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Deploy a web app


Nowadays, most content served to users via the web is dynamic and via web applications. This tutorial will show you how to set up a simple web application with Flask in Python, but the process is much the same for any other web framework and we give tips for other languages.


The SRCF hosts a general purpose web server that can serve all types of content. While the existence of a public_html folder might lead users to think that only static content can be served, Apache’s .htaccess file allows for arbitrary reverse proxying to a TCP port or UNIX socket. This gives users great freedom to do whatever they wish, including hosting applications written in popular frameworks like Django, Flask, Sinatra, Ruby on Rails, Express, etc.


Before starting,

  1. Ensure that you are comfortable in some capacity with the terminal
  2. Ensure that you are logged into (and performing any subsequent commands on) our web server,


Python: set up a venv

You will want to deploy your application in a Python venv so that you can easily install and manage dependencies and versions.

A venv is a virtual Python environment that contains its own Python binary as well as all of your dependencies. When you activate your venv, PATH variables like python and pip will use the correct versions specified when you created your venv.

  1. Create a directory for your app to live in:

    mkdir -p ~/myapp
    cd ~/myapp
  2. Set up a venv

    python3 -m venv venv
  3. Activate the venv

    . venv/bin/activate

    You should do this step every time before running your app or managing installed packages.

  4. Done! Your Python venv is now installed and hooked into your shell.

Node: installing nvm

You will want to deploy your application using nvm so that you can easily install and manage dependencies and versions.

nvm stands for Node Version Manager. Ubuntu only provides a significantly outdated version of Node.js (v4.2.6 at the time of writing) in its repositories. Using nvm allows you to choose any version of Node to use in your environment. Note that it is your responsibility to keep your node installations and nvm itself updated.

  1. Create a directory for your app to live in:

    mkdir -p ~/myapp
    cd ~/myapp
  2. Install nvm in your home directory. You’ll need to find the latest version from the NVM GitHub, and copy the one-liner straight into your shell to install it. At the time of writing, it looks like this:

    curl -o- | bash

    Make sure you read the installation instructions, then go ahead and run it, and close/re-open your terminal as it suggests.

  3. Install whatever version of node.js you want.

    nvm install 12
    nvm alias default 12
  4. Done! The version of node.js you specified is now installed and hooked into your shell.

Ruby: install rbenv

You will want to deploy your application using rbenv so that you can easily install and manage dependencies and versions.

  1. Create a directory for your app to live in:

    mkdir -p ~/myapp
    cd ~/myapp
  2. Install rbenv in your home directory:

    git clone ~/.rbenv
    cd ~/.rbenv && src/configure && make -C src
    echo 'export PATH="$HOME/.rbenv/bin:$PATH"' >> ~/.bashrc
    ~/.rbenv/bin/rbenv init
  3. Follow the printed instructions on appending to your ~/.bashrc file:

    echo 'eval "$(rbenv init -)"' >> ~/.bashrc
  4. Install ruby-build as a plugin:

    mkdir -p "$(rbenv root)"/plugins
    git clone "$(rbenv root)"/plugins/ruby-build
  5. Install whichever version of Ruby you want.

    rbenv install 2.6.6
    rbenv local 2.6.6
  6. Done! You now have a working Ruby installation that’s hooked into your shell.

Install your web framework

You should not rely on the system-wide versions of web frameworks present on our webserver as they are LTS releases and may be out of date. Instead, use the version manager that comes with your framework/language to install a more up to date version.

  • Node: npm i express
  • Python: pip install flask or pip install django
  • Ruby: gem install rails

Create your app

If you have an existing node.js app you can simply copy the code to a directory of your choosing, ~/myapp/src for example. You can use scp/sftp to upload it or clone it using git or some other source control tool.

If you’re new to web apps, though, it’s recommended you follow the getting started guide (or equivalent) for your language/framework of interest:

  • Node:
  • Express:
  • Ruby on Rails:
  • Flask:

We do have a few lines of code in a few languages that can springboard your app below. For real examples, you should visit the content of the sample group at /public/societies/sample/


There is a demo flask app setup at If you’re logged in via ssh, you can find the code at /public/societies/sample/flask/


To create a skeleton Django project:

django-admin startproject example
mv example python
cd python

Now take a look at django/example/ for how to configure your site. There is also a demo available at

Ruby on Rails

Ruby on Rails is arguably one of the most popular and influential web frameworks. To create a skeleton Rails project:

gem install rails
rails new myapp

You should now have a new Ruby on Rails project setup in the myapp directory.


Sinatra is a lightweight web microframework that’s well suited to simple projects. To install it run gem install sinatra and then put the following in myapp.rb:

require 'sinatra'
get '/' do
    'Hello world!'

You can then run this by typing ruby myapp.rb and going to http://localhost:4567 in your web browser. For futher information See the Sinatra documentation.


Sample site at and see nodejs/app.js for a minimum base application.

Deploy your app

In a production environment, your app will need to “boot” (ie. start up) in a well-controlled manner. You will also want it to run in the background and ensure it restart when our web server reboots. systemd is a popular choice for “supervising” a service.

Boot scripts

First create a bash script that will run your web app at ~/myapp/ with the following content:


#!/bin/bash -e

. ~/myapp/venv/bin/activate
exec gunicorn -w 2 -b unix:/home/crsid/myapp/web.sock \
    --log-file - main:app

Replace main:app with the module containing the app, and name of your app.


#!/bin/bash -e

[ -e "/home/crsid/myapp/web.sock" ] && rm "/home/crsid/myapp/web.sock"
umask 0

. ~/.nvm/
NODE_ENV=production PORT="/home/crsid/myapp/web.sock" \
    exec ~/myapp/src/bin/www

Replace ~/myapp/src/bin/www with the path to your app.


#!/bin/bash -e

eval "$(rbenv init -)"
cd ~/myapp/src
RAILS_ENV=production \
      exec bin/rails server -b /home/crsid/myapp/web.sock

Replace ~/myapp/src with the path to your app.

Now, for all frameworks, make the script executable:

chmod +x ~/myapp/run

You should now be able to execute the script and access your website (or see any errors in your terminal).

Using systemd

The SRCF may restart any of its servers as part of regular or emergency maintenance. When this happens, you’ll likely want your app to start up again. Similarly you may want your app to automatically restart if it crashes. We highly recommend using systemd to supervise your app.

  1. Create a directory for your app ~/myapp.

  2. Place a startup script at ~/myapp/ Your script should end by execing the server process. If you followed one of our tutorials for Django, Node or Rails, you’ve already created this file, so can move on to the next step. Otherwise, an example would be:

    #!/bin/sh -e
    exec ~/myapp/run-server

    Your server should run in the foreground (it should not daemonise), and the script should end with an exec line so that signals are sent to the server (and not to the shell that started it).

    Once you’ve written the script, make it executable (chmod +x ~/myapp/ Test it by executing it in your terminal before moving on; it will be easier to debug problems.

  3. Write a systemd service file so your app will be supervised on startup.

    For applications in your personal account, create the unit directory if it doesn’t exist:

    mkdir -p ~/.config/systemd/user

    For a group account, substitute ~ for /societies/foosoc, where foosoc is the short name of the account.

    Then, save the following to the file ~/.config/systemd/user/myapp.service (or /societies/foosoc/.config/systemd/user/myapp.service for groups):

    Description={YOUR USER, SOCIETY OR GROUP NAME} Webapp
  4. Tell systemd to start your app on startup, by running systemctl --user enable myapp.

  5. You’ll need to start your app manually once (on future reboots, it will be started for you). To do that, run systemctl --user start myapp.

    To control your app, you can use the systemctl tool. See man systemctl for full details.

    In summary,

    • Restart an app. systemctl --user restart myapp
    • Bring an app offline. systemctl --user stop myapp
    • Bring an app back online. systemctl --user start myapp
    • Check the status of an app. systemctl --user status myapp

    By default, your app’s standard output and error streams are sent to systemd’s journal however only the root user can access these. You will want to make your app write to a log file rather than stdout or stderr.

We have further more general reading on systemd services.

Notes for Python

Installing gunicorn

We recommend using gunicorn to serve your application. After activating your venv, install it with pip install gunicorn.

Note that you may see a warning about a syntax error. As long as the output ends in ‘Successfully installed gunicorn’, it’s safe to ignore this.

Reloading your app

Gunicorn will reload your app if you send it SIGHUP. You can teach systemd that fact by adding the following line under [Service] in your systemd unit file:

ExecReload=/bin/kill -HUP $MAINPID

and then running systemctl --user daemon-reload. After that, you can use systemctl to reload your app:

systemctl --user reload myapp

Notes for Ruby

  • You may need to migrate your database first.
  • Make sure you’ve set secret keys for the app and any gems that need them (e.g.┬áDevise).
  • Static file serving is off by default in production, but you’ll want to turn it on: set both config.assets.compile and config.public_file_server.enabled to true in config/environments/production.rb.

Forwarding requests

You then need to configure Apache to forward web requests to the web.sock socket specified in the script. We explain how to do this in the reference for web apps.

Closing remarks

Did you like this or find this cool? We invite you to check out more tutorials or get in touch to tell us what you thought!

If you have any suggestions for how we could improve this documentation please send us an email at or submit a Pull Request on GitHub!

Last modified on Tuesday Jan 17, 2023 by Lewis Jones