Installing with local source code

This page describes the procedure to run PrairieLearn within Docker, but using a locally-installed version of the PrairieLearn source code. This is the recommended way to do PrairieLearn development. This is tested and supported on MacOS, Linux, and Windows.

  • Clone PrairieLearn from the main repository:
git clone
  • Run PrairieLearn with:
docker run -it --rm -p 3000:3000 -w /PrairieLearn -v /path/to/PrairieLearn:/PrairieLearn prairielearn/prairielearn /bin/bash

# You can now run the following commands inside the container:

# Install Node packages.
# Repeat after switching branches or pulling new code.

# Transpile code in the `packages/` directory.
# Repeat after switching branches, pulling new code, or editing JS/TS in `packages/`.
make build

# Run the PrairieLearn server.
make start

# now you can Ctrl-C and run "make start" again to restart PrairieLearn (after code edits, for example)
# or Ctrl-C to stop PL and Ctrl-D to exit the container

The path /path/to/PrairieLearn above should be replaced with the absolute path to the PrairieLearn source on your computer. If you're in the root of the source directory already, you can substitute %cd% (on Windows cmd), ${PWD} (on Windows PowerShell), or $PWD (Linux, MacOS, and WSL) for /path/to/PrairieLearn.

Running the test suite

The linters and tests for the JavaScript and Python code can be run with the following commands inside the container:

docker run -it --rm -p 3000:3000 -w /PrairieLearn -v /path/to/PrairieLearn:/PrairieLearn prairielearn/prairielearn /bin/bash

# You can now run the following commands inside the container:
make lint   # or run "make lint-js" and "make lint-python" separately
make test   # or "make test-js" and "make test-python"

To run specific tests you first need to run make start-support to start the database and other services:

docker run -it --rm -p 3000:3000 -w /PrairieLearn -v /path/to/PrairieLearn:/PrairieLearn prairielearn/prairielearn /bin/bash

# following commands are inside the container:
make start-support
mocha tests/testGetHomepage.js

Updating or building the Docker image

The commands above all run PrairieLearn using local source inside the prairielearn/prairielearn image. This image has Python packages and other supporting files already installed. This should be periodically updated with:

docker pull prairielearn/prairielearn

You can also build a local copy of this image and use it to make sure you have a version that corresponds exactly to your local source:

cd /path/to/PrairieLearn
docker build -t prairielearn/plbase images/plbase
docker build -t prairielearn/prairielearn .

Auto-restarting the node server

The description at the start of this page suggests manually stopping and restarting PrairieLearn after you have edited any JavaScript files. You can alternatively use the nodemon package to watch for changes to code and auto-restart PrairieLearn. To do this, run the PrairieLearn container as described at the start of this page and then run:

make start-nodemon

Alternatively, you can set the NODEMON=true environment variable while running PrairieLearn automatically:

docker run -it --rm -p 3000:3000 -e NODEMON=true -v /path/to/PrairieLearn:/PrairieLearn prairielearn/prairielearn

Connecting to an existing Docker container

The previous shells were launched in their own containers. If you want to open a shell in a Docker container that is already running, you can find the container's name and connect to it.

  • Find the name of your running PrairieLearn container by running
docker ps

which will output multiple columns of information about your running container(s). Look for the prairielearn/prairielearn image and copy its corresponding name. For example, the name of the PrairieLearn container in this docker ps output is upbeat_roentgen:

CONTAINER ID  IMAGE                      COMMAND              CREATED      STATUS      PORTS                   NAMES
e0f522f41ea4  prairielearn/prairielearn  "/bin/sh -c /Praiā€¦"  2 hours ago  Up 2 hours>3000/tcp  upbeat_roentgen
  • Open a shell in your PrairieLearn container by running
docker exec -it CONTAINER_NAME /bin/bash

Using tmux in a container

While developing, you might need or want to run multiple programs simultaneously (e.g., querying in psql without killing the node server). Rather than repeatedly canceling and restarting programs back and forth, you can use a terminal multiplexer like tmux to keep them running simultaneously.

The PrairieLearn Docker images are built with tmux installed. If you start a container with a shell then you can first run tmux before running other commands.

Tmux creates virtual windows which run simultaneously (you only see one window at a time). Tmux is controlled by typing a Ctrl-b and then another key. The basic commands are:

  • Ctrl-b c - create a new window
  • Ctrl-b 0 - switch to window number 0 (also Ctrl-b 1 switches to window 1, etc.)
  • Ctrl-b d - detaches from tmux back to the original shell, which you can exit to terminate the container

Google tmux for tutorials that demonstrate many more capabilities.