Installation Manual for 2.16 on Ubuntu

From WeBWorK_wiki
Revision as of 17:27, 17 May 2021 by Pstaabp (talk | contribs)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Construction.png This article is under construction. Use the information herein with caution until this message is removed.

These instructions are a work in progress.

These instructions cover the installation of WeBWorK 2.16 for Ubuntu Server 20.04 LTS, XXX and XXX. Specific OS instruction are embedded within this document

If you are just upgrading WeBWorK, especially if you already have existing WeBWorK courses, see Upgrading_WeBWorK_with_Github.

Also, it is assumed that you have an operating system installed. You can visit for instructions on installing the operating system or google how to install your favorite linux flavor. Also make sure the OS is upgraded to all patches within the version you are running.


First some short comments on notation we will be using. We will use <key> to indicate that you should press a specific key (e.g. <Enter>, <Tab>, <F12>, etc.). Sometimes we will also use e.g. <wwadmin password> to indicate you have to enter the wwadmin password.

^ will indicate the <Ctrl> key so e.g. ^X is really shorthand for <Ctrl> <X>, i.e. press the Ctrl key and hit the X key.

Install Software Packages

Ubuntu Software Packages

On Ubuntu and other Debian linuxes, the following instructions will get needed software packages installed.

Here is the list of Ubuntu packages that need to be installed.

  1. apache2
  2. cpanminus
  3. curl
  4. dvipng
  5. gcc
  6. git
  7. imagemagick
  8. libapache2-request-perl
  9. libarchive-zip-perl
  10. libarray-utils-perl
  11. libcrypt-ssleay-perl
  12. libdatetime-perl
  13. libdata-dump-perl
  14. libemail-address-xs-perl
  15. libemail-sender-perl
  16. libexception-class-perl
  17. libextutils-xsbuilder-perl
  18. libfile-find-rule-perl-perl
  19. libgd-perl
  20. libhtml-scrubber-perl
  21. libhttp-async-perl
  22. libiterator-perl
  23. libiterator-util-perl
  24. libjson-perl
  25. liblocale-maketext-lexicon-perl
  26. libmime-tools-perl
  27. libmoox-options-perl
  28. libnet-ip-perl
  29. libnet-ldap-perl
  30. libnet-oauth-perl
  31. libossp-uuid-perl
  32. libpadwalker-perl
  33. libpath-class-perl
  34. libphp-serialization-perl
  35. libpod-wsdl-perl
  36. libsoap-lite-perl
  37. libsql-abstract-perl
  38. libstring-shellquote-perl
  39. libtemplate-perl
  40. libtext-csv-perl
  41. libtimedate-perl
  42. libuuid-tiny-perl
  43. libxml-parser-easytree-perl
  44. libxml-parser-perl
  45. libxml-writer-perl
  46. make
  47. netpbm
  48. pdf2svg
  49. preview-latex-style
  50. texlive
  51. texlive-latex-extra
  52. unzip

To install all of these packages in one fell swoop, first become root:

$ sudo su
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>

and then run the command (obviously you want to use cut and paste)

# apt install apache2 cpanminus curl dvipng gcc git imagemagick libapache2-request-perl \
libarchive-zip-perl libarray-utils-perl libcrypt-ssleay-perl libdancer-perl libdancer-plugin-database-perl \
libdata-dump-perl libdatetime-perl libemail-address-xs-perl libemail-sender-perl \
libexception-class-perl libextutils-xsbuilder-perl libfile-find-rule-perl-perl \
libgd-perl libhttp-async-perl libhtml-scrubber-perl libiterator-perl libiterator-util-perl libjson-perl \
liblocale-maketext-lexicon-perl libmime-tools-perl libmoox-options-perl libnet-ip-perl libnet-ldap-perl \
libnet-oauth-perl libossp-uuid-perl libpadwalker-perl libpath-class-perl \
libphp-serialization-perl libpod-wsdl-perl \
libsoap-lite-perl libsql-abstract-perl libstring-shellquote-perl libtemplate-perl \
libtext-csv-perl libtimedate-perl libuuid-tiny-perl libxml-parser-easytree-perl \
libxml-parser-perl libxml-writer-perl make netpbm pdf2svg \
preview-latex-style texlive texlive-latex-extra unzip

If prompted, you can always accept the default (hit <Enter>). When the process finishes, enter

# exit

to return to a regular user.

Installation of Other Perl Modules with cpanm

We will use cpanm to install other perl modules. For example, one module, Statistics::R::IO that will be needed is not in a standard package. To install this

cpanm Statistics::R::IO

Below, we will determine other perl modules that will need to be installed with this method.

Apache2 Modules and mod perl

The following loads needed apache modules.

enabling info.conf and status.conf in Ubuntu

We enable the info module. Acting as root in a terminal window enter

$ sudo su
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>
# a2enmod info

Next we make a copy of the configuration files we will be editing for safekeeping.

# cd /etc/apache2/mods-available
# cp info.conf info.conf.bak1
# cp status.conf status.conf.bak1
# exit

Now we will edit configuration files info.conf and status.conf to allow us to view information about the setup and performance of the web server. Note that this is not absolutely necessary but it can be very useful. You can use your favorite editor but we will give instructions assuming you are using nano. Note that you have to be root to edit these files. First we edit info.conf

$ cd /etc/apache2/mods-available
$ sudo nano info.conf
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>

I suggest you allow access to server information from e.g. your department domain. To do this uncomment (i.e. remove the # from)

	Require ip

and then replace by where of course you should edit appropriately.

Then save the file and quit (press ^X, Y, <Enter>).

Now we edit status.conf

$ cd /etc/apache2/mods-available
$ sudo nano status.conf
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>

Edit the

 #Require ip

line just as you did for info.conf. Then save the file and quit. And restart Apache so that the above changes take effect

$ sudo systemctl restart apache2
password:<wwadmin password>

Fully Qualified Domain Name

Now we have to set your server's fully qualified domain name. Note that if your network was set up automatically via DHCP, your server's fully qualified domain name should already be set up. You can check by running the hostname commands below.

Run the command

sudo hostnamectl set-hostname webwork
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>

where of course you should replace webwork by whatever your server's name is.

You can check these settings by running the commands

$ hostname --fqdn


$ hostname

The first gives the server's fully qualified domain name (e.g. and the second the server's name (e.g. webwork).

Note that if your server can not find its fully qualified domain name, certain tools (such as the Synaptic Package Manager) may not start.

Test Apache

Now restart Apache

$ sudo systemctl restart apache2
password:<wwadmin password>


$ sudo apache2ctl restart
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>


$ sudo service apache2 restart
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>

and test your server by connecting to your server ("") from a browser on a remote machine. You should see the Apache2 Ubuntu Default Page indicating that Apache is running.

You can check Apache's status by connecting to "" from a browser on a remote machine in the domain.

Further test Apache by connecting to "" from a browser on a remote machine in the domain and you will see a page listing various information about Apache. In particular under Server Settings you should see

Server Version: Apache/2.4.41 (Ubuntu) mod_apreq2-20090110/2.8.0 mod_perl/2.0.11 Perl/v5.30.0

(or something very similar) indicating that both mod_apreq2 and mod_perl are installed.

If you have problems now or in the future, a good first thing to do is to look at the Apache error log which is located at /var/log/apache2/error.log. In the directory /var/log/apache2/ you can "less" through the error log (less error.log), look at the last few entries (tail error.log) or run the command tail -f error.log which will display new error messages as they are appended to the file. Use ^C to break out of tail -f . For example if you didn't set up access to "server-info", you can run

tail /var/log/apache2/error.log

and in the output you should see something similar to

...[mpm_event:notice] [pid 48932:tid 140494759132224] AH00489: Apache/2.4.41 (Ubuntu) mod_apreq2-20090110/2.8.0 mod_perl/2.0.11 Perl/v5.30.0 configured -- resuming normal operations

indicating that both mod_apreq2 and mod_perl are installed and running.

Installing a Database

This section installs either MySQL or MariaDB as the database manger for webwork. Either works well with WeBWorK.

Installing and Testing MySQL

$ sudo apt install mysql-server libdbd-mysql-perl

This needs to be tested

First check that MySQL is running by

$ sudo mysql
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>

You should see something very similar to

Welcome to the MySQL monitor.  Commands end with ; or \g.
Your MySQL connection id is 8
Server version: 8.0.20-0ubuntu0.20.04.1 (Ubuntu)

Type 'help;' or '\h' for help. Type '\c' to clear the current input statement.

Enter exit to exit

mysql> exit

Installing and Testing MariaDB

Install MariaDB using the distro packages.

$ sudo apt install mariadb-server

Then we should secure the server

$ sudo mysql_secure_installation

[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>

You can setup the VALIDATE PASSWORD plugin if you wish. I chose not to.

Next you will be asked to enter a New password for the MySQL "root" user. Enter your chosen MySQL root password. You have to enter a password but it will not be used. In Ubuntu systems running MySQL 5.7 (and later versions), the root MySQL user is set to authenticate using the auth_socket plugin by default rather than with a password.

You almost certainly want to answer 'Y' to all questions except possibly for the first one which asks if you want to set up a VALIDATE PASSWORD plugin. Now test that all is well:

$ sudo mysql 
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>

You should see

Welcome to the MySQL monitor ...

Now lets check the MySQL users. There are five accounts. To see the accounts, do the following

mysql> SELECT user,authentication_string,plugin,host FROM mysql.user;

You will see a table with five users (debian-sys-maint, mysql.infoschema, mysql.session, mysql.sys and root). You should see that one of the five users has a valid password (which will be displayed in encrypted form) and root is authenticated by a socket. You can ignore the mysql.session, mysql.sys and mysql.infoschema users.

Now exit MySQL

mysql> exit

This last step is optional since currently most of WeBWorK's MySQL tables are now created using the MyISAM engine (by default -- this can be changed in the config files) rather than the MySQL default engine. Now we change MySQL's default engine. The default engine is InnoDB as of MySQL 5.5.5 (MyISAM before 5.5.5) but (at least on some hardware) InnoDB seems to be 50-100 times slower than MyISAM. So we will change the default MySQL engine from InnoDB to MyISAM. Note that this change only applies to new tables, tables already constructed will continue to use InnoDB. But we haven't created any WeBWorK tables so we don't have to change the engine for any existing tables.

To change the default MySQL engine from InnoDB to MyISAM do the following:

$ cd /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d
$ sudo cp mysqld.cnf mysqld.cnf.bak1
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>
$ sudo nano mysqld.cnf

Search for [mysqld] and under "Basic Settings" above the "user = mysql" line add the line

default-storage-engine = myisam  

Then save the file and quit. Restart Mysql

$ sudo /etc/init.d/mysql restart
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>


$ sudo service mysql restart
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>

and log into mysql

$ sudo mysql 
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>

You will see

Welcome to the MySQL monitor ...

If you show MySQL engines


you should see that MyISAM is listed as the default engine:

*************************** 5. row ***************************
      Engine: MyISAM
     Support: DEFAULT
     Comment: MyISAM storage engine 
Transactions: NO
          XA: NO
  Savepoints: NO

Now exit

mysql> exit

Downloading the WeBWorK System Software and Problem Libraries

We are finally at the point where we can start downloading and installing WeBWorK. We will use Git to download WeBWorK from Github. This is easy and it will also make it easy to update the system in the future. Note that the following are rather long commands; it is much easier to copy (^C) them from this document and paste (<Shift> <Ctrl> <V> or <Shift> <Insert>) them in a terminal window

$ cd
$ cd downloads
$ git clone git://
$ git clone git://
$ git clone git://

Important Note. The above commands retrieve the master branch which gives the latest stable release of the software package (webwork2, pg, etc.) with bug fixes. If a stable release newer than 2.15 exists, that will be downloaded and these instructions may be a little out of date. So it is a good idea to check before downloading. The best way to do that is to look at and

The first and second download gives you the latest released versions. The third download contains the WeBWorK Open Problem Library (OPL) which is the new name for the original National Problem Library (NPL). The NPL has been renamed to reflect its growing international content. Your system will be loaded with many thousands of WeBWorK problems (over 30,000 currently).

The main information page about WebWork downloads is available at

The main information page about the OPL is available at

Installing WeBWorK

Note the instructions below assume you are installing WeBWorK from scratch. If you are just upgrading WeBWorK, especially if you already have existing WeBWorK courses, see Upgrading WeBWorK.

Move the System into the Required Directories

As root create a webwork directory under /opt, change the ownership of the webwork directory to www-data, which is what the apache server runs as and move directories there.

$ cd
$ cd downloads
$ sudo mkdir /opt/webwork
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>
$ sudo chown www-data:www-data /opt/webwork
$ mv webwork2 /opt/webwork/
$ mv pg /opt/webwork/

Now create the courses and libraries directories under webwork and copy and move content there

$ mkdir /opt/webwork/courses
$ mkdir /opt/webwork/libraries
$ mv webwork-open-problem-library /opt/webwork/libraries/
$ cd /opt/webwork/webwork2/courses.dist
$ cp *.lst /opt/webwork/courses/
$ rsync -a modelCourse /opt/webwork/courses/

Setting Permissions

The PG installation directory and files should be owned by www-data and not writable by other users:

$ cd /opt/webwork/pg
$ chmod -R u+rwX,go+rX .

Most WeBWorK directories and files should also be owned by www-data and not writable by other users:

$ cd /opt/webwork/webwork2
$ chmod -R u+rwX,go+rX .

Certain data directories need to be writable by the web server. These are DATA, courses, htdocs/tmp, logs, and tmp. It is convenient to give WeBWorK administrators access to these directories as well, so they can perform administrative tasks such as removing temporary files, creating and editing courses from the command line, managing logs, and so on. We will use the group www-data, containing both the WeBWorK administrators and the web server. Consider the user WWADMIN

Run the command:

$ sudo adduser WWADMIN www-data

and then you should see wwdata listed under groups. Also

$ id www-data

should show www-data listed under groups.

Now we make the WeBWorK directories that need to be writable by the web server have www-data as their group. The following are rather long commands; you might want to copy them and paste them into your terminal window rather than typing them.

$ sudo su
[sudo] password for wwadmin: <wwadmin password>
# cd /opt/webwork/webwork2/
# chgrp -R www-data DATA ../courses htdocs/tmp htdocs/applets logs tmp /opt/webwork/pg/lib/chromatic
# chmod -R g+w DATA ../courses htdocs/tmp htdocs/applets logs tmp /opt/webwork/pg/lib/chromatic
# find DATA/ ../courses/ htdocs/tmp logs/ tmp/ -type d -a -exec chmod g+s {} \;
# exit

Compile color.c

$ cd /opt/webwork/pg/lib/chromatic
$ gcc color.c -o color

You may see some warning messages which you can safely ignore.

Configuring the Shell

To make working with WeBWorK easier, there are a couple of changes you can make to your shell environment.

Add the WeBWorK bin directory to your path. This will allow you to run WeBWorK command-line utilities without typing the full path to the utility. Goto your home directory and backup your .bashrc file

$ cd
$ cp .bashrc .bashrc.bak1

Now edit .bashrc

$ nano .bashrc

After the last line add the three lines:

export PATH=$PATH:/opt/webwork/webwork2/bin
export WEBWORK_ROOT=/opt/webwork/webwork2
export PG_ROOT=/opt/webwork/pg

Then save the file and Quit.

Close your Terminal Window and open a new one so the above changes take effect. You can check that they have by

$ echo $PATH
$ echo $PG_ROOT

Checking Module Dependencies

WeBWorK includes a script called (in the directory /opt/webwork/webwork2/bin) that verifies that the needed programs and Perl modules are installed on your system. Run this script to make sure you have installed the required programs and Perl modules.

$ apache2

Scroll up and look through the listing. It should find everything. If something is missing (flagged by **), look back through these instructions to find where it should have been installed and install it.

You may see some warning messages like

Prototype mismatch: sub main::from_json: none vs ($@) at (eval 188) line 2.
Prototype mismatch: sub main::to_json: none vs ($@) at (eval 188) line 2.

This is a known bug in libjson-perl and can be safely ignored.

A common perl package that isn't installed is Statistics::R::IO. It can be installed with

$ cpanm Statistics::R::IO

which will install any needed dependencies and run tests.

Checking LaTeX packages

Now we check that all necessary LaTeX packages have been installed. Run the commands

$ cd
$ pdflatex /opt/webwork/webwork2/bin/check_latex.tex

and look for missing packages (you can ignore "No file check_latex.aux.").

Configuring WeBWorK

Making Copies of the Distribution Configuration Files

Before configuring the system, you must make local copies of the site.conf and localOverrides.conf configuration files, located in /opt/webwork/webwork2/conf/ .

$ cd /opt/webwork/webwork2/conf
$ cp site.conf.dist site.conf
$ cp localOverrides.conf.dist localOverrides.conf

System Configuration

Most WeBWorK configuration is done in the files /opt/webwork/webwork2/conf/site.conf and /opt/webwork/webwork2/conf/localOverrides.conf. These files provide system-wide configuration settings, and defaults for course settings. Any setting in these files can be overridden in the course.conf file for a particular course. To override a setting for a course, just put the new setting (using the same syntax as is in localOverrides.conf) in the course.conf file. An instructor can only edit the course.conf file herself (for her own course) if she has "admin" privilege which by default instructors do not have. But most things instructors may want to customize and many others (language, timezone, permissions, display modes, email, ...) can be set using the Course Configuration page from within the course and such setting override those in the configuration files.

Actually there are three main configuration files, site.conf, defaults.config and localOverrides.conf. The reason there are three configuration files is to make upgrading WeBWorK easier.

  • site.conf: This file contains global variables which are required for basic configuration. It will not be overridden when you update WeBWorK but its distribution version, site.conf.dist will be.
  • defaults.config: This file contains initial settings for many customizable options in WeBWorK. Do not edit defaults.config. It will be overridden next time you upgrade.
  • localOverrides.conf This is where you should add all local customizations. It will not be overridden when you update WeBWorK but its distribution version, localOverrides.conf.dist will be.

There are several options that must be set for WeBWorK to work with your system. The rest of the file consists of customization options.

Edit the site.conf file

Now edit site.conf

$ cd /opt/webwork/webwork2/conf
$ nano site.conf

First we have to add information about the Apache2 server setup. Search for server_root_url and edit the line so that it reads:

$server_root_url   = '';

where of course you should edit appropriately. The "http://" is important. If you are running a secure server (i.e., using SSL - really TLS), the url should start with https: but you should wait to make that change until after WeBWorK is up and running and you set up SSL. In that case the "https://" is important.

We need to set a password that WeBWorK uses when it communicates with the MySQL database. Note that this is not the same as the <mysql root password> which is the unused password we set when securing MySQL. Search for database_password and replace the line

$database_password = "passwordRW";


$database_password = 'database_password';

where of course you should replace "database_password" with your own password but do use the single quotes. Remember this password as we will need it below.

WeBWorK sends mail in three instances. The PG system sends mail to report answers to questionnaires and free-response problems. The mail merge module is used to send mail to course participants, i.e. to report scores. The feedback module allows participants to send mail to course instructors.

To send mail, WeBWorK needs the address of an SMTP server. Normally you will use the address of your school's SMTP server. If the local machine is running an SMTP server, use localhost. IMPORTANT: Our instructions above did not install an SMTP server so you will have to install and configure one if you do not use your school's SMTP server. When connecting to the SMTP server, WeBWorK must also send an email address representing the sender of the email (this has nothing to do with the From address on the mail message). Edit the lines

$mail{smtpServer} = ;  # e.g. '' or 'localhost'
$mail{smtpSender} = ;  # e.g.  ''

entering the appropriate information. Be sure to use single quotes and NOT double quotes around email addresses otherwise Perl will treat @ as an array variable.

WeBWorK uses the DateTime module. DateTime is supposed to be able to determine the local timezone itself without you having to enter it but this often fails so it is best to just set it here. For is a list of timezones recognized by DateTime run the command

timedatectl list-timezones

These timezones are more refined than standard time zone usage in that they include switches to daylight savings time (e.g. some parts of a time zone may make the switch and others may not). For example if your server is in the eastern US, on the list you will see America/New_York and you should enter $siteDefaults{timezone} = "America/New_York"; which is the default. Read the documentation in this section of the the site.conf file for more information on selecting time zones and formatting dates.

Search for $siteDefaults{timezone} and enter your local timezone if it is not correct.

Note: Some servers will need to set a value of $server_apache_version in site.conf. This setting is needed when the Apache settings disable the display of the Apache version number in Apache banner of the HTTP headers, typically by setting ServerTokens Prod in the Apache cponfig, as many security teams will recommend. In such cases, without a setting for this variable, WeBWorK will fail to detect that you are using Apache 2.4 and users will run into error pages reporting Can't locate object method "remote_addr" via package "Apache2::Connection" at /opt/webwork/webwork2/lib/WeBWorK/ which will also appear in the Apache error.log file. The fix is to search for $server_apache_version, uncomment the line, and set a suitable value (currently "2.4" should work, and a fix to support settings like "2.4.29" is pending).

Then save the file and Quit.