Setup Slycat Web Server

Note: If you’re new to Slycat and are here give it a try, please see Install Slycat instead. The following is a guide for users who are ready to setup their own Slycat Web Server for production.

Use the Docker Image

Many administrators should be able to use the Slycat Docker image in production directly, and we strongly urge you to try this approach first - after following the instructions at Install Slycat, you can simply ssh into the running Docker container:

$ ssh slycat@<docker ip address> -p2222

make a few configuration changes (assign real passwords to the root and slycat users, replace our self-signed server certificate with one of your own, configure a real password-check plugin, etc.) then continue using the image in production. Because the Slycat Docker image is a container rather than a VM, there is absolutely no performance penalty for using it in this configuration. You can even use Docker to automate this process, building your own site-specific Slycat image with our Slycat image as the base!

Installing Slycat from Scratch

If you insist on creating your own Slycat instance from scratch, we still prefer to point you to our Dockerfiles for information on installing Slycat and its dependencies, because these files are the actual scripts that we use to build the Slycat Docker image - thus they’re an always-up-to-date and unambiguous specification of how to build a Slycat server. Even if you don’t use Docker, the Dockerfiles are easy to understand and adapt to your own workflow and platform.

You will find our Dockerfiles in a set of directories located in the docker directory within the Slycat repo:

There, you will find four subdirectories - supervisord, sshd, slycat, and slycat-dev - which are used to build four Docker images. Each image builds on the previous, adding new functionality:

  • supervisord - Starts with a Fedora Core base system, and adds an instance of supervisord that will be used to startup the other processes.
  • sshd - Installs an SSH server on top of the supervisord image, and configures supervisord to automatically start it when the container is run.
  • slycat - Installs the Slycat servers and their dependencies atop the sshd image, and configures supervisord to automatically start them when the container is run.
  • slycat-dev - Adds development tools to the base Slycat image, and configures the supervisorctl command so developers can easily start and stop servers themselves.

The main differences between platforms will be in how you install the various dependencies. One platform - such as Fedora Core in our Dockerfile - installs the Python h5py module and its compiled hdf5 library dependency using a single yum package, while another platform - such as Centos 6 - provides a yum package for hdf5, but no package for the Python h5py module, so you have to use pip to install it. Unfortunately, we can’t enumerate all the possibilities here, so you’ll have to begin with the packages listed in our Dockerfiles, and generalize to your platform.

Configuring Slycat Web Server

Whether you’re setting-up an unmodified Slycat Web Server or developing new capabilities to suit your needs, you will need to know how to modify its configuration. When you start Slycat Web Server:

$ cd slycat/web-server
$ python slycat-web-server.py

... it automatically loads a file config.ini from the same directory as slycat-web-server.py. The sample config.ini that we provide with the source code is designed to start Slycat in a state that’s useful for developers, so you’ll likely want to copy it to some other filesystem location, modify it, and point Slycat to the modified config.ini instead. Once you’ve done that, you can specify the config file location at startup using the command-line:

$ python slycat-web-server.py --config=/etc/slycat/config.ini

The config.ini file is an INI file divided into sections using square braces. The [slycat] section is reserved for configuration specific to the functionality of the Slycat server, while the [global] section and any sections starting with a slash (for example: [/style]) are used to configure the CherryPy web server that Slycat is based upon.

The values for each setting in config.ini must be valid Python expressions. You should note that in the sample config.ini we provide, some values are simple scalars, such as [global] server.socket_port, while some values are nested data structures, such as [slycat] remote-hosts. This provides great flexibility to customize Slycat for your network. Here are some common settings you may wish to modify:

[global] Section

  • engine.autoreload.on - Controls whether Slycat will automatically restart when the source code is modified. This is typically disabled in production.
  • require.show_tracebacks - Controls whether exceptions during request handling will return debugging information to the client. This is typically disabled in production.
  • server.socket_host - IP address of the interface to listen on for requests. Use “0.0.0.0” to listen on all interfaces. Use “127.0.0.1” to only accept requests from the local machine.
  • server.socket_port - TCP port number to listen on for requests. Defaults to “8092” for development. Typically set to “443” in production with SSL enabled, or “80” with SSL disabled.
  • server.ssl_certificate - Path to a certificate used for SSL encryption. Leave blank to disable SSL. Relative paths are relative to the slycat-web-server.py executable.
  • server.ssl_private_key - Path to a private key used for SSL encryption. Leave blank to disable SSL. Relative paths are relative to the slycat-web-server.py executable.

[slycat] Section

  • allowed-markings - List of marking types that may be assigned to models.

  • plugins - List of filesystem plugin locations. You may specify individual .py files to be loaded, or directories. If you specify a directory, every .py file in the directory will be loaded, but directories are not searched recursively. Relative paths are relative to the slycat-web-server.py executable.

  • remote-hosts - List containing an entry for each group of hosts that share a specific configuration. Each entry is a dict containing the following:

    • hostnames - Required list of hostnames that share a configuration.

    • agent - Optional dict configuring remote agent access to the entry hostnames. Some models require the Slycat Agent when accessing a remote host, and agents must be explicitly configured on a host to be used. The agent dict must contain the following:

      • command - Required string with the full remote command-line used to run the Slycat agent on the given host. Typically /full/path/to/python /full/path/to/slycat-agent.py. Since an agent session can be initiated by any user able to login to the remote host via ssh, you should specify required environment variables as part of this command, too (for example, with env).
  • server-admins - List of users allowed to administer the Slycat server. Server administrators have full read/write access to all projects, regardless of project ACLs.