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January 18, 2017

Koha on Linode

Koha is an open source library system that is used widely throughout the world, and especially in Vermont. For various reasons (including financial) our library was not able to join either of the two consortia of Koha users in Vermont. So I installed Koha on Linode for the exclusive use of our library.

Linode is a hosting service that provides low-cost Linux virtual servers, called “Linodes”. Installing Koha in a Linode is a straightforward process, but it does require that you to be somewhat comfortable with typing commands at a command prompt.

Initial setup

Most of the following instructions were taken from the following Koha wiki pages, though some details differ due to the wiki pages being slightly out of date:

When I set up my Linode instance for Koha, I selected the lowest cost plan, which provides 2 GB of RAM. So far, that seems adequate for our library. If necessary in the future, the Linode instance can be resized without loss of data. The amount of RAM is the most important factor affecting Koha performance. If in the future we feel that performance is not adequate, doubling the RAM size to 4 GB should help considerably.

(Disk size is only important for very large libraries. The 25 GB disk size provided for the lowest cost Linode plan appears to be more than enough for our library. It is remotely possible that in the distant future, the ever-enlarging circulation records and acquisitions might require a disk size upgrade.)

Koha is most easily installed in a host running the Debian 8 distribution of Linux. Fortunately Linode provides pre-made Debian 8 installations; simply select the 64-bit variant of Debian 8 when setting up your Linode. This process takes only a few short minutes.

Once Debian 8 is deployed in your Linode instance, use the Remote Access tab on the Linode dashboard to determine the ssh command you need to use to connect to your Linode instance as root (superuser). When you log in with ssh, you’ll need to use the root password that you set up when you created your Linode instance. For simplicity, I used the same password for my Linode account and my root account on my Koha Linode instance.

If you are unlucky enough to be stuck with a Windows computer, you can use the add-on PuTTY program as your ssh client.

All of the following commands assume that you are logged into your Linode as root using ssh.

Install Koha

We are going to install Koha from prebuilt Debian-compatible packages. First set up the package source:

wget -q -O- http://debian.koha-community.org/koha/gpg.asc |
   apt-key add -
echo 'deb http://debian.koha-community.org/koha stable main' |
   tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/koha.list

(Note that the two commands shown above have been split into two lines each for formatting in this post. You should type these commands on single lines, not split as shown.)

The second command above chooses the most recent stable release of Koha (16.11 as of this writing). If you want to use the previous stable release, replace “stable” with “oldstable” in that command.

Now update the package list and install the Koha package:

apt-get update
apt-get install koha-common

This will take several minutes as apt-get installs a large number of prerequisite packages needed by Koha.

Now you need to install the MySQL database:

apt-get install mysql-server

During the installation, MySQL will ask you for a root password. For simplicity, use the same password that you chose for your Linode account and ssh access.

Configure Koha defaults

Before you create a Koha instance for your library, you can change the default settings for Koha. Do this by editing the file /etc/koha/koha-sites.conf with your favorite editor (nano is a good choice for a simple, ssh-friendly editor).

First, you may want to change the settings for the site names and port number in the lines starting with DOMAIN and ending with OPACSUFFIX. The comment preceding those lines explains how your catalog’s URL will be formed from the values in those lines.

If you don’t have a domain name yet, you can just set DOMAIN to “.linode.com” and use the IP address of your Linode to access Koha (more on that below).

In the case of our library, we already had an informational web page that would eventually be moved to the Linode. Since the default port number for web pages is 80, I chose to use ports 81 and 82 for the OPAC (“OPACPORT”) and staff client (“INTRAPORT”) to avoid conflicts.

I also chose to enable Memcached, which is a web page caching mechanism that speeds up access. To do this, change the value of USE_MEMCACHED from “no” to “yes”.

Finally, save the file and exit the editor.

Set up Apache

Apache is the web server used by Koha. Before starting Koha, we need to change some of Apache’s settings. First, we need to tell Apache to listen on the correct ports. Edit the file /etc/apache2/ports.conf. There should already be a line like this in the file:

Listen 80

Below that line, add these two lines:

Listen 81
Listen 82

If necessary, change these port numbers to the same ones you chose earlier when editing /etc/koha/koha-sites.conf. Then save the file and exit the editor.

Next, we need to enable certain Apache modules, then restart it:

a2enmod rewrite
a2enmod cgi
a2enmod headers proxy_http
service apache2 restart

Create a Koha instance

Now it is time to create a Koha instance for your library. In the following command, replace LIBRARYNAME with the name of your library (typically, an easy-to-type abbreviation):

koha-create --create-db --use-memcached LIBRARYNAME

Access the web interface

To complete the Koha installation, you will need to access the web interface from Firefox on another machine. To do this, you’ll need to know the domain name for your Linode host. If you don’t have a domain name yet, you can use its IP address. To determine the IP address, run this command:

ifconfig eth0 | grep "inet addr:"

The output will look something like this:

inet addr:12.345.67.89  Bcast:23.239.9.255  Mask:255.255.255.0

The IP address is the first set of four numbers (12.345.67.89 in this made-up example).

To determine the user name and password that you will need to log into Koha, type the following commands:

xmlstarlet sel -t -v 'yazgfs/config/user'
   /etc/koha/sites/LIBRARYNAME/koha-conf.xml && echo
xmlstarlet sel -t -v 'yazgfs/config/pass'
   /etc/koha/sites/LIBRARYNAME/koha-conf.xml && echo

(Note that the two commands shown above have been split into two lines each for formatting in this post. You should type these commands on single lines, not split as shown. Be sure to change LIBRARYNAME to the name you chose when you created your Koha instance earlier.)

In Firefox, enter the URL of your new Koha instance, which will be “http://”, followed by domain name or IP address of the Linode, followed by “:” and the port number you chose for “INTRAPORT” earlier when editing /etc/koha/koha-sites.conf. Using the example above, the URL would be: http://12.345.67.89:82/

Koha will prompt you for a user name and password. Enter the values you obtained earlier using xmlstarlet. Once you’ve logged in, Koha will ask you a number of questions about your installation. It’s safe to stick with the defaults, but you might want to install the optional Z35.90 servers and sample item types and locations to get you started.

Enable Plack

Plack is a piece of software that speeds up the connection between the web server (Apache) and Koha (which is largely written in Perl, a popular scripting language). According to benchmark tests, it can improve Koha’s response time by a factor of three in some common operations.

Enabling plack is now quite simple in Koha. Run these commands:

koha-plack --enable LIBRARYNAME
koha-plack --start  LIBRARYNAME
service apache2 restart

As always, change LIBRARYNAME to the name you chose when you created your Koha instance earlier. It’s possible that koha-plack may require you to install some prerequisites, but it should tell you how to do that, and afterwards you can rerun koha-plack.

Enable Memcached

If you neglected to tell Koha to enable Memcached when you ran the koha-create command earlier, it can still be done manually after installation. It used to be sufficient to add the following lines to both VirtualHost sections of /etc/apache2/sites-available/LIBRARYNAME.conf:

SetEnv MEMCACHED_SERVERS "127.0.0.1:11211"
SetEnv MEMCACHED_NAMESPACE "koha"

But now those lines seem to be ignored, apparently due to a bad interaction with Plack (see this bug for more information). The solution is to add the following lines to the <config> section of /etc/koha/sites/LIBRARYNAME/koha-conf.xml:

<memcached_servers>127.0.0.1:11211</memcached_servers>
<memcached_namespace>koha</memcached_namespace>

After making this change, restarting Apache is not sufficient; I rebooted the machine to get the change to take effect. In retrospect, service memcached restart may have been sufficient.

You can check if Memcached is working using this command:

telnet localhost 11211

If Memcached is running, you will get a “Connected to localhost” message. Exit telnet by hitting Control-], followed by Enter, followed by Control-D.

Now play around with Koha a little by loading different pages. Then check if caching is actually taking place using this:

memcdump --servers 127.0.0.1

You should see a large list of cache items.

If memcdump is not available, install it using:

sudo apt-get install libmemcached-tools

Enable Z39.50

Koha can act as a Z39.50 server, so that other libraries can search your catalog. To enable Z39.50, edit the file /etc/koha/sites/LIBRARYNAME/koha-conf.xml, where LIBRARYNAME is the name you chose when you created your Koha instance.

Near the top of that file is a line that looks like this:

<listen id="publicserver">tcp:@:nnn</listen>

Uncomment that line by removing the <!-- and --> lines before and after it. Then replace nnn with an unused port number, preferably something greater than 1023. I chose 9998.

Farther down in the file, around line 180, is a section starting with a line that looks like this:

<!-- PUBLICSERVER'S BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORDS -->

Below that is a line that looks like this:

<server id="publicserver"  listenref="publicserver">

Remove the start-of-comment line (<!--) before that line.

Now move down to around line 260, where you will see this line:

</serverinfo>

Remove the end-of-comment line (-->) after that line.

Finally, save the file and exit the editor.

Restart Zebra (the program that handles searches in Koha):

koha-restart-zebra LIBRARYNAME

where LIBRARYNAME is the name you chose when you created your Koha instance. Verify that Zebra is now listening on the port you chose (9998 in the example above) by doing this:

netstat -pn --tcp --listen | grep 9998

If things are working, you should see a line that looks like this:

tcp        0      0 0.0.0.0:9998            0.0.0.0:*               LISTEN      6986/zebrasrv   

If things are not working, you won’t see any output.

As a final check, you can try making a Z39.50 connection:

yaz-client tcp:127.0.0.1:9998/biblios

If things are working, you should see a few lines of output, including a line that looks like this:

Connection accepted by v3 target.

and then a prompt line:

Z> 

If things aren’t working, you’ll see an error message like this:

Connecting...error = System (lower-layer) error: Connection refused

Exit the yaz-client program by hitting Ctrl-D or typing exit followed by Enter.

In case of errors, check out the Koha wiki here: https://wiki.koha-community.org/wiki/Troubleshooting_Koha_as_a_Z39.50_server.

If you need to provide your Z39.50 information to other libraries, such as the Vermont Department of Libraries, so that they can search your catalog, here is what they need to know:

  • Hostname: the fully qualified doman name or IP address of your Koha server
  • Database name: biblios
  • Port number: 9998

Enable Template Cache

Enabling a template cache can significantly improve Koha’s performance. To do this, add the following line to the <config> section of /etc/koha/sites/LIBRARYNAME/koha-conf.xml:

<template_cache_dir>/var/cache/koha/LIBRARYNAME/templates</template_cache_dir>

Then create the template cache directory and make it writeable by Koha:

mkdir -p /var/cache/koha/LIBRARYNAME/templates
chown LIBRARYNAME-koha:LIBRARYNAME-koha /var/cache/koha/LIBRARYNAME/templates

Finally, restart Apache and Koha:

service memcached restart
service apache2 reload
koha-plack --restart LIBRARYNAME

As always, change LIBRARYNAME to the name you chose when you created your Koha instance earlier.

Daily backups

It is highly recommended that you enable backups for your Linode instance. This will allow you to recover your system in the event of some catastrophic disaster.

The Koha installation also performs automatic backups for your Koha database and configuration files. It performs these backups once a day.

The backup files are stored in the directory /var/spool/koha/LIBRARYNAME (where LIBRARYNAME is the name of your Koha instance). The names of the files indicate the date they were created. There are two files for each day’s backup: one for the database (with the filename ending in .sql.gz) and one for the configuration files (with the filename ending in .tar.gz). In case of disaster, these files can be used to restore your Koha installation with the koha-restore command.

By default, Koha deletes backup files older than two days. If you would like to increase the number of days that backups are kept around, edit the file /etc/cron.daily/koha-common. At the bottom of that file, you will see a line that looks like this:

koha-run-backups --days 2 --output /var/spool/koha

Change the 2 to the number of days you’d like to keep backups, then save the file and exit the editor.

Enable email

In order for Koha to send email, you must first set up your Linode’s email server. If you follow this tutorial religiously, your Linode should be able to send email. When the mail configuration program asks you for your system’s FQDN (fully qualified domain name), enter either of the following:

  • the name for your Linode that you’ve set up with your domain name service (e.g. koha.example.com)
  • the Linode-specific hostname, which you can find on the Remote Access tab of your Linode Dashboard (e.g. li123-45.members.linode.com)

After following the steps in the tutorial, restart the mail server:

/etc/init.d/exim4 restart

You may have to repeat the “restart” step if you reboot your Linode.

Then enable email for your Koha instance:

koha-email-enable LIBRARYNAME

Finally, it may be necessary to make sure that Reverse DNS works for your Linode in both IPV4 and IPV6 modes; otherwise, Gmail may not accept mail from exim4. See this tutorial to learn how to configure Reverse DNS.

Configuring Koha for email is the subject of a separate post.

Robots.txt

To prevent search engines from indexing your entire OPAC site, include the bibliographic records, as root create the file /usr/share/koha/opac/htdocs/robots.txt with the following contents:

Crawl-delay: 60

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

User-agent: Googlebot
Disallow: /cgi-bin/koha/opac-search.pl
Disallow: /cgi-bin/koha/opac-showmarc.pl
Disallow: /cgi-bin/koha/opac-detailprint.pl
Disallow: /cgi-bin/koha/opac-ISBDdetail.pl
Disallow: /cgi-bin/koha/opac-MARCdetail.pl
Disallow: /cgi-bin/koha/opac-reserve.pl
Disallow: /cgi-bin/koha/opac-export.pl
Disallow: /cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl
Disallow: /cgi-bin/koha/opac-authoritiesdetail.pl

See this bug for a discussion of robots.txt in Koha.

Future stuff

The Koha installation described above is not quite complete. Some things that will have to be completed in the future:

  • Koha configuration (item types, authorized values, circulation rules, email, etc.).
  • Enable SSL on both the OPAC and the staff client. This will ensure security on the connection. It will have to be done after the DNS records for our library are pointed at the Linode. The tool I’d like to use is certbot from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  • Configure the information users see on the OPAC home page.

I’ll update this post as things progress.