Vagrant environment setup tutorial

This section guides first-time contributors through installing the Zulip development environment on Windows, macOS, and Ubuntu.

The recommended method for installing the Zulip development environment is to use Vagrant with VirtualBox on Windows and macOS, and Vagrant with LXC on Ubuntu. This method creates a virtual machine (for Windows and macOS) or a Linux container (for Ubuntu) inside which the Zulip server and all related services will run.


If you encounter errors installing the Zulip development environment, check Troubleshooting & Common Errors. If that doesn’t help, please visit #provision help in the Zulip development community server for real-time help, send a note to the Zulip-devel Google group or file an issue.

When reporting your issue, please include the following information:

  • host operating system
  • installation method (Vagrant or direct)
  • whether or not you are using a proxy
  • a copy of Zulip’s vagrant provisioning logs, available in /var/log/provision.log on your virtual machine


Installing the Zulip development environment requires downloading several hundred megabytes of dependencies. You will need an active internet connection throughout the entire installation processes. (See Specifying a proxy if you need a proxy to access the internet.)

  • All: 2GB available RAM, Active broadband internet connection.
  • macOS: macOS (10.11 El Capitan or 10.12 Sierra recommended), Git, VirtualBox, Vagrant.
  • Ubuntu: 14.04 64-bit or 16.04 64-bit, Git, Vagrant, lxc.
    • or Debian: 9.0 “stretch” 64-bit
  • Windows: Windows 64-bit (Win 10 recommended), hardware virtualization enabled (VT-X or AMD-V), administrator access, Git for Windows (which installs Git BASH), VirtualBox, Vagrant.

Don’t see your system listed above? See Advanced setup for details about installing for other Linux and UNIX platforms.

Step 1: Install Prerequisites

Jump to:


  1. Install Vagrant (1.8.4-1.8.6, do not use 1.8.7).
  2. Install VirtualBox (>= 5.1.8).

(For a non-free option, but better performance, you can also use VMWare Fusion with the VMWare Fusion Vagrant plugin.)

Now you are ready for Step 2: Get Zulip Code..


The setup for Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty and Ubuntu 16.04 Xenial are the same.

If you’re in a hurry, you can copy and paste the following into your terminal after which you can jump to Step 2: Get Zulip Code:

sudo apt-get -y purge vagrant && \
wget && \
sudo dpkg -i vagrant*.deb && \
sudo apt-get -y install build-essential git ruby lxc lxc-templates cgroup-lite redir && \
vagrant plugin install vagrant-lxc && \
vagrant lxc sudoers

For a step-by-step explanation, read on.

1. Install Vagrant

For both 14.04 Trusty and 16.04 Xenial, you’ll need a more recent version of Vagrant than what’s available in the official Ubuntu repositories.

First uninstall any vagrant package you may have installed from the Ubuntu repository:

$ sudo apt-get purge vagrant

Now download and install the .deb package for Vagrant 1.8.6:

$ wget

$ sudo dpkg -i vagrant*.deb

2. Install remaining dependencies

Now install git and lxc-related packages:

$ sudo apt-get install build-essential git ruby lxc lxc-templates cgroup-lite redir

3. Install the vagrant lxc plugin:

$ vagrant plugin install vagrant-lxc
Installing the 'vagrant-lxc' plugin. This can take a few minutes...
Installed the plugin 'vagrant-lxc (1.2.1)'!

If you encounter an error when trying to install the vagrant-lxc plugin, see this.

4. Configure sudo to be passwordless

Finally, configure sudo to be passwordless when using Vagrant LXC:

$ vagrant lxc sudoers
[sudo] password for christie:

If you encounter an error running vagrant lxc sudoers, see this.

Now you are ready for Step 2: Get Zulip Code.


The setup for Debian 9.0 “stretch” is just like for Ubuntu 16.04, with one difference.

If you’re in a hurry, you can copy and paste the following into your terminal after which you can jump to Step 2: Get Zulip Code:

sudo apt-get -y purge vagrant && \
wget && \
sudo dpkg -i vagrant*.deb && \
sudo apt-get -y install build-essential git ruby lxc redir && \
vagrant plugin install vagrant-lxc && \
vagrant lxc sudoers

For a step-by-step explanation, follow the Ubuntu instructions above, with the following difference: in “2. Install remaining dependencies”, the command is

sudo apt-get install build-essential git ruby lxc redir

Windows 10

  1. Install Git for Windows, which installs Git BASH.
  2. Install VirtualBox (version >= 5.1.6).
  3. Install Vagrant (version 1.8.4-1.8.6, do not use 1.8.7).

(Note: While Git BASH is recommended, you may also use Cygwin. If you do, make sure to install default required packages along with git, curl, openssh, and rsync binaries.)

After installing, you must run Git BASH as an administrator.

Also, you must have hardware virtualization enabled (VT-X or AMD-V) in your computer’s BIOS.

Step 2: Get Zulip Code

If you haven’t already created an ssh key and added it to your GitHub account, you should do that now by following these instructions.

  1. In your browser, visit and click the fork button. You will need to be logged in to GitHub to do this.
  2. Open Terminal (macOS/Ubuntu) or Git BASH (Windows; must run as an Administrator).
  3. In Terminal/Git BASH, clone your fork:
git clone

This will create a ‘zulip’ directory and download the Zulip code into it.

Don’t forget to replace YOURUSERNAME with your git username. You will see something like:

christie@win10 ~
$ git clone
Cloning into 'zulip'...
remote: Counting objects: 73571, done.
remote: Compressing objects: 100% (2/2), done.
remote: Total 73571 (delta 1), reused 0 (delta 0), pack-reused 73569
Receiving objects: 100% (73571/73571), 105.30 MiB | 6.46 MiB/s, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (51448/51448), done.
Checking connectivity... done.
Checking out files: 100% (1912/1912), done.`

Now you are ready for Step 3: Start the development environment.

Step 3: Start the development environment

Change into the zulip directory and tell vagrant to start the Zulip development environment with vagrant up.

christie@win10 ~
$ cd zulip

christie@win10 ~/zulip
$ vagrant up

The first time you run this command it will take some time because vagrant does the following:

  • downloads the base Ubuntu 14.04 virtual machine image (for macOS and Windows) or container (for Ubuntu)
  • configures this virtual machine/container for use with Zulip,
  • creates a shared directory mapping your clone of the Zulip code inside the virtual machine/container at ~/zulip
  • runs the tools/provision script inside the virtual machine/container, which downloads all required dependencies, sets up the python environment for the Zulip development server, and initializes a default test database. We call this process “provisioning”.

You will need an active internet connection during the entire process. (See Specifying a proxy if you need a proxy to access the internet.) vagrant up can fail while provisioning if your Internet connection is unreliable. To retry, you can use vagrant provision (vagrant up will just boot the guest without provisioning after the first time). Other common issues are documented in the Troubleshooting & Common Errors section. If that doesn’t help, please visit #provision help in the Zulip development community server for real-time help.

On Windows, you will see The system cannot find the path specified. message several times. This is expected behavior and is not an error.

Once vagrant up has completed, connect to the development environment with vagrant ssh:

christie@win10 ~/zulip
$ vagrant ssh

You should see something like this on Windows and macOS:

Welcome to Ubuntu 14.04.4 LTS (GNU/Linux 3.13.0-85-generic x86_64)

 * Documentation:

  System information as of Wed May  4 21:45:43 UTC 2016

  System load:  0.61              Processes:           88
  Usage of /:   3.5% of 39.34GB   Users logged in:     0
  Memory usage: 7%                IP address for eth0:
  Swap usage:   0%

  Graph this data and manage this system at:

  Get cloud support with Ubuntu Advantage Cloud Guest:

0 packages can be updated.
0 updates are security updates.

Or something as brief as this in the case of Ubuntu:

Welcome to Ubuntu 14.04.1 LTS (GNU/Linux 4.4.0-21-generic x86_64)

 * Documentation:

Congrats, you’re now inside the Zulip development environment!

You can confirm this by looking at the command prompt, which starts with (zulip-venv)vagrant@. If it just starts with vagrant@, your provisioning failed and you should look at the troubleshooting section.

Next, start the Zulip server:

$ cd zulip

$ ./tools/

You will see several lines of output starting with something like:

2016-05-04 22:20:33,895 INFO: process_fts_updates starting
Recompiling templates
2016-05-04 18:20:34,804 INFO: Not in recovery; listening for FTS updates
Validating Django
System check identified no issues (0 silenced).

Django version 1.8
Tornado server is running at http://localhost:9993/
Quit the server with CTRL-C.
2016-05-04 18:20:40,716 INFO     Tornado loaded 0 event queues in 0.001s
2016-05-04 18:20:40,722 INFO     Tornado  95.5% busy over the past  0.0 seconds
Performing system checks...

And ending with something similar to:

webpack result is served from http://localhost:9991/webpack/
content is served from /srv/zulip

webpack: bundle is now VALID.
2016-05-06 21:43:29,553 INFO     Tornado  31.6% busy over the past 10.6 seconds
2016-05-06 21:43:35,007 INFO     Tornado  23.9% busy over the past 16.0 seconds

Now the Zulip server should be running and accessible. Verify this by navigating to http://localhost:9991/ in the browser on your main machine.

You should see something like this:

Image of Zulip development environment

The Zulip server will continue to run and send output to the terminal window. When you navigate to Zulip in your browser, check your terminal and you should see something like:

2016-05-04 18:21:57,547 INFO       GET     302 582ms (+start: 417ms) / (unauth via ?)
[04/May/2016 18:21:57]"GET / HTTP/1.0" 302 0
2016-05-04 18:21:57,568 INFO       GET     301   4ms /login (unauth via ?)
[04/May/2016 18:21:57]"GET /login HTTP/1.0" 301 0
2016-05-04 18:21:57,819 INFO       GET     200 209ms (db: 7ms/2q) /login/ (unauth via ?)

Now you’re ready for Step 4: Developing.

Step 4: Developing

Where to edit files

You’ll work by editing files on your host machine, in the directory where you cloned Zulip. Use your favorite editor (Sublime, Atom, Vim, Emacs, Notepad++, etc.).

When you save changes they will be synced automatically to the Zulip development environment on the virtual machine/container.

Each component of the Zulip development server will automatically restart itself or reload data appropriately when you make changes. So, to see your changes, all you usually have to do is reload your browser. More details on how this works are available below.

Don’t forget to read through the code style guidelines for details about how to configure your editor for Zulip. For example, indentation should be set to 4 spaces rather than tabs.

Understanding debugging output

It’s good to have the terminal running up as you work since error messages including tracebacks along with every backend request will be printed there.

See Logging for further details on the console output.

Committing and pushing changes with git

When you’re ready to commit or push changes via git, you will do this by running git commands in Terminal (macOS/Ubuntu) or Git BASH (Windows) in the directory where you cloned Zulip on your main machine.

If you’re new to working with Git/GitHub, check out our Git & GitHub Guide.

Maintaining the development environment

If after rebasing onto a new version of the Zulip server, you receive new errors while starting the Zulip server or running tests, this is probably not because Zulip’s master branch is broken. Instead, this is likely because we’ve recently merged changes to the development environment provisioning process that you need to apply to your development environment. To update your environment, you’ll need to re-provision your vagrant machine using vagrant provision (this just runs tools/provision from your Zulip checkout inside the Vagrant guest); this should complete in about a minute.

After provisioning, you’ll want to (re)start the Zulip development server.

If you run into any trouble, the #provision help in the Zulip development community server for is a great place to ask for help.

Rebuilding the development environment

If you ever want to recreate your development environment again from scratch (e.g. to test as change you’ve made to the provisioning process, or because you think something is broken), you can do so using vagrant destroy and then vagrant up. This will usually be much faster than the original vagrant up since the base image is already cached on your machine (it takes about 5 minutes to run with a fast Internet connection).

Any additional programs (e.g. Zsh, emacs, etc.) or configuration that you may have installed in the development environment will be lost when you recreate it. To address this, you can create a script called tools/custom_provision in your Zulip Git checkout; and place any extra setup commands there. Vagrant will run tools/custom_provision every time you run vagrant provision (or create a Vagrant guest via vagrant up).

Shutting down the development environment for use later

To shut down but preserve the development environment so you can use it again later use vagrant halt or vagrant suspend.

You can do this from the same Terminal/Git BASH window that is running by pressing ^C to halt the server and then typing exit. Or you can halt vagrant from another Terminal/Git BASH window.

From the window where is running:

2016-05-04 18:33:13,330 INFO       GET     200  92ms /register/ (unauth via ?)
(zulip-venv)vagrant@vagrant-ubuntu-trusty-64:~/zulip$ exit
Connection to closed.
christie@win10 ~/zulip

Now you can suspend the development environment:

christie@win10 ~/zulip
$ vagrant suspend
==> default: Saving VM state and suspending execution...

If vagrant suspend doesn’t work, try vagrant halt:

christie@win10 ~/zulip
$ vagrant halt
==> default: Attempting graceful shutdown of VM...

Check out the Vagrant documentation to learn more about suspend and halt.

Resuming the development environment

When you’re ready to work on Zulip again, run vagrant up. You will also need to connect to the virtual machine with vagrant ssh and re-start the Zulip server:

christie@win10 ~/zulip
$ vagrant up
$ vagrant ssh

$ cd zulip

$ ./tools/

Next Steps

Next, read the following to learn more about developing for Zulip:

Troubleshooting & Common Errors

Below you’ll find a list of common errors and their solutions. Most issues are resolved by just provisioning again (via tools/ inside the Vagrant guest or equivalently vagrant provision from outside).

If these solutions aren’t working for you or you encounter an issue not documented below, there are a few ways to get further help:

When reporting your issue, please include the following information:

  • host operating system
  • installation method (Vagrant or direct)
  • whether or not you are using a proxy
  • a copy of Zulip’s vagrant provisioning logs, available in /var/log/provision.log on your virtual machine. If you choose to post just the error output, please include the beginning of the error output, not just the last few lines.

The output of tools/diagnose run inside the Vagrant guest is also usually helpful.

Vagrant guest doesn’t show (zulip-venv) at start of prompt

This is caused by provisioning failing to complete successfully. You can see the errors in var/log/provision.log; it should end with something like this:

ESC[94mZulip development environment setup succeeded!ESC[0m

The ESC stuff are the terminal color codes that make it show as a nice blue in the terminal, which unfortunately looks ugly in the logs.

If you encounter an incomplete /var/log/provision.log file, you need to update your environment. Re-provision your vagrant machine; if the problem persists, please come chat with us (see instructions above) for help.

After you provision successfully, you’ll need to exit your vagrant ssh shell and run vagrant ssh again to get the virtualenv setup properly.

The box ‘ubuntu/trusty64’ could not be found

If you see the following error when you run vagrant up:

The box 'ubuntu/trusty64' could not be found or
could not be accessed in the remote catalog. If this is a private
box on HashiCorp's Atlas, please verify you're logged in via
`vagrant login`. Also, please double-check the name. The expanded
URL and error message are shown below:
URL: [""]

Then the version of curl that ships with Vagrant is not working on your machine. You are most likely to encounter this error on Windows/Cygwin and macOS.

On macOS this error is most likely to occur with Vagrant version 1.8.7 and is a known issue.

The solution is to downgrade Vagrant to version 1.8.6 (available here), or to use your system’s version of curl instead of the one that ships with Vagrant:

sudo ln -nsf /usr/bin/curl /opt/vagrant/embedded/bin/curl

On Windows/Cygwin, the fix is simple: replace it with the version from Cygwin.

First, determine the location of Cygwin’s curl with which curl:

christie@win10 ~/zulip
$ which curl

Now determine the location of Vagrant with which vagrant:

christie@win10 ~/zulip
$ which vagrant

The path up until /bin/vagrant is what you need to know. In the example above it’s /cygdrive/c/HashiCorp/Vagrant.

Finally, copy Cygwin’s curl to Vagrant embedded/bin directory:

christie@win10 ~/zulip
$ cp /usr/bin/curl.exe /cygdrive/c/HashiCorp/Vagrant/embedded/bin/

Now re-run vagrant up and vagrant should be able to fetch the required box file.

Vagrant was unable to mount VirtualBox shared folders

For the following error:

Vagrant was unable to mount VirtualBox shared folders. This is usually
because the filesystem "vboxsf" is not available. This filesystem is
made available via the VirtualBox Guest Additions and kernel
module. Please verify that these guest additions are properly
installed in the guest. This is not a bug in Vagrant and is usually
caused by a faulty Vagrant box. For context, the command attempted

 mount -t vboxsf -o uid=1000,gid=1000 keys /keys

If this error starts happening unexpectedly, then just run:

vagrant reload

This is equivalent of running a halt followed by an up (aka rebooting the guest). After this, you can do vagrant provision and vagrant ssh.

Connection timeout on vagrant up

If you see the following error after running vagrant up:

default: SSH address:
default: SSH username: vagrant
default: SSH auth method: private key
default: Error: Connection timeout. Retrying...
default: Error: Connection timeout. Retrying...
default: Error: Connection timeout. Retrying...

A likely cause is that hardware virtualization is not enabled for your computer. This must be done via your computer’s BIOS settings. Look for a setting called VT-x (Intel) or (AMD-V).

If this is already enabled in your BIOS, double-check that you are running a 64-bit operating system.

For further information about troubleshooting vagrant timeout errors see this post.

Vagrant up fails with subprocess.CalledProcessError

The vagrant up command basically does the following:

  • Downloads an Ubuntu image and starts it using a Vagrant provider.
  • Uses vagrant ssh to connect to that Ubuntu guest, and then runs tools/provision, which has a lot of subcommands that are executed via Python’s subprocess module. These errors mean that one of those subcommands failed.

To debug such errors, you can log in to the Vagrant guest machine by running vagrant ssh, which should present you with a standard shell prompt. You can debug interactively by using e.g. cd zulip && ./tools/provision, and then running the individual subcommands that failed. Once you’ve resolved the problem, you can rerun tools/provision to proceed; the provisioning system is designed to recover well from failures.

The zulip provisioning system is generally highly reliable; the most common cause of issues here is a poor network connection (or one where you need a proxy to access the Internet and haven’t configured the development environment to use it.

Once you’ve provisioned successfully, you’ll get output like this:

Zulip development environment setup succeeded!
(zulip-venv) vagrant@vagrant-base-trusty-amd64:~/zulip$

If the (zulip-venv) part is missing, this is because your installation failed the first time before the Zulip virtualenv was created. You can fix this by just closing the shell and running vagrant ssh again, or using source /srv/zulip-venv/bin/activate.

Finally, if you encounter any issues that weren’t caused by your Internet connection, please report them! We try hard to keep Zulip development environment provisioning free of bugs.

pip install fails during vagrant up on Ubuntu

Likely causes are:

  1. Networking issues
  2. Insufficient RAM. Check whether you’ve allotted at least two gigabytes of RAM, which is the minimum Zulip requires. If not, go to your VM settings and increase the RAM, then restart the VM.

npm install errors

The tools/provision script may encounter an error related to npm install that looks something like:

==> default: + npm install
==> default: Traceback (most recent call last):
==> default:   File "/srv/zulip/tools/provision", line 195, in <module>
==> default:
==> default: sys.exit(main())
==> default:   File "/srv/zulip/tools/provision", line 191, in main
==> default:
==> default: run(["npm", "install"])
==> default:   File "/srv/zulip/scripts/lib/", line 78, in run
==> default:
==> default: raise subprocess.CalledProcessError(rc, args)
==> default: subprocess
==> default: .
==> default: CalledProcessError
==> default: :
==> default: Command '['npm', 'install']' returned non-zero exit status 34
The SSH command responded with a non-zero exit status. Vagrant
assumes that this means the command failed. The output for this command
should be in the log above. Please read the output to determine what
went wrong.

Usually this error is not fatal. Try connecting to the development environment and re-trying the command from withing the virtual machine:

christie@win10 ~/zulip
$ vagrant ssh
$ cd zulip
$ npm install
npm WARN optional Skipping failed optional dependency /chokidar/fsevents:
npm WARN notsup Not compatible with your operating system or architecture: fsevents@1.0.12

These are just warnings so it is okay to proceed and start the Zulip server.

vagrant-lxc errors

Permissions errors

When building the development environment using Vagrant and the LXC provider, if you encounter permissions errors, you may need to chown -R 1000:$(whoami) /path/to/zulip on the host before running vagrant up in order to ensure that the synced directory has the correct owner during provision. This issue will arise if you run id username on the host where username is the user running Vagrant and the output is anything but 1000. This seems to be caused by Vagrant behavior; for more information, see the vagrant-lxc FAQ entry about shared folder permissions.


If you see the following error when you try to install the vagrant-lxc plugin:

/usr/lib/ruby/2.3.0/rubygems/specification.rb:946:in `all=': undefined method `group_by' for nil:NilClass (NoMethodError)
  from /usr/lib/ruby/vendor_ruby/vagrant/bundler.rb:275:in `with_isolated_gem'
  from /usr/lib/ruby/vendor_ruby/vagrant/bundler.rb:231:in `internal_install'
  from /usr/lib/ruby/vendor_ruby/vagrant/bundler.rb:102:in `install'
  from /usr/lib/ruby/vendor_ruby/vagrant/plugin/manager.rb:62:in `block in install_plugin'
  from /usr/lib/ruby/vendor_ruby/vagrant/plugin/manager.rb:72:in `install_plugin'
  from /usr/share/vagrant/plugins/commands/plugin/action/install_gem.rb:37:in `call'
  from /usr/lib/ruby/vendor_ruby/vagrant/action/warden.rb:34:in `call'
  from /usr/lib/ruby/vendor_ruby/vagrant/action/builder.rb:116:in `call'
  from /usr/lib/ruby/vendor_ruby/vagrant/action/runner.rb:66:in `block in run'
  from /usr/lib/ruby/vendor_ruby/vagrant/util/busy.rb:19:in `busy'
  from /usr/lib/ruby/vendor_ruby/vagrant/action/runner.rb:66:in `run'
  from /usr/share/vagrant/plugins/commands/plugin/command/base.rb:14:in `action'
  from /usr/share/vagrant/plugins/commands/plugin/command/install.rb:32:in `block in execute'
  from /usr/share/vagrant/plugins/commands/plugin/command/install.rb:31:in `each'
  from /usr/share/vagrant/plugins/commands/plugin/command/install.rb:31:in `execute'
  from /usr/share/vagrant/plugins/commands/plugin/command/root.rb:56:in `execute'
  from /usr/lib/ruby/vendor_ruby/vagrant/cli.rb:42:in `execute'
  from /usr/lib/ruby/vendor_ruby/vagrant/environment.rb:268:in `cli'
  from /usr/bin/vagrant:173:in `<main>'

And you have vagrant version 1.8.1, then you need to patch vagrant manually. See this post for an explanation of the issue, which should be fixed when Vagrant 1.8.2 is released.

In the meantime, read this post for how to create and apply the patch.

It will look something like this:

$ sudo patch --directory /usr/lib/ruby/vendor_ruby/vagrant < vagrant-plugin.patch
patching file bundler.rb

Permissions errors when running the test suite in LXC

See “Possible testing issues”.

Specifying a proxy

If you need to use a proxy server to access the Internet, you will need to specify the proxy settings before running Vagrant up. First, install the Vagrant plugin vagrant-proxyconf:

vagrant plugin install vagrant-proxyconf.

Then create ~/.zulip-vagrant-config and add the following lines to it (with the appropriate values in it for your proxy):

HTTP_PROXY http://proxy_host:port
HTTPS_PROXY http://proxy_host:port
NO_PROXY localhost,,

Now run vagrant up in your terminal to install the development server. If you ran vagrant up before and failed, you’ll need to run vagrant destroy first to clean up the failed installation.

You can also change the port on the host machine that Vagrant uses by adding to your ~/.zulip-vagrant-config file. E.g. if you set:


(and halt and restart the Vagrant guest), then you would visit http://localhost:9971/ to connect to your development server.

If you’d like to be able to connect to your development environment from other machines than the VM host, you can manually set the host IP address in the ‘~/.zulip-vagrant-config’ file as well. For example, if you set:


(and restart the Vagrant guest), your host IP would be, a special value for the IP address that means any IP address can connect to your development server.