Getting Started

Is there a Nitrogen Tutorial?

Yes! You can view the updated slides from Rusty's Nitrogen Tutorial at the Erlang User Conference 2010 here.

Is there a Nitrogen Book?

Yes! It's called Build it With Nitrogen by Lloyd R. Prentice and Jesse Gumm (Nitrogen Project Lead)

How do I create a new Nitrogen application?

Note: If you want to add Nitrogen to an existing application, see this question

First, check the Downloads page to see if a pre-built package exists for your OS/architecture. If it does, then just download the package, unzip, and you are ready to start coding. (You don't even need to have Erlang installed, the Nitrogen binaries come with it pre-packaged.)

If you don't see a package that will run on your computer, or you want to try running from the latest code in source control, then follow the steps below:

Pull the latest source code from GitHub:

git clone

Then run:

make rel_inets

This creates a completely self-contained starter application under ../myapp that runs on Inets, Erlang's built in HTTP server. "Self-contained" here means that the ../myapp directory contains everything you need to develop and run nitrogen, including the Erlang VM. To create a .tar.gz version of this code, exactly like you would find on the Downloads page, run:

make package_inets

You can also run Nitrogen with Mochiweb, Yaws, Cowboy, or Webmachine. Run one of the following make commands:

make rel_cowboy
make rel_mochiweb
make rel_webmachine
make rel_yaws

FreeBSD: Compiling on FreeBSD requires using gmake instead of make, otherwise the steps are the same

Microsoft Windows: There are special instructions for Windows users who wish to compile on Windows. Read about Compiling Nitrogen on Windows

There are also "slim release" versions that can be built. These take advantage of a new feature introduced in Erlang's R15B02 release, which packages up an application, but does not include a full Erlang distribution (instead, it assumes the target system has Erlang installed already).

You can create these "slim releases" by typing:

make slim_cowboy
make slim_inets
make slim_mochiweb
make slim_webmachine
make slim_yaws

All of the above commands can be provided with PREFIX or PROJECT variables to change the destination of the project, and the project directory name and node name. Note: it does not currently change the actual name of the Erlang application (the Application will still be called "nitrogen").

For example:

make slim_yaws PROJECT`my_awesome_yaws_app PREFIX`~/my_web_apps

Will create a my_web_apps/my_awesome_yaws_app directory in your home directory.

How do I add Nitrogen into an existing Erlang application?

As of 2.2.0, adding Nitrogen to an existing Erlang application is simple.

Clone Nitrogen somewhere on your machine:

git clone git://

Then, from the root of your application's directory, run the embed script from the Nitrogen repo:


/Note: You must run this from your application's directory, not from the Nitrogen directory./

/Note 2: This assumes your system has Perl installed/

You can read the full writeup in in this blog post.

How do I start/stop/manage Nitrogen?

To start Nitrogen in the console

bin/nitrogen console

To start Nitrogen, type

bin/nitrogen start

To attach to a detached Nitrogen console

bin/nitrogen attach

To stop Nitrogen

bin/nitrogen stop

How do I change configuration settings?

Read all about the configuration options.

Where is the code for my website?

Your entire site's code can be found in site/.

Within there, you'll find:

  • site/src :: Your erlang code

  • site/static :: Where static resources like CSS, Javascript, and Images Go

  • site/templates :: Where your site's HTML templates go

  • site/ebin :: Where the compiled BEAM files go.

If you're using a full release, it's recommended to put the site/ directory under source control.

If you're using a slim release, you can put the entire application under source control.

How do I compile my code?

There are three different ways to compile code in Nitrogen:

  • If you are in the Erlang console then run sync:go().

    This will start the sync process, which scans the filesystem for changes and automatically recompiles modules as they are changed.

    Note: sync will only recompile files that are changed /after/ sync was started. That means that if sync is not currently running, and you change a file, it will not detect that change.

  • If Nitrogen is running in the background then run =./bin/dev compile=

    This connects to the running Nitrogen application and issues a sync:go(). command.

  • If Nitrogen is stopped then run make

    This calls ./rebar get-deps to retrieve dependencies, ./do-plugins.escript to process any plugins, and finally ./rebar compile.

How do I create new pages, custom elements, or custom actions?

Nitrogen 2.0+ includes a developer tool to help you get started with a bare-bones page, element, or action. This tool uses the files found in ./site/.prototypes as templates. If you wish, you can edit files in this directory to make them more suitable for your application.

  • To create a new page at http://localhost/user/login, run:

    : ./bin/dev page user_login

  • To create a new element called #custom_element{}, run:

    : ./bin/dev element custom_element

  • To create a new action called #custom_action{}, run:

    : ./bin/dev action custom_action

The code is placed under ./site/src, ./site/src/elements, or ./site/src/actions for pages, elements, and actions, respectively.

How do I make a mobile version?

You can read all about how to make mobile-enabled sites with Nitrogen by reading our Mobile Integration Guide

How do I work with Nitrogen Plugins?

Adding Plugins to a Nitrogen app is as simple as adding them as rebar dependencies.

    {my_plugin, {git, "git://", {branch, master}}}

Then running:


You can read more detail about the Nitrogen plugin system its own section here in the documentation.

You can also play with creating your own Nitrogen plugins by checking out and modifying our Sample Nitrogen Plugin

How do I upgrade to a new version of Nitrogen?

Upgrading to 2.3

Following the instructions for upgrading to 2.2.2 will work except that websockets won't be available. For a more complete upgrade guide, see the See the 2.3 upgrading guide

Upgrading from 2.1 to any version up to 2.2.2

Edit your rebar.config file and make sure dependencies are pointing at the desired tag (ex: {tag, "v2.2.2"}) then run:

make upgrade

This will upgrade to the latest version of Nitrogen and it's dependencies. It will not upgrade to the latest Erlang Runtime System. If you wish to upgrade your version of ERTS, You'll want to follow the directions below for upgrading from pre-2.1 to 2.1+.

Note: If you've run make upgrade and nothing seems to have worked, please check out the relevant question in the Troubleshooting guide.

If you're running a version of Nitrogen pre 2.1 and want to upgrade to 2.1.0 and above:

  • Build or download the new Nitrogen environment for your architecture and preferred web server. Unzip to a new directory.

  • Copy your existing ./etc directory to the new build. This retains your configuration settings.

  • Copy your existing ./site directory to the new build, except for the files in ./site/static/nitrogen. You will want to use the new version of any files in ./site/static/nitrogen.

    This will update the Erlang version, the dependencies files, and all of the Javascript used by Nitrogen.

    You will also need to update your code if there are any API level changes.

What do I do if I run into errors? How do I troubleshoot?

See our Troubleshooting Guide

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