I struggled for a long time to find an easy solution to deployment. It doesn’t take long to get sick of remote accessing your server, navigating to your project directory, doing a git pull and then restarting your server just to push out a new update.

I searched for a while, and it felt like there was something I was missing when it came to deployments.

Enter Git Webhooks

My boss one day introduced me to the wonderful world of git webhooks. They’re easy enough to setup, and make pushing your code a breeze.

Yes, you’re still going to have to remote access your droplet from time to time. But pushing and deploying your code just got a lot easier.

What You’ll Need

  • A VPS (I’m using a DigitalOcean droplet)
  • A git repo and github account (You really should have one of these already)

I set this all up on a fresh droplet, but you don’t have to. You will, however, have to modify some of your directories if you’re not using a fresh install.


First, you need to remote into your VPS

$ ssh user@your-domain-name.comes

Then, you’ll need to run the following commands:

cd /var
mkdir repo && cd repo
mkdir site.git && cd site.git
git init --bare

The --bare tag will initialize a repo with the correct folders and files you’ll need, namely the hooks directory.

Git repos have hooks that allow you to trigger events based on certain git actions. When you initialize a repo, the hooks folder will have some sample hooks that you can view.

vim post-receive to create a new post-receive hooks file.

Enter insert mode by hitting i and then type

git --work-tree=/var/www/yourapp --git-dir/var/repo/site.git checkout -f

Exit insert mode by mashing escape and type ZZ (that’s Shift + Z + Z) and that will save your vim file and exit.

Then, you need to give the post-receive file permissions to run.

chmod +x post-receive

What did we just do?

So, we just initialized a new repository, added a post-receive file that git can recognize when the post-receive hook is fired, and then we gave that file permissions to run.

git-dir is the path to the repository we just setup in /var/repo/site.git. work-tree is where your actual app code is going to live. If you aren’t using a fresh VPS install, you’ll have to edit this line to be where your app is already living.

If you used the MEAN stack preloaded DigitalOCean droplet like I did, your work-tree will end up looking like --work-tree=/opt/appname and leave the git-dir arguments alone.

Note: If you can’t use vim, you should probably learn how to. It’ll come in real handy.

The post-receive file will be run every time a push is completed, and ours tells the hook to transfer our files to the /var/www/yourapp

Again, if your app is hosted in a different folder, your work-tree argument needs to change to match that folder. This is where I spent longer than I want to admit struggling to get webhooks to work.

We’re not done yet, though. These repos are still empty, and we still have to connect your local machine.

Local Git Configuration

In a new tab in your terminal, navigate to your project directory

cd Development/
mkdir appName && cd appName
git init

Note: If you already have a git repo, you can skip that last set of commands and just add the remote.

 git remote add production ssh://<user>@<domain-or-ip-addr>/var/repo/site.git

Now, you can do your first test commit to your server!

git add .
git commit -m "First commit using git webhooks"

You should see some logs that look pretty similar to when you push up to a normal git repo.

git push production master
<user>@<your-ip-or-domain>'s password:
Counting objects: 768, done.
Delta compression using up to 8 threads.
Compressing objects: 100% (332/332), done.
Writing objects: 100% (768/768), 13.48 MiB | 1.22 MiB/s, done.
Total 768 (delta 452), reused 700 (delta 414)
To ssh://<user>@<your-domain-name.com>/var/repo/appName.git
 * [new branch]      master -> master

Root User

If you’re using root user, you should consider setting up a deploy user.

To setup a deploy user, you’ll need to be logged in as root and then

adduser <username> (in our case we used deploy as our username)

You will be prompted to enter a new UNIX password. I would recommend a password at least 20 characters long.

Again, in our case, username would be deploy. Enter the password, and then enter the user’s information if prompted to.

Then, you’ll need to add the deploy user to the sudo group.

usermod -aG sudo <username>

If you want to test this, and see if it was successful, switch to the deploy user

su - <username>

and then run a command that only a sudo user can, such as

sudo ls -la /root

If that is successful, you’ll know your new user has sudo privileges.

Note: The first time you use sudo in a session you’ll be prompted for the password for that user, so be ready to enter that.

Git Hooks and More

You can learn more about git hooks here but the tl;dr is that git has a few preloaded hooks that will fire off and run scripts that you can edit.

Next Level Shit

Feeling brave? Try booting up a testing repo using the same flow we just went over to add an intermediate stage between development and production, and then setup an NGINX server to proxy that folder to a subdomain called testing or beta.