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Before You Start

LON-CAPA is a complex software system. Before you start installing it on a machine, please be aware of the following issues.

LON-CAPA is free?

LON-CAPA is free, both as in "free speech" and in "free beer." Neither for the software nor the cluster membership do you have to pay us or any other third party. But running LON-CAPA is not for free - you will need to buy a server (the least of all costs), and dedicate time, energy, and human resources to the maintenance of the system and the support of your faculty and students. In terms of server maintainance, we expect our cluster members to keep the operating system updated and secure, and install new versions of LON-CAPA as they become available. We do offer on-site installation and remote maintainance support for a fee, as well as hosting services.

Dedicated server

Like most other CMS and LCMS systems, LON-CAPA should be run on a dedicated machine ("real" or virtual) for easier maintenance, higher security, better performance, and to avoid interference and conflicts with other applications. All installation scripts expect a dedicated machine with only a minimal operating system installation.

Can my dedicated server be virtual?

Yes, LON-CAPA works fine on virtual machines, but each virtual machine needs to be dedicated. Virtual machines might be particularly advantageous for access servers, since those are "exchangeable," however, note that you will not get better performance by putting a lot of virtual access servers on the same piece of hardware.

Operating system

The LON-CAPA installation is optimized for certain Linux distributions, for example CentOS and Redhat Enterprise (see our Installation Site for a complete list). We strongly encourage system administrators to use a recent version of one of our supported distributions. People have gotten LON-CAPA to work on other Linux distributions, but you will be in for surprises and glitches, and we will not be able to help you much. We also really recommend using an Enterprise distribution: some Linux distributions are cute and friendly for the desktop, but you will be running a server and cannot deal with too much fluctuation; CentOS works very well in our experience.


We strongly encourage using an Intel architecture, preferably 64-bit. Note that later changes of architecture may result in conversion of data files.

Will the LON-CAPA server software work under MacOS?

Well, yes. One of our users actually managed to re-compile everything for a MacOS PowerPC architecture, and wrote data file conversion scripts. It works, but it's harder to maintain.

Will the LON-CAPA server software work under Windows?

No. Since we are making use of many operating system specific libraries and features, the required effort to port the LON-CAPA software to Windows would be tremendous.

Now I am confused. I cannot use Windows?

It's important to distinguish between the LON-CAPA server software, and the client. You can use LON-CAPA with most any browser on most any platform. But the server software needs to run on a Linux server.

I have this discarded office PC sitting around ...

Who doesn't? Fact is, the LON-CAPA server software will work on almost any old PC that runs Linux, but not in production mode. Please check out our hardware recommendations. Servers that actually hold student performance data (i.e., library servers) must have backup, either over the network or on tape.

Can I use a SAN?

Yes, LON-CAPA works fine with a Storage Area Network.

Static IP Address

LON-CAPA servers must have a static IP address, and reverse-DNS-lookup must work for that address.

I want to frequently move the server around

Not a good idea. You should really get an IP address and hostname for your server, and stay with it. The reason is that you probably want to join a LON-CAPA cluster, and the hostname and IP is what your server is going to be registered under. In order for the other machines in the network to trust yours, you need to keep your address, and your DNS server must own up to it.


LON-CAPA needs certain ports open, namely 80 and 5663. If you want us to assist you remotely, please also keep port 22 open for ssh. Also, IP masking causes severe problems and will require lots of custom configuration.

LON-CAPA says it cannot connect

Well ... see above.

There is nothing there ...

LON-CAPA is designed as a networked system from the ground up. If you install your machine "standalone," you really see hardly any advantages in what it does. To become useful, your machine needs to be connected to a cluster. We are maintaining two clusters, the development and the production cluster, which establishes the shared content repository. If you plan on connecting your machine to the production cluster (install option "production"), you must contact lon-capa@lon-capa.org for an assignment of LON-CAPA domain and machine name first - the MSU group acts as the gatekeeper for the LON-CAPA Academic Consortium. We will need your server data, administrative contact, etc, verify your identity, and then modify the cluster tables. Changes will eventually be propagated across the network, and only then will you be able to see the other machines.

Do you accept anybody into the LON-CAPA cluster?

We have a responsibility to the authors of the resources in the system to preserve the integrity of the pool. The Board of the LON-CAPA Academic Consortium votes on acceptance into the pool. Generally, we do expect your institution to be a solidly established school, college, or university. Also, we will need a verifiable administrative contact, who is faculty or staff of your institution. Your emails from penguindude@yahoo.com will likely not receive an unquestioned welcome - nothing personal.

What are my responsibilities as a node on the LON-CAPA cluster?

You need to

  • keep the machine secure (i.e., update the OS and LON-CAPA regularly)
  • prevent unauthorized access to the machines
  • protect the LON-CAPA resource pool from public access and source-level exploits
  • have the server up and running at least 95% of the time
In other words, we want to see your server professionally maintained.

Is LON-CAPA backward compatible to CAPA or LectureOnline?

LON-CAPA has a question format that is different from both CAPA and LectureOnline, but there are scripts to translate the questions. All MSU material has already been translated, and so have all of the publisher textbook libraries - as part of the network, you would have immediate access to these libraries. If there is material developed at your institution, which needs translation, we can assist, and run the scripts for you.

Can I import from other homework systems?

For simple test banks, corresponding functionality is part of the user interface. Over the years, we have also written and used conversion scripts for content from a number of more sophisticated homework systems. Since LON-CAPA essentially offers a superset of the functionality of other systems, these conversions have been "lossless." However, it is a custom job every times, and might require some manual clean-up afterwards. Talk to us! We will need sample content code from your current system.

Where do I find documentation?

Documentation can be found on the main installation site . You can also join or browse our system administrator mailing list .

But I cannot get it to work ...

The last thing we want you to do is sit around and complain about LON-CAPA, or even give up. Send us an email! We are pretty busy here, but within our capacity, please let us assist you. Please send email to lon-capa@lon-capa.org.

Contact Us: lon-capa@lon-capa.org

Site maintained by Gerd Kortemeyer.
Supported by the National Science Foundation under NSF-ITR 0085921, NSF-CCLI-ASA 0243126, and NSF-CCLI 0717790. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Initial funding for CAPA has been provided by the Alfred. P. Sloan Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

©2013 Michigan State University Board of Trustees.