Setting up GitLab on the new server

Posted on Fri 13 April 2018 in Technical Solutions


Back when I ran Vipers, my fellow admins and I hosted a small set of code repositories - SVN, Mercurial and Git - to host some of our custom code. We ran RhodeCode and the fork, Kallithea, when RhodeCode close sourced some of it's code and couldn't figure out if the license it used actually allowed themselves to do that. A private repository was awesome for plugins, server configurations and personal projects.

When the community was shuttered, some of the plugin code was migrated to GitHub and it's sat there untouched since. My personal projects were either migrated to GitHub or simply stored outside of version control if it couldn't go in a public repository. That was less than ideal, but it worked. With the new home server set up, I wanted to get source control set back up for my non-public personal projects.

I rejected RhodeCode right away due to the experiences I had when they changed licenses. Turns out, they had done it again in the meantime. I didn't want to deal with that. I attempted to install Kallithea using their instructions, but I kept running into Python syntax errors. It wasn't worth the time and effort to figure out the problem.

So, I turned to GitLab. It'd definitely overkill for what I really need, but it works and if I ever truly decide to get fancy, I have a lot of other tools I can use. The core functionality is what I'll be using and is free. The three other versions cost some money and contain features that would be useful for large team, not a single developer or very small team.



Installing GitLab is pretty simple. There are a couple dependencies needed, but I already had both OpenSSH and Postfix installed, so I was able to skip the first step in the official installation guide. I installed the Ubuntu Omnibus package.

sudo apt-get install -y curl openssh-server ca-certificates postfix

Getting the package

The GitLab repository needs to added and then installed. To add the repository, issue this command:

curl | sudo bash

To install the GitLab package, you need to provide an environment variable when you issue your apt-get install command. This will be the URL where you want to access your GitLab installation.

sudo EXTERNAL_URL="" apt-get install gitlab-ee

Complete the installation

Once the install, above is complete, you need to log in to complete the process. In your browser, navigate to the URL you provided above. Set/reset the password as prompted and then login.

Post-install Tweaks

Using Apache instead of Nginx

The omnibus package comes with Nginx bundled. Unfortunately, I don't have any experience managing an Nginx instance but do have experience with Apache. I want to use something that I know to make my life easier. Fortunately, GitLab can handle this with a few minor changes to the configuration.

In the /etc/gitlab/gitlab.rb file you'll need to make several settings changes. You also need Apache already installed and the www-data user (on Ubuntu) added to the gitlab-www group.

  • Find nginx['enable'] and set it to false
  • In web_server['external_users'], addwww-data` to the array. Note that this is an array and not a single string.
  • In `gitlab_rails['trusted_proxies'], add the IP address of the Apache web server.
  • Change the gitlab workhorse settings to the following (default) values.

These may already be in the configuration file. If so, you probably don't need to modify them.

gitlab_workhorse['listen_network'] = "tcp"
gitlab_workhorse['listen_addr'] = ""

Finally, run sudo gitlab-ctl reconfigure for the settings to take effect.

Now, you need to configure Apache's virtual host. GitLab provides example virtual hosts. Since I installed the omnibus package and am using Apache 2.4, I selected the gitlab-omnibus-apache24.conf file. Adjust all instances of YOUR_SERVER_FQDN to the fully qualified domain name of your server.

This will go in /etc/apache2/sites-available/ and a symlink in /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/ will point to this file.

sudo touch /etc/apache2/sites-available/gitlab.conf
sudo ln -s /etc/apache2/sites-available/gitlab.conf /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/gitlab.conf

Use SSL to access GitLab

The example virtual host provided by GitLab uses HTTP only. I want to set up my instance to use HTTPS. I'll be doing this with Let's Encrypt, like I did when I set up NextCloud in the previous post. I cover the exact steps for Let's Encrypt in another post. The keys referenced in the virtual host configuration file below created by that process.

The first change to make is to redirect the HTTP version of your domain to HTTPS. The goal is that all traffic to GitLab will go over SSL. Adjust the ServerName variable as appropriate.

<VirtualHost *:80>
  ServerSignature Off

  RewriteEngine on
  RewriteCond %{HTTPS} !=on
  RewriteRule .* https://%{SERVER_NAME}%{REQUEST_URI} [NE,R,L]

Then, everything in the sample virtual host file can be put in the <VirtualHost *:443> block.

At the top of this block, we need to reference the Let's Encrypt keys:

SSLProtocol all -SSLv2
SSLHonorCipherOrder on
Header add Strict-Transport-Security: "max-age=15768000;includeSubdomains"
SSLCompression Off
SSLCertificateFile /path/to/dehydrated/certs/
SSLCertificateKeyFile /path/to/dehydrated/certs/
SSLCertificateChainFile /path/to/dehydrated/certs/

Save and restart Apache. You should be automatically redirected over HTTPS when you visit your GitLab URL.

Allow spaces in repository names

One of the only problems I ran into with GitLab is that, by default, repositories with spaces in them can't be viewed in the web browser. It throws a 400 Bad Request when trying to view the directory. There is a bug report regarding this problem. The developers are working on updating the samples in a way that is guaranteed to work through the whole system.

For me, though, the first comment which suggests a minor RewireRule change works great. In the virtual host, fine the line

RewriteRule .*{REQUEST_URI} [P,QSA,NE]

and remove the NE so that it reads

RewriteRule .*{REQUEST_URI} [P,QSA]

Restart Apache and you can navigate to the directory with a space.

Setting up SMTP

GitLab can send out emails and requires the ability to do so when resetting a password, at minimum. I don't want this email to be marked as spam, so I used one of the free providers from here and set up an account. After editing the /etc/gitlab/gitlab.rb file to match the provider I selected, I ran gitlab-ctl reconfigure. Now any emails GitLab sends out goes through the trusted email provider instead of coming directly from my residential IP address. This means my mail provider trusts it. I also send out less than 5 emails a month currently, so I am well below the tier where I lose my "free" status.


At this point, GitLab is set up over SSL on my server. I can log in and start setting up repositories. Migrating and importing the code bases I didn't want to put on a public GitHub account was very satisfying. Maybe I'll look into some of the more advanced features GitLab offers in the near future, but for the time being I'm happy with what I have and the knowledge that I can expand what I do with GitLab.

- is a father, an engineer and a computer scientist. He is interested in online community building, tinkering with new code and building new applications. He writes about his experiences with each of these.