Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Discourse as a JupyterHub Service

JupyterHub is a system for managing cloud-hosted Jupyter Notebooks, allowing users to log in and spawning a notebook or Jupyterlab instance for them. JupyterHub has a notion of Services, separate processes either started by or at least managed by JupyterHub alongside the notebook instances. All JupyterHub Services appear at

Discourse is a software package for a discussion forum, and quite nice compared to a number of the alternatives. Discourse is distributed as a Docker container, and strongly recommends using that container not trying to install it any other way. When running by itself on a server, Discourse uses docker-proxy to forward HTTP and HTTPS connections from the external IP address through to the container. In order to run Discourse on the same server as JupyterHub, we need to remove the docker-proxy and let it be handled by handled by JupyterHub's front-end Traefik reverse proxy, which is already bound to ports 80 and 443 on a hub server.

To run alongside JupyterHub we need to reconfigure Discourse to not use docker-proxy. The docker-proxy passes through SSL to be terminated within the container, while Traefik has to be able to see the URL path component in order to route the request, so we're also moving SSL termination out of Discourse and into Traefik.

Some searching turned up several articles looked relevant, but did not turn out to be applicable. To save the trouble:

  • Running other websites on the same machine as Discourse explains how to set up NGINX as a reverse proxy and use a unix domain socket to communicate from NGINX to Discourse. JupyterHub checks the syntax of the URL configured for its services, I didn't find a way to make a Unix socket work within the JupyterHub Services mechanism.
  • Discourse behind Traefik describes how to create Docker networks via Traefik configuration. Though this might have worked, I found it much easier to use HTTP over the docker0 interface.

For bootstrapping, discourse provides a discourse-setup script to ask a few questions and create an app.yml file used to drive construction of the docker container. discourse-setup fails if there is already a webserver on port 80, and I did not find a reasonable alternative to it. In my case, I briefly shut down the JupyterHub server and ran discourse-setup. Running discourse-setup on a separate VM and copying the resulting /var/discourse would likely also work.

Starting from the /var/discourse created by discourse-setup, perform the following steps to make it run as a JupyterHub service.

  1. cd /var/discourse
  2. edit containers/app.yml to let Traefik handle the reverse-proxy function. We comment out the external port in the expose section, which will disable docker-proxy and let us handle the reverse proxy function using traefik.
    ## which TCP/IP ports should this container expose?
    ## If you want Discourse to share a port with another
    ## webserver like Apache or nginx,
    ## see for details
    #  - "80:80"   # http
    #  - "443:443" # https
      - "80"
    in the "env:" section at the bottom:
      ## TODO: The domain name this Discourse instance will respond to
      ## Required. Discourse will not work with a bare IP number.
      # Running Discourse as a JupyterHub Service
      DISCOURSE_RELATIVE_URL_ROOT: /services/discourse
    Replace the "run:" section with the recipe to adjust the URL path for /services/discourse:
    ## Any custom commands to run after building
        - exec:
            cd: $home
              - mkdir -p public/services/discourse
              - cd public/services/discourse && ln -s ../uploads && ln -s ../backups
        - replace:
           global: true
           filename: /etc/nginx/conf.d/discourse.conf
           from: proxy_pass http://discourse;
           to: |
              rewrite ^/(.*)$ /services/discourse/$1 break;
              proxy_pass http://discourse;
        - replace:
           filename: /etc/nginx/conf.d/discourse.conf
           from: etag off;
           to: |
              etag off;
              location /services/discourse {
                 rewrite ^/services/discourse/?(.*)$ /$1;
        - replace:
             filename: /etc/nginx/conf.d/discourse.conf
             from: $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for
             to: $http_your_original_ip_header
             global: true
  3. Run:
    ./launcher rebuild app
    to construct a new docker container.
  4. Add the configuration for a Discourse service to JupyterHub. I'm using The Littlest JupyterHub, where we create a snippet in /opt/tljh/config/jupyterhub_config.d/
    Find the IP address to use within the output of "docker inspect app"; look in NetworkSettings for IpAddress and Ports. = [
            'name': 'discourse',
            'url': '',
            'api_token': 'no_token',
  5. Then restart JupyterHub with the new configuration:
    tljh-config reload
    tljh-config reload proxy

Discourse should now appear on

If something doesn't work, logs can be found in:

sudo journalctl --since "1 hour ago" -u jupyterhub
sudo journalctl --since "1 hour ago" -u jupyterhub-proxy
sudo journalctl --since "1 hour ago" -u traefik