Setting up supervisor (on a single machine)

(for supervisor 1.0.6)


Supervisor is a fairly cool tool for starting, stopping, and restarting long-running processes. I've mostly been using it for my SCGI-driven Web sites, to keep the SCGI backend processes running; it's probably useful for pretty much any Web site that is proxied via Apache or lighthttpd.

Incidentally, <plug> I'd suggest using twill to make sure that your Web sites are actually up and running & connected to their databases At least, that's what I do ;).

supervisor was written by Chris McDonough.


Installation is pretty easy. Download the tar.gz, unpack it, go into the resulting directory, run

make install

and you're done.

This should dump a bunch of files in a bunch of places. Specifically, it will

  • create supervisord, supervisorctl, supervisord-passwd, and pid-proxy in /usr/local/bin;
  • put supervisord.conf and supervisorctl.conf in /usr/local/etc/supervisor/;
  • dump both the supervisor and ZConfig packages into /usr/local/share/supervisor-1.06/;

Should I run supervisor as root?

supervisor is definitely designed to run as root, but there's no real problem in running it as a non-root user. To do so, you have to make sure that the control socket and all of the log files can be created and written to by the executing user. (Configuring the socket and logfile paths will be discussed in the next section.)

Configuring a simple test program to run under supervisor

Let's start by setting up a little toy program to run under supervisor. Create a simple shell script, 'sleep-test':

#! /bin/bash
echo starting to sleep...
sleep 10

Make sure to 'chmod +x' the script and put it somewhere you'll remember. ('/tmp/' is fine.)

Now go to /usr/local/etc/supervisor/ and edit supervisord.conf. At the top of the file, just below <supervisord>, add

<program test>
  command /tmp/sleep-test
  auto-start false
  auto-restart true
  logfile /tmp/test-output.log

(Be sure to replace '/tmp/sleep-test' with the actual location of your shell script!)

Also comment out the 'passwdfile' line (towards the end of the file) and (if you're not running as root) make sure that 'logfile' and 'pidfile' are in directories that are writeable by the user running supervisord. You should check that 'socket-name' is in a directory writeable by the user executing supervisord, too.

Save this file & edit 'supervisorctl.conf'. Make sure that the 'socket-name' file is in a directory writeable by the user, too.

All right -- you're done configuring things!

Run '/usr/local/bin/supervisord'. It should immediately detach from the terminal and go into the background; make sure it's still running by checking with 'ps'.

Now run '/usr/local/bin/supervisorctl'. (It shouldn't ask you for a password, because you disabled that in the supervisord.conf, right?) Type 'status'. You should see something like this:


Type 'start test' and exit supervisor (with CTRL-D or 'quit').

You should now see that 'sleep-test' is running (with ps -- remember, all of the output is going into /tmp/test-output.log!) Moreover, it will stay running. Even though the shell script exits every 10 seconds (after the 'sleep 10'), the 'auto-restart' in the configuration section for '<program test>' tells supervisor to restart it. Neat, eh?

OK, now run 'supervisorctl' and type 'stop test'. It will stop, and you can verify that with 'ps'.

Configure passwords

The next thing you should do, before doing anything else, is set up a password file. First, uncomment the 'passwdfile' line in the 'supervisord.conf' file.

Next, run 'supervisord-password'. At the 'SRP>' prompt, type 'add user'. It will prompt for a password for user 'user'; enter something. Now type 'save' and 'quit'.

This has the effect of creating a password file '/usr/local/etc/supervisor/passwd'; the usernames/password pairs in this file will govern communications between supervisorctl and supervisord.

Now restart 'supervisord' by running 'supervisorctl' and typing 'reload' at the prompt.

Now, if you exit supervisorctl and run it again, you should be prompted for a username and password. Hopefully the ones you just configured should work ;).

A quick tour through supervisorctl

Most of your interaction with 'supervisord' will be through the supervisorctl command line. It only has a few commands, and the help documentation is pretty good when you forget exactly what something does; here's a quick tour.

'help' tells you what commands are available; 'help command' gives you more detailed help on the given command.

'reload' tells supervisord to reload the configuration file.

'shutdown' tells supervisord to die.

'start', 'stop', and 'restart' do the obvious things, e.g. 'start test' will start the program named 'test'.

'list' will list the configured programs.

'open' and 'close' are used when you're connecting to supervisord programs running on other computers; don't worry about them for now.

'logtail' gives you the last few lines of the 'supervisord' log file.

Configuring real programs

OK, at this point you're probably ready to try a real program. Here's a "real-life" situation on one of my servers, ''; it's not much more complicated than the above test situation, though!

Here's the config section I used:

<program woodward-scgi>
  command /disk2/cartwheel/bin/canal-scgi-server
  priority 1
  user t
  auto-start true
  auto-restart true
  logfile /disk2/cartwheel/scgi-server.log

This config section tells supervisord how to run the SCGI Web-bish server for the Cartwheel site running on

The only new addition here is 'user t', which specifies that the program should be run under the account 't' (my personal account).

Once I added this config section, I just typed 'reload' and it all started up just fine.

The 'program' config directives

There's not too much more to say, actually, but here, explicitly, are the config directives that you can put in the <program> sections:

'program' -- necessary; command + arguments, separated by whitespace. No quoting, so neither the command nor the arguments can contain whitespace, and shell-special characters like '~' don't get handled.

'priority' -- an integer. when 'restart all' or 'start all' runs, the higher priority items are started first. Probably doesn't matter much unless you have some things that weight down the machine when they start.

'auto-restart' -- boolean, true/false. Obvious. Restart on fail? (If 'auto-start' is false, this only re-starts the process when it was 'start'ed to begin with.)

'auto-start' -- boolean, true/false. Also obvious. If this isn't set to true, you'll need to do an explicit 'start' command

'user' -- what user to run the command as. Only applies if supervisord is running as root (and therefore has setuid privileges).

'logfile' -- where to dump the stdout/stderr from the executed command.

More Advanced Stuff

supervisord has support for a few things that I haven't needed to use.

For one, you can have it listen on a TCP socket rather than on a UNIX domain socket. This would let you control processes remotely. Use the 'open' command in supervisorctl to connect to more than one machine.

For another, you can do clever things with exit codes. You can set certain program exit codes as signals to supervisord to stop running this program. Check out '/usr/local/share/supervisor-1.0.6/supervisor/schema.xml' for details.


What article would be complete without my criticisms!? Seriously, supervisor is a very nice, easy-to-use piece of software. I do wish that it could be installed entirely with a Python-standard '', because then I could put it all in an egg; and I also wonder why 'supervisord-passwd' exists as a standalone program. (It should be possible to make this part of supervisord or supervisorctl and thus reduce by one the number of programs installed.) No complaints apart from those two, so far.

Oh, one additional problem: if you try a 'reload' when the config file is broken, supervisord will die.

And OK, a Web interface would be nice, but I can write that myself. ;)

--titus Mar 25, 2006.