Installation of the Celery task queue

Some tasks of CATMAID can be somewhat time consuming and don’t fit into the regular request-response cycle, e.g. cropping or statistics aggregation. These tasks are run asynchronously by the task queue Celery. CATMAID doesn’t talk directly to Celery, but uses a so called message broker, which Celery talks to to get new tasks. Different brokers are supported by Celery and a popular choice is RabbitMQ. Like most of the CATMAID server configuration, Celery can be configured through the file.

Note that Celery or the message broker don’t need to be running to run CATMAID in general. This only prevents certain functionality (e.g. cropping) from working. If however a message broker is around, CATMAID will accept tasks, which will get executed once Celery is started.

Below you find information on how to setup Celery and RabbitMQ in the context of CATMAID. Since the message broker is the part that CATMAID talks to, it is configured first.


The basic CATMAID setup needs to be completed before configuring Celery and RabbitMQ (or any other message broker). This should already install Celery as a dependency.

RabbitMQ as message broker

It is the so called message broker that takes tasks and tells Celery to execute them. There are several options available and we focus on RabbitMQ, which has proven fast and reliable for our use cases and can be configured to provide access through Django’s admin interface. First, the RabbitMQ server has to be installed:

sudo apt-get install rabbitmq-server

This should also start the server automatically. RabbitMQ comes with a plugin infrastructure and one particular useful plugin is one that adds support for management commands. Based on this one is able to get information on Celery workers through the broker from within Django’s admin interface. To enable it, call:

sudo rabbitmq-plugins enable rabbitmq_management

If the rabbitmq-plugins binary is not available in your environment, check the typical installation directory and run the tool from there:


After enabling or disabling plugins, RabbitMQ has to be restarted:

sudo service rabbitmq-server restart

To display a list of all available plugin and whether they are enabled, call:

sudo rabbitmq-plugins list

This also enables a web-interface will be available on port 15672. The default user and password combination is guest/guest. Of course it is advisable to change these login credentials.

This should be all to have RabbitMQ running. Next, we need to add a user and virtual host on the RabbmitMQ server, which adds to security and makes it easier to run multiple isolated Celery servers with a single RabbmitMQ instance:

sudo rabbitmqctl add_user catmaid_user catmaid_pass
sudo rabbitmqctl add_vhost catmaid
sudo rabbitmqctl set_permissions -p catmaid catmaid_user ".*" ".*" ".*"

Now we can configure Celery to talk to this message broker.


To troubleshoot whether messages get received and consumed, it is useful to enable the management plugin like shown above and then download from the local RabbitMQ server the rabbitmqadmin tool. This allows to interact with the server and its queues from the command line:

wget http://localhost:15672/cli/rabbitmqadmin
chmod +x rabbitmqadmin
./rabbitmqadmin list queues vhost name node messages message_stats.publish_details.rate
./rabbitmqadmin -f long -d 3 list queues
./rabbitmqadmin get queue=<queue-name> requeue=true

Celery configuration

The configuration of celery and the message broker happens in the file. To tell Celery where to expect which broker, the CELERY_BROKER_URL is used. If the default RabbitMQ port was not changed (5672) and together with the previously created user and virtual host, the broker URL looks like this:

CELERY_BROKER_URL = 'amqp://catmaid_user:catmaid_pass@localhost:5672/catmaid'

If the defaults don’t work for you, you can read more about the format here.

To specify how many concurrent tasks Celery should execute, you can use the CELERY_WORKER_CONCURRENCY variable. It defaults to the number of CPU cores, but if you would want to limit it to e.g. a single process, set:


There are many more configuration options, but these two are the two central ones in our context. You can find a list of all options along with their description in the Celery documentation. Note that for CATMAID all options have to have the prefix CELERY_ and have to be upper case. Also, CATMAID currently doesn’t need a result back-end.

In a production environment you’ll want to run the worker in the background as a daemon, but for testing you should be able to to start the Celery worker like this:

celery -A mysite worker -l info

To run Celery as a daemon, you have to integrate in your process management system. The section discussing Supervisord for process management includes an example on how to do this for Celery and an actual start script for Celery is shown below. Also, make sure that this Celery daemon process has the permissions to write to the temporary directory (TMP_DIR).

Message broker access from admin panel

To collect worker events, one has to start Celery workers with the -E flag, e.g.:

celery -A mysite worker -l info -E

All tasks will then be manageable from with Django’s admin interface.

Periodic Tasks

The Celery infrastructure can also be used to execute tasks periodically. To do so, both a Celery worker (see above) and the Celery beat scheduler have to be started. The scheduler can be run like this:

celery -A mysite beat -l info

The Celery documentation has to say a lot mor about this, but in general periodic tasks are taken from the CELERY_BEAT_SCHEDULE setting. CATMAID includes two default tasks that are configured to run every night, if enabled:

At 23:30 Cleanup cropped image stacks
At 23:45 Update project statistics

Like said earlier, to actually execute these tasks, both a Celery worker and a Celery beat scheduler have to be running. If you in fact use these tasks, you may also want to disable the automatic removal of cropped images with every download by setting:

# Disable automatic clean-up of the cropping tool

Both tasks above are defined in CATMAID’s file. New tasks can be added by adding new entries to the CELERY_BEAT_SCHEDULE dictionary in the file. For instance, to print the number of available CATMAID projects once a minute, the following could be added to

from celery import shared_task
from celery.schedules import crontab

def print_project_count():
  from catmaid.models import Project
  n_projects = Project.objects.count()
  return 'Number of available projects: {}'.format(n_projects)

CELERY_BEAT_SCHEDULE['print-project-count'] = {
  'task': 'print_project_count',
  'schedule': crontab(minute='*/1')

To specify when and how often the task should be run, datetime.timedelta can be used as well . Other tasks can be defined in a similar fashion.

Besides defining the tasks themselves, the scheduler also requires write permissions to the projects/mysite directory. By default it will create there a file called celerybeat-schedule to keep track of task execution. To adjust this file name and path of this file, use the --schedule option for Celery beat.


Supervisord is a process management tool which makes setting up processes very easy. This documentation talks here in detail about it. A script that can be used with the example provided there would look like this ( in the example):


# Virtualenv location
# Django project directory
# Which settings file should Django use

echo "Starting celery as `whoami`"

# Activate the virtual environment
source $ENVDIR/bin/activate

# Run Celery
exec celery -A mysite worker -l info