Self-Managed Grist#

The essentials#

What is Self-Managed Grist?#

There are three flavors of Grist:

  • SaaS (Software as a Service): Grist is available as a hosted service at docs.getgrist.com. No installation needed. Free and paid plans, with usage limits.
  • Self-Managed Enterprise: Grist is available as a licensed application installed by enterprises on their own infrastructure with our support and backing. Contains proprietary features developed for enterprises with particular needs.
  • Self-Managed Core: Grist is available as a free application installed by citizen developers on their own infrastructure with community support. Grist documents created with our SaaS and Enterprise offerings can be opened and edited with Core, and vice versa. This establishes Grist documents as a reliable format for archiving and interchange.

Self-Managed Grist, be it Enterprise or Core, is installed and configured in much the same way, as described in the following sections. For clarity, the sections are tagged with which flavor they apply to, for example:

The full source code for Grist Core is always available at github.com/gristlabs/grist-core and is under an Apache-2.0 license. You may use and redistribute Core freely, under the terms of the free software license. The full source for Grist Enterprise is also available, at github.com/gristlabs/grist-ee, under a proprietary license that does not grant any automatic rights to use or redistribute the software. You can evaluate Enterprise for 30 days using the instructions in the following sections, or sign up for our Grist Enterprise plan and get support.

How do I install Grist?#

The easiest way to install Grist is as a container. We will describe how using Docker, but there are many other tools and services for running containers.

To try Grist out, make an empty directory for Grist to store material in (say ~/grist) and then for Grist Core you can do:

docker run -p 8484:8484 \
  -v ~/grist:/persist \
  -e GRIST_SESSION_SECRET=invent-a-secret-here \
  -it gristlabs/grist

For Grist Enterprise use gristlabs/grist-ee instead of gristlabs/grist.

You should then be able to visit http://localhost:8484 in your browser. Already you will be able to create and edit Grist documents, and to open and edit documents downloaded from another Grist installation (such as our SaaS).

If using some other tool or service, here are the important points:

  • The container name is gristlabs/grist or gristlabs/grist-ee (for some tools, you may need to prefix these names with docker.io/).
  • A volume (or mount, or directory) needs to be available at location /persist within the container. It can be initially empty - Grist will populate it. Without this volume, nothing you do will be stored long-term.
  • Port 8484 on the container needs to be exposed. This can be changed if you also set the PORT environment variable for the container.
  • The environment variable GRIST_SESSION_SECRET should be set to something secret for the container.

Installed this way, Grist is accessible only to you. Typically you want to take at least the following steps:

How do I sandbox documents?#

Grist allows for very powerful formulas, using Python. We recommend setting the environment variable GRIST_SANDBOX_FLAVOR to gvisor if your hardware supports it (most will), to run formulas in each document within a sandbox isolated from other documents and isolated from the network.

docker run ...
  -e GRIST_SANDBOX_FLAVOR=gvisor \
  ...

To sanity-check that formulas are being evaluated within a sandbox, you can create a document and then check that this formula gives an empty result:

import glob 
glob.glob('/etc/*')

How do I run Grist on a server?#

We suggest that you become familiar with all the other aspects of self-management on this page before serving Grist from a public host (especially Sandboxing). When you do, it is important to tell Grist where it will be served from, using the APP_HOME_URL variable. For example, if you will be serving from https://grist.example.com, let Grist know like this:

docker run ...
  -e APP_HOME_URL="https://grist.example.com" \
  ...

You will need to place a “reverse proxy” in front of Grist to handle “ssl termination” (decrypting encypted traffic) using a certificate that establishes ownership of the site. If you don’t know what this means, you could try using the Grist Omnibus which packages Grist with a reverse proxy that will use Let’s Encrypt to get a certificate for you automatically.

How do I set up a team?#

Grist has a concept of “team sites” that are independently managed and named areas containing their own workspaces and documents. Team sites can have distinct subdomains (as on our SaaS’s hosted team sites), or be distinguished by a special path prefix. This often does not make sense for self-managed installations, where there is a single team. With a single domain and a single team, the special path prefix (which looks like /o/<team-name>) is an inelegant waste of space in URLs. So you can direct Grist to use a single team by setting GRIST_SINGLE_ORG (“org” or “organization” is a synonym for team):

docker run ...
  -e GRIST_SINGLE_ORG=cool-beans

The name of the team should use only the characters A-Z, a-z, 0-9, and the hyphen (-). You may also want to look into Custom styling to hide any UI elements you don’t need.

How do I set up authentication?#

Authentication can be set up in many ways for Grist Core and Enterprise, using SAML or forwarded headers. Between the two, many popular SSOs can be hooked up, such as Google or Microsoft sign-ins.

For any authentication method, you may want to also consider setting the following variables:

  • COOKIE_MAX_AGE: (optional) expiration date for Grist session cookie, when set to none session cookie will be in a Session mode - it should be removed after closing a browser. If set to a number, the units of the number are milliseconds.
  • GRIST_FORCE_LOGIN: (optional) when set to true this will instruct Grist to redirect anonymous users to a login page.

For our SaaS, we use a custom authentication system based around AWS Cognito. Currently, we have no plans to release that as part of Core or Enterprise.

Are there other authentication methods?#

If users on your site login via WordPress, or via a custom mechanism you developed, you may want to consider GristConnect, available for Grist Enterprise.

How do I activate Grist Enterprise?#

Activation keys are used to run Grist Enterprise after a trial period of 30 days has expired. Get an activation key by signing up for Grist Enterprise. You don’t need an activation key to run Grist Core.

Place the contents of your activation key in an environment variable called GRIST_ACTIVATION, or place it in a directory available to Grist and provide the full path to the file with the environment variable GRIST_ACTIVATION_FILE. Without the activation key, there will be a banner stating that Grist is in trial mode. Once the activation key is detected, this banner will go away. Replacing the activation key will require restarting Grist.

docker run ...
  -e GRIST_ACTIVATION=<activation-key-goes-here> \
  -it gristlabs/grist-ee

Customization#

How do I customize styling?#

The Grist UI has many elements, some of which may not be relevant to you. For self-managed installations of Grist, you can turn off many elements using GRIST_HIDE_UI_ELEMENTS. This is comma-separated list of parts of the UI to hide. The allowed names of parts are: helpCenter,billing,templates,multiSite,multiAccounts. The UI elements present are also affected by whether GRIST_SINGLE_ORG is set.

docker run
  ...
  -e GRIST_HIDE_UI_ELEMENTS=helpCenter,billing,templates,multiSite,multiAccounts \
  ...

By default pages of the Grist UI have - Grist added to their title. You can change this by setting GRIST_PAGE_TITLE_SUFFIX:

docker run
  ...
  -e GRIST_PAGE_TITLE_SUFFIX=" - Cool Beans" \
  ...

You can set the suffix to "_blank" to entirely remove it.

You can also override the CSS styling of the site if you set APP_STATIC_INCLUDE_CUSTOM_CSS to true.

docker run
  ...
  -e APP_STATIC_INCLUDE_CUSTOM_CSS=true \
  ...

This will load an extra custom.css file. You can find an example of such a file in the Grist Core repository.

The file includes most of our global CSS variables for colors, and a few variables for the logo shown in the top-left corner. There’s really no limit to what can go in the file, so specifying arbitrary styles is possible. Note that all CSS rules should use !important to make sure they have the highest precedence. Otherwise, it’s possible for more specific rules included by our framework to take precedence.

To override custom.css, you can make your own copy and make sure Grist uses it. If the CSS file is in your current directory, then do:

docker run
  ...
  -v $PWD/custom.css:/grist/static/custom.css
  ...

It is possible to direct Grist to load static resources from a CDN by setting APP_STATIC_URL. If you do so, and you are using custom CSS, you’ll need to ensure the custom CSS is available from that base URL.

How do I list custom widgets?#

In our SaaS, Grist has a list of pre-built custom widgets available in the UI. You can have your self-managed installation offer the same list by setting the following:

docker run
  ...
  -e GRIST_WIDGET_LIST_URL="https://github.com/gristlabs/grist-widget/releases/download/latest/manifest.json" \
  ...

This is optional. If you leave the variable unset, documents with custom widgets will still work fine, but you’ll need to enter a full URL when adding custom widgets rather than picking an option from a drop-down.

You can make your own list of widgets available by forking github.com/gristlabs/grist-widget or by manually preparing a .json file on a public server in the same format as our manifest.json.

How do I set up email notifications?#

In Grist SaaS, we send emails such as invitations to share a document using SendGrid. The same mechanism is available in Grist Enterprise. There is not yet an equivalent in Grist Core.

You will need to set a SendGrid API key:

docker run
  ...
  -e SENDGRID_API_KEY=SG.XXXXXXX.XXXXX \
  ...

You will need to make a file config.json available in the root of the volume mapped to /persist. Its contents should be as follows:

{
  "sendgrid": {
    "api": {
      "prefix": "https://api.sendgrid.com/v3",
      "enroll": "/marketing/contacts",
      "search": "/marketing/contacts/search",
      "searchByEmail": "/marketing/contacts/search/emails",
      "listRemove": "/marketing/lists/{{id}}/contacts",
      "send": "/mail/send"
    },
    "address": {
      "from": {
        "email": "<the-email-address@mails-should-be-from>",
        "name": "the name to show with email"
      }
    },
    "template": {
      "invite": "d-f9.....",
      "billingManagerInvite": "d-f9.....",
      "memberChange": "d-b3....."
    },
    "list": {
      "singleUserOnboarding": "b22..."
    },
    "unsubscribeGroup": {
      "invites": 19...,
      "billingManagers": 19....
    }
  }
}

Here are the meanings of the keys in this file:

  • sendgrid.api - Values should remain unchanged from what’s defined in the sample. These control API versioning and endpoints. Grist currently targets v3 of SendGrid’s web API.
  • sendgrid.address - Should be set to a verified email address and name of a SendGrid sender. This controls the “From” address of all emails sent via SendGrid (e.g. invites sent on behalf of Grist users).
  • sendgrid.template - Maps Grist actions to SendGrid email templates ids. These are for transactional emails that are sent as a result of some action occurring in Grist.
  • sendgrid.template.invite - This is for emails sent to users that are invited to documents, workspaces, or sites.
  • sendgrid.template.memberChange - This is for emails sent to billing managers when users are added/removed from sites.
  • sendgrid.list - Maps Grist actions to SendGrid marketing list ids. These are for on-going automated emails that are sent to all users who are enrolled in a particular list.
  • sendgrid.list.singleUserOnboarding - New Grist users are automatically added to this list on first-login. This is suitable for sending regular onboarding emails to users.
  • sendgrid.unsubscribeGroup - Maps email types to SendGrid unsubscribe group ids. These are for allowing users to unsubscribe from receiving certain types of emails (via the link in the email).
  • sendgrid.unsubscribeGrist.invites - If set, invite emails can be suppressed via the unsubscribe link in emails.
  • sendgrid.unsubscribeGrist.billingManagers - If set, emails sent specifically to billing managers (e.g. membership changes) can be suppressed via the unsubscribe link in emails.

For reference, there are example SendGrid templates in example-sendgrid-templates.zip based on an export of the SendGrid templates for our SaaS.

How do I add more python packages?#

The set of python packages available for use in formulas is currently not configurable. You can add packages anyway if you are willing to build and install your own version of the Grist.

Grist documents made on an installation with custom python packages will not bring those packages with them if copied to a different installation. Formulas using custom python packages will give errors when those packages are unavailable.

Create an empty directory, and add the following into it, in a file called Dockerfile:

FROM gristlabs/grist  # or grist-ee, or grist-omnibus

RUN \
  apt update && apt install -y openssl && \
  python3 -m pip install phonenumbers

Replace phonenumbers with the python package or packages you want to install. You can now build your custom Grist image by running a docker build in the directory with Dockerfile in it:

# replace "custom" with a username or organization name.
docker build -t custom/grist .

Once done, you can use custom/grist in place of gristlabs/grist(-ee) in How do I install Grist, and your python library will now be available to import in formalas.

If you want the import done automatically, so you don’t have to do it in formulas, currently that requires a code change to sandbox/grist/gencode.py. If you are comfortable making code changes, then the build instructions of the grist-core repository are the place to start.


Operations#

What are the hardware requirements for hosting Grist?#

For hosting Grist as a Linux container, here is a known good configuration for a variety of moderate workloads:

  • 8GB RAM
  • 2 CPUs
  • 20GB disk

Grist is packaged for the following CPU architectures:

  • x86_64 (Sandy Bridge or later if sandboxing is enabled)
  • ARM64

Every Grist document is a separate database, so it is difficult to state absolute minimum requirements without knowing what documents will be used. In tests, the Investment Research template runs comfortably served from a Grist container with:

  • 100MB RAM without sandboxing enabled.
  • 200MB RAM with sandboxing enabled.
  • 1 CPU.

Memory and CPU requirements will scale with the number of documents simultaneously in use by your team.

Sandboxing is an important issue in serving Grist. It is achieved using gvisor. Sandboxing depends on the availability of particular capabilities, and may be unavailable in environments that deny or lack these capabilities. Grist sandboxing is known to work in the following environments:

  • Regular unprivileged docker containers with default security settings.
  • AWS EC2 instances.
  • AWS Fargate containers, with SYS_PTRACE set in linuxParameters.capabilities.

Grist sandboxing has been reported to fail to initialize on older Intel processors that do not support the XSAVE feature (supported by Sandy Bridge and later).

What files does Grist store?#

When installed as a container, Grist expects to have access to a persistent volume, or a directory shared with the host, in which it stores everything that needs to last beyond a container restart. Concretely, if you started Grist exactly as described in How do I install Grist, that directory would be ~/grist. Here’s what you would find there:

  • A subdirectory called docs, containing *.grist files. These are Grist documents. Grist documents are SQLite databases, so you can inspect these files with the standard sqlite3 utility. You can also upload them to another installation of Grist (such as our hosted service) and view/edit them there. If you move or rename these files, Grist will no longer recognize them. If cloud storage is configured, there will be extra files alongside each .grist file for tracking its storage state.

  • A file called grist-sessions.db. This contains information to support browser sessions with Grist. It is a SQLite database. If redis is configured, that is used instead of this file.

  • A file called home.sqlite3. This contains information about teams, workspaces, and documents (metadata only, such as names, rather than document contents such as tables and cells). It is a SQLite database. It is called the home database and if PostgreSQL is configured that is used instead of this file.

  • If using Grist Omnibus, there are other files, including:

    • An auth directory, with a SQLite database for tracking login state, and a store of any certificates created.
    • A param directory, with secrets invented for the installation.

What is a “home” database?#

Grist stores metadata about users, documents, workspaces, etc in a database called the “home” database. This does not contain the material inside documents such as tables and columns, but does contain document names and creation times, for example. By default, Grist will create a home database in an Sqlite file within the /persist directory. To use instead a PostgreSQL database, create one (version 11 or earlier) and a user with sufficient access to create tables, and set the following variables:

  • TYPEORM_TYPE - set to postgres
  • TYPEORM_DATABASE - set to name of database, e.g. home
  • TYPEORM_USERNAME - set to postgres username with rights to the database
  • TYPEORM_PASSWORD - set to postgres password with rights to the database
  • TYPEORM_HOST - set to hostname of database, e.g. grist.mumble.rds.amazonaws.com
  • TYPEORM_PORT - set to port number of database if not the default for PostgreSQL

Currently, we support PostgreSQL up to and including version 11 (please contact us if this is a blocker for you and we’ll prioritize generalizing this).

What is a state store?#

Grist can be configured to use Redis as an external state cache. For most Grist functionality, this is optional. It is required for webhook support. To use, just set REDIS_URL to something like redis://hostname/N where N is a redis database number.

docker run
  ...
  -e REDIS_URL="redis://hostname/N"
  ...

How do I set up S3 or Azure backups?#

Grist’s cloud storage feature allows automatic syncing of Grist documents and document versions to an S3 or Azure storage account. This feature is not currently available in Grist Core.

For Azure, you will need a setting like:

docker run
  ...
  -e AZURE_STORAGE_CONNECTION_STRING="DefaultEndpointsProtocol=https;AccountName=..." \
  -e GRIST_AZURE_CONTAINER=my-grist-docs \
  -e GRIST_AZURE_PREFIX=v1/ \
  ...

For S3, you will need something like:

docker run
  ...
  -e GRIST_DOCS_S3_BUCKET=my-grist-docs \
  -e GRIST_DOCS_S3_PREFIX=v1/ \
  ...

For details, see Cloud Storage.

How do I upgrade my installation?#

We currently release new Grist Core and Enterprise images at approximately weekly intervals. Grist handles any migrations that may be needed to the documents or databases it uses. Utilities such as Watchtower can keep your version of Grist up to date for you.

What if I need high availability?#

We have developed expertise in hosting very busy Grist installations, with many users, including how to upgrade with minimal disruption, and how to scale out to handle heavy load. We would be happy to help Enterprise clients with needs of this nature.