OpenLMIS Technical Setup Guide

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Technical Setup Guide

The technical portion of the OpenLMIS Implementer's Guide is aimed at two types of users:

  1. Technical Implementor: A technical person who is reading OpenLMIS documentation in order to start or plan out an implementation. They might not be actually doing the programming tasks, but they understand ICT4D and they will be arranging or managing the programmers or vendors who will do the technical tasks.
  2. Software Developer: A user who will actually do software programming on the OpenLMIS system, such as customizing, extending, configuring, installing, etc.


As you plan for using OpenLMIS, it is important to understand its technical architecture. The architecture is called microservices: this means that an OpenLMIS server runs multiple different services that work together. The OpenLMIS services run in the cloud or are hosted in a data center. The services each provide APIs that offer a standard way of exchanging data. The OpenLMIS web application runs in a browser and acts as a client to send and receive data from the OpenLMIS services. The web application, or User Interface (UI), provides all of the forms and screens where users log in and interact with OpenLMIS in a web browser. Other apps that run on smartphones or tablets can also use the APIs and interoperate with OpenLMIS.

The OpenLMIS Documentation site contains sections on the Architecture and UI structure. In addition, the OpenLMIS wiki has an Architecture Overview page with a diagram and more details.

Server Environments

OpenLMIS uses Docker and may be hosted either on premise or in the cloud within an implementer's choice data center. The latter option has many benefits. The hardware requirements necessary for running OpenLMIS depend partly on the size of an implementation’s dataset. During the development, testing, and rollout phases of an implementation, these requirements are often unclear, and may vary while data is migrated from a pre-existing system into OpenLMIS. Having access to scalable cloud compute resources is thus important during these early phases of the project. Later, during the support phase, the robust availability and accessibility of a cloud-hosted solution are important. The core OpenLMIS team therefore recommends the use of cloud based hosting for production grade implementations. A number have been deployed within Amazon Web Services (AWS), and OpenLMIS’ deployment topology documentation targets the platform.

Most implementations require the creation and use of the following instances of OpenLMIS: 

  •  Development: Used by programmers to test new, rapidly changing, and potentially fragile customization work being done on behalf of an implementation.
  •  User Acceptance Test (UAT): Used by QA and other stakeholders to test features which have been progressed beyond the development phase but which require verification prior to promotion to the Production server.
  •  Production: Runs the instance of OpenLMIS intended for regular use by end users.
  •  Training (optional): A near-clone of the Production server intended to allow new users to freely experiment with the system. Implementers may potentially rely on the UAT server to fulfill this role later in the project’s lifecycle.

Each of the above instances of OpenLMIS should be isolated. To ensure that performance and other non-functional requirements are consistently tested and met, it is important that the hardware and configuration of each instance match that of the Production instance.


The deployment section of the OpenLMIS Documentation offers official guidance about installing OpenLMIS. It describes the openlmis-deployment scripts written for use with a CI/CD tool like Jenkins and intended for production-grade deployments. In contrast, the quick setup guide which accompanies the openlmis-ref-distro may be used to easily install a local test version of OpenLMIS. In a nutshell, developers only need to:

  1. Clone the openlmis-ref-distro repository.
  2. Download the default .env file into the newly created openlmis-ref-distro directory.
  3. Optionally edit the BASE_URL and VIRTUAL_HOST values within the .env file.
  4. Run docker-compose pull followed by docker-compose up
  5. Browse to http://<your ip-address> using administrator and password respectively as the user name and password.

The above quick-setup installs sample data and configuration. This includes a set of sample user accounts which all share "password" as their password. These accounts may also be examined by browsing to Administration → Users.

Managing Backups

OpenLMIS recommends cloud-based deployments use RDS (Amazon Relational Database Service). See the OpenLMIS Recommended Deployment Topology and RDS configuration guides. RDS offers good value for the cost partly because it automatically creates and retains backups. Details about the way in which its backups are configured and used are independent of OpenLMIS and available in the RDS Backup and Restore documentation.

If you are using PostgreSQL inside Docker, which is the default for a local installation of OpenLMIS, then see the Postgres Guide's Backup and Restore documentation.

Continuous Integration and Deployment (CI/CD)

The OpenLMIS project uses an instance of Jenkins at to provide continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD). Doing so provides a number of benefits, including:

  • Quality gates. Every time new code is contributed, tests are automatically run to help ensure that regressions are not introduced, performance characteristics are logged, and code standards are followed. 
  • Server uptime. Manually upgrading software can be error prone. By relying on an automated process, the OpenLMIS team saves time while ensuring that steps are followed consistently.

Implementers are encouraged to setup CI/CD within their own projects, and will find a number of such jobs on OpenLMIS is comprised of microservices, and each has their own build job. The OpenLMIS-auth-service, for example, is representative of how CI of a typical component is performed. Meanwhile, other jobs in deployment pipelines are used to update servers with the latest build of each component. The OpenLMIS-3.0-deploy-to-test job, for instance, is illustrative of how such CD can be preformed. Although anonymous users currently lack access to the configuration of jobs on, the OpenLMIS team hopes to grant universal read-only access to all such users soon.

More information about Jenkins can be found here. Meanwhile, detail about the Core project’s use of it is available here. Of course, implementers can effectively use Bamboo, Jenkins, Travis, or any other such tool. The use of CI/CD infrastructure is important, though, for any implementation that involves even moderate code modification.

Monitoring and Alerting

Monitoring a server’s health is an important step toward ensuring its uptime. Tools like Scalyr may be used to do so cheaply and effectively. Alerts should be sent to a shared email group or forum whenever conditions like the following occur:

  •  The database’s connection pool is low.
  •  An abnormally high number of database connections exist.
  •  The database’s read or write latency is high.
  •  The load balancer’s latency is high.
  •  The database or application server are low on CPU or disk resources.
  •  The database or application server are low on performance credits (applicable only if using a burstable or throttled cloud resource).
  •  Errors or exceptions are logged by the application server.
  •  The OpenLMIS webserver returns an HTTP status code of 5xx for more than several (5 - 10) minutes.
  •  The OpenLMIS webserver begins returning more 4xx or 5xx error codes than average.
  •  Any of the microservices which comprise OpenLMIS become unresponsive

Choosing the right thresholds for many of these values is an art which requires iteration. Configuring them for use with the UAT server early in the project is therefore helps to ensure that reasonable values are chosen for the Production server in time for its use.


OpenLMIS has regular releases of new versions of its micro-services and the Reference Distribution that bundles services together. The following general process is how new versions of micro-services may be incorporated into an existing OpenLMIS instance.

It is recommended that these steps be tested first on a test/staging or dev server where testing is conducted before scheduling a time to upgrade a live production instance. Before upgrading production, use best practices such as taking backups and having a roll-back plan in case anything goes wrong.

  1. Update the docker-compose.yml within the deployment's main project (see an example docker-compose.yml) such that it refers to the desired version numbers of the OpenLMIS core components.
  2. If using a CI/CD tool such as Jenkins, use it to deploy the change. Otherwise, manually run "docker-compose down," "docker-compose pull," and then "docker-compose up --build --force-recreate -d" on the machine hosting OpenLMIS.
  3. Test! Although the OpenLMIS team strives to ensure the quality of its releases, it is important to verify that updates do not adversely effect third party changes. It is especially important to test local customizations and local configuration.

If bugs or issues are identified in the underlying OpenLMIS components, follow the Reporting Bugs guidelines including the section there called "Coordinating with the Global Community". You may choose to submit a bug fix as a Pull Request, or to wait for the global open source project to fix the bug and release that fix as part of a future release.

Data Loading

A key step in implementing OpenLMIS is loading in master data such as the Facility List, Product List, and user accounts. OpenLMIS has a Reference Data Seed Tool which converts CSV input and mapping files into the JSON files that can be consumed by the OpenLMIS web API. This allows you to prepare your master data in CSV format and load it into OpenLMIS. The README file provides specific instructions.

Data Migration

In addition to loading in the master data (see Data Loading above), your implementation may also identify other historical data from previous LMIS systems that you want to migrate into your new OpenLMIS implementation. This data could be from a previous version of OpenLMIS or from other tools ranging from Excel spreadsheets to other electronic LMIS solutions. This kind of data migration is typically a custom process of identifying and mapping pre-existing data into your new OpenLMIS structure. If data migration of this sort is needed, it's important to work with an IT professional who has conducted similar data migrations in the past. We recommend paying careful attention to data quality and consistency.


OpenLMIS provides standards-based APIs that allow interoperability with other systems. There are many situations where you may configure or customize interoperability between your OpenLMIS system and other data systems. Examples include:

  • Sharing Master Lists: A facility list, for example, may be maintained in another data system and referenced by OpenLMIS. To date, OpenLMIS has added partial support for the OpenHIE Facility Registry using the HL7 FHIR standard. See OpenLMIS's current FHIR progress in Jira.
  • Reporting: OpenLMIS provides a number of built-in reports, but data can also be exported for reporting in other reporting tools. These include open source tools such as DHIS2 and commercial tools such as Tableau. OpenLMIS is also building a Data Warehouse using open source tools: see Reporting and Data Warehouse Strategy.
  • Cold Chain Remote Temperature Monitoring: As of OpenLMIS 3.3, there is support for integration with the Nexleaf ColdTrace device to monitor fridge temperatures and provide status info inside OpenLMIS.
  • Single Sign-On: OpenLMIS uses the OAuth2 standard for user authentication. This allows you to use existing user account management to create a single-sign-on environment that includes OpenLMIS and other systems. Read about the OpenLMIS Auth service (one of the micro-services) and its Design for details.

Customizing Microservices / Components

The microservices architecture of OpenLMIS 3 allows a country/implementation to run a different group of microservices and to add their own services. If you have not already reviewed the Country Versioning in OpenLMIS 3 document, review it first before you proceed with the technical details below.

To customize the set of microservices that your implementation of OpenLMIS runs, you use a Git repository that turns on and off different Docker containers that hold services and extensions. The GitHub project OpenLMIS Reference Distribution is an example of one such repository, and OpenLMIS Malawi Distribution is an example of another. In both cases, the docker-compose.yml file specifies which Docker images should be used for the deployment. The idea is that each implementation of OpenLMIS can turn on or off different services or add its own services to meet its specific needs.

User Interface Customization

The OpenLMIS User Interface (UI) refers to the web application where users log in and interact with OpenLMIS. The UI–similar to the OpenLMIS API–is also built from multiple git repositories. Similarly, this allows you to add or subtract different UI repositories to add or remove features from the UI web application for your specific needs. 

The Git repository that is used to turn on and off different parts of the UI is the reference-ui. Your country-specific implementation can create its own Git repository; the OpenLMIS Malawi Distribution project uses one called UI. The reference-ui and UI repositories each provide Docker images with user interfaces. To create your own custom user interface project, you can fork the OpenLMIS Reference UI repository and update your docker-compose.yml file in your main distribution project such that it refers to your own forked UI image. The Malawi example does this by replacing:

        image: openlmis/reference-ui:5.0.4-SNAPSHOT
        env_file: .env
        depends_on: [consul]

With this:

    image: openlmismw/ui:1.2.0-SNAPSHOT
    env_file: .env
    depends_on: [consul]

More generally, the pattern is as follows. Note that UserInterfaceServiceName will be referenced throughout the remainder of this section.

    image: projectName/ UserInterfaceServiceName:VersionIdentifier
    env_file: .env
    depends_on: [consul]

With such configuration in place, your implementation will use the specified UI image. The Malawi UI project serves as a good example for how the UI image should be defined. The docker-compose.yml file within it references dev-ui, auth-ui, fulfillment-ui, and various other images provided by the core OpenLMIS project. Together, in tandem, these images include all of the UI's assets. The HTML, JavaScript, build tools, and other resources the images provide are only exposed indirectly within the UserInterfaceServiceName project. This keeps the project lean -- most files are unlikely to need customization and therefore aren’t duplicated within it. Files that do need modification, however, can easily be updated as described below.

The OpenLMIS-UI build process overrides files in the default reference UI with those in the UserInterfaceServiceName/src directory. Implementers can therefore easily overwrite default files (eg: HTML and JavaScript) with those of their own. Simply add a file with the same name and path to UserInterfaceServiceName/src. Nevertheless, in cases wherein only minimal change to a file is necessary, overriding the file in its entirety is heavy handed and leads to unnecessary maintenance burden. OpenLMIS’ UI Extension Guide offers better alternatives.

The OpenLMIS build process recursively scans UserInterfaceServiceName/src for *.scss files. The CSS generated from the Sass is concatenated into a single file and made available to the client. All of the files within UserInterfaceServiceName/src are exposed via the webserver either directly or after having been transcompiled. 

Customizing colors and logos

Putting all of these concepts together, implementers can easily style OpenLMIS’ UI by simply adding any Sass file to the /src directory. The following code in this file is all that was necessary for one implementation to choose its own colors:

$mw-teal: #008080;
$mw-green: #44B704;

$green: $mw-green;

$brand-primary: $mw-teal;
$link-color: $mw-teal;

As the above example suggests, OpenLMIS' colors and spacing are implemented using Sass variables and can thus easily be overridden. 

Because images can be embedded within CSS, specifying a custom logo is equally as easy. Images may be placed anywhere, as can the custom Sass file. For the sake of maintenance, however, it's ideal to place all brand-related customizations into a single folder as shown in this example. We highly recommend using SVG images and applying CSS to override the existing image-related styles on a page. This can be done in any .scss file in the `/src` directory.


OpenLMIS is used in some countries under an implementation-specific name (eLMIS, SELV, etc). Using the steps above, it is simple for a software developer to customize the color and logo of OpenLMIS, if that is required for your implementation.

The login box of the UI application includes a small message in the corner, "Powered by OpenLMIS" which links to The OpenLMIS community asks that you keep that in place. This is one way of getting the word out about the OpenLMIS community and encouraging sharing of knowledge and support across different implementers and countries.

Customizing Text and Translations

Because of language translations or country-specific terminology, OpenLMIS allows you to easily change all the text strings that appear to users in the UI application.

This part of the UI Extension Guide provides detail on how text within the UI may be added or overridden. Implementations which only have to support English can simply add a messages_en.json file to the same directory used to store the rest of their customizations. An example of one such file is available here

Please see the UI Extension Guide for additional information, including guidance on how to customize the UI's behavior. 

Customizing Reports

Step 5 of the Implementer/Administrator Guide describes how to customize additional aspects of OpenLMIS, including its order-number format and built-in reports.

Feature Development & Extension

The microservices architecture of OpenLMIS allows you to create your own new features and add them in to the base OpenLMIS software. Developing a new feature might include adding new APIs, adding new UI screens, or both. In either case, your new functionality could be contained in its own Git repository and added into your OpenLMIS implementation using Docker.

Adding a new API/back-end microservice

You can start or fork a new repository for your new service, and then include it into your OpenLMIS implementation by adding it to the distribution's docker-compose.yml file similar to the examples above. OpenLMIS services all use Java Spring, and there is a Template Service git project that you can use as a basis for starting a new one. (You could also fork one of the existing services and modify to fit your needs.) See the Architecture section of the OpenLMIS documentation for guidance on creating a new service. Your service's api-definition.yaml file will determine what URL paths will be registered using Consul and NGINX. This allows the relevant API requests to be routed to your new service.

Adding a new UI feature or screen

You can start or fork a new repository for the new UI feature or screen, and include it into your OpenLMIS implementation by adding it to the UI's docker-compose.yml file similar to the examples above. To allow your new UI component to use the same shared set of build tools (grunt, etc) as the other UI components, use the same Docker base image, Dev UI (dev-ui on GitHub). There is also a Template-UI git project that you can use as a basis for starting your new repository. Inside your repository, the JavaScript, SASS (CSS), and HTML files will all go inside folders organized below the src/ folder. See the Reference UI section of the OpenLMIS documentation for guidance – it includes an architecture overview, a Style Guide, the UI Extension Guide, Conventions and more.

In addition, consider watching and following along with the Hello World OpenLMIS UI Development screencast video and following along step-by-step to get up to speed as a developer on coding for the OpenLMIS UI.

Change Management

For example customization or extension you make, consider how your code will be maintained over time as OpenLMIS is upgraded. The goal of the OpenLMIS 3 architecture is to make the system modular and extensible. Ideally, new features you add will continue to work properly even as you upgrade other OpenLMIS components as new versions come out. For recommendations about how to manage this, see the section about Upgrading (above on this page) as well as the Country Versioning in OpenLMIS 3 document.