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WeBWorK software download[edit]

WeBWorK online homework software is located at

webwork2 -- the instructor and user interface
pg       -- the macros for rendering questions
webwork-open-source-problem-library  -- library of 20K+ homework questions 

Released branch (master) is at release/2.8.1
Release candidate branch is named release/2.9. Anticipated merge into master is July 2014.
The develop branch is stable and can be used in production by those with experience.
    It contains portion of the WeBWorK3 interface.

Github Overview[edit]

The current page provides instructions for quickly migrating from an SVN repository version of WeBWorK to the version hosted at

The page Github Overview provides a more conceptual description of git and It has instructions for using git and github as a developer as well as additional advanced tricks and shortcuts for keeping a WeBWorK installation up to date.

Quick instructions for updating WeBWorK to the GitHub version[edit]

  • The description below is primarily for those who are switching from versions of WeBWorK hosted on SVN (versions prior to 2.5) to those hosted on GitHub.
  • Category:Release_Notes
  • Those who are already using version 2.6 and have downloaded the software from GitHub should consult the section on updating branches since the update instructions are shorter. If you already have files /opt/webwork/webwork2/conf/site.conf and /opt/webwork/webwork2/conf/localOverrides.conf then it is likely that are already using software from the WeBWorK GitHub distributions.
  • Your server will require at least perl version 5.10.x (5.12.x would be better, 5.18 is the current version but may not work) to run weBWorK release/2.7 and later. Type perl --version on the command line of your server to check.

Those who must work with perl 5.8.x (e.g. RHEL5) should email Mike Gage (gage at math dot rochester dot edu). There is a legacy version of release/2.7 that should work for you. We don't know how much longer we will be able to continue to support 5.8 however.

  • You will need root access to the apache webserver via "sudo" in order follow the instructions below.
  • You will need to prepend "sudo" to many of the commands below in order to obtain the permissions needed to make these changes.

Preserve current WW version and download software from GitHub[edit]

  • We'll assume that our current webwork installation is located in the directory

with subdirectories

  • For safety we will move the webwork2 and pg directories to "old" versions and create links that redirect pg and webwork2 to these renamed directories
 cd /opt/webwork
 mv webwork2 webwork2_old
 mv pg pg_old
 ln -s webwork2_old webwork2
 ln -s pg_old pg
  • At this point our current webwork installation should exactly work as before. Calls to webwork2 and pg are directed to the "old" (actually our current) versions webwork2_old and pg_old. It's worth testing at this point just to be sure.

  • Next we will create new versions of webwork and pg from the code base at
 git clone webwork2_github
 git clone pg_github
  • Particularly if you are using "sudo" you should check that the new webwork2_github and pg_github have the same permissions and owners as the original webwork2_old and pg_old
  • The commands "chmod -R .....", "chown -R ", and "chgrp -R" will change the permissions, owners, and groups respectively on a directory, all of it's subdirectories and all of its files. Most often only the owner and group need to be changed.
  • Set permissions on subdirectories
    • We assume that your webserver is operating with user name www-data (other choices might be wwhttpd, _www etc.)
    • The webserver needs to own some of the subdirectories of webwork2
  cd /opt/webwork/webwork2_github
  chown -R www-data DATA logs tmp 
  chown -R www-data htdocs/tmp
  • Update mathjax
 cd /opt/webwork/webwork2_github/htdocs
 mv mathjax mathjax.old
 git clone mathjax 
  • Notice that the last directory name has no capital letters unlike the command listed on the site.
  • See mathjax installation documents and MathJax for more information.
  • If you are satisfied with new mathjax software you can get rid of the mathjax.old directory (which is probably empty anyway).
 cd mathjax.old
 rm -rf *  # insure that directory is empty
 rm .*     # get rid of the .git files
 cd ..     # go up one level
 rmdir mathjax.old # remove the mathjax.old directory itself

Configure WeBWorK[edit]

  • We set up the configuration files for the new code base. There are now three configuration files which replace global.conf: site.conf, defaults.config, and localOverrides.conf. The idea is that local configurations are set by modifying site.conf and localOverrides.conf while defaults.conf contains configurations that may be updated by new releases of WeBWorK but don't vary from one site installation to another.
  • The configuration lines in site.conf and localOverrides.conf all have analogs in global.conf so you should consult your old global.conf file for the information about your site needed to fill out lines in site.conf and localOverrides.conf.
  • If site.conf and localOverrides.conf files already exist in your old installation you can copy them over from the old code base instead of creating new versions of the files as below.
  cd /opt/webwork/webwork2_github/conf
  cp site.conf.dist site.conf
  cp localOverrides.conf.dist localOverrides.conf
  cp webwork.apache2-config.dist webwork.apache2-config
  • Set up site.conf
    • This includes site information such as the database password.
    • The location of unix tools (the directory structure can change from on unix version to another). Locations of pdflatex and mysql may vary.
    • Time zone, mail server settings,
  • Set up localOverrides.conf
    • This provides overrides for defaults set in defaults.config. No changes should be made directly in defaults.config.
    • Common overrides: Set the location of the OpenProblemLibrary (or NationalProblemLibrary).
    • Set problemLibrary{version} to "2" for NPL and "2.5" for OPL
    • There is/was a typo in localOverrides.conf.dist
      The default library root path was incorrect.
      should be  
    • Set the default theme; the default language; default display mode for equations; search paths for macro files, applets, etc.
    • Set defaults for the worth of problems, for showing equation editors (dragmath/mathview),
    • Set which editors are displayed to instructors.
    • Set date display formats
    • Set authentication methods
    • There is more documentation and suggestions in the comments with the localOverrides.conf.dist file
  • Set up database.conf.dist. Because this configuration file is almost never customized for a local site we do not make a database.conf version.
    • You should remove or rename the database.conf file so that it is NOT referenced by webwork2
    • The presence of an old database.conf file is likely to cause database configuration errors. (See "what could possibly go wrong :-) " )
 cd /opt/webwork/webwork2_github/conf
 mv database.conf database.old  # move an existing database.conf out of the way
  • Set up webwork.apache2-config
    • This is seldom customized in basic webwork2 setups.
    • This contain apache setup stanzas for auxiliary applications interacting with webwork (e.g. moodle)

Update modelCourse and Library[edit]

  • Update /opt/webwork/courses/modelCourse
 cd /opt/webwork
 mv courses/modelCourse modelCourse.old       # save current model courses 
 ln -s webwork2/courses.dist/modelCourse courses/modelCourse
    • This links courses/modelCourse to the latest distributed version of modelCourse. This means that new courses created from modelCourse will have new resources, such as those needed for the MathAchievements feature.
    • Create a link to the library from webwork2/courses.dist/modelCourse/templates/Library to the NPL or OPL. Something like
 cd /opt/webwork/webwork2/courses.dist/modelCourse/templates  
 ln -s /opt/webwork/libraries/webwork-open-problem-library/OpenProblemLibrary Library
    • Use the full path to the library as illustrated above.
    • Alternatively you can visit the LibraryBrowser each you create a new course and the link will be created for you. You will need to visit the library browser page first before you will be able to view any of the homework problems since otherwise the link will not exist and Library problems will not be found.
    • Update the database which indexes the library. The following needs to happen after replacing the symbolic links in the next section
      • First make sure that in localOverrides.conf problemLibrary{version}="2.5" (for webwork-open-problem-library)
 cd /opt/webwork/webwork2/bin
      • This will take a while.

Switch over to the new version of WeBWorK[edit]

  • Next we switch our links so that they point to the new code base.
 cd /opt/webwork
 rm webwork2
 rm pg
 ln -s webwork2_github webwork2
 ln -s pg_github pg
  • Run and update CPAN modules if needed.
  • Restart webserver.
  • Go to admin course, click on the "upgrade courses" tab and update the course databases.


  • The current stable master branch is running version WeBWorK-2.7 and PG-2.7 and the math4 theme. Release_notes_for_WeBWorK_2.7
  • If something goes wrong and we need to back out to our previous version of WeBWorK simply change the links as described below and restart the apache server.
 cd /opt/webwork
 ln -s webwork2_old webwork2
 ln -s pg_old pg

What could possibly go wrong?[edit]

  • Everyone's environment is different, and everyone sometimes misses a step in the instructions so things might not always work the first time.
  • Don't panic!
  • On restarting the server you might get a (very long) error message saying something like: "HTML::Scrubber not found after looking in ......". This happens if a new CPAN module is used which is not immediately available on your system. This can be installed with
  sudo cpan HTML::Scrubber 
  • If you have not updated for some time there might be several CPAN modules that need to be added.
  • Perhaps things seem to work at first but then fail when trying to enter a problem set with some information about "missing fields in table". This usually indicates that your course has an out-of-date database. (This error will not happen with a freshly built course, only one that was built with a previous version of WW.)
    • Sign in to WeBWorK from the web and go to the admin page. The url will be something like:
    • Select the "upgrade courses" tab
    • Follow the instructions and upgrade the course that triggered the error (and any other courses that you expect to continue to use. You will be presented with a page where you can select which courses should be upgraded, followed by another page that informs you what database changes will be made, and then a page reporting the changes that have been made.
  • If the database error is not resolved
    • Check that the file database.conf has been moved out of the way (see above) so that the new database.conf.dist file is used for accessing the database.

Quick instructions for using other branches of webwork[edit]

You may want to use the current stable candidate release branch of WeBWorK instead of using the "master" branch. You might want to do this because the upcoming release branch has a new feature that you want to use right away, or you might like to help out with the final testing of the new branch. These instructions tell you how to download the new branch, how to switch to it, and how to easily revert back to the original "master" branch if there are difficulties or when you are done testing.

  • These instructions tell you how to obtain recent branches of the webwork2 repository. The analogous procedures on the pg directory will obtain the various branches of the pg repository.
  • You can view the WeBWorK repository online to see what is available.
  • 6/17/2013: we have just merged the release/2.7 branch into the stable master branch at tag WeBWorK-2.7 and for PG at tag PG-2.7. Within a few weeks we should have candidate release branches for PG (which updates more frequently) and shortly after that release/2.8 for WW.
  • First use git to download the information about the branches of WeBWorK in addition to the master branch.
 cd /opt/webwork/webwork2
 git remote -v
      origin (fetch)
      origin (push)

This is the default setup. The reply to the remote command says that "origin" is connected to the standard repo at

 git fetch origin
 git branch -a
   * master
    remotes/origin/HEAD -> origin/master
 git branch -t release/2.8 origin/release/2.8
    Branch release/2.8 set up to track remote branch        release/2.8 from origin.
 git branch
    * master
  • This sequence of commands does the following
    • Obtain information about all of the branches at the "origin" repository.
    • List all of the branches available. The * indicates that we are currently using the "master" branch.
    • The "git branch -t..." sets up a local branch which tracks (syncs with) the current release candidate (which is "release/2.8" in this case)
    • The final check "git branch" shows that you now have access to two versions on the software, downloaded to your machine. The * indicates that you are currently using the master version.
  • Update pg (for some version changes it is necessary to update both pg and webwork2 but often they can be updated independently. The pg and webwork2 version numbers do not always match since pg is updated more frequently.)
 cd /opt/webwork/pg
 git remote -v
      origin (fetch)
      origin (push)
 git fetch origin
 git branch -a
   * master
    remotes/origin/HEAD -> origin/master
 git branch -t release/2.7x origin/release/2.7x
   Branch release/2.7x set up to track remote branch        release/2.7x from origin.
  • Switch over the webwork2 release candidate release/2.8 and to pg version release/2.7x
  cd /opt/webwork/webwork2
  git branch
    * master
  git checkout release/2.8
  cd /opt/webwork/pg
  git checkout release/2.7x
  • Run /opt/webwork/webwork2/bin to make sure that you have the required CPAN modules installed.
  • Now restart your apache server (the command for this might be "sudo apachectl graceful")
  • Go to the webwork admin page and upgrade the relevant course databases.

Notice: Configuration updates to webwork2 become relatively painless once you start using the new configuration files.

  • In most cases you will no longer have to update any configuration files.
  • Default configurations for new features will be automatically provided in the defaults.config.dist file.
  • Your local directory configuration structures remain unchanged in sites.conf as do your local overrides in localOverrides.conf.
  • Always customize configurations in default.config.dist by using localOverrides.conf.
  • You should seldom, if ever, modify default.config.dist. If you do, you become responsible for managing and merging changes to that file.

It is also easy to back out to a previous release.

  • To switch back
  git branch
    * release/2.8
  git checkout master

and restart your apache server.

What could possibly go wrong[edit]

  • You get what look like database errors of some kind -- missing fields in tables, etc. when looking at a course.
    • Most likely you didn't upgrade the course databases from the web using the WeBWorK admin page
  • You get a long message about "not finding HTML::Scrubber" looking in ..... various directories
    • The message looks scary but simply indicates that some required CPAN module has not been installed on your site. Perhaps you forgot to run or perhaps the maintainers neglected to include a required module in the new version of (If this is the case please report the bug.) They are easily installed using the cpan command or by importing them from your distributions packages.

Quick instructions for updating one of your branches[edit]

  • To update one of the standard webwork branches
 cd /opt/webwork/webwork2
 git branch 
    * master
 git pull

This updates the current branch "master" to agree with any changes that have been made on the openwebwork repo. If you wish t o update the release/2.8 which is tracking release/2.7 on the openwebwork repo then follow the same procedure but first switch to the release/2.8 branch using the command

  git fetch origin     # update index information about branches on
  git branch -t release/2.8 origin/release/2.8  # create a local branch which "tracks" release/2.8
  git checkout release/2.8 # change to 2.8 branch
  git pull    # to update from release/2.8
  git checkout master   # return to the master branch.
  • Those wishing to update from other sources than should read the WeBWorK developer instructions for using the advanced features of git.

Github Overview

Download WeBWorK via svn to an svn repository[edit]

This deprecated feature should no longer be used, but is still available for reasons of backwards compatibility.

This feature was deprecated in version 2.7. 9

  • While svn works fine for downloading files from the github repository if git is not installed on your machine, it is probably better to switch over to using git. For simple things it is just as easy while for more complicated operations git is much more capable. See the instructions for switching from svn to git.
  • Quick-instructions. Type the following in the directory where you wish to have the repository. For example:
          cd webwork
          svn checkout webwork2
          svn checkout pg  
          svn checkout   webwork-open-problem-library
 will produce the directories webwork2 and pg inside the directory webwork containing all the files from 
 the master versions of webwork2 and pg at the repository respectively.

References for GitHub and Git[edit]

For those who are ready for complete immersion into all things git -- here are several references.

(unreviewed at the moment -- YMVV)