4.1. Installing and running CRATE via Docker

4.1.1. Overview

Docker is a cross-platform system for running applications in “containers”. A computer (or computing cluster) can run lots of containers. They allow applications to be set up in standardized and isolated enviroments, which include their own operating system). The containers then talk to each other, and to their “host” computer, to do useful things.

The core of Docker is called Docker Engine. The Docker Compose tool allows multiple containers to be created, started, and connected together automatically.

CRATE provides a Docker setup to make installation easy. This uses Docker Compose to set up several containers, specifically:

  • a database system, via MySQL on Linux (internal container name mysql);

  • a message queue, via RabbitMQ on Linux (rabbitmq);

  • the CRATE web server itself, offering SSL directly via CherryPy on Linux (crate_server);

  • the CRATE web site back-end (crate_workers);

  • a background task monitor, using Flower (crate_monitor).

Additionally, you can run a number of important one-off command using the crate Docker image. Apart from CRATE itself, this image also includes:

4.1.2. Quick start

  1. Ensure you have Docker and Docker Compose installed (see prerequisites).

  2. Obtain the CRATE source code.


    Docker/CRATE source: (a) is that the right method? Or should we be using docker-app? (Is that experimental?) (b) Document.

  3. Set the environment variables required for Docker operation. (You probably want to automate this with a script.)

  4. Change to the docker/linux directory within the CRATE source tree.


    If you are using a Windows host, change to docker/windows instead, and for all the commands below, instead of ./some_command, run some_command.bat.

  5. Start the containers with:


    This gives you an interactive view. As this is the first run, it will also create containers, volumes, the database, and so on. It will then encounter errors (e.g. config file not specified properly, or the database doesn’t have the right structure), and will stop.

  6. Run this command to create a demonstration config file with the standard name:



    ./within_docker_venv crate_print_demo_crateweb_config > "${CRATE_DOCKER_CONFIG_HOST_DIR}/crateweb_local_settings.py"
  7. Edit that config file. See here for a full description and here for special Docker requirements.

  8. Create the database structure (tables):

    ./within_docker_venv crate_django_manage migrate
  9. Create a superuser:

    ./within_docker_venv crate_django_manage createsuperuser
  10. Time to test! Restart with


    Everything should now be operational. Using any web browser, you should be able to browse to the CRATE site at your chosen host port and protocol, and log in using the account you have just created.

  11. When you’re satisfied everything is working well, you can stop interactive mode (CTRL-C) and instead use


    which will fire up the containers in the background. To take them down again, use


You should now be operational! If Docker is running as a service on your machine, CRATE should also be automatically restarted by Docker on reboot.

4.1.3. Prerequisites

You can run Docker on several operating systems. For example, you can run Docker under Linux (and CRATE will run in Linux-under-Docker-under-Linux). You can similarly run Docker under Windows (and CRATE will run in Linux-under-Docker-under-Windows).

4.1.4. Environment variables

Docker control files are in the docker directory of the CRATE source tree. Setup is controlled by the docker-compose application.


Default values are taken from docker/.env. Unfortunately, this name is fixed by Docker Compose, and this file is hidden under Linux (as are any files starting with .). CRATE_DOCKER_CONFIG_HOST_DIR

No default. Must be set.

Path to a directory on the host that contains key configuration files. Don’t use a trailing slash.

In this directory, there should be a file called crateweb_local_settings.py, the config file (or, if you have set CRATE_DOCKER_CRATEWEB_CONFIG_FILENAME, that filename!).


Under Windows, don’t use Windows paths like C:\Users\myuser\my_crate_dir. Translate this to Docker notation as /host_mnt/c/Users/myuser/my_crate_dir. As of 2020-07-21, this doesn’t seem easy to find in the Docker docs! CRATE_DOCKER_CRATEWEB_CONFIG_FILENAME

Default: crateweb_local_settings.py


Default: 443

The TCP/IP port number on the host computer that CRATE should provide an HTTP or HTTPS (SSL) connection on.

It is strongly recommended that you run CRATE over HTTPS. The two ways of doing this are:

  • Have CRATE run plain HTTP, and connect it to another web server (e.g. Apache) that provides the HTTPS component.

    • If you do this, you should not expose this port to the “world”, since it offers insecure HTTP.

    • The motivation for this method is usually that you are running multiple web services, of which CRATE is one.

    • We don’t provide Apache within Docker, because the Apache-inside-Docker would only see CRATE, so there’s not much point – you might as well use the next option…


    • This is simpler if CRATE is the only web service you are running on this machine. Use the standard HTTPS port, 443, and expose it to the outside through your server’s firewall. (You are running a firewall, right?) CRATE_DOCKER_FLOWER_HOST_PORT

Default: 5555

Host port on which to launch the Flower monitor. CRATE_DOCKER_GATE_BIOYODIE_RESOURCES_HOST_DIR

No default. Must be set (even if to a dummy directory).

A directory to be mounted that contains preprocessed UMLS data for the Bio-YODIE NLP tool (which is part of KConnect/SemEHR, and which runs under GATE). (You need to download UMLS data and use the crate_nlp_prepare_ymls_for_bioyodie script to process it. The output directory used with that command is the directory you should specify here.) CRATE_DOCKER_MYSQL_CRATE_DATABASE_NAME

Default: crate_web_db

Name of the MySQL database to be used for CRATE web site data. CRATE_DOCKER_MYSQL_CRATE_USER_PASSWORD

No default. Must be set during MySQL container creation.

MySQL password for the CRATE database user (whose name is set by CRATE_DOCKER_MYSQL_CRATE_USER_NAME).


This only needs to be set when Docker Compose is creating the MySQL container for the first time. After that, it doesn’t have to be set (and is probably best not set for security reasons!). CRATE_DOCKER_MYSQL_CRATE_USER_NAME

Default: crate_web_user

MySQL username for the main CRATE web user. This user is given full control over the database named in CRATE_DOCKER_MYSQL_CRATE_DATABASE_NAME. See also CRATE_DOCKER_MYSQL_CRATE_USER_PASSWORD. CRATE_DOCKER_MYSQL_HOST_PORT

Default: 3306

Port published to the host, giving access to the CRATE MySQL installation. You can use this to allow other software to connect to the CRATE database directly.

This might include using MySQL tools from the host to perform database backups (though Docker volumes can also be backed up in their own right).

The default MySQL port is 3306. If you run MySQL on your host computer for other reasons, this port will be taken, and you should change it to something else.

You should not expose this port to the “outside”, beyond your host. CRATE_DOCKER_MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD

No default. Must be set during MySQL container creation.

MySQL password for the root user.


This only needs to be set when Docker Compose is creating the MySQL container for the first time. After that, it doesn’t have to be set (and is probably best not set for security reasons!). COMPOSE_PROJECT_NAME

Default: crate

This is the Docker Compose project name. It’s used as a prefix for all the containers in this project.


fix below here; see CamCOPS help

4.1.5. Tools

All live in the docker directory. bash_within_docker

Starts a container with the CRATE image and runs a Bash shell within it.


Running a shell within a container allows you to break things! Be careful. start_crate_docker_detached

Shortcut for docker-compose up -d. The -d switch is short for --detach (or daemon mode). start_crate_docker_interactive

Shortcut for docker-compose up --abort-on-container-exit.


The docker-compose command looks for a Docker Compose configuration file with a default filename; one called docker-compose.yaml is provided. stop_crate_docker

Shortcut for docker-compose down. within_docker

This script starts a container with the CRATE image, activates the CRATE virtual environment, and runs a command within it. For example, to explore this container, you can do

./within_docker /bin/bash

… which is equivalent to the bash_within_docker script (see above and note the warning).