Hacking on Cockpit

Here’s where to get the code:

$ git clone https://github.com/cockpit-project/cockpit
$ cd cockpit/

The remainder of the commands assume you’re in the top level of the Cockpit git repository checkout.

Getting the development dependencies

Cockpit uses Node.js during development. Node.js is not used at runtime. To make changes on Cockpit you’ll want to install Node.js.

On Debian/Ubuntu:

$ sudo apt install nodejs

On Fedora:

$ sudo dnf install nodejs

On older OS releases you can use the n utility to get a current version of nodejs.

When relying on CI to run the test suite, this is all that is necessary to work on the JavaScript components of Cockpit.

To build the Cockpit binaries from source, required to run the integration tests locally (see testing README), you will need additional header files and other components. The following should work in a fresh Git clone:

$ sudo dnf install dnf-utils python-srpm-macros
$ sudo dnf builddep --spec tools/cockpit.spec

For running the browser unit tests, the following dependencies are required:

$ sudo dnf install chromium-headless dbus-daemon

For running integration tests, the following dependencies are required:

$ sudo dnf install curl expect xz rpm-build chromium-headless \
    libvirt-daemon-driver-storage-core libvirt-daemon-driver-qemu libvirt-client python3-libvirt \
    python3-flake8 python3-pyyaml

Creating VM images locally (not necessary for running tests) needs the following:

$ sudo dnf install virt-install

Updating the node_modules (in case you need to modify package.json) requires npm to be installed.

$ sudo dnf install npm


Cockpit uses the autotools and thus there are the familiar ./configure script and Makefile targets.

After a fresh clone of the Cockpit sources, you need to prepare them by running autogen.sh like this:

$ ./autogen.sh --prefix=/usr --enable-debug

As shown, autogen.sh runs ‘configure’ with the given options, and it also prepares the build tree by downloading various nodejs dependencies.

When working with a Git clone, it is therefore best to simply always run ./autogen.sh instead of ./configure.

Then run

$ make

to build everything. Cockpit has a single non-recursive Makefile. You can only run make from the top-level and it will always rebuild the whole project.

You can run unit tests of the current checkout:

$ make check

These should finish very quickly and it is good practice to do it often.

For debugging individual tests, there are compiled binaries in the build directory. For QUnit tests (JavaScript), you can run

$ ./test-server

which will output a URL to connect to with a browser, such as http://localhost:8765/dist/base1/test-dbus.html. Adjust the path for different tests and inspect the results there.

You can also run individual tests by specifying the TESTS environment variable:

$ make check TESTS=dist/base1/test-chan.html

There are also static code and syntax checks which you should run often:

$ test/static-code

It is highly recommended to set up a git pre-push hook, to avoid pushing PRs that will fail on trivial errors:

$ ln -s ../../tools/git-hook-pre-push .git/hooks/pre-push

This calls test/static-code for each commit you’re trying to push.

You can also set up a post-commit hook to do the same, after each commit:

$ ln -s ../../tools/git-hook-post-commit .git/hooks/post-commit

We also have a hook to ameliorate one of the more annoying drawbacks of using git submodules:

$ ln -s ../../tools/git-hook-pre-rebase .git/hooks/pre-rebase

Running the integration test suite

Refer to the testing README for details on running the Cockpit integration tests locally.

Testing the Python bridge

There is currently an experimental replacement for cockpit-bridge being written in Python. It lives in src/cockpit with most of its rules in src/Makefile.am. This directory was chosen because it matches the standard so-called “src layout” convention for Python packages, where each package (cockpit) is a subdirectory of the src directory.

There are a growing number of Python unittest tests being written to test various bits of the new bridge code. You can run those with make pytest or make pytest-cov. Those are both just rules to make sure that the systemd_ctypes submodule is checked out before running pytest from the source directory.

The tests require at least pytest 7.0.0 or higher to run.

Running eslint

Cockpit uses ESLint to automatically check JavaScript code style in .js and .jsx files.

The linter is executed within every build as a webpack preloader.

For developer convenience, the ESLint can be started explicitly by:

$ npm run eslint

Violations of some rules can be fixed automatically by:

$ npm run eslint:fix

Rules configuration can be found in the .eslintrc.json file.

During fast iterative development, you can also choose to not run eslint. This speeds up the build and avoids build failures due to e. g. ill-formatted comments or unused identifiers:

$ make ESLINT=0

Running stylelint

Cockpit uses Stylelint to automatically check CSS code style in .css and scss files.

The linter is executed within every build as a webpack preloader.

For developer convenience, the Stylelint can be started explicitly by:

$ npm run stylelint

Violations of some rules can be fixed automatically by:

$ npm run stylelint:fix

Rules configuration can be found in the .stylelintrc.json file.

During fast iterative development, you can also choose to not run stylelint. This speeds up the build and avoids build failures due to e. g. ill-formatted css or other issues:

$ make STYLELINT=0

Working on your local machine: Cockpit’s session pages

It’s easy to set up your local Linux machine for rapid development of Cockpit’s JavaScript code (in pkg/). First install Cockpit on your local machine as described in:


Next run this command from your top level Cockpit checkout directory, and make sure to run it as the same user that you’ll use to log into Cockpit below.

$ mkdir -p ~/.local/share/
$ ln -s $(pwd)/dist ~/.local/share/cockpit

This will cause cockpit to read JavaScript and HTML files directly from the built package output directory instead of using the installed Cockpit UI files.

Now you can log into Cockpit on your local Linux machine at the following address. Use the same user and password that you used to log into your Linux desktop.


After every change to your sources the webpacks need to be rebuilt: You can just run make to update everything that has changed; for iterating faster, you can run webpack in “watch” mode on the particular page that you are working on, which reduces the build time to less than a third. E. g.

$ tools/webpack-watch systemd

Note that this enables eslint by default – if you want to disable it, run it with -e/--no-eslint.

Then reload cockpit in your browser after building the page.

Often you need to test your code in a VM. webpack-make has an -r/--rsync option for copying the built webpack into the given SSH target’s /usr/share/cockpit/ directory. If you use cockpit’s own test VMs and set up the SSH c alias as described in test/README.md, you can use one of these commands:

tools/webpack-make kdump -r c
tools/webpack-watch kdump -r c

To make Cockpit again use the installed code, rather than that from your git checkout directory, run the following, and log into Cockpit again:

$ rm ~/.local/share/cockpit

Working on your local machine: Web server

To test changes to the login page or any other resources, you can bind-mount the build tree’s dist/static/ directory over the system one:

$ sudo mount -o bind dist/static/ /usr/share/cockpit/static/

Likewise, to test changes to the branding, use

$ sudo mount -o bind src/branding/ /usr/share/cockpit/branding/

After that, run systemctl stop cockpit.service to ensure that the web server restarts on the next browser request.

To make Cockpit again use the system-installed code, simply umount these again:

$ sudo umount /usr/share/cockpit/static/ /usr/share/cockpit/branding/
$ systemctl stop cockpit.service

Similarly, if you change cockpit-ws itself, you can make the system (systemd units, cockpit-tls, etc.) use that:

$ sudo mount -o bind cockpit-ws /usr/libexec/cockpit-ws

On Debian based OSes, the path will be /usr/lib/cockpit/cockpit-ws instead.

You need to disable SELinux with

$ sudo setenforce 0

for this to work, as your local build tree does not otherwise have the expected SELinux type.

Some cockpit binaries rely on specific paths in /usr/share or libexecdir to be set correctly, by default they are set to /usr/local.

On RPM based systems this can be set using an autogen.sh argument, and afterwards you need to rebuild:

$ ./autogen.sh rpm

Installation from upstream sources

$ make
$ sudo make install

This will install Cockpit and all support files. If you have a Fedora/RHEL/CentOS based distribution, install a PAM configuration with

$ sudo cp tools/cockpit.pam /etc/pam.d/cockpit

If you have a Debian/Ubuntu based distribution, install this PAM config instead:

$ sudo cp tools/cockpit.debian.pam /etc/pam.d/cockpit

For other distributions you need to create a PAM config yourself.

If you prefer to install to a different --prefix and would prefer that make install not write outside that prefix, then specify the --enable-prefix-only option to autogen.sh. This will result in an installation of Cockpit that does not work without further tweaking. For advanced users only.

Build distribution packages

Instead of a direct make install as above, you can also build distribution packages and install them. This is generally more robust, as they upgrade and remove cleanly, and don’t interfere with distribution packages in /usr.

In a Fedora/RHEL build environment you can build binary RPMs with

tools/make-rpms --quick

In a Debian/Ubuntu build environment you can build debs with

tools/make-debs --quick

Updating node_modules

During a normal build from a git checkout, the node_modules will be automatically unpacked from a cache kept in a separate git repository. You can force the unpack to occur using the tools/node-modules checkout command, but this shouldn’t be necessary. In the event that you need to modify package.json (to install a new module, for example) then you’ll need to run tools/node-modules install to create a new cache from the result of running npm install on your new package.json.

Your locally rebuilt changes to node_modules won’t be used by others. A new version will be created by a github workflow when you open your pull request.

The tools/node-modules script inspects the GITHUB_BASE environment variable to determine the correct repository to use when fetching and pushing. It will strip the repository name (leaving the project- or username) and use the node-cache.git repository in that namespace. If GITHUB_BASE is unset, it will default to cockpit-project/node-cache.git.

A local cache is maintained in ~/.cache/cockpit-dev.

Contributing a change

Make a pull request on github.com with your change. All changes get reviewed, tested and iterated on before getting into Cockpit. The general workflow is described in the wiki. Don’t feel bad if there’s multiple steps back and forth asking for changes or tweaks before your change gets in.

You need to be familiar with git to contribute a change. Do your changes on a branch. Your change should be one or more git commits that each contain one single logical simple reviewable change, without modifications that are unrelated to the commit message.

Cockpit is a designed project. Anything that the user will see should have design done first. This is done on the wiki and mailing list.

Bigger changes need to be discussed on #cockpit or our mailing list cockpit-devel@lists.fedoraproject.org before you invest too much time and energy.

Feature changes should have a video and/or screenshots that show the change. This video should be uploaded to Youtube or another service that allows video embedding. Use a command like this to record a video including the browser frame:

$ recordmydesktop -x 1 -y 200 --width 1024 --height 576 \
    --fps 24 --freq 44100 --v_bitrate 2000000

You can also resize your browser window and move it to the right location with a script. In Firefox you can open the Scratchpad (Shift+F4) and enter the following commands:

$ window.resizeTo(1024, 576);
$ window.moveTo(1, 200);

Then run it with Ctrl+R when the browser is showing an empty tab, e.g. about:newtab. You may need to adjust the positions for your environment.

Debug logging of Cockpit processes

All messages from the various cockpit processes go to the journal and can be seen with commands like:

$ sudo journalctl -f

Much of Cockpit has more verbose internal debug logging that can be enabled when trying to track down a problem. To turn it on add a file to your system like this:

$ sudo mkdir -p /etc/systemd/system/cockpit.service.d
$ sudo sh -c 'printf "[Service]\nEnvironment=G_MESSAGES_DEBUG=cockpit-ws,cockpit-bridge\nUser=root\nGroup=\n" > /etc/systemd/system/cockpit.service.d/debug.conf'
$ sudo systemctl daemon-reload
$ sudo systemctl restart cockpit

In the above command you’ll notice the string “cockpit-ws”. This is a log domain. There are various log domains you can enable:

  • cockpit-bridge: Cockpit bridge detailed debug messages
  • cockpit-protocol: Very verbose low level traffic logging
  • cockpit-ws: Cockpit Web Service detailed debug messages
  • WebSocket: Verbose low level WebSocket logging

To revert the above logging changes:

$ sudo rm /etc/systemd/system/cockpit.service.d/debug.conf
$ sudo systemctl daemon-reload
$ sudo systemctl restart cockpit

Debug logging in Javascript console

Various javascript methods in Cockpit can show debug messages. You can turn them on by setting a window.debugging global, or setting up a debugging property in the browser storage. To do this run the following in your javascript console:

>> sessionStorage.debugging = "all"

You’ll notice that there’s a ton of messages that get shown. If you want to be more specific, instead of “all” use one of the following specific types:

"all"      // All available debug messages
"channel"  // All channel messages sent to server
"dbus"     // DBus related debug messages
"http"     // HTTP (via the server) related debug messages
"spawn"    // Debug messages related to executing processes

There are other strings related to the code you may be working on.

In addition, if you want your debug setting to survive a browser refresh or Cockpit log out, use something like:

>> localStorage.debugging = "spawn"

Running Cockpit processes under a debugger

You may want to run cockpit-ws under a debugger such as valgrind or gdb. You can run these processes as your own user, although you won’t be able to debug all the authentication logic in those cases.

First of all make sure Cockpit is installed correctly. Even though we will be running cockpit-ws from the built sources this still relies on some of the right bits being installed in order for Cockpit to work (ie: PAM stack, UI files, cockpit-bridge, etc.)

This is how you would run cockpit-ws under gdb:

$ export G_DEBUG=fatal-criticals
$ export G_MESSAGES_DEBUG=cockpit-ws,cockpit-wrapper,cockpit-bridge
$ gdb --args ./cockpit-ws --port 10000 --no-tls

And you can run cockpit-ws and cockpit-bridge under valgrind like this:

$ export G_DEBUG=fatal-criticals
$ export G_MESSAGES_DEBUG=cockpit-ws,cockpit-wrapper,cockpit-bridge
$ valgrind --trace-children=yes --trace-children-skip='*unix_chkpwd*' \
      ./cockpit-ws --port 10000 --no-tls

Note that cockpit-session and cockpit-bridge will run from the installed prefix, rather than your build tree.