Open edX development

In addition to running Open edX in production, Tutor can be used for local development of Open edX. This means that it is possible to hack on Open edX without setting up a Virtual Machine. Essentially, this replaces the devstack provided by edX.

First-time setup

First, ensure you have already installed Tutor (for development against the named releases of Open edX) or Tutor Nightly (for development against Open edX’s master branches).

Then, launch the developer platform setup process:

tutor dev quickstart

This will perform several tasks for you. It will:

  • stop any existing locally-running Tutor containers,

  • disable HTTPS,

  • set your LMS_HOST to (a convenience domain that simply points at,

  • prompt for a platform details (with suitable defaults),

  • build an openedx-dev image, which is based openedx production image but is specialized for developer usage,

  • start LMS, CMS, supporting services, and any plugged-in services,

  • ensure databases are created and migrated, and

  • run service initialization scripts, such as service user creation and Waffle configuration.

Once setup is complete, the platform will be running in the background:

Stopping the platform

To bring down your platform’s containers, simply run:

tutor dev stop

Starting the platform back up

Once you have used quickstart once, you can start the platform in the future with the lighter-weight start command, which brings up containers but does not perform any initialization tasks:

tutor dev start     # Run platform in the same terminal ("attached")
tutor dev start -d  # Or, run platform the in the background ("detached")

Nonetheless, quickstart is idempotent, so it is always safe to run it again in the future without risk to your data. In fact, you may find it useful to use this command as a one-stop-shop for pulling images, running migrations, initializing new plugins you have enabled, and/or executing any new initialization steps that may have been introduced since you set up Tutor:

tutor dev quickstart --pullimages

Running arbitrary commands

To run any command inside one of the containers, run tutor dev run [OPTIONS] SERVICE [COMMAND] [ARGS].... For instance, to open a bash shell in the LMS or CMS containers:

tutor dev run lms bash
tutor dev run cms bash

To open a python shell in the LMS or CMS, run:

tutor dev run lms ./ lms shell
tutor dev run cms ./ cms shell

You can then import edx-platform and django modules and execute python code.

To collect assets, you can use the openedx-assets command that ships with Tutor:

tutor dev run lms openedx-assets build --env=dev

Rebuilding the openedx-dev image

The openedx-dev Docker image is based on the same openedx image used by tutor local ... to run LMS and CMS. However, it has a few differences to make it more convenient for developers:

  • The user that runs inside the container has the same UID as the user on the host, to avoid permission problems inside mounted volumes (and in particular in the edx-platform repository).

  • Additional Python and system requirements are installed for convenient debugging: ipython, ipdb, vim, telnet.

  • The edx-platform development requirements are installed.

If you are using a custom openedx image, then you will need to rebuild openedx-dev every time you modify openedx. To so, run:

tutor dev dc build lms

Sharing directories with containers

It may sometimes be convenient to mount container directories on the host, for instance: for editing and debugging. Tutor provides different solutions to this problem.

Bind-mount volumes with --mount

The quickstart, run, init and start subcommands of tutor dev and tutor local support the -m/--mount option (see tutor dev start -m) which can take two different forms. The first is explicit:

tutor dev start --mount=lms:/path/to/edx-platform:/openedx/edx-platform lms

And the second is implicit:

tutor dev start --mount=/path/to/edx-platform lms

With the explicit form, the --mount option means “bind-mount the host folder /path/to/edx-platform to /openedx/edx-platform in the lms container”.

If you use the explicit format, you will quickly realise that you usually want to bind-mount folders in multiple containers at a time. For instance, you will want to bind-mount the edx-platform repository in the “cms” container. To do that, write instead:

tutor dev start --mount=lms,cms:/path/to/edx-platform:/openedx/edx-platform lms

This command line can become cumbersome and inconvenient to work with. But Tutor can be smart about bind-mounting folders to the right containers in the right place when you use the implicit form of the --mount option. For instance, the following commands are equivalent:

# Explicit form
tutor dev start --mount=lms,lms-worker,lms-job,cms,cms-worker,cms-job:/path/to/edx-platform:/openedx/edx-platform lms
# Implicit form
tutor dev start --mount=/path/to/edx-platform lms

So, when should you not be using the implicit form? That would be when Tutor does not know where to bind-mount your host folders. For instance, if you wanted to bind-mount your edx-platform virtual environment located in ~/venvs/edx-platform, you should not write --mount=~/venvs/edx-platform, because that folder would be mounted in a way that would override the edx-platform repository in the container. Instead, you should write:

tutor dev start --mount=lms:~/venvs/edx-platform:/openedx/venv lms


Remember to setup your edx-platform repository for development! See Setting up a development environment for edx-platform.

Copy files from containers to the local filesystem

Sometimes, you may want to modify some of the files inside a container for which you don’t have a copy on the host. A typical example is when you want to troubleshoot a Python dependency that is installed inside the application virtual environment. In such cases, you want to first copy the contents of the virtual environment from the container to the local filesystem. To that end, Tutor provides the tutor dev copyfrom command. First, copy the contents of the container folder to the local filesystem:

tutor dev copyfrom lms /openedx/venv ~

Then, bind-mount that folder back in the container with the --mount option (described above):

tutor dev start --mount lms:~/venv:/openedx/venv lms

You can then edit the files in ~/venv on your local filesystem and see the changes live in your container.

Bind-mount from the “volumes/” directory


Bind-mounting volumes with the bindmount command is no longer the default, recommended way of bind-mounting volumes from the host. Instead, see the mount option and the tutor dev/local copyfrom commands.

Tutor makes it easy to create a bind-mount from an existing container. First, copy the contents of a container directory with the bindmount command. For instance, to copy the virtual environment of the “lms” container:

tutor dev bindmount lms /openedx/venv

This command recursively copies the contents of the /opendedx/venv directory to $(tutor config printroot)/volumes/venv. The code of any Python dependency can then be edited – for instance, you can then add a breakpoint() statement for step-by-step debugging, or implement a custom feature.

Then, bind-mount the directory back in the container with the --mount option:

tutor dev start --mount=lms:$(tutor config printroot)/volumes/venv:/openedx/venv lms


The bindmount command and the --mount=... option syntax are available both for the tutor local and tutor dev commands.

Manual bind-mount to any directory


Manually bind-mounting volumes with the --volume option makes it difficult to simultaneously bind-mount to multiple containers. Also, the --volume options are not compatible with start commands. For an alternative, see the mount option.

The above solution may not work for you if you already have an existing directory, outside of the “volumes/” directory, which you would like mounted in one of your containers. For instance, you may want to mount your copy of the edx-platform repository. In such cases, you can simply use the -v/--volume Docker option:

tutor dev run --volume=/path/to/edx-platform:/openedx/edx-platform lms bash

Override docker-compose volumes

The above solutions require that you explicitly pass the -m/--mount options to every run, start or init command, which may be inconvenient. To address these issues, you can create a docker-compose.override.yml file that will specify custom volumes to be used with all dev commands:

vim "$(tutor config printroot)/env/dev/docker-compose.override.yml"

You are then free to bind-mount any directory to any container. For instance, to mount your own edx-platform fork:

version: "3.7"
      - /path/to/edx-platform:/openedx/edx-platform
      - /path/to/edx-platform:/openedx/edx-platform
      - /path/to/edx-platform:/openedx/edx-platform
      - /path/to/edx-platform:/openedx/edx-platform

This override file will be loaded when running any tutor dev .. command. The edx-platform repo mounted at the specified path will be automatically mounted inside all LMS and CMS containers. With this file, you should no longer specify the -m/--mount option from the command line.


The tutor local commands load the docker-compose.override.yml file from the $(tutor config printroot)/env/local/docker-compose.override.yml directory. One-time jobs from initialisation commands load the local/ and dev/

Common tasks

Setting up a development environment for edx-platform

Following the instructions above on how to bind-mount directories from the host above, you may mount your own edx-platform fork in your containers by running:

tutor dev start -d --mount=/path/to/edx-platform lms

But to achieve that, you will have to make sure that your fork works with Tutor.

First of all, you should make sure that you are working off the latest release tag (unless you are running the Tutor nightly branch). See the fork edx-platform section for more information.

Then, you should run the following commands:

# Run bash in the lms container
tutor dev run --mount=/path/to/edx-platform lms bash

# Compile local python requirements
pip install --requirement requirements/edx/development.txt

# Install nodejs packages in node_modules/
npm clean-install

# Rebuild static assets
openedx-assets build --env=dev

After running all these commands, your edx-platform repository will be ready for local development. To debug a local edx-platform repository, you can then add a python breakpoint with breakpoint() anywhere in your code and run:

tutor dev start --mount=/path/to/edx-platform lms

The default debugger is ipdb.set_trace. PYTHONBREAKPOINT can be modified by setting an environment variable in the Docker imamge.

If LMS isn’t running, this will start it in your terminal. If an LMS container is already running background, this command will stop it, recreate it, and attach your terminal to it. Later, to detach your terminal without stopping the container, just hit Ctrl+z.

XBlock and edx-platform plugin development

In some cases, you will have to develop features for packages that are pip-installed next to the edx-platform. This is quite easy with Tutor. Just add your packages to the $(tutor config printroot)/env/build/openedx/requirements/private.txt file. To avoid re-building the openedx Docker image at every change, you should add your package in editable mode. For instance:

echo "-e ./mypackage" >> "$(tutor config printroot)/env/build/openedx/requirements/private.txt"

The requirements folder should have the following content:


You will have to re-build the openedx Docker image once:

tutor images build openedx

You should then run the development server as usual, with start. Every change made to the mypackage folder will be picked up and the development server will be automatically reloaded.

Running edx-platform unit tests

It’s possible to run the full set of unit tests that ship with edx-platform. To do so, run a shell in the LMS development container:

tutor dev run lms bash

Then, run unit tests with pytest commands:

# Run tests on common apps
pytest common
pytest openedx

# Run tests on LMS
export DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE=lms.envs.tutor.test
pytest lms

# Run tests on CMS
export DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE=cms.envs.tutor.test
pytest cms


Getting all edx-platform unit tests to pass on Tutor is currently a work-in-progress. Some unit tests are still failing. If you manage to fix some of these, please report your findings in the Open edX forum.