Web application hosting

Note: This document only applies to student groups with virtual hosts who have applied for apphosting. For normal user accounts or for groups without apphosting, you'll want to host with FastCGI instead.


All accounts include our standard web hosting, which is suitable for static content, PHP (WordPress, Joomla, etc.), and CGI/FastCGI. For student groups wishing to host more advanced web apps with the OCF (Django, Flask, Rails, Node.js, etc.), we offer a separate hosting platform which provides more flexibility.

App hosting eligibility

App hosting is only available for student groups with virtually-hosting domain names (either group.studentorg.berkeley.edu, or your own separately-purchased domain name). If you don't already have a virtual host and want to use app hosting, see below for instructions; please don't fill out a virtual host request form.

Requesting app hosting

To request app hosting, you need to first create an OCF group account. Once you have an account, email hostmaster@ocf.berkeley.edu with at least the following information:

  • Group's account name
  • Group's current website, if any (even if not hosted by OCF)
  • Desired domain name for the app (either group.studentorg.berkeley.edu, or your own domain)
  • The technologies/languages your site is built on

Requirements for virtually-hosted apps

All normal requirements for virtual hosts apply. In particular, be sure you are in compliance with the university student group disclaimer policy, and that your website features a "Hosted by OCF" banner.

Technical documentation

You can host basically any kind of web application that can bind to a socket. We provide suggested deployment instructions for some popular web applications below, but if you know what you're doing, you needn't follow them.

Connecting to the application server

We provide a separate server (currently named vampires), for hosting applications. You should connect to this server, not to the public login server.

You connect to this server via SSH using your normal OCF account name and password.

  • Host: apphost.ocf.berkeley.edu
  • Port: 22

If your login is refused (but you can log in to ssh.ocf.berkeley.edu), your account probably isn't configured yet. Contact us (see above) to request app hosting on your account.

Routing traffic to your app

Our application server uses a reverse proxy to route traffic to UNIX sockets located at /srv/apps/username/username.sock. Your application should bind to that socket; basically any server can be configured to bind to a UNIX socket instead of a port, so do that.

We provide some example setups below.

Supervising and starting your app

Make sure you do these steps on the application server. If you start your app on tsunami, the public login server, it won't work.

We may restart the application server as part of regular maintenance, and you'll want your app to start again when we do. You'll also want your app to automatically restart if it crashes.

We highly recommend to use systemd to supervise your app. Our recommended setup is:

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

  2. Place a startup script at ~/myapp/run. Your script should end by execing the server process. If you followed one of the guides for Node.js, Rails, or Django, 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 daemonize), and the run 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/run). 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. Save the following to the file ~/.config/systemd/user/myapp.service:

    Description={YOUR GROUP NAME} Webapp

    Make sure to replace {YOUR GROUP NAME} above with your actual group name, and also replace {U} with the first letter of your username, {UU} with the first two letters of your username, and {USERNAME} with your username.

  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

Your app's standard output and error streams are sent to systemd's journal (by default). You can view them using journalctl --user -n. See man journalctl for more options.

Frequently asked questions

Can you install a package on the app server?

Probably. Send us an email, and be sure to provide the name of the Debian package you want us to install. Keep in mind we'll probably be installing the stable version of the package, so it might be old.

You might prefer to install the package locally. See below.

This package is 7 years old. Can you update it?

Probably not. Our servers run Debian stable, so it's expected that system packages aren't current (indeed, they're often a few years old). We almost never make exceptions or install backported packages.

For developing and deploying your app, you should almost certainly be using your platform's version manager (rvm, virtualenv, nvm, gvm, etc.). This will allow you to run the exact versions you want, and install any necessary dependencies, all without coordinating with us (or forcing the rest of our users to switch versions).

The pages above provide instructions on doing this with popular programming languages.

How do I get a database for my application?

A MySQL database is included with your OCF account. You should probably just use that. We're not going to set up a different database for you (you could install one in your home directory if you really want to).

I'm running my app on port 3000 but I can't access it.

The app server is behind a firewall; you won't be able to access most ports from outside of the OCF. You could come work from the lab, or forward the port over SSH from elsewhere.