The optional instructions below are suggestions for the system administrators of a live Submitty installation.

Schedule backups of production server data

Specifically, the configuration, submission, and results data for all courses:


And the central location of the student VCS (e.g. git version control) repositories (if used):


You may want to back up more of /var/local/submitty to save configurations and logs, but be sure to exclude /var/local/submitty/to_be_graded_batch and to_be_graded_interactive.

Capture cron error messages

The submitty_daemon user runs the sbin/ script. Console output from this script can be emailed to a sysadmin to help ensure that errors can be reported and addressed.

The first line should be set as MAILTO= with a valid email address. For example:
* * * * * python3 /usr/local/submitty/sbin/

Configure log rotation

The defaults will work, but you may want to keep records around for longer and enable compression so that the logs don’t take up as much space. Edit /etc/logrotate.conf and change the log rotation, retention, and compression settings to suit your situation. The comments in the file will tell you what each setting is for, or see logrotate(8) for more details.

Set password policy

It is a good idea to enforce strong passwords and password aging Edit /etc/login.defs to set default password and account expiration and set the umask to block world readable/writable files by default (search for the keywords and update the values after them)



Apply settings by running:


Accept the defaults from the above command.

Edit /etc/pam.d/common-password to tweak settings under the line:

# here are the per-package modules (the "Primary" block)

along the lines of:

password  requisite min=disabled,disabled,15,12,12 similar=deny enforce=everyone retry=3

Note: The values after min= correspond to password length minimum if they contain: a single character class, 2 classes, a passphrase, 3 classes, 4 classes.

Note: If you would like to allow local machine passwords for pam authentication, make sure the submitty_cgi user is in the shadow group.

Configure NTP to Synchronize your Clock

Install and configure the ntp daemon. Customize your configuration to point at local NTP servers, e.g., available at your university. Use ntpq -p to check when the NTP servers were last checked.

Block some brute-force ssh connections by typing the following at a command prompt:

sudo bash
iptables -I INPUT -p tcp --dport 22 -m state --state NEW -m recent --set
iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 22 -m state --state NEW -m recent --update --seconds 60 --hitcount 8 -j DROP
iptables-save > /root/eth0.fw

Edit /etc/rc.local to automatically reload the software firewall on boot and add the following just before the exit 0

/sbin/iptables-restore < /root/eth0.fw

Note: This method may not be appropriate or may need to be tuned if you normally expect a lot of ssh connections from a given host. You may also opt to whitelist addresses or networks that are allowed to connect more frequently.

Disable PHP Functions

To improve the security of the system, it might be useful to disable various unused PHP functions. This can be done by modifying the disabled_functions directive. Provided below is the setting used within our Vagrant and live setup:

disable_functions = popen,pclose,proc_open,php_real_logo_guid,php_egg_logo_guid,php_ini_scanned_files,php_ini_loaded_file,readlink,symlink,link,set_file_buffer,proc_close,proc_terminate,proc_get_status,proc_nice,getmyuid,getmygid,getmyinode,putenv,get_current_user,magic_quotes_runtime,set_magic_quotes_runtime,import_request_variables,ini_alter,stream_socket_client,stream_socket_server,stream_socket_accept,stream_socket_pair,stream_get_transports,stream_wrapper_restore,mb_send_mail,openlog,syslog,closelog,pfsockopen,posix_kill,apache_child_terminate,apache_get_modules,apache_get_version,apache_lookup_uri,apache_reset_timeout,apache_response_headers,virtual,system,phpinfo,exec,shell_exec,passthru,pcntl_alarm,pcntl_fork,pcntl_waitpid,pcntl_wait,pcntl_wifexited,pcntl_wifstopped,pcntl_wifsignaled,pcntl_wexitstatus,pcntl_wtermsig,pcntl_wstopsig,pcntl_signal,pcntl_signal_dispatch,pcntl_get_last_error,pcntl_strerror,pcntl_sigprocmask,pcntl_sigwaitinfo,pcntl_sigtimedwait,pcntl_exec,pcntl_getpriority,pcntl_setpriority,disk_free_space,disk_total_space,diskfreespace,getlastmo,getmypid,extract,parse_str,mail,fsockopen,posix_setpgid,posix_setsid,posix_setuid,exif_read_data,read_exif_data,exif_thumbnail,exif_imagetype,tempnam,

However, this should be only applied to the php.ini running the web server and not applied to the cgi/php.ini which does require some of these functions to function properly.

Increasing the max number of files that can be uploaded at once

By default, PHP only allows 20 files to be uploaded at a time. This limit is probably sufficient, but to change this limit, edit:


and modify the variable:

; Maximum number of files that can be uploaded via a single request
max_file_uploads = 20

Then restart PHP

systemctl reload php8.1-fpm

Allowing Large Student File Upload Submissions

By default, Apache / Ubuntu limits the size of file upload by POST to 2MB. A from-scratch Submitty installation will be configured with a 10mb limit (prior to v21.10.00) or a 200mb limit (v21.10.00 or later). To check the current limit configured on your system, or modify the value, view/edit this file:


Note: Depending on your version of Ubuntu, your version of php fpm will be different.

Change these variables as appropriate:


We have found that a value of 200M for both variables has been appropriate, specifically for bulk uploading of scanned paper exams for online grading.

And restart apache:

sudo systemctl restart apache2.service
sudo systemctl restart php8.1-fpm.service


sudo service apache2 restart
sudo service php8.1-fpm restart

Note: Depending on your version of Ubuntu, your version of php fpm will be different.

By default, a Submitty electronic gradeable allows students to upload files totaling 100KB. Instructors can adjust this limit per gradeable in the config.json, for example:

// 1 mb maximum submission size
"max_submission_size" : 1000000

If you are having difficulty with student upload size, you can modify the following in /etc/php/8.1/fpm/php.ini:


Just be aware that modifying this number can have repercussions when multiple students are using the system at once.

Tune the performance of the website to handle a large number of users

Reading the PHP memory limit from /etc/php/8.1/fpm/php.ini

memory_limit = <MEMORY LIMIT>

If the server you are running on only runs the Submitty web server, you should consider using the static process manager for PHP-FPM.

Updating configuration

After editing any values in the PHP-FPM sections below, be sure to restart apache and php-fpm:

sudo systemctl restart apache2.service
sudo systemctl restart php8.1-fpm.service

PHP-FPM settings using the static process manager

Adjust the following settings in /etc/php/8.1/fpm/pool.d/submitty.conf.

We have found that the following settings work well for a production server with approximately 2000 students. The commented out line is the default value. Please read the documentation to determine values that are appropriate for your own system.

;pm = dynamic
pm = static

;pm.max_children = 20
pm.max_children = 225

The PHP-FPM Process Calculator can be used to calculate a pm.max_children value for your server (the other values can be ignored for the static process manager).

PHP-FPM settings using the dynamic process manager

Adjust the following settings in /etc/php/8.1/fpm/pool.d/submitty.conf.

The commented out line is the default value. Please read the documentation to determine values that are appropriate for your own system.

; pm = dynamic
pm = dynamic

; pm.start_servers = 4
pm.start_servers = 20

; pm.min_spare_servers = 2
pm.min_spare_servers = 10

; pm.max_spare_servers = 6
pm.max_spare_servers = 30

; pm.max_children = 20
pm.max_children = 100

The PHP-FPM Process Calculator can be used to calculate values for your server.

Show system message to all users

Submitty allows showing a message to all users on all pages. This is useful for advertising events that affect all users, such as system maintenance windows where it would be unavailable. This message is shown in a yellow bar displayed underneath the header.

To add or remove this message, edit /usr/local/submitty/config/submitty.json and add/remove the key/value for system_message. If the key exists, but is empty, no message will be shown.

You may add additional links to be shown in the footer. i.e. you may link to pages related to your institution or public policy notices. Additional links will appear to the right of the copyright notice and credit links to Github and RCOS.

  1. Create an empty file footer_links.json and place it in Submitty’s system configuration folder.
    • The configuration folder is typically /usr/local/submitty/config.
  2. The footer_links.json file must be readable by the submitty_php user.
    • e.g. Set ownership of the file to root:submitty_php and permissions to 640 (RW-R-----).
  3. Every link requires a title property and a url property.
    • An icon property is optional. Check here for a list of icons.
  4. Here is an example footer_links.json. Make sure your JSON file is properly formatted with square brackets, curly braces, commas, etc.
         "title": "Dept of Computer Science",
         "url": ""
         "icon": "universal-access",
         "title": "Accessibility Policy",
         "url": ""
  5. If any links do not display, they probably have failed validation. Validation can be particular, so please carefully proofread footer_links.json with instructions 1—4.

Customizing the login screen

You can customize the login screen with markdown. By default, # Login is rendered which you can replace or add onto.

  1. Create an empty file and place it in Submitty’s system configuration folder.
    • The configuration folder is typically /usr/local/submitty/config.
  2. The file must be readable by the submitty_php user.
    • e.g. Set ownership of the file to root:submitty_php and permissions to 640 (RW-R-----).
  3. Place whatever content you would like to display on the login screen in this file. You may wish to start the file with # Login if you want to keep the current login header.

Refer to this to learn more about markdown.

Changing the multi-processing module of Apache2, Enabling HTTP2

Please refer to this sysadmin action page.

Preferred Name Change Logging

In the interests of diversity, Submitty provides for users to set a preferred name should it be different from their legal name. This feature can be abused, so changes to a user’s preferred name is recorded into Postgresql’s log for review. To make it easier to locate these logged messages, a sysadmin tools script,, is provided to fetch the preferred name change logs from Postgresql and compile them into a human readable report.

IMPORTANT: needs to operate on a host that can directly access Postgresql’s log. Typically, this means the script must be setup on the same server as Postgresql.

  1. Make sure your host has Perl 5.30.0 or later.
    • Ubuntu 20.04 includes Perl 5.30.0.
  2. Retrieve from Github (right click link and choose “Save Link As…”)
  3. Edit code file to setup its configuration.
    • Locate the two lines shown below. They are near the top of the file. These lines dictate where to look for Postgresql’s log and where to write the script’s compiled log.
    • $PSQL_LOG dictates where Postgresql’s log is located. $PNC_LOG dictates where this script will record and append its report.
    • The default for $PSQL_LOG is set for Postgresql 12 running in Ubuntu 20.04. The default for $PNC_LOG will write the script’s report to the same directory as the script file.
    • Change these values to match your host’s setup.
        my $PSQL_LOG = "/var/log/postgresql/postgresql-12-main.log";
        my $PNC_LOG  = "preferred_name_change_report.log";
  4. Setup a cron schedule to run the script.
    • Postgresql’s log is typically owned by root, so it is mandatory to run the script as root.
    • Be sure to set execute permission on the script.
    • The script will parse Postgresql’s log by the current day’s datestamp, so it is intended that the script is run once per day.
    • Alternatively, if you wish to schedule the crontab for overnight after 12AM, you can set the -y or --yesterday argument so the script will intentionally parse Postgresql’s log by the previous day’s datestamp. e.g. /path/to/ -y