Developer Guide

Girder is a platform-centric web application whose client and server are very loosely coupled. As such, development of Girder can be divided into the server (a CherryPy-based Python module) and the primary client (a Backbone-based) web client. This section is intended to get prospective contributors to understand the tools used to develop Girder.

Configuring Your Development Environment

In order to develop Girder, you can refer to the System Prerequisites and Installation sections to setup a local development environment. Once Girder is started via python -m girder, the server will reload itself whenever a Python file is modified.

To get the same auto-building behavior for JavaScript, we use grunt-watch. Thus, running grunt watch in the root of the repository will watch for JavaScript, Stylus, and Jade changes in order to rebuild them on-the-fly. If you do not run grunt watch while making code changes, you will need to run the grunt command to manually rebuild the web client in order to see your changes reflected.


A shortcut to going through the installation steps for development is to use Vagrant to setup the environment on a VirtualBox virtual machine. To setup this environment run vagrant up in the root of the repository. This will spin up and provision a virtual machine, provided you have Vagrant and VirtualBox installed. Once this process is complete, you can run vagrant ssh in order to start Girder. There is a helper script in the Vagrant home directory that will start Girder in a detached screen session. You may want to run a similar process to run grunt watch as detailed above.


Girder has a set of utility modules and classes that provide handy extractions for certain functionality. Detailed API documentation can be found here.

Configuration Loading

The Girder configuration loader allows for lazy-loading of configuration values in a CherryPy-agnostic manner. The recommended idiom for getting the config object is:

from girder.utility import config
cur_config = config.getConfig()

There is a configuration file for Girder located in girder/conf. The file girder.dist.cfg is the file distributed with the repository and containing the default configuration values. This file should not be edited when deploying Girder. Rather, edit the girder.local.cfg file. You only need to edit the values in the file that you wish to change from their default values; the system loads the dist file first, then the local file, so your local settings will override the defaults.

Client Development

If you are writing a custom client application that communicates with the Girder REST API, you should look at the Swagger page that describes all of the available API endpoints. The Swagger page can be accessed by navigating a web browser to api/v1 relative to the server root. If you wish to consume the Swagger-compliant API specification programmatically, the JSON listing is served out of api/v1/describe.

If you are working on the main Girder web client, either in core or extending it via plugins, there are a few conventions that should be followed. Namely, if you write code that instantiates new girder.View descendant objects, you should pass a parentView property when constructing it. This will allow the child view to be cleaned up recursively when the parent view is destroyed. If you forget to set the parentView property when constructing the view, the view will still work as expected, but a warning message will appear in the console to remind you. Example:

MySubView = girder.View.extend({

new MySubView({
    el: ...,
    otherProperty: ...,
    parentView: this

If you use girder.View in custom Backbone apps and need to create a new root view object, set the parentView to null. If you are using a Girder widget in a custom app that does not use the girder.View as the base object for its views, you should pass parentView: null and make sure to call destroy() on the view manually when it should be cleaned up.

Server Side Testing

Running the Tests

First, you will need to configure the project with CMake.

mkdir ../girder-build
cd ../girder-build
cmake ../girder

You only need to do this once. From then on, whenever you want to run the tests, just:

cd girder-build

There are many ways to filter tests when running CTest, or run the tests in parallel. More information about CTest can be found here.

Running the Tests with Coverage Tracing

To run Python coverage on your tests, configure with CMake and run CTest. The coverage data will be automatically generated. After the tests are run, you can find the HTML output from the coverage tool in the source directory under /clients/web/dev/built/py_coverage.

Creating a new release

Girder releases are uploaded to PyPI for easy installation via pip. In addition, the python source package and optional plugin and web client packages are stored as releases inside the official github repository. The recommended process for generating a new release is described here.

  1. From the target commit, set the desired version number in package.json and docs/ Create a new commit and note the SHA; this will become the release tag.

  2. Ensure that all tests pass.

  3. Clone the repository in a new directory and checkout the release SHA. (Packaging in an old directory could cause files and plugins to be mistakenly included.)

  4. Run npm install && grunt package. This will generate three new tarballs in the current directory:


    This is the python source distribution for the core server API.


    This is the web client libraries.


    This contains all of the plugins in the main repository.

  5. Create a new virtual environment and install the python package into it as well as the optional web and plugin components. This should not be done in the repository directory because the wrong Girder package will be imported.

    mkdir test && cd test
    virtualenv release
    source release/bin/activate
    pip install ../girder-<version>.tar.gz
    girder-install web -s ../girder-web-<version>.tar.gz
    girder-install plugin -s ../girder-plugins-<version>.tar.gz
  6. Now start up the Girder server and ensure that you can browse the web client, plugins, and swagger docs.

  7. When you are confident everything is working correctly, generate a new release on GitHub. You must be sure to use a tag version of v<version>, where <version> is the version number as it exists in package.json. For example, v0.2.4. Attach the three tarballs you generated to the release.

  8. Add the tagged version to readthedocs and make sure it builds correctly.

  9. Finally, upload the release to PyPI with the following command:

    python sdist upload