Setup your own instance of the Galaxy Bioinformatics platform on DigitalOcean

| Vimalkumar Velayudhan

About this tutorial

This is a step by step tutorial on setting up Galaxy - an open web-based platform for computational biomedical research on DigitalOcean - a cloud infrastructure provider. At the end of this tutorial, you will have a secure, private and production instance of Galaxy, which can be used for example — to host tools developed by the research group or to have a custom set of tools installed from the Galaxy toolshed(s).

I have compiled this tutorial using recommendations from the Galaxy project's documentation and from my own experience in setting up Galaxy and other services involved. Links to documentation and other resources can be found at the end of this tutorial.

Let's begin by creating the virtual server.

Step 1: Create the virtual server (droplet)

First, you will need an account on DigitalOcean. DigitalOcean is a paid service. The server we are going to create will be based on the Ubuntu 16.04 LTS image and will cost $5 per month for the following configuration — 512MB Memory, 1 CPU and a 20GB Hard disk.

This is optional. If you wish, you can use the following referral link to sign up — This will give you $10 in credit so you can try this tutorial without any cost. If you continue using the service, I might get some credits as well.

Once you have confirmed your email account and then completed the verification step by adding a payment method, your can start creating virtual servers — also known as droplets.

To create a new droplet, click on the Create Droplet button. In the next page, click on the $5/mo server panel in the Choose a size section. You can leave all other options at their defaults and then click on the Create button at the bottom of the page to create the droplet.

Once the droplet is created, you will receive an email with details for accessing the droplet using SSH — IP Address, Username and Password. You can connect to the droplet using the ssh command like this [1]:

ssh root@server-ip

You will be prompted to change the root password on login.


Please make sure to destroy the droplet if you are only using it for the purpose of this tutorial. Droplets that are powered down will still be charged after the credit is used up!

We can now proceed towards the basic configuration of this server.

1.1 Basic Server configuration

1.1.1 Create user with administrative access

For all administrative functions like installing software, creating user accounts, database and configuring the web server, we will create a separate account with administrator privileges. This can be done by adding the user to the sudo group. In the following example, I am creating a new admin user called vimal and setting a password:

useradd -m -s /bin/bash -G sudo vimal
passwd vimal

Login as the admin user using SSH to continue with the rest of the tutorial:

ssh vimal@server-ip

1.1.2 Add swap space

The database migration scripts that run when Galaxy is first launched require more memory than we have available (512MB). We can make use of a swap file so this process completes.

To create and activate a 2GB swap file in the Root (/) partition, the following commands can be used:

sudo fallocate -l 2G /swapfile
sudo chmod 600 /swapfile
sudo mkswap /swapfile
sudo swapon /swapfile

Enable swap on boot by adding the following line to /etc/fstab:

/swapfile   none    swap    sw    0   0


This is only a temporary measure.

Frequent use of swap will degrade performance of both the application and the hardware. Also, programs requiring more memory (example: alignment) will fail to work. It is better to upgrade to a plan with more memory (RAM) for better performance.

We can now proceed towards installing required software.

1.2 Install required software

First, refresh the package repositories, then upgrade system packages and then remove packages that are no longer required. All these steps can be done using the following command:

sudo apt update && sudo apt -y upgrade && \
sudo apt -y autoremove

Install build tools, Git, Apache web server and required modules, Virtualenv for creating virtual Python environments, libraries and functions required for building Python packages, the PostgreSQL database server, client and libraries:

sudo apt -y install build-essential git apache2 \
libapache2-mod-xsendfile virtualenv python-dev \
postgresql postgresql-contrib postgresql-client \

1.3 Set a password for the PostgreSQL administrator

Set a password for the PostgreSQL administrator account — postgres using psql, the command line client for PostgreSQL:

sudo -u postgres psql template1

At the psql prompt (postgres=#), type:

\password postgres

Set a password and then exit from psql by typing:


1.4 Enable required Apache modules

Enable modules necessary for running Galaxy under the Apache web server:

sudo a2enmod rewrite xsendfile expires proxy \
proxy_http deflate headers

Restart Apache for the configuration to take effect:

sudo systemctl restart apache2

1.5 Create the galaxy user accounts and database

Create a Linux user account called galaxy and set a password:

sudo useradd -m -s /bin/bash galaxy
sudo passwd galaxy

As the PostgreSQL administrator, create a database user called galaxy and a database owned by that user, also called galaxy:

sudo -u postgres createuser -P galaxy
sudo -u postgres createdb -O galaxy galaxy

Step 2: Configure the Apache web server

We will serve the Galaxy web interface from a sub directory like http://server-ip/galaxy. To do this, as the admin user, create a new VirtualHost configuration by creating a file /etc/apache2/sites-available/galaxy.conf with the following content

<VirtualHost *:80>
     # ServerName is currently set to the IP address. When a domain name is
     # available, this directive should be updated
     ServerName server-ip
     ErrorLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/galaxy-error.log
     CustomLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/galaxy-access.log combined

     RewriteEngine On
     RewriteRule ^/galaxy$ /galaxy/ [R]
     RewriteRule ^/galaxy/static/style/(.*) /home/galaxy/galaxy/static/june_2007_style/blue/$1 [L]
     RewriteRule ^/galaxy/static/scripts/(.*) /home/galaxy/galaxy/static/scripts/packed/$1 [L]
     RewriteRule ^/galaxy/static/(.*) /home/galaxy/galaxy/static/$1 [L]
     RewriteRule ^/galaxy/favicon.ico /home/galaxy/galaxy/static/favicon.ico [L]
     RewriteRule ^/galaxy/robots.txt /home/galaxy/galaxy/static/robots.txt [L]
     RewriteRule ^/galaxy(.*) http://localhost:8080$1 [P]

 <Location "/galaxy">
     # Compress all uncompressed content.
     SetOutputFilter DEFLATE
     SetEnvIfNoCase Request_URI \.(?:gif|jpe?g|png)$ no-gzip dont-vary
     SetEnvIfNoCase Request_URI \.(?:t?gz|zip|bz2)$ no-gzip dont-vary
     SetEnvIfNoCase Request_URI /history/export_archive no-gzip dont-vary
     XSendFile on
     XSendFilePath /

 <Location "/galaxy/static">
     # Allow browsers to cache everything from /galaxy/static for 6 hours
     Require all granted
     ExpiresActive On
     ExpiresDefault "access plus 6 hours"

Save the file and then enable the site i.e., this VirtualHost configuration and reload Apache:

sudo a2ensite galaxy
sudo systemctl reload apache2

Step 3: Download, configure and start Galaxy

Login as the galaxy user using SSH.

Clone the current stable galaxy release [2] using Git:

git clone -b release_17.09 \

Create a Python 2 virtual environment for galaxy:

cd galaxy
virtualenv -p python2 galaxy_env

Create a configuration for Galaxy by making a copy of the sample configuration:

cp config/galaxy.ini.sample config/galaxy.ini

Make changes in galaxy.ini as given below. There are detailed comments in this file as to what these options do.

As we are using Apache as the proxy server uncomment the filter-with option and specify the cookie_path option in the [app:main] section:

filter-with = proxy-prefix
cookie_path = /galaxy

As we are using PostgreSQL, the database_connection setting in the Database section should be changed to the following:

database_connection = postgresql:///galaxy?host=/var/run/postgresql

For better performance with large database queries in PostgreSQL, we can also set the following:

database_engine_option_server_side_cursors = True

Also to use Apache to handle file downloads instead of Galaxy's own HTTP server, we will need to set the following apache_xsendfile option in the [app:main] section:

apache_xsendfile = True

As this is a production server, disable live debugging:

use_interactive = False

Finally, in the Users and Security section, add your email address to the admin_users variable:

admin_users =

If public access to this instance is not desired, disable anonymous access and disable user registration:

require_login = True
allow_user_creation = False

Save the galaxy.ini configuration file, activate the virtualenv and then start Galaxy in daemon mode:

# Activate the virtualenv
source galaxy_env/bin/activate

# Start Galaxy in daemon mode
./ --daemon

A log file, paster.log will be generated in the same directory. Once the message "Entering daemon mode" is displayed, use the command tail -f paster.log to view the log. When the script has finished initialisation, the following message will appear serving on

At this stage, visit http://server.ip/galaxy, register an account with the same email address specified under admin_users and login.

Start page of Galaxy

Step 4: Improving security and performance, updating Galaxy

4.1 Secure SSH access

In the default setup, SSH runs on port 22 and allows all users to login with a password including root. These are some additional steps for securing SSH access. All these configuration changes should be made in the file /etc/ssh/sshd_config.

Change default port

The port that SSH listens on is specified in the Port option:

Port 22

To prevent unauthorised login attempts on the default SSH port (22), the recommendation is to change the port to a number less than 1024. The port that is selected should not currently be used by any other service. You can check the list of ports currently assiged to services here or lookup IANA port assignments.

Once the port is changed, restart the sshd service, open the specified port in firewall (Refer: Configure firewall section below). Test if SSH access is working and then close port 22 in firewall.

Disable root login

If you do need to login as root, you can do so using su - once logged in with a regular user account:

PermitRootLogin no

Disable password authentication

As an increased security measure, setup SSH key based authentication. Here is a tutorial explaining the procedure. Once all users have SSH keys setup and working (This is important!), disable login with password completely:

PasswordAuthentication no

Restrict users with SSH access

Only the users specified here will be allowed to connect. Accepts a space separated list of user names:

AllowUsers galaxy vimal

4.2 Configure firewall

A firewall can be enabled and rules can be configured to allow access only to specific ports and services.


This following commands assume that SSH is running on port 822 instead of the default (22). If your configuration is different, please change the port accordingly.

One possibility would be to use the Cloud Firewall function available on DigitalOcean and create a configuration which can be applied to the droplet. A tutorial is available here. An example configuration allowing access to SSH(822), HTTP(80) and HTTPS(443) is below:

DigitalOcean Cloud Firewall rules to allow acccess to SSH, HTTP and HTTPS

An alternative firewall configuration using UFW:

ufw allow 822
ufw allow http
ufw allow https

ufw status
Status: active

To                         Action      From
--                         ------      ----
822                        ALLOW       Anywhere
80                         ALLOW       Anywhere
443                        ALLOW       Anywhere
822 (v6)                   ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)
80 (v6)                    ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)
443 (v6)                   ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)

6.3 Enable HTTPS

For encrypted web communications, it is essential to use an SSL certificate and re-configure Apache. Free SSL certificates can be obtained from Letsencrypt or Cloudflare.

The following procedure uses a self-signed certificate (for demonstration, not recommended).

Enable Apache SSL HTTPS site configuration and the SSL module:

a2ensite default-ssl.conf
a2enmod ssl

Now modify the port in galaxy virtualhost configuration from 80 to 443 and reload apache. It should now be possible to access the web interface at https://server.ip/galaxy.

6.4 Keep the Galaxy instance up to date

The Galaxy mailing list provides information on new releases and any security vulnerabilities that have been discovered.

You can use the following command to get any updates that have since been issued after the release (17.09 in this example):

git checkout release_17.09 && git pull --ff-only \
origin release_17.09


  1. Get Galaxy.
  2. Running Galaxy in a production environment.
  3. Proxying Galaxy with Apache.
  4. UFW (Ubuntu Community Wiki).
  5. An Introduction To DigitalOcean Cloud Firewalls.
  6. PostgreSQL (Ubuntu Server Guide).
  7. Apache 2 Web Server (Ubuntu Server Guide).
  8. How To Set Up SSH Keys (DigitalOcean).


[1]If you are on Windows, you can use an SSH client like Putty.
[2]When this post was written, the latest stable release of Galaxy was 17.09. Visit to find the latest stable release.
Cover photo by Rafael Cerqueira on Unsplash.