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Deploying to Heroku

Before deploying#

Start by making sure that you've gone through our notes of some things to consider before deploying.

Why Heroku?#

Heroku is a PaaS provider that takes care of all network and hardware maintenance requirements for running web applications.

It also makes the deployment and update process extremely simple when compared to the use of traditional IaaS providers.

Steps on Heroku#

Begin by signing up on Heroku, and familiarizing yourself with how Ruby apps run on Heroku.

Set up the Heroku app#

  1. Create a new Heroku app, to which we'll deploy Pupilfirst.

  2. Configure your new Heroku app using environment variables.

    1. Add configuration for the file storage service.
    2. Add configuration for the email service.
    3. Set environment variable ASSET_HOST to your app's fully qualified domain name (FQDN), which should look like
    4. Set environment variable YARN_PRODUCTION to false.

    There are more optional features that you can enable - read through the sections below.

  3. Add the new Heroku app as a git remote.

  4. Push the repository to your Heroku app: git push heroku master.

This should leave you with a Heroku app that already has an empty Postgres database attached to it.

Set up the database#

Set up the database using the schema, and seed a few basic entries into the database. We'll use the Heroku CLI to execute the Rails tasks on the production environment.

heroku run rails db:schema:load
heroku run rails db:seed

Set up a user to sign in with#

At this point, the database should have a single user in it: You should set a password for this user and use it to gain access to the platform.

We'll start a Rails console on Heroku to do so:

heroku run console

Once the console is ready, find and update the user entry.

user = User.find_by(email: '')
password: 'a secure password',
password_confirmation: 'a secure password',

You should discard this user, later, via the school administration interface once you've enrolled yourself as a school admin.

Set a primary domain#

Let's inform the application about its domain address. On the Heroku console, run:!(fqdn: '', primary: true)

Change to match your actual fully qualified domain name.

You can have more than one domain responding to requests, so you can use this same process to add more custom domains. Make sure that only one domain is set to primary: true. This primary domain will be used to generate URLs in emails and such.

Start the dynos#

Finally, start the web and worker dynos on Heroku.

heroku ps:scale web=1 worker=1

Now, if you visit the web address for your Heroku app, you should see the homepage for your school. You should also be able to sign in as to start working on your school.

Scheduling periodic tasks#

There are a few tasks that must be run scheduled to run periodically; this can be done using Heroku's Scheduler add-on.

  • cleanup (daily) - used to perform general database cleanup of orphaned entries.
  • daily_digest (daily) - sends a daily digest of updates via email to all users in the school.
  • notify_and_delete_inactive_users (daily) - checks for inactive users, notifies those who are a month away from deletion, and deletes notified users after the configured time.
  1. Add the Scheduler add-on on Heroku.
    heroku addons:create scheduler:standard
  2. Open the Scheduler dashboard for your app.
    heroku addons:open scheduler
  3. Add the the jobs using the Add Job option in the dashboard. Schedule both tasks to run as per the requirements noted above.

File storage using AWS#

To allow users to upload files, and to retrieve them, we'll use AWS's S3. The service has extensive documentation.

The following process is overly simplified, but is what you'll broadly need to do:

  1. Create a new S3 bucket to store uploaded files.
  2. Set up an IAM user with read & write permissions on the bucket.
  3. Configure Pupilfirst to use the newly created bucket using the correct credentials. Refer AWS_* keys in example.env.

Sending emails with Postmark#

To set up Pupilfirst to send transactional emails, you'll need to create a Postmark account, and add the POSTMARK_API_TOKEN environment variable with your account's API token.

Before proceeding with the next step, finish Postmark's account approval process, and make sure that outbound emails (such as sign-in emails) to domains other than your own are working.

Setting up the bounce and spam complaint webhook#

You can configure Pupilfirst to block sending of emails to user addresses that are hard-bouncing, or where the users have complained that messages are spam. To do so, create a webhook once you've gotten outbound mails working.

  1. You can create webhooks by logging into your Postmark account, and heading to Servers > Your Server > Your Message Stream > Webhooks > Add Webhook.
  2. The webhook should be pointed to:
  3. The Bounce and Spam Complaint options should be the events that are selected - there is no need to include the message content.
  4. Add some Basic auth credentials, and use those values to configure the POSTMARK_HOOK_ID and POSTMARK_HOOK_SECRET environment variables on Heroku.

Performance monitoring with Skylight#

To enable performance monitoring with Skylight, sign up for a Skylight account and configure its credentials using the SKYLIGHT_AUTHENTICATION key.

Adding Memcached Cloud as cache store for API rate limiting#

You need to add a cache store to handle API rate limiting in the application.

  1. Add the Memcached Cloud add-on on Heroku.
    heroku addons:create memcachedcloud
  2. Configure the GRAPH_API_RATE_LIMIT environment variable on Heroku to the permitted requests per second.

Signing in with OAuth#

Warning: These instructions, for signing in with OAuth, are rough. This feature will need to be made configurable before its documentation can be expanded / re-written.

  1. Create OAuth apps for Google, Github, and Facebook, setting the redirect URI for each of these apps to, where service is one of github, facebook, or google_oauth2.
  2. Set credentials for OAuth apps using environment variables (find required keys in example.env).
  3. Set the SSO_DOMAIN environment variable to your fully qualified domain name (, for example).

Direct Upload to Vimeo#

To enable direct uploads to a Vimeo account from the curriculum editor, add the VIMEO_ACCESS_TOKEN and VIMEO_ACCOUNT_TYPE (basic, plus, pro, business, premium) environment variables.

Make sure that the access token has the following scopes enabled:

  • private
  • create
  • edit
  • upload
  • video_files

Note: You cannot upload private videos if your Vimeo account type is basic.

Webpush Notifications#

To enable webpush notification you will have to set mandatory environment variable VAPID_PUBLIC_KEY and VAPID_PRIVATE_KEY.

You can generate the keys by running the following on the server. (Detailed Doc)

vapid_key = Webpush.generate_key

Content Delivery Network#

To enable delivery of user-uploaded files through a CDN, you will have to set Cloudfront environment variables.

  1. Create a Cloudfront public key to generate signed URLs with canned policy.

  2. Create a cloudfront distribution for accessing the private AWD S3 contents with signed URLs.

  3. Set up the required environment variables:

    # Bas64 encoded private key used for generating the cloudfront public key
    # Cloudfront hostname
    # Cloudfront public key pair ID
    # An integer in seconds used to compute the expiry time for the signed URL


If you're encountering crashes or errors, the first thing you should do is check the server logs. You can watch the Rails production.log file on Heroku by using the logs command:

heroku logs --tail