Interactive bots

Zulip's API has a powerful framework for interactive bots that react the messages in Zulip. This page documents how to run a bot implemented using that framework, both on your laptop for quick testing as well in a production server environment.

On this page you'll find:

  • A step-by-step tutorial on how to run a bot.
  • A guide on running a Zulip botserver.
  • Common problems when developing/running bots and their solutions.

Installing the Zulip bots package

Running a bot

This guide will show you how to run a bot on a running Zulip server. It assumes you want to use one of the existing bots found in zulip_bots/bots in your Zulip organization.

Hint: Looking for an easy way to test a bot's output? Check out this guide.

You need:

  • An account in an organization on a Zulip server (e.g. chat.zulip.org or yourSubdomain.zulipchat.com, or your own development server). Within that Zulip organization, users will be able to interact with your bot.
  • A computer where you're running the bot from.

Note: Please be considerate when testing experimental bots on public servers such as chat.zulip.org.

  1. Run pip install zulip_bots to install the package.

    Hint: Do you want to install the latest development version? Check out this guide.

  2. Register a new bot user on the Zulip server's web interface.

    • Log in to the Zulip server.
    • Navigate to Settings () -> Your bots -> Add a new bot. Select Generic bot for bot type, fill out the form and click on Create bot.
    • A new bot user should appear in the Active bots panel.
  3. Download the bot's .zuliprc configuration file to your computer.

    • In the Active bots panel, click on the little green download icon to download its configuration file .zuliprc (the structure of this file is explained here).
    • Copy the file to a destination of your choice, e.g. to ~/.zuliprc.
  4. Run the bot.

    • Run zulip-run-bot <bot-name> --config-file ~/.zuliprc (using the path to the .zuliprc file from step 3).
    • Check the output of the command. It should start with the text the usage function returns, followed by logging output similar to this:

    INFO:root:starting message handling... INFO:requests.packages.urllib3.connectionpool:Starting new HTTP connection (1): localhost

    • Congrats! Your bot is running.

You can now play around with the bot and get it configured the way you like. Eventually, you'll probably want to run it in a production environment where it'll stay up, by deploying it on a server using the Zulip Botserver.

Zulip Botserver

The Zulip Botserver is for people who want to

  • run bots in production.
  • run multiple bots at once.

The Zulip Botserver is a Python (Flask) server that implements Zulip's Outgoing Webhooks API. You can of course write your own servers using the Outgoing Webhooks API, but the Botserver is designed to make it easy for a novice Python programmer to write a new bot and deploy it in production.

Installing the Zulip Botserver

Install the zulip_botserver PyPI package using pip:

pip install zulip_botserver

Running bots using the Zulip Botserver

  1. Register new bot users on the Zulip server's web interface.

    • Log in to the Zulip server.
    • Navigate to Settings () -> Your bots -> Add a new bot. Select Outgoing webhook for bot type, fill out the form and click on Create bot.
    • A new bot user should appear in the Active bots panel.
  2. Download the flaskbotrc from the your-bots settings page. It contains the configuration details for all the active outgoing webhook bots. It's structure is very similar to that of .zuliprc.

  3. Run the Zulip Botserver by passing the flaskbotrc to it. The command format is:

    zulip-bot-server --config-file <path_to_flaskbotrc> --hostname <address> --port <port>

    If omitted, hostname defaults to 127.0.0.1 and port to 5002.

  4. Now set up the outgoing webhook service which will interact with the server: Create an Outgoing webhook bot with its base url of the form:

    http://<hostname>:<port>/bots/<bot_name>

    bot_name refers to the name in the email address you specified for the bot. It can be obtained by removing -bot@*.* from the bot email: For example, the bot name of a bot with an email followup-bot@zulip.com is followup.

    In the development environment, an outgoing webhook bot and corresponding service already exist, with the email outgoing-webhook@zulip.com. This can be used for interacting with flask server bots.

  5. Congrats, everything is set up! Test your botserver like you would test a normal bot.

Running Zulip Botserver with supervisord

supervisord is a popular tool for running services in production. It helps ensure the service starts on boot, manages log files, restarts the service if it crashes, etc. This section documents how to run the Zulip Botserver using supervisord.

Running the Zulip Botserver with supervisord works almost like running it manually.

  1. Install supervisord via your package manager; e.g. on Debian/Ubuntu: sudo apt-get install supervisor

  2. Configure supervisord. supervisord stores its configuration in /etc/supervisor/conf.d.

    • Do one of the following:
    • Download the sample config file and store it in /etc/supervisor/conf.d/zulip-botserver.conf.
    • Copy the following section into your existing supervisord config file. [program:zulip-bot-server] command=zulip-bot-server --config-file=<path/to/your/flaskbotrc> --hostname <address> --port <port> startsecs=3 stdout_logfile=/var/log/zulip-botserver.log ; all output of your botserver will be logged here redirect_stderr=true
    • Edit the <> sections according to your preferences.
  3. Update supervisord to read the configuration file: supervisorctl reread supervisorctl update (or you can use /etc/init.d/supervisord restart, but this is less disruptive if you're using supervisord for other services as well).

  4. Test if your setup is successful: supervisorctl status The output should include a line similar to this:

    zulip-bot-server RUNNING pid 28154, uptime 0:00:27

The standard output of the bot server will be logged to the path in your supervisord configuration.

Common problems

  • My bot won't start
    • Ensure that your API config file is correct (download the config file from the server).
    • Ensure that you bot script is located in zulip_bots/bots//
    • Are you using your own Zulip development server? Ensure that you run your bot outside the Vagrant environment.
    • Some bots require Python 3. Try switching to a Python 3 environment before running your bot.