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Install passbolt from scratch on Debian 9 (Stretch)

System requirements

Spin up a new fresh server with Debian 9 (Stretch). Make sure that it is up-to-date.

Installation steps

1. Base packages

No need to install any particular package such as the webserver (apache) during the setup. Let’s stick to the bare minimum for now, as we will do the rest manually.

Since we will need administrator privileges to perform most of the steps, you could either setup sudo for your default user, or log in the terminal as root.

sudo bash

We can install some basic utilities: Git, composer, unzip, make, the linux kernel headers and a compiler, as will all be needed later on.

$ apt-get install make git-core composer unzip g++ linux-headers-amd64 -y

2. Database installation

Then, we can install the database server. We will use mariadb here, but you could also use mysql.

$ apt-get install mariadb-server -y

Let’s make sure that the database is started

$ systemctl start mariadb

By default, MariaDB / MySQL is installed with basic security, and no root password. Let’s fix this.

$ mysql_secure_installation

Answer the questions and set a strong root password for the db.

Let’s now create a specific passbolt user and database.

$ mysql -u root -p
mysql > create database passbolt;
mysql > create user passbolt;
mysql > grant all on passbolt.* to 'passbolt'@'localhost' identified by 'strong_db_password';
mysql > flush privileges;
mysql > quit;

3. Webserver installation (apache2)

Next we will want to install the apache webserver that will serve our php application.

$ apt-get install apache2 -y

Passbolt needs the mod_rewrite module to function properly.

$ a2enmod rewrite

We can see if this worked by opening up the web browser and going to the url: http://localhost (or whatever hostname / ip used by your machine). By default apache stores the web pages in /var/www/html so we can see and edit the default html page in this directory if needed.

4. PHP installation

Now let’s install php 7 and its dependencies. By default the command line interface (php5-cli) and the apache mod for php (libapache2-mod-php5) will be also installed as dependencies. We will need them later on.

$ apt-get install php7.0 php7.0-cli php7.0-common libapache2-mod-php7.0 php7.0-json php7.0-readline php7.0-mysqlnd libonig4 libqdbm14 -y

Passbolt needs some extra dependencies to run properly:

$ apt-get install php7.0-gd php7.0-intl php7.0-simplexml php7.0-curl php7.0-dom php7.0-mbstring -y

Passbolt needs GnuPG and it corresponding php module to run.

$ apt-get install libgpgme11-dev php7.0-gnupg -y

You will need to restart your apache server for the changes to take place.

$ systemctl restart apache2

5. Virtual host config

For apache to work with passbolt we need to edit the virtual host configuration file to add the passbolt folder and rewrite rules.

$ nano /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/000-default.conf

This is what a minimal configuration without ssl looks like (we’ll get to the ssl part later). Of course you will need to replace your administrator email address (ServerAdmin setting) and server name (ServerName setting).

<VirtualHost *:80>
    ServerAdmin webmaster@localhost

    DocumentRoot /var/www/passbolt

    ErrorLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/error.log
    CustomLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/access.log combined

    <Directory /var/www/passbolt>
        Options FollowSymLinks
        AllowOverride All
        Require all granted

6. Domain name setup

For the sake of keeping this demonstration short we will use as domain name (we added the IP to domain name mapping with a manual entry in the /etc/hosts file after a quick lookup on ifconfig).

$ nano /etc/hosts

Add this line to the file

Of course, replace by whichever ip is used by your host.

7. Download passbolt

In the web server configuration file, we are pointing to /var/www/passbolt but obviously it does not exist yet! Let’s create it, by cloning passbolt official repository. This way we can pull new releases easily in the future.

cd /var/www
$ git clone ./passbolt

8. Generate an OpenPGP key

Passbolt API uses an OpenPGP key for the server in order to authenticate and sign the outgoing JSON requests.

Note: Running gpg –gen-key on a virtual machine can take a while because /dev/random does not have enough “randomness” aka entropy. You can speed up the gpg key creation with the haveged package to improve the entropy generation :

# Only in case of container or VM
$ apt-get install haveged -y
$ systemctl start haveged

Now generate an OpenPGP key

Important: Currently php-gnupg does not support keys with a passphrase so you will need to leave that field empty.

$ gpg --gen-key

Note: if you do not run this command as www-data the result will be stored in /root/.gnupg. Thankfully passbolt does import the keys at runtime into the www-data keyring if it is not already present.

It’s a good idea to fill in the details properly and not press enter frantically. Make sure you have decent name and email for the key. This will come in handy to identify and verify it down the line.

After creating the key make sure you note down the fingerprint, it will be requested later in the install process. You can get the server key fingerprint as follows:

$ gpg --list-keys --fingerprint | grep -i -B 2 'SERVER_KEY@EMAIL.TEST'
pub   2048R/28EEB539 2018-04-18
      Key fingerprint = 480E 9564 0F27 6562 39D6  7BF5 8AB6 8641 28EE B539
uid                  firstname lastname <SERVER_KEY@EMAIL.TEST>

Copy the public and private keys to the passbolt config location:

$ gpg --armor --export-secret-keys SERVER_KEY@EMAIL.TEST > /var/www/passbolt/config/gpg/serverkey_private.asc
$ gpg --armor --export SERVER_KEY@EMAIL.TEST > /var/www/passbolt/config/gpg/serverkey.asc

We don’t want those keys to be readable by anyone, except the webserver.

$ chmod 640 /var/www/passbolt/config/gpg/serverkey*

9. Initialize the webserver gpg keyring

In order for passbolt authentication to work your server key needs to be in the keyring used by the web server. It is likely that there is none, so you can create one by interacting with gpg with the web server user

In debian 9, the home directory of the web server user www-data is /var/www.

We need to give ownership of this folder to www-data , since it is not there by default.

$ chown www-data:www-data /var/www

We create the keyring for the webserver:

$ sudo su -s /bin/bash -c "gpg --list-keys" www-data
gpg: directory '/var/www/.gnupg' created
gpg: keybox '/var/www/.gnupg/pubring.kbx' created
gpg: /var/www/.gnupg/trustdb.gpg: trustdb created

9. Set passbolt file permissions

We need to set the right permissions on the passbolt files. It should belong to the same owner as the webserver.

$ chown -R  www-data:www-data /var/www/passbolt
$ cd /var/www/passbolt

Important: For the following steps, we’ll also need to use the same user as the one running the webserver. In our case (apache), it is www-data.

$ su -s /bin/bash www-data

10. Install the dependencies

The project dependencies such as the plugin to manage the images, emails, etc. are not included anymore in the code on the official repository. Fret not, composer will manage this for us.

$ composer install

11. Create a passbolt configuration file

Everything is located in one configuration file called config/passbolt.php.

$ cp config/passbolt.default.php config/passbolt.php
$ nano config/passbolt.php

You will need to set at least the following:

  • Application full base url
  • Database configuration
  • Server OpenPGP key fingerprint (you noted it down before)

Ignore the email configuration for now. We will take care of it later.

For now, we will also deactivate the force_ssl parameter for the sake of having a functional passbolt quickly. We’ll activate ssl later.

The sections of your configuration file should look similar to this:

    'App' => [
        'fullBaseUrl' => '',

    // Database configuration.
    'Datasources' => [
        'default' => [
            'host' => 'localhost',
            'username' => 'passbolt',
            'password' => 'your_password',
            'database' => 'passbolt',
    'passbolt' => [
        'ssl' => [
            'force' => false,
        'gpg' => [ 
            // Main server key.
            'serverKey' => [
                // Server private key fingerprint.
                'fingerprint' => '1C765F5273EC9AF56300BC6F6C76DA6B9F23C8BB',
                //'public' => CONFIG . 'gpg' . DS . 'serverkey.asc',
                //'private' => CONFIG . 'gpg' . DS . 'serverkey_private.asc',

For now, do not forget to add ssl.force => false as seen above, or passbolt will redirect all your connections to a https socket, which will not work since it is not yet configured.

'ssl' => [
    'force' => false,

You can also set your configuration using environment variables. Check config/default.php to get the names of the environment variables.

12. Run the install script

Let’s install passbolt tables and data in the database.

$ ./bin/cake passbolt install

The install script will ask you to create an admin user. Enter your first name, last name and email. In return, the script will provide you with an activation link that you will user later to activate and configure your user. You can go to this url now or later, but we recommend that you configure SSL before.

Optionally you can also run the health check to see if everything is fine.

$ ./bin/cake passbolt healthcheck

You should see a majority of green ok. However, some SSL related alerts should still appear.

13. It’s running

At this stage, passbolt is running as it should, but https is still missing. It is strongly recommended that you configure https before using passbolt. We will go through it in the next section, as well as the emails configuration.

Going further

1. Setup the emails

For passbolt to be able to send emails, you must first configure properly the “EmailTransport” and “Email” section in the config/passbolt.php file to match your provider smtp details.

// Email configuration.
    'EmailTransport' => [
        'default' => [
            'host' => 'localhost',
            'port' => 25,
            'username' => 'user',
            'password' => 'password',
            // Is this a secure connection? true if yes, null if no.
            'tls' => null,
            //'timeout' => 30,
            //'client' => null,
            //'url' => null,
    'Email' => [
        'default' => [
            // Defines the default name and email of the sender of the emails.
            'from' => ['' => 'Passbolt'],
            //'charset' => 'utf-8',
            //'headerCharset' => 'utf-8',

To send a test email and debug your smtp settings, you can use the following command:

$ ./bin/cake passbolt send_test_email

When an email is sent, it is first placed in a queue that needs to be processed by the following shell.

$ ./bin/cake EmailQueue.sender

In order to have your emails sent automatically, you can add a cron call to the script so the emails will be sent every minute. Add the following line to you crontab:

 * * * * * su -c "/var/www/passbolt/bin/cake EmailQueue.sender >> /var/log/passbolt.log" -s /bin/bash www-data

2. Configure https

It is recommended to use https with passbolt (and, well, pretty much everything). To setup SSL we need a certificate. Here for the sake of brevity we will create a self-signed certificate. Of course you are free to use a proper free certificate and tidy up the server supported cypher suites.

In the following steps, we’ll generate a self signed certificate and configure apache and passbolt to use https.

a. Generate the self signed certificate

$ openssl req -new -newkey rsa:4096 -days 365 -nodes -x509 -subj "/C=FR/ST=Denial/L=Springfield/O=Dis/" -keyout /etc/ssl/certs/passbolt.key -out /etc/ssl/certs/passbolt.crt

Generating a 4096 bit RSA private key
writing new private key to '/etc/ssl/certs/passbolt.key'

b. Make sure the certificate is readable by apache

$ chown root:www-data /etc/ssl/certs/passbolt.crt
$ chown root:www-data /etc/ssl/certs/passbolt.key
$ chmod 640 /etc/ssl/certs/passbolt.crt
$ chmod 640 /etc/ssl/certs/passbolt.key

Enable SSL apache module and site

$ a2enmod ssl
$ a2enmod headers
$ a2ensite default-ssl

c. Configure virtual host

Let’s add the rewrite and SSL rules and certificates.

$ nano /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/default-ssl.conf

Your file should look like this:

<IfModule mod_ssl.c>
    <VirtualHost _default_:443>
        ServerAdmin webmaster@localhost

        DocumentRoot /var/www/passbolt

        ErrorLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/error.log
        CustomLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/access.log combined

        SSLEngine on
        SSLCertificateFile /etc/ssl/certs/passbolt.crt
        SSLCertificateKeyFile /etc/ssl/certs/passbolt.key
        <Directory /var/www/passbolt>
            Options FollowSymLinks
            AllowOverride All
            Require all granted
        <FilesMatch “\.(php)$”>
            SSLOptions +StdEnvVars

        BrowserMatch “MSIE [2–6]” \
          nokeepalive ssl-unclean-shutdown \
          downgrade-1.0 force-response-1.0
        BrowserMatch “MSIE [17–9]” ssl-unclean-shutdown


d. Restart Apache

$ systemctl reload apache2

e. Force SSL in passbolt configuration We’ll need to change the passbolt configuration to make him use https instead of http, and force the redirection to https:

$ nano /var/www/passbolt/config/passbolt.php

Set fullBaseUrl to https

'App' => [
    'fullBaseUrl' => '',

Set ssl.force config parameter to true, instead of false. You can also remove the line as it will be set to true by default.

'ssl' => [
    'force' => true,

That’s it! Passbolt is now ready to be used with https.

If you have already done the setup of your user, you will notice that passbolt tells you that the plugin is not configured to work with this domain. This is normal since it was already configured to work with http, and not https.

That’s not an issue, you can fix this easily by clicking on “recover an existing account”

That’s it

Do let us know if you run into problems following this tutorial on the

Thank you for trying out Passbolt CE!


Here are some frequently asked questions related to passbolt installation:

Feel free to ask for help on the community forum.

Last updated

This article was last updated on April 9th, 2018.

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