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The opinionated guide to setting up a Sourcegraph server for advanced code search

If you've ever written code, you probably know that:

  • 🔍 Searching through examples of code is useful for so many things.
  • 🤦‍♂️ GitHub search kind of sucks.

You might not have tried out advanced code search tools like Sourcegraph because getting started looks like too much effort.

The Sourcegraph "Getting Started" page already has a ton of information about different ways to start using Sourcegraph, but here we'll go through an opinionated set up guide.

Specifically, we'll:

  • ☁️ Set up Sourcegraph on a VPS (DigitalOcean in this case, but feel free to use your own cloud provider).
  • 🚍 Set up Nginx as reverse proxy.
  • 🎫 Use LetsEncrypt to get an SSL certificate.
  • 👩‍💻 Integrate with GitHub to search through public and private repositories hosted there.

This is a tradeoff between running Sourcegraph locally on your dev machine (where features would be limited), and installing it to a cluster (where set up would take longer).

🖼 The end result of following this guide

At the end of this guide, you'll have your own Sourcegraph server set up on a custom domain like It will periodically fetch any repositories you are interested in from GitHub (private, public, or from your entire GitHub org) and update its index so that you have these at your fingertips.

You'll be able to search through all your code using advanced syntax and better defaults.

The Sourcegraph dashboard

☑️ Requirements to follow along

To follow along, you should:

  • 💻 Be comfortable using Linux and SSH, connecting to a VPS and installing and configuring software.
  • 🌐 Have a custom domain where you can add new subdomains, e.g. through NameCheap or similar.
  • ☁️ Have an account at a cloud provider, such as DigitalOcean or AWS.

🔨 Setting up the VPS and installing Docker and Sourcegraph

First, we need to set up a VPS running Ubuntu 18.04. On this, we'll install Docker and pull the Sourcegraph Docker image.

Create Droplet

Choose Ubuntu 18.04 (20.04 has some issues installing Docker) and a droplet with enough disk space. Here we chose one that costs $40/month – but choose a smaller one if you know you only have a few repositories.

Further down, select a region that is close to you, set up an SSH key and give your server a friendly name like sourcegraph-server.

Finally, click "Create" and wait a few seconds until you get your IP address and can connect to the server.

⚒️ Configuring the VPS

We're going to just use the default root user which has some security implications but as we are not going to use this server for anything except Sourcegraph, these are not major. If you prefer to set everything up as a non-root user, you'll need to prefix most of the Linux commands with sudo.

Connect to your instance with SSH, substituting the IP address you got from DigitalOcean.

ssh root@

Install Docker by running:

snap install docker

Open a Tmux pane (where we'll leave Sourcegraph running) by typing tmux.

Now pull the Sourcegraph Docker container by running (check for an updated version of this command at

docker run --publish 7080:7080 --publish --rm --volume ~/.sourcegraph/config:/etc/sourcegraph --volume ~/.sourcegraph/data:/var/opt/sourcegraph sourcegraph/server:3.24.1

It will take half a minute or so to pull the dependencies and initialise Sourcegraph and then you'll see Sourcegraph running on port 7080.

Sourcegraph running in the terminal

Press Ctrl-B and then tap d to detach the Tmux session. This will leave Sourcegraph running in the background even after you close the SSH sessions.

If you want to test it out at this stage, open a new SSH connection to your server along with a local portforward (substituting your DigitalOcean IP address again)

ssh -L 7080:localhost:7080 root@

This will forward your local port 7080 through SSH to connect to localhost:7080 on the DigitalOcean instance where Sourcegraph is running. On your local machine, you can now visit http://localhost:7080 in your browser and you should see the Sourcegraph welcome page.

Welcome to Sourcegraph

Don't sign up yet – let's first set up a proper connection using a custom domain and SSL.

👉 Pointing a Domain at your Droplet

We could access our server by typing in the IP address, but it's hard to remember and we can't easily get an SSL certificate to access our code securely over HTTPS this way.

Instead, we'll point a subdomain of a domain we control – e.g. at the DigitalOcean droplet so that we can access the Sourcegraph server by visiting this domain.

DNS record

In your DNS control panel, add an "A" record that points a subdomain to the IP address (the same one you used to connect to your VPS via SSH).

In NameCheap, this looks as follows, but this will change depending on your domain registrar or DNS provider:

Add subdomain DNS record

Save the changes and wait for the DNS record to propagate. This can take up to 72 hours, but in practice usually takes less than 5 minutes.

⌨️ Installing Nginx and configuring a reverse proxy

Instead of having users connect directly to the port opened by Docker, we're going to set up Nginx as a scalable web server in front of Docker. Nginx will be responsible for responding to all requests from end users and proxying them over to our Docker connection.


apt update && apt install nginx

Once installed, you should be able to visit the subdomain we configured in the previous step and see the Nginx default welcome page.

Default Nginx Page

Configuring Nginx

To configure Nginx as a proxy to the Docker container, we'll need to edit the file at /etc/nginx/sites-available/default. Open this with Nano (or vim if you prefer) by running:

nano /etc/nginx/sites-available/default

Remove everything in the file and add the below in its place. Substitute both instances of with the subdomain that you set up in the previous step.

server {

    access_log            /var/log/nginx/sourcegraph.access.log;

    location / {

      proxy_set_header    Host $host;
      proxy_set_header    X-Real-IP $remote_addr;
      proxy_set_header    X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
      proxy_set_header    X-Forwarded-Proto $scheme;

      proxy_pass          http://localhost:7080;
      proxy_read_timeout  90;

      proxy_redirect      http://localhost:7080;

    listen 80;

This links up the running Docker container with Nginx, meaning that any traffic that comes in on our subdomain will be redirected to the Sourcegraph server running inside Docker.

Save the file and run:

service nginx reload

You should now be able to see the same Source Welcome page running on Note that the secure version (https) will not work yet, as we still need to set up an SSL certificate.

🎫 Getting an SSL certificate with LetsEncrypt

Install certbot using snap by running the following command:

snap install --classic certbot snap install --classic certbot

Then run:


And follow the prompts to:

  • Enter your email address.
  • Agree to the terms of use.
  • Opt in or out of communications from the EFF.
  • Select the domain.

Certbot will automatically modify the Nginx config file that we edited earlier to use https instead of http.

Visit and now you can finally fill out the form to sign up for Sourcegraph.

✏️ Configuring Sourcegraph with the custom domain and GitHub

Sourcegraph is very configurable and has many different options. The two most important ones to get started with using it are:

  • Tell Sourcegraph where it is hosted.
  • Tell Sourcegraph where to find your code.

Configuring the domain

Visit and uncomment the third line (remove the // at the start). Then replace the domain with the subdomain that we chose earlier.

Configuring the external domain

Press the green "Save Changes" button and choose "Restart Server" when prompted.

Linking to GitHub

To fetch your code from GitHub, you need to get a token from GitHub. Log into your GitHub account and visit Click "Generate new token" and follow the prompts.

You'll only see your token once so save it somewhere safe and secure such as a password manager.

Now navigate to and choose GitHub. Modify the configuration to:

  • Add your GitHub token.
  • Add any organizations for which you want to clone and index all repositories.
  • Add any individual repositories that you want to clone and index.

For example, in the configuration below, we clone all public repositories from google and all public and private repositories from ritza-co (in our example, the GitHub token has access to the whole ritza-co org). We also add repositories for React and Tensorflow individually.

  "url": "",
  "token": "e10db0e8307726f57254875992c24dd7ca2e2b23",
  "orgs": ["google", "ritza-co"],
  "repos": ["facebook/react", "tensorflow/tensorflow"]

Click the blue "Add repositories" button below the text box and wait for Sourcegraph to clone and index your repositories.

While it's doing that, you can go ahead and try out your first Sourcegraph search (which might be incomplete while the repos are still cloning). For example, below you can see all empty print statements in Python files across all code.

Searching for empty print statements

Unlike GitHub search, it respects the specials characters and only returns matches including the (). It also has easy options to exclude or include forks, match case, and a lot more besides.

Take a look at for some example searches and to start getting to know the syntax.