Kamal (Deploy to any VPS)#

Pegasus supports container-based deployment to any Linux server using Kamal.

Kamal is a deployment tool that uses Docker to deploy applications to servers. It is designed to be simple to use and to work with a single server or a cluster of servers.

Kamal will deploy the app as Docker containers, and will also deploy the database and any other services that are required. It will also configure a load balancer (Traefik to route traffic to the app as well as configure SSL certificates using LetsEncrypt.

In the setup here we will run all the services on a single server however Kamal is designed to work with multiple servers, so you can easily move services to separate servers and update the Kamal configuration in deploy/config/deploy.yml.

Note: Kamal support was added in a recent version of Pegasus. If you run into any issues, please get in touch!


You can watch a screencast showing how to deploy to a Digital Ocean Droplet with Kamal here:

Or follow along with the documentation below.


Deploying on Kamal will require a few pieces:

  1. A server running Linux (the latest Ubuntu LTS is recommended—version 22.04 as of this writing) and accessible via SSH.

  2. A domain name for your app. You will need to create a DNS record pointing to your server’s IP address.

  3. A Docker registry to store your images. You can use Docker Hub or any other registry.

  4. A development environment where you install and configure Kamal.

We’ll walk through these in more detail in order below.

Provision and prepare your server#

The first step is to provision a server were you will host your application. Some popular choices include:

  1. Digital Ocean Droplets (you can sign up with this link to get $100 credit and help support Pegasus).

  2. Linode.

  3. Hetzner.

  4. AWS (Lightsail or EC2).

  5. Google Cloud.

  6. Microsoft Azure.

It is recommended to choose the latest Ubuntu LTS—version 22.04 as of this writing—for your operating system. Other operating systems might work, but are not officially tested.

We also recommend at least 2GB of RAM.

Once you’ve chosen a hosting company and provisioned a server, follow the instructions provided to login (SSH) to the server. You will need to be able to log in remotely to complete the rest of the setup.

Install Docker#

Although Kamal can install Docker for you, it is recommended that you install Docker yourself so that Kamal does not need to use the root user account—which can expose your server to more attacks.

You can test if Docker is installed by running docker -v on the command line. You should see output like the following if it is installed correctly.

Docker version 24.0.5, build 24.0.5-0ubuntu1~20.04.1

If you need to install it, you can find instructions in Docker’s documentation. You only need to install Docker Engine, not Docker Desktop.

Prepare a user account for Kamal#

Next, create a user for Kamal to use. You can choose any username you like. In this example we will use kamal. We’ll also add this user to the docker group so that Kamal can run docker commands.

First login to your server as a user with root access. Then run the following commands:

sudo adduser kamal --disabled-password
sudo adduser kamal --add_extra_groups docker

Next, add your SSH key to the kamal user’s authorized_keys file so you can login without a password. If you need to generate an SSH key you can follow these steps:

sudo mkdir -p /home/kamal/.ssh
sudo cp ~/.ssh/authorized_keys /home/kamal/.ssh/authorized_keys
sudo chown -R kamal:kamal /home/kamal/.ssh

Next, test the login works. Exit out of your server and on your local machine run:

ssh kamal@<ip-address>

If you’ve set everything up properly the kamal user should be able to login with no password.

Once you’re logged in, as a final test, ensure the kamal user can run docker commands by running:

docker run hello-world

If the command above completes without error you are ready to go!

Prepare Docker for deployment#

Next, complete the following steps to get the Docker configuration ready for deployment. These can be run by the kamal user on your remote server.

Create the Docker Network

Since we are running the app on a single server we need to use Docker networking to allow the containers to communicate with each other. This requires a Docker network to be created on the server:

Run the following on your server, replacing <your_app> with your app ID/slug:

docker network create <your_app>-network

Note: If you are running services on separate servers, you can skip this step and update the Kamal deploy configuration to remove the references to the docker network.

Create the LetsEncrypt storage

This is needed if you want Traefik to automatically generate SSL certificates for you (recommended). If not, you can skip this step and update the Kamal deploy configuration to remove the references to LetsEncrypt (search for letsencrypt and secure).

On your server run the following command as root. You may need to logout kamal and back in to root:

sudo mkdir -p /letsencrypt && sudo touch /letsencrypt/acme.json && sudo chmod 600 /letsencrypt/acme.json

Set up DNS#

To set up SSL you will need a DNS record pointing at your sever. Create a new “A” record using whatever tool you use to manage your DNS, and point it at the IP address of the server you created above.

The most common domain to use is www.<yourdomain>.com.

Create the image repository on Docker Hub#

Before doing deployment, you need a place to store your Docker images, also known as a Docker registry. The most popular one is Docker Hub, so we’ll use that one, though you can choose a different one if you want, as described in the Kamal docs.

First create an account on Docker Hub and note your username.

Then create a new repository, choosing a unique name for your app, and marking it “private”.

Finally you will need to create an access token. Go to “My Account” –> “Security” and make a new access token, giving it the default permissions of Read, Write, Delete. Save this token somewhere as you will need it in the next step and will only see it once.

Install and configure Kamal#

Finally, we can set everything up to deploy our production application with Kamal. If you have a Ruby environment available, you can install Kamal globally with:

gem install kamal

Note: you may want to use rbenv to manage your environment.

If you don’t have Ruby running you can also use Docker to install Kamal, however this is a slightly more complicated. See running Kamal with Docker below for more details.

Create .env file in the deploy directory#

Kamal requires a .env file in this folder which will contain all the environment variables needed for deployment. The .env file is not checked into source control. See deploy/.env.kamal for the required variables.

Note that this file is distinct from the .env file used for development/production variables for your app.

cd deploy
cp .env.kamal .env

Update the Kamal configuration files#

The Kamal configuration is in deploy/config/deploy.yml. You will need to update the following values:

  • Docker image repo: image: <namespace>/<repository-name> - this is the repository you created above. If you’re using Docker Hub, the namespace will typically be your username.

  • Your server IP address (or hostname) <IP-ADDRESS> (this value is listed once per service).

  • Your app domain name: Host(``hostname.example.com``). This is the DNS endpoint you set up above.

  • Docker registry username: username: <DOCKER REGISTRY USERNAME> - the username you chose above.

Additionally, in your deploy/.env file you should add the following variables:

  • Set KAMAL_REGISTRY_PASSWORD to the access token value you created above.

  • Choose secure, unique, and ideally random values for POSTGRES_PASSWORD and SECRET_KEY.

  • Update the DATABASE_URL value (use the same password as POSTGRES_PASSWORD).

You can review other settings in deploy.yml, but those should be all that you need to set yourself to do your first deployment.


Finally, we can use Kamal to do the rest of the setup. Run the following on your local machine. The kamal setup command must be run from the deploy directory:

cd deploy/
kamal setup

This will perform all the tasks necessary to deploy your application (duplicated below from the Kamal docs):

  • Connect to the servers over SSH

  • Log into the registry both locally and remotely

  • Build the image using Dockerfile.web in the root of the application.

  • Push the image to the registry.

  • Pull the image from the registry onto the servers.

  • Push the .env file onto the servers.

  • Ensure Traefik is running and accepting traffic on port 80.

  • Ensure your app responds with 200 OK to GET /up (you must have curl installed inside your app image!).

  • Start a new container with the version of the app that matches the current git version hash.

  • Stop the old container running the previous version of the app.

  • Prune unused images and stopped containers to ensure servers don’t fill up.

If everything is set up properly then in five or so minutes you should be able to visit your new application at the configured domain. You’re done!

Post-deployment steps#

Once you’ve gotten everything set up, head on over to the production checklist and run through everything there. In particular, you will have to set up media files using an external service like S3.

Manage changes after initial deployment#

See the deploy/README.md file in your project repo for pointers on managing the production environment after the initial deployment.

The key commands you will likely regularly run are kamal env push to update the project environment variables, and kamal deploy to push new releases of your application.

Settings and Secrets#

Kamal builds use the settings_production.py file. You can add settings here, and use environment variables to manage any secrets, following the pattern used throughout the file. If you modify settings_production.py (or any other code) you will need to run:

kamal deploy

To push the changes to your servers.

Secrets should be managed in environment variables. To add new environment variables you will need to update them in two places:

  1. The variable name needs to be added to the env section at the top of deploy/config/deploy.yml.

  2. The variable name and value needs to be added to deploy/.env (the same .env file we’ve been using above).

You can see examples of this for variables like DATABASE_URL in those two files.

Once you modify your environment variable files you will need to run:

kamal env push

To update the variables on the server.

Running one-off commands#

The easiest way to run one-off commands on your server is to use the kamal app exec command. For example:

kamal app exec 'python manage.py bootstrap_subscriptions'

If you want an interactive SSH-style shell you can run:

kamal app exec -i bash

You should now have a shell where you can run any Python/manage.py command.

You can also get a database shell by running:

kamal app exec 'python manage.py dbshell'


kamal accessory exec postgres -i 'psql -h localhost -p 5432 -U <youruser>' --reuse

For more information see Kamal commands.


There are a few configuration options you might want to update from the defaults.

Speeding up builds.

For convenience, Pegasus ships with the “multiarchitecture” flag enabled. This allows you to build on one architecture (e.g. the ARM64 used on Macs) and deploy to another (e.g. the x86 architecture used on most Linux servers).

However, this can result in very long build/deploy times. To speed this up you can update your build configuration and either remove multiarch: true if you are building for the same architecture you are deploying to, or setting up a remote builder.

The Kamal docs have extensive guidance on optimizing your build setup.

Running Kamal with Docker#

Here are the steps to run Kamal with Docker instead of native Ruby. Note that these steps are slightly different from the Kamal installation instructions.

First, use one of the following commands to set up an alias for a Kamal shell:

On MacOS:

alias kamal-shell='docker run -it --rm -v "${PWD}:/workdir" -v "/run/host-services/ssh-auth.sock:/run/host-services/ssh-auth.sock" -e SSH_AUTH_SOCK="/run/host-services/ssh-auth.sock" --entrypoint "/bin/sh" -v /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock ghcr.io/basecamp/kamal:latest'

On Linux:

alias kamal-shell='docker run -it --rm -v "${PWD}:/workdir" -v "${SSH_AUTH_SOCK}:/ssh-agent" -v /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock -e "SSH_AUTH_SOCK=/ssh-agent" --entrypoint "/bin/sh" ghcr.io/basecamp/kamal:latest'

After setting up this alias, enter the Kamal container by running the alias in your project’s root directory:


After doing that you should have a shell that looks like this:

/workdir #

From there change to the deploy directory:

/workdir # cd deploy
/workdir/deploy # 

Now you can run kamal commands as normal:

/workdir/deploy # kamal app details
  INFO [e959d464] Running docker ps --filter label=service=yourapp --filter label=role=celery on
  INFO [e959d464] Finished in 3.483 seconds with exit status 0 (successful).
App Host:
CONTAINER ID   IMAGE                                                                                  COMMAND                  CREATED      STATUS      PORTS     NAMES
a4132d07e3d8   you/yourapp:8f0f9cbe651d0b6ccb939b06a46badb3c521b038_uncommitted_634818cb72f626e6   "celery -A yourapp…"   6 days ago   Up 6 days             yourapp-celery-8f0f9cbe651d0b6ccb939b06a46badb3c521b038_uncommitted_634818cb72f626e6

  INFO [258c111d] Running docker ps --filter label=service=yourapp --filter label=role=web on
  INFO [258c111d] Finished in 0.920 seconds with exit status 0 (successful).
App Host:
CONTAINER ID   IMAGE                                                                                  COMMAND               CREATED      STATUS                PORTS      NAMES
fe8a5e4e81e1   you/yourapp:8f0f9cbe651d0b6ccb939b06a46badb3c521b038_uncommitted_634818cb72f626e6   "/bin/sh -c /start"   6 days ago   Up 6 days (healthy)   8000/tcp   yourapp-web-8f0f9cbe651d0b6ccb939b06a46badb3c521b038_uncommitted_634818cb72f626e6


Something went wrong during setup#

If the kamal setup command fails it should print out the error it got. Once you’ve resolved it, you may need to set up the services individually instead of re-running it. You can do that with the commands below:

# rebuild the PostgreSQL container
kamal accessory reboot postgres

# rebuild the Redis container
kamal accessory reboot redis

# rebuild the Traefik container
kamal traefik reboot

# build the Traefik container (if it didn't succeed the first time)
kamal traefik boot

\# push the .env file to the servers
kamal env push

# deploy the app
kamal deploy

If deploy continues to fail, check the logs of your docker container, using:

kamal app logs

Resolving ERROR exec /bin/sh: exec format error#

If you see this error on your server/logs it is likely that the architecture used to build your image is not the same as the one running on your server.

Review the builder section of your deploy.yml file and in particular make sure multiarch is set to true. You can also explicitly build the image on the remote server, or set the target architecture using other builder options as described in the kamal docs.

Resolving ERROR /bin/sh: 1: /start: not found#

If you see this error on your server/logs it is likely that your /start script has the wrong line endings. This can happen if you edit the ./deploy/docker_startup.sh file in certain programs on the Windows operating system.

To fix this, change the line endings of the file from CRLF to LF using your preferred text editor (you can Google or ask ChatGPT how to do this for your specific environment).

Health checks are failing because of ALLOWED_HOSTS#

Kamal runs a “health check” during deploys to ensure your new application is ready to handle requests. This involves pinging your workers at http://localhost:8000 and waiting for them to respond with a “200 OK” status code.

Since these requests are made via localhost, you must have localhost in your ALLOWED_HOSTS, in addition to your production endpoints, or Django will reject the requests. So your setting should look something like:

  "example.com",  # use your app's domain here

It is recommended to read the security documentation for this feature to understand the implications of it being included.