a collaborative knowledge-exchange platform in Rails; we welcome first-time contributors! 🎈
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Code of Conduct Build Status first-timers-only-friendly Join the chat at https://publiclab.org/chat Code Climate Coverage Status View performance data on Skylight

The content management system for the Public Lab research community, the plots2 web application is a combination of a group research blog of what we call "research notes" and a wiki. Read more about the data model here.

It features a variety of features that help the Public Lab community collaborate on environmental technology design and documentation, as well as community organizing. Originally a Drupal site, it was rewritten in 2012 in Ruby on Rails and has since extended but not entirely replaced the legacy Drupal data model and database design. We ❤️ Open Source and actively participates in various OSS programs such as Google Summer of Code(GSoC), Rails Girls Summer of Code (RGSoC), Outreachy and Google Code-In (GCI). Some key features include:

Table of Contents

  1. What Makes This Project Different
  2. Data model
  3. Contributing
  4. Prerequisites
  5. Installation
  6. SSL in Development
  7. Testing
  8. API
  9. Bundle Exec
  10. Reply-by-email
  11. Bugs and Support
  12. Recaptcha
  13. Internationalization
  14. Security
  15. Developers
  16. First Time?

What makes this project different

The people who create our platform often make very different design and technology decisions from other projects, and this stems from our deep belief that, to see change in the world, we must build and maintain systems that reflect our values and principles.

From design to system architecture to basic vocabulary and communication patterns, our systems have grown organically since 2010 to support a powerful, diverse, and cooperative network of people capable of taking on environmental problems that affect communities around the world. The platform we have built together speaks to this shared history in many ways, big and small. It reflects input from people facing serious health issues and on-the-ground organizers, policy specialists and hardware hackers, educators and civil servants.

This broad community, and the Public Lab team’s role in facilitating a space where they can discuss, break down, construct, prototype, and critique real-world projects together, have shaped a platform that incorporates familiar pieces, but ultimately looks and feels quite different from anywhere else on the internet. It continues to grow and be refined, but it also reflects a commitment to listening to one another, to mutual respect and support, to an awareness of the barriers and challenges presented by gaps in expertise and knowledge, and a sensitivity to the inequalities and power imbalances perpetuated by many mainstream modes of knowledge production and technological and scientific development.

Our mutual aims of democratizing inexpensive and accessible do-it-yourself techniques and creating a collaborative network of practitioners who actively reimagine the human relationship with the environment is supported and facilitated by a system which questions and even challenges how collaborative work can happen.

Data Model


(Above: draft of our Data model)


We welcome contributions, and are especially interested in welcoming first time contributors. Read more about how to contribute below! We especially welcome contributions from people belonging to groups under-represented in free and open source software!

Code of Conduct

Please read and abide by our Code of Conduct; our community aspires to be a respectful place both during online and in-­person interactions.


For installation, prerequisites include sqlite3 and rvm. Click here for a complete list and instructions.


Installation for Cloud9

For information on how to install for use with the cloud environment, please see here.

Standard Installation

  1. Fork our repo from https://github.com/publiclab/plots2.
  2. In the console, download a copy of your forked repo with git clone https://github.com/your_username/plots2.git where your_username is your GitHub username.
  3. Enter the new plots2 directory with cd plots2.
  4. Install gems with bundle install --without production mysql from the rails root folder, to install the gems you'll need, excluding those needed only in production. You may need to first run bundle update if you have older gems in your environment from previous Rails work.
  5. Make a copy of db/schema.rb.example and place it at db/schema.rb.
  6. Make a copy of config/database.yml.sqlite.example and place it at config/database.yml
  7. Run rake db:setup to set up the database
  8. Install static assets (like external javascript libraries, fonts) with yarn install
  9. By default, start rails with passenger start from the Rails root and open http://localhost:3000 in a web browser. (for local SSL work, see SSL below)
  10. Wheeeee! You're up and running! Log in with test usernames "user", "moderator", or "admin", and password "password".
  11. Run rails test -d to confirm that your install is working properly.

SSL in Development

We at public labs use openssl gem to provide SSL for the secure connection in the development mode. You can run the https connection on the localhost by following following steps:

  1. Use passenger start --ssl --ssl-certificate config/localhost.crt --ssl-certificate-key config/localhost.key --ssl-port 3001.
  2. Open up https://localhost:3001.
  3. Add security exceptions from the advance settings of the browser. You can also use http (unsecure connection) on the port number 3000 by going to 'http://localhost:3000'. We use port number 3001 for 'https' and port number 3000 for 'http' connection. Secure connection is needed for OAuth authentication etc.


Click here for a comprehensive description of testing.

How to start and modify cron jobs

  1. We are using whenever gem to schedule cron jobs. Whenever
  2. All the cron jobs are written in easy ruby syntax using this gem and can be found in config/schedule.rb.
  3. Go to the config/schedule.rb file to create and modify the cron jobs.
  4. Click here to know about how to write cron jobs.
  5. After updating config/schedule.rb file run the command whenever --update-crontab to update the cron jobs.
  6. To see the installed list of cron jobs use command crontab -l
  7. For more details about this gem, visit the official repository of whenever gem.

Bundle exec

For some, it will be necessary to prepend your gem-related commands with bundle exec. For example, bundle exec passenger start. Adding bundle exec ensures you're using the version of passenger you just installed with Bundler. bundle exec rake db:setup, bundle exec rake db:seed are other examples of where this might be necessary.


Public Lab now supports reply by email to comment feature. For more details regarding it go to the email documentation

Bugs and support

To report bugs and request features, please use the GitHub issue tracker provided at https://github.com/publiclab/plots2/issues

For additional support, join the Public Lab website and mailing list at http://publiclab.org/lists or for urgent requests, email web@publiclab.org


This application uses RECAPTCHA via the recaptcha gem in production only. For more information, click here.


Publiclab.org now supports Internationalization and localization, though we are in the initial stages. This has been accomplished with rails-I8n.

To see it in action, click on the 'Language' drop-down located in the footer section of the page. All the guidelines and best practices for I18n can be found here.

Translations are arranged in the YAML files here, which are set in a similar way to views files. An example for adding translations can be found here.

To add new languages or for additional support, please write to plots-dev@googlegroups.com


To report security vulnerabilities or for questions about security, please contact web@publiclab.org. Our Web Working Group will assess and respond promptly.


Help improve Public Lab software!

First Time?

New to open source/free software? Here is a selection of issues we've made especially for first-timers. We're here to help, so just ask if one looks interesting : https://code.publiclab.org

Let the code be with you. ❤️

Happy opensourcing. 😄