d -l /var/www/discourse/log/sidekiq.log

Create Discourse admin account

  • Logon to site and create account using the application UI
  • Now make that account the admin:
$ cd /var/www/discourse
$ sudo -u www-data bundle exec rails c production     
$ u = User.first    
$ u.admin = true    

Start thin using init.d (work in progress)

Good explanation of the problems of using thin with init.d

$ sudo thin install
$ sudo /usr/sbin/update-rc.d -f thin defaults

Todo: add script to create the admin account

Edit site settings

The default values are in: app/models/site_setting.rb


  • I tried to avoid it, but I've come around to considering RVM
  • Add clockwork instance
  • Add script to create the admin account.
  • Remove root ssh access
  • Add more information about email configuration and start sidekiq when testing development installation. Should the admin account be set when testing the development server?
  • Setup social network login (Is it possible to disable this feature?)
  • Add Sam Saffron's Ruby GC tunings
  • Add thin and sidekiq as init scripts. I find this cleaner than using bluepill
  • Create chef script based on the installation procedure
  • Lots of info on server configuration here:
  • Add redis 2.6
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