Vagrant environment setup tutorial

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

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


If you encounter errors installing the Zulip development environment, check troubleshooting and common errors. If that doesn’t help, please visit #provision help in the Zulip development community server for real-time help 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 with Vagrant 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, GitHub account.

  • macOS: macOS (10.11 El Capitan or newer recommended)

  • Ubuntu LTS: 20.04 or 22.04

  • Debian: 10 or 11

  • Windows: Windows 64-bit (Win 10 recommended), hardware virtualization enabled (VT-x or AMD-V), administrator access.

Other Linux distributions work great too, but we don’t maintain documentation for installing Vagrant and Docker on those systems, so you’ll need to find a separate guide and crib from the Debian/Ubuntu docs.

Step 0: Set up Git & GitHub

You can skip this step if you already have Git, GitHub, and SSH access to GitHub working on your machine.

Follow our Git guide in order to install Git, set up a GitHub account, create an SSH key to access code on GitHub efficiently, etc. Be sure to create an SSH key and add it to your GitHub account using these instructions.

Step 1: Install prerequisites

Jump to:


  1. Install Vagrant (latest).

  2. Install Docker Desktop (latest).

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


1. Install Vagrant, Docker, and Git

$ sudo apt install vagrant git

2. Add yourself to the docker group:

$ sudo adduser $USER docker
Adding user `christie' to group `docker' ...
Adding user christie to group docker

You will need to reboot for this change to take effect. If it worked, you will see docker in your list of groups:

$ groups | grep docker
christie adm cdrom sudo dip plugdev lpadmin sambashare docker

3. Make sure the Docker daemon is running:

If you had previously installed and removed an older version of Docker, an Ubuntu bug may prevent Docker from being automatically enabled and started after installation. You can check using the following:

$ systemctl status docker
● docker.service - Docker Application Container Engine
   Loaded: loaded (/lib/systemd/system/docker.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled)
   Active: active (running) since Mon 2019-07-15 23:20:46 IST; 18min ago

If the service is not running, you’ll see Active: inactive (dead) on the second line, and will need to enable and start the Docker service using the following:

sudo systemctl unmask docker
sudo systemctl enable docker
sudo systemctl start docker

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


The setup for Debian is very similar to that for Ubuntu above, except that the package is only available in Debian 10 and later; for Debian 9, see Docker CE for Debian.

Windows 10


We recommend using WSL 2 for Windows development.

  1. Install Git for Windows, which installs Git BASH.

  2. Install VirtualBox (latest).

  3. Install Vagrant (latest).

(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.)

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

Running Git BASH as an administrator

It is important that you always run Git BASH with administrator privileges when working on Zulip code, as not doing so will cause errors in the development environment (such as symlink creation). You might wish to configure your Git BASH shortcut to always run with these privileges enabled (see this guide for how to set this up).

Step 2: Get Zulip code

  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/Linux) or Git BASH (Windows; must run as an Administrator).

  3. In Terminal/Git BASH, clone your fork of the Zulip repository and connect the Zulip upstream repository:

git clone --config pull.rebase
cd zulip
git remote add -f upstream

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 --config pull.rebase
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:

# On Windows:
cd zulip
vagrant plugin install vagrant-vbguest
vagrant up --provider=virtualbox

# On macOS or Linux:
cd zulip
vagrant up --provider=docker

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

  • downloads the base Debian 10 virtual machine image (for macOS and Windows) or container (for Linux)

  • 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”, and it is documented in some detail in our dependencies documentation.

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 and 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 message The system cannot find the path specified. several times. This is normal and is not a problem.

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

christie@win10 ~/zulip
$ vagrant ssh

You should see output that starts like this:

Linux debian-10 4.19.0-18-amd64 #1 SMP Debian 4.19.208-1 (2021-09-29) x86_64

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

You can confirm this by looking at the command prompt, which starts with (zulip-py3-venv)vagrant@. If it just starts with vagrant@, your provisioning failed and you should look at the troubleshooting section.

Next, start the Zulip server:

(zulip-py3-venv) vagrant@debian-10:/srv/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@zulip 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@zulip 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@zulip 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.

Zulip’s whitespace rules are all enforced by linters, so be sure to run tools/lint often to make sure you’re following our coding style (or use tools/setup-git-repo to run it on just the changed files automatically whenever you commit).

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/Linux) 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 main 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, #provision help in the Zulip development community server 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 a 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@zulip via ?)
(zulip-py3-venv) vagrant@debian-10:/srv/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 (no need to pass the --provider option required above). 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

(zulip-py3-venv) vagrant@debian-10:/srv/zulip
$ ./tools/

Next steps

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

Troubleshooting and common errors

Below you’ll find a list of common errors and their solutions. Most issues are resolved by just provisioning again (by running ./tools/provision (from /srv/zulip) 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-py3-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.

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 halt
vagrant up

to reboot the guest. After this, you can do vagrant provision and vagrant ssh.

ssl read error

If you receive the following error while running vagrant up:

SSL read: error:00000000:lib(0):func(0):reason(0), errno 104

It means that either your network connection is unstable and/or very slow. To resolve it, run vagrant up until it works (possibly on a better network connection).

Unmet dependencies error

When running vagrant up or provision, if you see the following error:

==> default: E:unmet dependencies. Try 'apt-get -f install' with no packages (or specify a solution).

It means that your local apt repository has been corrupted, which can usually be resolved by executing the command:

apt-get -f install

ssh connection closed by remote host

On running vagrant ssh, if you see the following error:

ssh_exchange_identification: Connection closed by remote host

It usually means the Vagrant guest is not running, which is usually solved by rebooting the Vagrant guest via vagrant halt; vagrant up. See Vagrant was unable to communicate with the guest machine for more details.

Hyper-V error messages

If you get an error message on Windows about lack of Windows Home support for Hyper-V when running vagrant up, the problem is that Windows is incorrectly attempting to use Hyper-V rather than Virtualbox as the virtualization provider. You can fix this by explicitly passing the virtualbox provider to vagrant up:

christie@win10 ~/zulip
$ vagrant up --provide=virtualbox

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 was unable to communicate with the guest machine

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

Timed out while waiting for the machine to boot. This means that
Vagrant was unable to communicate with the guest machine within
the configured ("config.vm.boot_timeout" value) time period.

If you look above, you should be able to see the error(s) that
Vagrant had when attempting to connect to the machine. These errors
are usually good hints as to what may be wrong.

If you're using a custom box, make sure that networking is properly
working and you're able to connect to the machine. It is a common
problem that networking isn't setup properly in these boxes.
Verify that authentication configurations are also setup properly,
as well.

If the box appears to be booting properly, you may want to increase
the timeout ("config.vm.boot_timeout") value.

This has a range of possible causes, that usually amount to a bug in Virtualbox or Vagrant. If you see this error, you usually can fix it by rebooting the guest via vagrant halt; vagrant up.

Vagrant up fails with subprocess.CalledProcessError

The vagrant up command basically does the following:

  • Downloads a Debian image and starts it using a Vagrant provider.

  • Uses vagrant ssh to connect to that Debian 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-py3-venv) vagrant@vagrant-base-trusty-amd64:~/zulip$

If the (zulip-py3-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-py3-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 Linux

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.

yarn install warnings

$ yarn install
yarn install v0.24.5
[1/4] Resolving packages...
[2/4] Fetching packages...
warning fsevents@1.1.1: The platform "linux" is incompatible with this module.
info "fsevents@1.1.1" is an optional dependency and failed compatibility check. Excluding it from installation.
[3/4] Linking dependencies...
[4/4] Building fresh packages...
Done in 23.50s.

These are warnings produced by spammy third party JavaScript packages. It is okay to proceed and start the Zulip server.

OSError: [Errno 26] Text file busy

default: Traceback (most recent call last):

default:   File "/srv/zulip-py3-venv/lib/python3.6/", line 426, in _rmtree_safe_fd
default:     os.rmdir(name, dir_fd=topfd)
default: OSError: [Errno 26] Text file busy: 'baremetrics'

This error is caused by a bug in recent versions of the VirtualBox Guest Additions for Linux on Windows hosts. You can check the running version of VirtualBox Guest Additions with this command:

vagrant ssh -- 'sudo modinfo -F version vboxsf'

The bug has not been fixed upstream as of this writing, but you may be able to work around it by downgrading VirtualBox Guest Additions to 6.0.4. To do this, create a ~/.zulip-vagrant-config file and add this line:


Then run these commands (yes, reload is needed twice):

vagrant plugin install vagrant-vbguest
vagrant reload
vagrant reload --provision

Specifying a Debian mirror

Bringing up a development environment for the first time involves downloading many packages from the Debian archive. The Debian cloud images use the global mirror by default, but you may find that you can speed up the download by using a local mirror closer to your location. To do this, create ~/.zulip-vagrant-config and add a line like this, replacing the URL as appropriate:


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,,,

For proxies that require authentication, the config will be a bit more complex, e.g.:

HTTP_PROXY http://userName:userPassword@
HTTPS_PROXY http://userName:userPassword@
NO_PROXY localhost,,,

You’ll want to double-check your work for mistakes (a common one is using https:// when your proxy expects http://). Invalid proxy configuration can cause confusing/weird exceptions; if you’re using a proxy and get an error, the first thing you should investigate is whether you entered your proxy configuration correctly.

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.

If you no longer want to use proxy with Vagrant, you can remove the HTTP_PROXY and HTTPS_PROXY lines in ~/.zulip-vagrant-config and then do a vagrant reload.

Using a different port for Vagrant

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 vagrant reload to apply the new configuration), 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 with vagrant reload), your host IP would be, a special value for the IP address that means any IP address can connect to your development server.

Customizing CPU and RAM allocation

When running Vagrant using a VM-based provider such as VirtualBox or VMware Fusion, CPU and RAM resources must be explicitly allocated to the guest system (with Docker and other container-based Vagrant providers, explicit allocation is unnecessary and the settings described here are ignored).

Our default Vagrant settings allocate 2 cpus with 2GiB of memory for the guest, which is sufficient to run everything in the development environment. If your host system has more CPUs, or you have enough RAM that you’d like to allocate more than 2GiB to the guest, you can improve performance of the Zulip development environment by allocating more resources.

To do so, create a ~/.zulip-vagrant-config file containing the following lines:

GUEST_CPUS <number of cpus>
GUEST_MEMORY_MB <system memory (in MB)>

For example:


would result in an allocation of 4 cpus and 8 GiB of memory to the guest VM.

After changing the configuration, run vagrant reload to reboot the guest VM with your new configuration.

If at any time you wish to revert back to the default settings, simply remove the GUEST_CPUS and GUEST_MEMORY_MB lines from ~/.zulip-vagrant-config.