Installing Discourse on Ubuntu Trusty 32-bit

Last time I evaluated comment systems suitable for a static blog such as this and came with a conclusion that Discourse is the one and only solution (short of rolling my own).

However, this requires setting up a Discourse instance.

I naturally want to install it on my home server that does my multiprovider Internet routing, powers the whole apartment networking infrastructure (DHCP, local DNS, those sorts of things), hosts a few playground projects, and is overall a not-so-shabby machine that I’m not very keen on upgrading.

What’s the problem, anyway?

The quirk is that this so-called server is what used to be my previous desktop. Namely, a Pentium 4, family 15, model 2, stepping 9, which means it’s a Northwood, the last Pentium 4 family that did not support 64-bit instructions.

Now, Discourse is primarily distributed as a Docker container. And Docker only runs on 64-bit machines.

So the Docker installation scenario is out for me. No problem, I hear there also is a manual installation guide.

Hardware requirements

The guide recommends 2G RAM, 2G swap, and two processor cores. It lists the minimum as 1G RAM, 3G swap and a single core. I have 1G RAM, 3G swap and a single hyperthreaded core, and I don’t estimate a very large load, so expect it to cope.


So I take my fully up-to-date Ubuntu 14.04 server. OpenSSH: check. Mail server: check. PostgreSQL: check. Git: check. Redis: aptitude install redis-server, check. Nginx: check. Ruby 2.0? aptitude install ruby2.0, check.

Now what’s this, RVM? Ruby Version Manager? Downloads and builds any version of Ruby right in your unprivileged user’s home directory? Oh no you don’t! I have a properly deb-packaged system-wide installations of Ruby 1.9.1 and Ruby 2.0.0, with a selection of properly deb-packaged Ruby Gems, and I intend to use those as much as possible.

So let’s skip that. Instead, I create a discourse user account, add it to the sudo group (for the duration of installation only), create a /home/discourse/bin directory and symlink the binaries from the ruby2.0 package into there, under their unversioned names:

dpkg -L ruby2.0|sed -nE 's:^(/usr/bin/(.*)2\.0)$:ln -s \1 /home/discourse/\2:p'

This way, logging in as discourse and typing ruby --version, I get:

ruby 2.0.0p384 (2014-01-12) [i386-linux-gnu]


Now, the guide says gem install bundler. Since bundler is packaged by Ubuntu, I want to use that instead. sudo aptitude install bundler.

Next, fork and clone the repository and check out a stable release.

install -m 755 -o discourse -g discourse -d /var/www-discourse
cd /var/www-discourse
git clone .
git checkout latest-release

The next step seems to be installing necessary gems. This is a bit of a problem because the default suggested way is by using Bundler, which will attempt to download and install any necessary gems that I don’t already have installed. This will use the index rather than the Ubuntu package repository, and that’s a concern for me. I’d rather prefer if applications used system-provided libraries, not bring everything they need with them.

At the same time, I don’t want to resolve all the dependencies by myself. So let it do its thing, for now.

sudo aptitude install ruby2.0-dev postgresql-server-dev-9.3 libpq-dev
bundle install --deployment --without development:test

It tells me my bundler is out-of-date and if I could please update it. No I won’t. From what I understand it’s just a (secondary) package manager, and if my primary package management system says it strikes a good balance between stable and featureful, then so be it.

However, it goes on downloading and installing. In the process, it tells me that a gem called nokogiri comes with its custom version of libxml2 and libxslt because libxml2 2.9.0 is known to be broken. Well, duh! If it’s broken, declare a package dependency on libxml2 (<< 2.9.0) and be done with it. Oh shit, you are a ruby gem and cannot declare deb package dependencies. Tough luck. Well, I’ll deal with you later.

All in all, gem installation went without a hitch. (Not really; guess how I knew to install those three *-dev packages above.) As far as I can tell, gems were installed right into the project directory, under vendor/bundle, whose final size is some 280M. In the /var hierarchy, which is supposed to contain only files that are at least sometimes modified. Totally inappropriate.


This step is pretty straightforward.

Nginx configuration

The guide says copy and nginx.sample.conf to /etc/nginx/conf.d as local-server.conf and discourse.conf, respectively. On Ubuntu, virtual server configs are supposed to be in /etc/nginx/sites-available with a symlink from /etc/nginx/sites-enabled, so nginx.sample.conf goes there. And I don’t initially see the need for tweaking server_names_hash_bucket_size which is all that local-server.conf does, so let’s try without that first.

On reload attempt, nginx complains about the cache directory which is set in discourse as /var/cache/nginx. Let’s create that.

While we are at it, let’s also configure logging to a separate directory.

access_log /var/log/nginx/discourse/access.log;
error_log /var/log/nginx/discourse/error.log;
sudo install -m 755 -o www-data -g adm -D /var/cache/nginx /var/log/nginx/discourse

Managing services

The guide suggests installing a gem called Bluepill and running Discourse using the config/discourse.pill file.

Bluepill is in fact a service monitoring daemon written in Ruby. This means we can do without it, as Ubuntu already has two service managers: SysV init and Upstart.

As far as I can tell, we need two services running: sidekiq and thin. Let’s start with the latter as it is simpler.

Actually, I already use thin for a Redmine instance, so I am a little familiar with its configuration. Basically, you put your thin configs into /etc/thin1.9.1 or /etc/thin2.0, and the Ubuntu-packaged /etc/init.d/thin script takes care of the rest.

The config goes roughly like this:

pid: /var/www-discourse/tmp/pids/
wait: 30
timeout: 30
log: /var/www-discourse/log/thin.log
max_conns: 1024
require: []

environment: production
max_persistent_conns: 512
no-epoll: true
servers: 4
daemonize: true
socket: /var/www-discourse/tmp/sockets/thin.sock
chdir: /var/www-discourse
user: discourse
group: discourse

For sidekiq, there are Upstart configs in the upstream repository. I adapt one for my Discourse instance:

# /etc/init/discourse-sidekiq.conf - Sidekiq config
# Adapted from

description "Sidekiq Background Worker"

start on runlevel [2345]
stop on runlevel [06]

# change to match your deployment user
setuid discourse
setgid discourse

respawn limit 3 30

# TERM is sent by sidekiqctl when stopping sidekiq. Without declaring these as normal exit codes, it just respawns.
normal exit 0 TERM

exec /bin/bash <<EOT
  export HOME=/home/discourse
  export PATH=/home/discourse/bin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/bin
  export PIDFILE=/var/www-discourse/tmp/pids/
  export RAILS_ENV=production
  cd /var/www-discourse
  bundle exec sidekiq -L /var/www-discourse/log/sidekiq.log
end script

Now, after restart thin && start sidekiq, we should be up and running!

Except we’re not. thin logs say some gems cannot be found, and the stack trace mentions ruby1.9.1.

I assume this is because the init script tries running /usr/bin/ruby2.0 /usr/bin/thin start --all /etc/thin2.0, but /usr/bin/thin has in its first line #!/usr/bin/env ruby. Where ruby still refers to ruby1.9.1 because we’re running as root at this point.

So let’s copy /usr/bin/thin to /usr/bin/thin2.0 and replace ruby with ruby2.0 in its shebang line, and also copy /etc/init.d/thin to /etc/init.d/thin2.0 and modify both init scripts to only run their corresponding thin binaries.

This fixes thin startup. Now the assets (js and css) are not served, returning 403 Forbidden instead. That’s because nginx is running as www-data and the directory is owned by discourse and some of its files and subdirectories got 660 (resp. 770) permissions when I cloned the repository. Moreover, when the application creates new files, they also get that mask. So it seems best to add www-data to the discourse group.

After that, it actually works. Lets me register an account, sends an activation email, and lets me enable Google and GitHub logins.

Written on September 6, 2014