You are reading a development version of the Zulip documentation. These instructions may not correspond to the latest Zulip Server release. See documentation for the latest stable release.

Secure, maintain, and upgrade

This page covers topics that will help you maintain a healthy, up-to-date, and secure Zulip installation, including:

You may also want to read this related content:


We recommend reading this entire section before doing your first upgrade.

To upgrade to a new version of the zulip server, download the appropriate release tarball from https://www.zulip.org/dist/releases/.

You also have the option of creating your own release tarballs from a copy of the zulip.git repository using tools/build-release-tarball or upgrade Zulip to a version in a Git repository directly.

Next, run as root:

/home/zulip/deployments/current/scripts/upgrade-zulip zulip-server-VERSION.tar.gz

The upgrade process will shut down the Zulip service and then run apt-get upgrade, a puppet apply, any database migrations, and then bring the Zulip service back up. Upgrading will result in some brief downtime for the service, which should be under 30 seconds unless there is an expensive transition involved. Unless you have tested the upgrade in advance, we recommend doing upgrades at off hours.

(Note that there are separate instructions for upgrading Zulip if you’re using Docker.)

Preserving local changes to configuration files

Warning: If you have modified configuration files installed by Zulip (e.g. the nginx configuration), the Zulip upgrade process will overwrite your configuration when it does the puppet apply.

You can test whether this will happen assuming no upstream changes to the configuration using scripts/zulip-puppet-apply (without the -f option), which will do a test puppet run and output and changes it would make. Using this list, you can save a copy of any files that you’ve modified, do the upgrade, and then restore your configuration.

That said, Zulip’s configuration files are designed to be flexible enough for a wide range of installations, from a small self-hosted system to Zulip Cloud. Before making local changes to a configuration file, first check whether there’s an option supported by /etc/zulip/zulip.conf for the customization you need. And if you need to make local modifications, please report the issue so that we can make the Zulip puppet configuration flexible enough to handle your setup.

nginx configuration changes

If you need to modify Zulip’s nginx configuration, we recommend first attempting to add configuration to /etc/nginx/conf.d or /etc/nginx/zulip-include/app.d; those directories are designed for custom configuration.

Troubleshooting with the upgrade log

The Zulip upgrade script automatically logs output to /var/log/zulip/upgrade.log. Please use those logs to include output that shows all errors in any bug reports.

After the upgrade, we recommend checking /var/log/zulip/errors.log to confirm that your users are not experiencing errors after the upgrade.

Rolling back to a prior version

The Zulip upgrade process works by creating a new deployment under /home/zulip/deployments/ containing a complete copy of the Zulip server code, and then moving the symlinks at /home/zulip/deployments/{current,last,next} as part of the upgrade process.

This means that if the new version isn’t working, you can quickly downgrade to the old version by running /home/zulip/deployments/last/scripts/restart-server, or to an earlier previous version by running /home/zulip/deployments/DATE/scripts/restart-server. The restart-server script stops any running Zulip server, and starts the version corresponding to the restart-server path you call.

Updating settings

If required, you can update your settings by editing /etc/zulip/settings.py and then run /home/zulip/deployments/current/scripts/restart-server to restart the server.

Applying system updates

The Zulip upgrade script will automatically run apt-get update and then apt-get upgrade, to make sure you have any new versions of dependencies (this will also update system packages). We assume that you will install security updates from apt regularly, according to your usual security practices for a production server.

If you’d like to minimize downtime when installing a Zulip server upgrade, you may want to do an apt-get upgrade (and then restart the server and check everything is working) before running the Zulip upgrade script.

There’s one apt package to be careful about: upgrading postgresql while the server is running may result in an outage (basically, postgresql might stop accepting new queries but refuse to shut down while waiting for connections from the Zulip server to shut down). While this only happens sometimes, it can be hard to fix for someone who isn’t comfortable managing a postgresql database [1]. You can avoid that possibility with the following procedure (run as root):

apt-get update
supervisorctl stop all
apt-get upgrade -y
supervisorctl start all

[1] If this happens to you, just stop the Zulip server, restart postgres, and then start the Zulip server again, and you’ll be back in business.

Disabling unattended upgrades

Important: We recommend that you disable Ubuntu’s unattended-upgrades, and instead install apt upgrades manually. With unattended upgrades enabled, the moment a new Postgres release is published, your Zulip server will have its postgres server upgraded (and thus restarted).

When one of the services Zulip depends on (postgres, memcached, redis, rabbitmq) is restarted, that services will disconnect everything using them (like the Zulip server), and every operation that Zulip does which uses that service will throw an exception (and send you an error report email). These apparently “random errors” can be confusing and might cause you to worry incorrectly about the stability of the Zulip software, which in fact the problem is that Ubuntu automatically upgraded and then restarted key Zulip dependencies.

Instead, we recommend installing updates for these services manually, and then restarting the Zulip server with /home/zulip/deployments/current/scripts/restart-server afterwards.

API and your Zulip URL

To use the Zulip API with your Zulip server, you will need to use the API endpoint of e.g. https://zulip.example.com/api. Our Python API example scripts support this via the --site=https://zulip.example.com argument. The API bindings support it via putting site=https://zulip.example.com in your .zuliprc.

Every Zulip integration supports this sort of argument (or e.g. a ZULIP_SITE variable in a zuliprc file or the environment), but this is not yet documented for some of the integrations (the included integration documentation on /integrations will properly document how to do this for most integrations). We welcome pull requests for integrations that don’t discuss this!

Similarly, you will need to instruct your users to specify the URL for your Zulip server when using the Zulip desktop and mobile apps.

Memory leak mitigation

As a measure to mitigate the impact of potential memory leaks in one of the Zulip daemons, the service automatically restarts itself every Sunday early morning. See /etc/cron.d/restart-zulip for the precise configuration.

Upgrading from a git repository

Zulip supports upgrading a production installation to any commit in Git, which is great for running pre-release versions or maintaining a small fork. If you’re using Zulip 1.7 or newer, you can just run the command:

# Upgrade to a tagged release
/home/zulip/deployments/current/scripts/upgrade-zulip-from-git 1.8.1
# Upgrade to a branch or other Git ref
/home/zulip/deployments/current/scripts/upgrade-zulip-from-git master

and Zulip will automatically fetch the relevant Git commit and upgrade to that version of Zulip.

By default, this uses the main upstream Zulip server repository (example below), but you can configure any other Git repository by adding a section like this to /etc/zulip/zulip.conf:

git_repo_url = https://github.com/zulip/zulip.git

See also our documentation on modifying Zulip and upgrading docker-zulip.

Systems with limited RAM: If you are running a minimal Zulip server with 2GB of RAM or less, the upgrade can fail due to the system running out of RAM running both the Zulip server and Zulip’s static asset build process (tools/webpack is usually the step that fails). If you encounter this, you can run supervisorctl stop all to shut down the Zulip server while you run the upgrade (this will, of course, add some downtime, which is part of we already recommend more RAM for organizations of more than a few people).

Upgrading using Git from Zulip 1.6 and older

If you’re are upgrading from a Git repository, and you currently have Zulip 1.6 or older installed, you will need to install the dependencies for building Zulip’s static assets. To do this, add zulip::static_asset_compiler to your /etc/zulip/zulip.conf file’s puppet_classes entry, like this:

puppet_classes = zulip::voyager, zulip::static_asset_compiler

and run scripts/zulip-puppet-apply. After approving the changes, you’ll be able to use upgrade-zulip-from-git.

After you’ve upgraded to Zulip 1.7 or above, you can safely remove zulip::static_asset_compiler from puppet_classes; in Zulip 1.7 and above, it is a dependency of zulip::voyager and thus these dependencies are installed by default.

Upgrading the operating system

When you upgrade the operating system on which Zulip is installed (E.g. Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty to Ubuntu 16.04 Xenial), you need to take some additional steps to update your Zulip installation, documented below.

The steps are largely the same for the various OS upgrades aside from the versions of postgres, so you should be able to adapt these instructions for other supported platforms.

Upgrading from Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty to 16.04 Xenial

  1. First, as the Zulip user, stop the Zulip server and run the following to back up the system:

    supervisorctl stop all
    /home/zulip/deployments/current/manage.py backup --output=/home/zulip/release-upgrade.backup.tar.gz
  2. Switch to the root user and upgrade the operating system using the OS’s standard tooling. E.g. for Ubuntu, this means running do-release-upgrade and following the prompts until it completes successfully:

    sudo -i # Or otherwise get a root shell

    When do-release-upgrade asks you how to upgrade configuration files for services that Zulip manages like redis, postgres, nginx, and memcached, the best choice is N to keep the currently installed version. But it’s not important; the next step will re-install Zulip’s configuration in any case.

  3. As root, upgrade the database installation and OS configuration to match the new OS version:

    apt remove upstart -y
    /home/zulip/deployments/current/scripts/zulip-puppet-apply -f
    pg_dropcluster 9.5 main --stop
    systemctl stop postgresql
    pg_upgradecluster -m upgrade 9.3 main
    pg_dropcluster 9.3 main
    apt remove postgresql-9.3
    systemctl start postgresql
    service memcached restart
  4. At this point, you are now running the version of postgres that comes with the new Ubuntu version. Finally, we need to reinstall the current version of Zulip, which among other things will recompile Zulip’s Python module dependencies for your new version of Python:

    rm -rf /srv/zulip-venv-cache/*
    /home/zulip/deployments/current/scripts/lib/upgrade-zulip-stage-2 \
        /home/zulip/deployments/current/ --ignore-static-assets

That last command will finish by restarting your Zulip server; you should now be able to navigate to its URL and confirm everything is working correctly.

Upgrading from Ubuntu 16.04 Xenial to 18.04 Bionic

  1. First, as the Zulip user, stop the Zulip server and run the following to back up the system:

    supervisorctl stop all
    /home/zulip/deployments/current/manage.py backup --output=/home/zulip/release-upgrade.backup.tar.gz
  2. Switch to the root user and upgrade the operating system using the OS’s standard tooling. E.g. for Ubuntu, this means running do-release-upgrade and following the prompts until it completes successfully:

    sudo -i # Or otherwise get a root shell

    When do-release-upgrade asks you how to upgrade configuration files for services that Zulip manages like redis, postgres, nginx, and memcached, the best choice is N to keep the currently installed version. But it’s not important; the next step will re-install Zulip’s configuration in any case.

  3. As root, upgrade the database installation and OS configuration to match the new OS version:

    touch /usr/share/postgresql/10/pgroonga_setup.sql.applied
    /home/zulip/deployments/current/scripts/zulip-puppet-apply -f
    pg_dropcluster 10 main --stop
    systemctl stop postgresql
    pg_upgradecluster 9.5 main
    pg_dropcluster 9.5 main
    apt remove postgresql-9.5
    systemctl start postgresql
    systemctl restart memcached
  4. At this point, you are now running the version of postgres that comes with the new Ubuntu version. Finally, we need to reinstall the current version of Zulip, which among other things will recompile Zulip’s Python module dependencies for your new version of Python:

    rm -rf /srv/zulip-venv-cache/*
    /home/zulip/deployments/current/scripts/lib/upgrade-zulip-stage-2 \
        /home/zulip/deployments/current/ --ignore-static-assets

That last command will finish by restarting your Zulip server; you should now be able to navigate to its URL and confirm everything is working correctly.


Starting with Zulip 2.0, Zulip has a built-in backup tool:

# As the zulip user
/home/zulip/deployments/current/manage.py backup
# Or as root
su zulip -c '/home/zulip/deployments/current/manage.py backup'

The backup tool provides the following options:

  • --output: Path where the output file should be stored. If no path is provided, the output file would be saved to a temporary directory.
  • --skip-db: If set, the tool will skip the backup of your database.
  • --skip-uploads: If set, the tool will skip the backup of the uploads.

This will generate a .tar.gz archive containing all the data stored on your Zulip server that would be needed to restore your Zulip server’s state on another machine perfectly.

Restoring backups

Backups generated using the Zulip 2.0 backup tool can be restored as follows.

First, install a new Zulip server through Step 3 with the version of both the base OS and Zulip from your previous installation. Then, run as root:

/home/zulip/deployments/current/scripts/setup/restore-backup /path/to/backup

When that finishes, your Zulip server should be fully operational again.

Changing the hostname

It’s common when testing backup restoration to restore backups with a different user-facing hostname than the original server to avoid disrupting service (e.g. zuliptest.example.com rather than zulip.example.com).

If you do so, just like any other time you change the hostname, you’ll need to update EXTERNAL_HOST and then restart the Zulip server (after backup restoration completes).

Until you do, your Zulip server will think its user-facing hostname is still zulip.example.com and will return HTTP 400 BAD REQUEST errors when trying to access it via zuliptest.example.com.

Inspecting a backup tarball

If you’re not sure what versions were in use when a given backup was created, you can get that information via the files in the backup tarball postgres-version, os-version, and zulip-version. The following command may be useful for viewing these files without extracting the entire archive.

tar -Oaxf /path/to/archive/zulip-backup-rest.tar.gz zulip-backup/zulip-version

What is included

Zulip’s backup tools includes everything you need to fully restore your Zulip server from a user perspective.

The following data present on a Zulip server is not included in these backup archives, and you may want to backup separately:

  • Transient data present in Zulip’s RabbitMQ queues. For example, a record that a missed-message email for a given Zulip message is scheduled to be sent to a given user in 2 minutes if the recipient user doesn’t interact with Zulip during that time window. You can check their status using rabbitmq list_queues as root.
  • Certain highly transient state that Zulip doesn’t store in a database, such as typing status, API rate-limiting counters, etc. that would have no value 1 minute after the backup is completed.
  • The server access/error logs from /var/log/zulip, because a Zulip server only appends to those log files (i.e. they aren’t necessarily to precisely restore your Zulip data), and they can be very large compared to the rest of the data for a Zulip server.
  • Files uploaded with the Zulip S3 file upload backend. We don’t include these for two reasons. First, the uploaded file data in S3 can easily be many times larger than the rest of the backup, and downloading it all to a server doing a backup could easily exceed its disk capacity. Additionally, S3 is a reliable persistent storage system with its own high-quality tools for doing backups. Contributions of (documentation on) ready-to-use scripting for S3 backups are welcome.
  • SSL certificates. Since these are security-sensitive and either trivially replaced (if generated via Certbot) or provided by the system administrator, we do not include them in these backups.

Backup details

This section is primarily for users managing backups themselves (E.g. if they’re using a remote postgres database with an existing backup strategy), and also serves as documentation for what is included in the backups generated by Zulip’s standard tools. That data includes:

  • The postgres database. That you can back up like any postgres database; we have some example tooling for doing that incrementally into S3 using wal-e in puppet/zulip_ops/manifests/postgres_common.pp (that’s what we use for zulip.com’s database backups). Note that this module isn’t part of the Zulip server releases since it’s part of the zulip.com configuration (see https://github.com/zulip/zulip/issues/293 for a ticket about fixing this to make life easier for running backups).
  • Any user-uploaded files. If you’re using S3 as storage for file uploads, this is backed up in S3, but if you have instead set LOCAL_UPLOADS_DIR, any files uploaded by users (including avatars) will be stored in that directory and you’ll want to back it up.
  • Your Zulip configuration including secrets from /etc/zulip/. E.g. if you lose the value of secret_key, all users will need to login again when you setup a replacement server since you won’t be able to verify their cookies; if you lose avatar_salt, any user-uploaded avatars will need to be re-uploaded (since avatar filenames are computed using a hash of avatar_salt and user’s email), etc.

Zulip also has a logical data export and import tool, which is useful for migrating data between Zulip Cloud and other Zulip servers, as well as various auditing purposes. The big advantage of the manage.py backup system over the export/import process is that it’s structurally very unlikely for the postgres process to ever develop bugs, whereas the import/export tool requires some work for every new feature we add to Zulip, and thus may occasionally have bugs around corner cases. The export tool’s advantage is that the export is more human-readable and easier to parse, and doesn’t have the requirement that the same set of Zulip organizations exist on the two servers (which is critical for migrations to and from Zulip Cloud).

Restore from manual backups

To restore from a manual backup, the process is basically the reverse of the above:

  • Install new server as normal by downloading a Zulip release tarball and then using scripts/setup/install, you don’t need to run the initialize-database second stage which puts default data into the database.
  • Unpack to /etc/zulip the settings.py and zulip-secrets.conf files from your backups.
  • Restore your database from the backup using wal-e; if you ran initialize-database anyway above, you’ll want to first scripts/setup/postgres-init-db to drop the initial database first.
  • Reconfigure rabbitmq to use the password from secrets.conf by running, as root, scripts/setup/configure-rabbitmq.
  • If you’re using local file uploads, restore those files to the path specified by settings.LOCAL_UPLOADS_DIR and (if appropriate) any logs.
  • Start the server using scripts/restart-server.

This restoration process can also be used to migrate a Zulip installation from one server to another.

We recommend running a disaster recovery after you setup backups to confirm that your backups are working; you may also want to monitor that they are up to date using the Nagios plugin at: puppet/zulip_ops/files/nagios_plugins/check_postgres_backup.

Contributions to more fully automate this process or make this section of the guide much more explicit and detailed are very welcome!

Postgres streaming replication

Zulip has database configuration for using Postgres streaming replication; you can see the configuration in these files:

  • puppet/zulip_ops/manifests/postgres_slave.pp
  • puppet/zulip_ops/manifests/postgres_master.pp
  • puppet/zulip_ops/files/postgresql/*

Contribution of a step-by-step guide for setting this up (and moving this configuration to be available in the main puppet/zulip/ tree) would be very welcome!


The complete Nagios configuration (sans secret keys) used to monitor zulip.com is available under puppet/zulip_ops in the Zulip Git repository (those files are not installed in the release tarballs).

The Nagios plugins used by that configuration are installed automatically by the Zulip installation process in subdirectories under /usr/lib/nagios/plugins/. The following is a summary of the various Nagios plugins included with Zulip and what they check:

Application server and queue worker monitoring:

  • check_send_receive_time (sends a test message through the system between two bot users to check that end-to-end message sending works)
  • check_rabbitmq_consumers and check_rabbitmq_queues (checks for rabbitmq being down or the queue workers being behind)
  • check_queue_worker_errors (checks for errors reported by the queue workers)
  • check_worker_memory (monitors for memory leaks in queue workers)
  • check_email_deliverer_backlog and check_email_deliverer_process (monitors for whether scheduled outgoing emails are being sent)

Database monitoring:

  • check_postgres_replication_lag (checks streaming replication is up to date).
  • check_postgres (checks the health of the postgres database)
  • check_postgres_backup (checks backups are up to date; see above)
  • check_fts_update_log (monitors for whether full-text search updates are being processed)

Standard server monitoring:

  • check_website_response.sh (standard HTTP check)
  • check_debian_packages (checks apt repository is up to date)

Note: While most commands require no special permissions, check_email_deliverer_backlog, requires the nagios user to be in the zulip group, in order to access SECRET_KEY and thus run Zulip management commands.

If you’re using these plugins, bug reports and pull requests to make it easier to monitor Zulip and maintain it in production are encouraged!


This section attempts to address the considerations involved with running Zulip with larger teams (especially >1000 users).

  • For an organization with 100+ users, it’s important to have more than 4GB of RAM on the system. Zulip will install on a system with 2GB of RAM, but with less than 3.5GB of RAM, it will run its queue processors multithreaded to conserve memory; this creates a significant performance bottleneck.
  • chat.zulip.org, with thousands of user accounts and thousands of messages sent every week, has 8GB of RAM, 4 cores, and 80GB of disk. The CPUs are essentially always idle, but the 8GB of RAM is important.
  • We recommend using a remote postgres database for isolation, though it is not required. In the following, we discuss a relatively simple configuration with two types of servers: application servers (running Django, Tornado, RabbitMQ, Redis, Memcached, etc.) and database servers.
  • You can scale to a pretty large installation (O(~1000) concurrently active users using it to chat all day) with just a single reasonably large application server (e.g. AWS c3.2xlarge with 8 cores and 16GB of RAM) sitting mostly idle (<10% CPU used and only 4GB of the 16GB RAM actively in use). You can probably get away with half that (e.g. c3.xlarge), but ~8GB of RAM is highly recommended at scale. Beyond a 1000 active users, you will eventually want to increase the memory cap in memcached.conf from the default 512MB to avoid high rates of memcached misses.
  • For the database server, we highly recommend SSD disks, and RAM is the primary resource limitation. We have not aggressively tested for the minimum resources required, but 8 cores with 30GB of RAM (e.g. AWS’s m3.2xlarge) should suffice; you may be able to get away with less especially on the CPU side. The database load per user is pretty optimized as long as memcached is working correctly. This has not been tested, but from extrapolating the load profile, it should be possible to scale a Zulip installation to 10,000s of active users using a single large database server without doing anything complicated like sharding the database.
  • For reasonably high availability, it’s easy to run a hot spare application server and a hot spare database (using Postgres streaming replication; see the section on configuring this). Be sure to check out the section on backups if you’re hoping to run a spare application server; in particular you probably want to use the S3 backend for storing user-uploaded files and avatars and will want to make sure secrets are available on the hot spare.
  • Zulip 2.0 and later supports running multiple Tornado servers sharded by realm/organization, which is how we scale Zulip Cloud.
  • However, Zulip does not yet support dividing traffic for a single Zulip realm between multiple application servers. There are two issues: you need to share the memcached/Redis/RabbitMQ instance (these should can be moved to a network service shared by multiple servers with a bit of configuration) and the Tornado event system for pushing to browsers currently has no mechanism for multiple frontend servers (or event processes) talking to each other. One can probably get a factor of 10 in a single server’s scalability by supporting multiple tornado processes on a single server, which is also likely the first part of any project to support exchanging events amongst multiple servers. The work for changing this is pretty far along, though, and thus while not generally available yet, we can set it up for users with an enterprise support contract.

Questions, concerns, and bug reports about this area of Zulip are very welcome! This is an area we are hoping to improve.

Securing your Zulip server

Zulip’s security model is discussed in a separate document.

Management commands

Zulip has a large library of Django management commands. To use them, you will want to be logged in as the zulip user and for the purposes of this documentation, we assume the current working directory is /home/zulip/deployments/current.

Below, we show several useful examples, but there are more than 100 in total. We recommend skimming the usage docs (or if there are none, the code) of a management command before using it, since they are generally less polished and more designed for expert use than the rest of the Zulip system.

Running management commands

Many management commands require the Zulip realm/organization to interact with as an argument, which you can specify via numeric or string ID.

You can see all the organizations on your Zulip server using ./manage.py list_realms.

zulip@zulip:~$ /home/zulip/deployments/current/manage.py list_realms
id    string_id                                name
--    ---------                                ----
1     zulip                                    None
2                                              Zulip Community

(Note that every Zulip server has a special zulipinternal realm containing system-internal bots like welcome-bot; you are unlikely to need to interact with that realm.)

Unless you are hosting multiple organizations on your Zulip server, your single Zulip organization on the root domain will have the empty string ('') as its string_id. So you can run e.g.:

zulip@zulip:~$ /home/zulip/deployments/current/manage.py show_admins -r ''

Otherwise, the string_id will correspond to the organization’s subdomain. E.g. on it.zulip.example.com, use /home/zulip/deployments/current/manage.py show_admins -r it.

manage.py shell

You can get an iPython shell with full access to code within the Zulip project using manage.py shell, e.g., you can do the following to change a user’s email address:

$ /home/zulip/deployments/current/manage.py shell
In [1]: user_profile = get_user_profile_by_email("email@example.com")
In [2]: do_change_user_delivery_email(user_profile, "new_email@example.com")

manage.py dbshell

This will start a postgres shell connected to the Zulip database.

Grant administrator access

You can make any user a realm administrator on the command line with the knight management command:

./manage.py knight username@example.com -f

Creating API super users with manage.py

If you need to manage the IRC, Jabber, or Zephyr mirrors, you will need to create API super users. To do this, use ./manage.py knight with the --permission=api_super_user argument. See the respective integration scripts for these mirrors (under zulip/integrations/ in the Zulip Python API repo) for further detail on these.

Exporting users and realms with manage.py export

If you need to do an export of a single user or of an entire realm, we have tools in management/ that essentially export Zulip data to the file system.

export_single_user.py exports the message history and realm-public metadata for a single Zulip user (including that user’s received messages as well as their sent messages).

A good overview of the process for exporting a single realm when moving a realm to a new server (without moving a full database dump) is in management/export.py. We recommend you read the comment there for words of wisdom on speed, what is and is not exported, what will break upon a move to a new server, and suggested procedure.

Other useful manage.py commands

There are a large number of useful management commands under zerver/management/commands/; you can also see them listed using ./manage.py with no arguments.

Hosting multiple Zulip organizations

This is explained in detail on its own page.