The Flask Mega-Tutorial, Part XVII: Deployment on Linux

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This is the seventeenth installment of the Flask Mega-Tutorial series, in which I'm going to deploy Microblog to a Linux server.

You are reading the 2024 edition of the Flask Mega-Tutorial. The complete course is also available to order in e-book and paperback formats from Amazon. Thank you for your support!

If you are looking for the 2018 edition of this course, you can find it here.

For your reference, here is the complete list of articles in this series:

In this chapter I'm reaching a milestone in the life of my Microblog application, as I'm going to discuss ways in which the application can be deployed on a production server so that it is accessible to real users.

The topic of deployment is extensive, and for that reason it is impossible to cover all the possible options here. This chapter is dedicated to explore traditional hosting options, and as subjects I'm going to use a dedicated Linux server running Ubuntu, and also the widely popular Raspberry Pi mini-computer. I will cover other options such as cloud and container deployments in later chapters.

The GitHub links for this chapter are: Browse, Zip, Diff.

Traditional Hosting

When I refer to "traditional hosting", what I mean is that the application is installed manually or through a scripted installer on a stock server machine. The process involves installing the application, its dependencies and a production scale web server and configure the system so that it is secure.

The first question you need to ask when you are about to deploy your own project is where to find a server. These days there are many economic hosting services. For example, for $5 per month, Digital Ocean, Linode, or Amazon Lightsail will rent you a virtualized Linux server in which to run your deployment experiments (Linode and Digital Ocean provision their entry level servers with 1GB of RAM, while Amazon provides only 512MB). If you prefer to practice deployments without spending any money, then Vagrant and VirtualBox are two tools that combined allow you to create a virtual server similar to the paid ones on your own computer.

As far as operating system choices, from a technical point of view, this application can be deployed on any of the major operating systems, a list which includes a large variety of open-source Linux and BSD distributions, and the commercial macOS and Microsoft Windows (macOS is a hybrid open-source/commercial option as it is based on Darwin, an open-source BSD derivative).

Since macOS and Windows are desktop operating systems that are not optimized to work as servers, I'm going to discard those as candidates. The choice between a Linux or a BSD operating system is largely based on preference, so I'm going to pick the most popular of the two, which is Linux. As far as Linux distributions, once again I'm going to choose by popularity and go with Ubuntu.

Creating an Ubuntu Server

If you are interested in doing this deployment along with me, you obviously need a server to work on. I'm going to recommend two options for you to acquire a server, one paid and one free. If you are willing to spend a bit of money, you can get an account at Digital Ocean, Linode or Amazon Lightsail and create an Ubuntu virtual server with the current long-term support (LTS) release, which is 22.04 at the time I'm writing this. You should use the smallest server option, the one that costs around $5 per month. The cost is prorated to the number of hours that you have the server up, so if you create the server, play with it for a few hours and then delete it, you would be paying just cents.

The free alternative is based on a virtual machine that you can run on your own computer. To use this option, install Vagrant and VirtualBox on your machine, and then create a file named Vagrantfile to describe the specs of your VM with the following contents:

Vagrantfile: Vagrant configuration.

Vagrant.configure("2") do |config| = "ubuntu/jammy64" "private_network", ip: ""
  config.vm.provider "virtualbox" do |vb|
    vb.memory = "2048"

This file configures a Ubuntu 22.04 server with 2GB of RAM, which you will be able to access from the host computer at IP address To create the server, run the following command:

$ vagrant up

Consult the Vagrant command-line documentation to learn about other options to manage your virtual server.

Using an SSH Client

Your server is headless, so you are not going to have a desktop on it like you have on your own computer. You are going to connect to your server through a SSH client and work on it through the command-line. If you are using Linux or Mac OS X, you likely have OpenSSH already installed. If you are using Microsoft Windows, Cygwin, Git, and the Windows Subsystem for Linux provide OpenSSH, so you can install any of these options.

When using a virtual server from a third-party provider, you were given an IP address for it. You can open a terminal session with your brand-new server with the following command:

$ ssh root@<server-ip-address>

You will be prompted to enter a password. Depending on the service, the password may have been automatically generated and shown to you after you created the server, or you may have given the option to choose your own password.

If you are using a Vagrant VM, you can open a terminal session using the command:

$ vagrant ssh

If you are using Windows and have a Vagrant VM, note that you will need to run the above command from a shell that can invoke the ssh command from OpenSSH.

Password-less Logins

If you are using a Vagrant VM, you can skip this section, since your VM is properly configured to use a non-root account named vagrant or ubuntu, without password automatically by Vagrant.

When using a virtual server, it is recommended that you create a regular user account to do your deployment work, and configure this account to log you in without using a password, which at first may seem like a bad idea, but you'll see that it is not only more convenient but also more secure.

I'm going to create a user account named ubuntu (you can use a different name if you prefer). To create this user account, log in to your server's root account using the ssh instructions from the previous section, and then type the following commands to create the user, give it sudo powers, and finally switch to it:

$ adduser --gecos "" ubuntu
$ usermod -aG sudo ubuntu
$ su ubuntu

Now I'm going to configure this new ubuntu account to use public key authentication so that you can log in without having to type a password.

Leave the terminal session you have open on your server for a moment, and start a second terminal on your local machine. If you are using Windows, this needs to be the terminal from where you have access to the ssh command, so it will probably be a bash or similar prompt and not a native Windows terminal. In that terminal session, check the contents of the ~/.ssh directory:

$ ls ~/.ssh

If the directory listing shows files named id_rsa and like above, then you already have a key. If you don't have these two files, or if you don't have the ~/.ssh directory at all, then you need to create your SSH keypair by running the following command, also part of the OpenSSH toolset:

$ ssh-keygen

This application will prompt you to enter a few things, for which I recommend you accept the defaults by pressing Enter on all the prompts. If you know what you are doing and want to do otherwise, you certainly can.

After this command runs, you should have the two files listed above. The file is your public key, which is a file that you will provide to third parties as a way to identify you. The id_rsa file is your private key, which should not be shared with anyone.

You now need to configure your public key as an authorized host in your server. On the terminal that you opened on your own computer, print your public key to the screen:

$ cat ~/.ssh/
ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAADAQABAAABAQCjw....F8Xv4f/0+7WT miguel@miguelspc

This is going to be a very long sequence of characters, possibly spanning multiple lines. You need to copy this data to the clipboard, and then switch back to the terminal on your remote server, where you will issue these commands to store the public key:

$ echo <paste-your-key-here> >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys
$ chmod 600 ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

The password-less login should now be working. The idea is that ssh on your machine will identify itself to the server by performing a cryptographic operation that requires the private key. The server then verifies that the operation is valid using your public key.

You can now log out of your ubuntu session, and then from your root session, and then try to log in directly to the ubuntu account with:

$ ssh ubuntu@<server-ip-address>

This time you should not have to enter a password!

Securing Your Server

To minimize the risk of your server being compromised, there are a few steps that you can take, directed at closing a number of potential doors through which an attacker may gain access.

The first change I'm going to make is to disable root logins via SSH. You now have password-less access into the ubuntu account, and you can run administrator commands from this account via sudo, so there is really no need to expose the root account. To disable root logins, you need to edit the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file on your server. You probably have the vi and nano text editors installed in your server that you can use to edit files (if you are not familiar with either one, try nano first). You will need to prefix your editor with sudo, because the SSH configuration is not accessible to regular users (i.e. sudo vi /etc/ssh/sshd_config). You need to change a single line in this file:

/etc/ssh/sshd_config: Disable root logins.

PermitRootLogin no

Note that to make this change you need to locate the line that starts with PermitRootLogin and change the value, whatever that might be in your server, to no.

The next change is in the same file. Now I'm going to disable password logins for all accounts. You have a password-less login set up, so there is no need to allow passwords at all. If you feel nervous about disabling passwords altogether you can skip this change, but for a production server it is a good idea, since attackers are constantly trying random account names and passwords on all servers hoping to get lucky. To disable password logins, change the following line in /etc/ssh/sshd_config:

/etc/ssh/sshd_config: Disable password logins.

PasswordAuthentication no

After you are done editing the SSH configuration, the service needs to be restarted for the changes to take effect:

$ sudo service ssh restart

The third change I'm going to make is to install a firewall. This is a software that blocks accesses to the server on any ports that are not explicitly enabled:

$ sudo apt-get install -y ufw
$ sudo ufw allow ssh
$ sudo ufw allow http
$ sudo ufw allow 443/tcp
$ sudo ufw --force enable
$ sudo ufw status

These commands install ufw, the Uncomplicated Firewall, and configure it to only allow external traffic on port 22 (ssh), 80 (http) and 443 (https). Any other ports will not be allowed.

Installing Base Dependencies

If you followed my advice and provisioned your server with the Ubuntu 20.04 release, then you have a system that comes with full support for Python 3.8, so this is the release that I'm going to use for the deployment.

The base Python interpreter is probably pre-installed on your server, but there are some extra packages that are likely not, and there are also a few other packages outside of Python that are going to be useful in creating a robust, production-ready deployment. For a database server, I'm going to switch from SQLite to MySQL. The postfix package is a mail transfer agent that I will use to send out emails. The supervisor tool will monitor the Flask server process and automatically restart it if it ever crashes, or also if the server is rebooted. The nginx server is going to accept all requests that come from the outside world, and forward them to the application. Finally, I'm going to use git as my tool of choice to download the application directly from its git repository.

$ sudo apt-get -y update
$ sudo apt-get -y install python3 python3-venv python3-dev
$ sudo apt-get -y install mysql-server postfix supervisor nginx git

These installations run mostly unattended. Depending on the Ubuntu version you are installing, you may get a prompt asking for services to restart, which you can accept with the default selections. While you run the third install statement you will be asked a couple of questions regarding the installation of the postfix package which you can also accept with their default answers.

Note that for this deployment I'm choosing not to install Elasticsearch. This service requires a large amount of RAM, so it is only viable if you have a large server with more than 2GB of RAM. To avoid problems with the server running out of memory I will leave the search functionality out. If you have a big enough server, you can download the official .deb package from the Elasticsearch site and follow their installation instructions to add it to your server.

I should also note that the default installation of postfix is likely insufficient for sending email in a production environment. To avoid spam and malicious emails, many servers require the sender server to identify itself through security extensions, which means at the very least you have to have a domain name associated with your server. If you want to learn how to fully configure an email server so that it passes standard security tests, see the following Digital Ocean guides:

Installing the Application

Now I'm going to use git to download the Microblog source code from my GitHub repository. I recommend that you read git for beginners if you are not familiar with git source control.

To download the application to the server, make sure you are in the ubuntu user's home directory and then run:

$ git clone
$ cd microblog
$ git checkout v0.17

This installs the code on your server, and syncs it to this chapter. If you are keeping your version of this tutorial's code on your own git repository, you can change the repository URL to yours, and in that case you can skip the git checkout command.

Now I need to create a virtual environment and populate it with all the package dependencies, which I conveniently saved to the requirements.txt file in Chapter 15:

$ python3 -m venv venv
$ source venv/bin/activate
(venv) $ pip install -r requirements.txt

In addition to the common requirements in requirements.txt, I'm going to use three packages that are specific to this production deployment, so they are not included in the common requirements file. The gunicorn package is a production web server for Python applications. The pymysql package contains the MySQL driver that enables SQLAlchemy to work with MySQL databases. The cryptography package is used by pymsql to authenticate against the MySQL database server.

(venv) $ pip install gunicorn pymysql cryptography

I need to create a .env file, with all the needed environment variables:

/home/ubuntu/microblog/.env: Environment configuration.


This .env file is mostly similar to the example I shown in Chapter 15, but I have used a random string for SECRET_KEY. You should generate your own secret key here. You can use the following command:

python3 -c "import uuid; print(uuid.uuid4().hex)"

For the DATABASE_URL variable I defined a MySQL URL. I will show you how to configure the database in the next section.

I need to set the FLASK_APP environment variable to the entry point of the application to enable the flask command to work. If you do not have a .flaskenv file in your project's repository, then it is time to add one. You can confirm that the FLASK_APP variable is configured by running flask --help. If the help message shows the translate command added by the application, then you know the application was found.

And now that the flask command is functional, I can compile the language translations:

(venv) $ flask translate compile

Setting Up MySQL

The SQLite database that I've used during development is great for simple applications, but when deploying a full-blown web server that can potentially need to handle multiple requests at a time, it is better to use a more robust database. For that reason I'm going to set up a MySQL database that I will call microblog.

To manage the database server I'm going to use the mysql command, which should be already installed on your server:

$ sudo mysql -u root
Welcome to the MySQL monitor.  Commands end with ; or \g.
Your MySQL connection id is 8
Server version: 8.0.25-0ubuntu0.20.04.1 (Ubuntu)

Copyright (c) 2000, 2021, Oracle and/or its affiliates.

Oracle is a registered trademark of Oracle Corporation and/or its
affiliates. Other names may be trademarks of their respective

Type 'help;' or '\h' for help. Type '\c' to clear the current input statement.


Note that you will need to use sudo to access the MySQL root user from the administrator account.

These are the commands that create a new database called microblog, and a user with the same name that has full access to it:

mysql> create database microblog character set utf8 collate utf8_bin;
mysql> create user 'microblog'@'localhost' identified by '<db-password>';
mysql> grant all privileges on microblog.* to 'microblog'@'localhost';
mysql> flush privileges;
mysql> quit;

You will need to replace <db-password> with a password of your choice. The password that you select here needs to match the password that you included in the DATABASE_URL variable in the .env file.

If your database configuration is correct, you should now be able to run the database migrations that create all the tables:

(venv) $ flask db upgrade

Make sure the above command completes without producing any errors before you continue.

Setting Up Gunicorn and Supervisor

When you run the server with flask run, you are using a web server that comes with Flask. This server is very useful during development, but it isn't a good choice to use for a production server because it wasn't built with performance and robustness in mind. Instead of the Flask development server, for this deployment I decided to use Gunicorn, which is also a pure Python web server, but unlike Flask's, it is a robust production server that is used by a lot of people, while at the same time being very easy to configure.

To start Microblog under Gunicorn you can use the following command:

(venv) $ gunicorn -b localhost:8000 -w 4 microblog:app

The -b option tells Gunicorn where to listen for requests, which I set to the internal network interface at port 8000. It is usually a good idea to run Python web applications without external access, and then have a very fast web server that is optimized to serve static files accepting all requests from clients. This fast web server will serve static files directly, and forward any requests intended for the application to the internal server. I will show you how to set up nginx as the public facing server in the next section.

The -w option configures how many workers Gunicorn will run. Having four workers allows the application to handle up to four clients concurrently, which for a web application is usually enough to handle a decent amount of clients, since not all of them are constantly requesting content. Depending on the amount of RAM your server has, you may need to adjust the number of workers so that you don't run out of memory.

The microblog:app argument tells Gunicorn how to load the application instance. The name before the colon is the module that contains the application, which for this application is The name after the colon is the name of the application instance.

While Gunicorn is very simple to set up, running the server from the command-line is actually not a good solution for a production server. What I want to do is have the server running in the background, and have it under constant monitoring, because if for any reason the server crashes and exits, I want to make sure a new server is automatically started to take its place. And I also want to make sure that if the machine is rebooted, the server runs automatically upon startup, without me having to log in and start things up myself. I'm going to use the supervisor package that I installed above to do this.

The supervisor utility uses configuration files that tell it what programs to monitor and how to restart them when necessary. Configuration files must be stored in /etc/supervisor/conf.d. Here is a configuration file for Microblog, which I'm going to call microblog.conf:

/etc/supervisor/conf.d/microblog.conf: Supervisor configuration.

command=/home/ubuntu/microblog/venv/bin/gunicorn -b localhost:8000 -w 4 microblog:app

The command, directory and user settings tell supervisor how to run the application. The autostart and autorestart set up automatic restarts due to the computer starting up, or crashes. The stopasgroup and killasgroup options ensure that when supervisor needs to stop the application to restart it, it also reaches the child processes of the top-level Gunicorn process.

After you write this configuration file, you have to reload the supervisor service for it to be imported:

$ sudo supervisorctl reload

And just like that, the Gunicorn web server should be up and running and monitored!

Setting Up Nginx

The microblog application server powered by Gunicorn is now running privately on port 8000. What I need to do now to expose the application to the outside world is to enable my public facing web server on ports 80 and 443, the two ports that I opened on the firewall to handle the web traffic of the application.

I want this to be a secure deployment, so I'm going to configure port 80 to forward all traffic to port 443, which is going to be encrypted. So I'm going to start by creating an SSL certificate. For now, I'm going to create a self-signed SSL certificate, which is okay for testing everything but not good for a real deployment because web browsers will warn users that the certificate was not issued by a trusted certificate authority. The command to create the SSL certificate for microblog is:

$ mkdir certs
$ openssl req -new -newkey rsa:4096 -days 365 -nodes -x509 \
  -keyout certs/key.pem -out certs/cert.pem

The command is going to ask you for some information about your application and yourself. This is information that will be included in the SSL certificate, and that web browsers will show to users if they request to see it. The result of the command above is going to be two files called key.pem and cert.pem, which I placed in a certs subdirectory of the Microblog root directory.

To have a website served by nginx, you need to write a configuration file for it. In most nginx installations this file needs to be in the /etc/nginx/sites-available directory. Below you can see the nginx configuration file for Microblog, which goes in /etc/nginx/sites-available/microblog:

/etc/nginx/sites-available/microblog: Nginx configuration.

server {
    # listen on port 80 (http)
    listen 80;
    server_name _;
    location / {
        # redirect any requests to the same URL but on https
        return 301 https://$host$request_uri;
server {
    # listen on port 443 (https)
    listen 443 ssl;
    server_name _;

    # location of the self-signed SSL certificate
    ssl_certificate /home/ubuntu/microblog/certs/cert.pem;
    ssl_certificate_key /home/ubuntu/microblog/certs/key.pem;

    # write access and error logs to /var/log
    access_log /var/log/microblog_access.log;
    error_log /var/log/microblog_error.log;

    location / {
        # forward application requests to the gunicorn server
        proxy_pass http://localhost:8000;
        proxy_redirect off;
        proxy_set_header Host $host;
        proxy_set_header X-Real-IP $remote_addr;
        proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;

    location /static {
        # handle static files directly, without forwarding to the application
        alias /home/ubuntu/microblog/app/static;
        expires 30d;

The nginx configuration is far from trivial, but I've added some comments so that at least you know what each section does. If you want to have information about a specific directive, consult the nginx official documentation.

The website is now configured, but it isn't enabled yet. To enable it, a link to this file must be created in the /etc/nginx/sites-enabled directory. Nginx comes with a test site that is enabled that I don't really need, so I'm going to start by removing it:

$ sudo rm /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/default

Now I can create a link to the microblog configuration:

sudo ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/microblog /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/microblog

After you add this file, you need to tell nginx to reload the configuration:

$ sudo service nginx reload

And now the application should be deployed. In your web browser, you can type the IP address of your server (or if you are using a Vagrant VM) and that will connect to the application. Because you are using a self-signed certificate, you will get a warning from the web browser, which you will have to dismiss.

After you complete a deployment with the above instructions for your own projects, I strongly suggest that you replace the self-signed certificate with a real one, so that the browser does not warn your users about your site. For this you will first need to purchase a domain name and configure it to point to your server's IP address. Once you have a domain, you can request a free Let's Encrypt SSL certificate. I have written a detailed article on my blog on how to Run your Flask application over HTTPS.

Deploying Application Updates

The last topic I want to discuss regarding the Linux based deployment is how to handle application upgrades. The application source code is installed in the server through git, so whenever you want to upgrade your application to the latest version, you can just run git pull to download the new commits that were made since the previous deployment.

But of course, downloading the new version of the code is not going to cause an upgrade. The server processes that are currently running will continue to run with the old code, which was already read and stored in memory. To trigger an upgrade you have to stop the current server and start a new one, to force all the code to be read again.

Doing an upgrade is in general more complicated than just restarting the server. You may need to apply database migrations, or compile new language translations, so in reality, the process to perform an upgrade involves a sequence of commands:

(venv) $ git pull                              # download the new version
(venv) $ sudo supervisorctl stop microblog     # stop the current server
(venv) $ flask db upgrade                      # upgrade the database
(venv) $ flask translate compile               # upgrade the translations
(venv) $ sudo supervisorctl start microblog    # start a new server

Raspberry Pi Hosting

The Raspberry Pi is a low-cost revolutionary little Linux computer that has very low power consumption, so it is the perfect device to host a home based web server that can be online 24/7 without tying up your desktop computer or laptop. There are several Linux distributions that run on the Raspberry Pi. My choice is Raspberry Pi OS, which is the official distribution from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

To prepare the Raspberry Pi, I'm going to install a fresh Raspberry Pi OS release. I will be using the Lite version, because I do not need the desktop user interface. You can find the latest release of the Raspberry Pi OS on their operating systems page.

The Raspberry Pi OS image needs to be installed on an SD card, which you then plug into the Raspberry Pi so that it can boot with it. Instructions to copy the Raspberry Pi OS image to an SD card from Windows, Mac OS X and Linux are available on the Raspberry Pi site.

When you boot your Raspberry Pi for the first time, do it while connected to a keyboard and a monitor, so that you can do the setup. At the very least you should enable SSH, so that you can log in from your computer to perform the deployment tasks more comfortably.

Like Ubuntu, Raspberry Pi OS is a derivative of Debian, so the instructions above for Ubuntu Linux for the most part work just as well for the Raspberry Pi. However, you may decide to skip some steps if you are planning on running a small application on your home network, without external access. For example, you may not need the firewall, or the password-less logins. And you may want to use SQLite instead of MySQL in such a small computer. You may opt to not use nginx, and just have the Gunicorn server listening directly for requests from clients. You will probably want just one or two Gunicorn workers. The supervisor service is useful in ensuring the application is always up, so my recommendation is that you also use it on the Raspberry Pi.

Continue on to the next chapter.

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