Remote harvesting extension for CKAN

ckanext-harvest - Remote harvesting extension


This extension provides a common harvesting framework for ckan extensions and adds a CLI and a WUI to CKAN to manage harvesting sources and jobs.


  1. The harvest extension can use two different backends. You can choose whichever you prefer depending on your needs, but Redis has been found to be more stable and reliable so it is the recommended one:
    • Redis (recommended): To install it, run:

      sudo apt-get install redis-server

      On your CKAN configuration file, add: = redis
    • RabbitMQ: To install it, run:

      sudo apt-get install rabbitmq-server

      On your CKAN configuration file, add: = rabbitmq
  2. Install the extension into your python environment:

    (pyenv) $ pip install -e git+
  3. Install the rest of python modules required by the extension:

    (pyenv) $ pip install -r pip-requirements.txt
  4. Make sure the CKAN configuration ini file contains the harvest main plugin, as well as the harvester for CKAN instances if you need it (included with the extension):

    ckan.plugins = harvest ckan_harvester
  5. If you haven’t done it yet on the previous step, define the backend that you are using with the option (it defaults to rabbitmq): = redis

There are a number of configuration options available for the backends. These don’t need to be modified at all if you are using the default Redis or RabbitMQ install (step 1). The list below shows the available options and their default values:

  • Redis:
    • (localhost)
    • (6379)
    • (0)
  • RabbitMQ:
    • (guest)
    • (guest)
    • (localhost)
    • (5672)
    • (/)


Run the following command to create the necessary tables in the database:

paster --plugin=ckanext-harvest harvester initdb --config=mysite.ini

Finally, restart CKAN to have the changes take affect:

sudo service apache2 restart

After installation, the harvest source listing should be available under /harvest, eg:


Command line interface

The following operations can be run from the command line using the paster --plugin=ckanext-harvest harvester command:

harvester initdb
  - Creates the necessary tables in the database

harvester source {name} {url} {type} [{title}] [{active}] [{owner_org}] [{frequency}] [{config}]
  - create new harvest source

harvester rmsource {id}
  - remove (deactivate) a harvester source, whilst leaving any related datasets, jobs and objects

harvester clearsource {id}
  - clears all datasets, jobs and objects related to a harvest source, but keeps the source itself

harvester sources [all]
  - lists harvest sources
    If 'all' is defined, it also shows the Inactive sources

harvester job {source-id}
  - create new harvest job

harvester jobs
  - lists harvest jobs

harvester run
  - runs harvest jobs

harvester gather_consumer
  - starts the consumer for the gathering queue

harvester fetch_consumer
  - starts the consumer for the fetching queue

harvester purge_queues
  - removes all jobs from fetch and gather queue

harvester [-j] [--segments={segments}] import [{source-id}]
  - perform the import stage with the last fetched objects, optionally belonging to a certain source.
    Please note that no objects will be fetched from the remote server. It will only affect
    the last fetched objects already present in the database.

    If the -j flag is provided, the objects are not joined to existing datasets. This may be useful
    when importing objects for the first time.

    The --segments flag allows to define a string containing hex digits that represent which of
    the 16 harvest object segments to import. e.g. 15af will run segments 1,5,a,f

harvester job-all
  - create new harvest jobs for all active sources.

harvester reindex
  - reindexes the harvest source datasets

The commands should be run with the pyenv activated and refer to your sites configuration file (mysite.ini in this example):

paster --plugin=ckanext-harvest harvester sources --config=mysite.ini


Starting from CKAN 2.0, harvest sources behave exactly the same as datasets (they are actually internally implemented as a dataset type). That means that can be searched and faceted, and that the same authorization rules can be applied to them. The default authorization settings are based on organizations (equivalent to the publisher profile found in old versions).

Have a look at the Authorization documentation on CKAN core to see how to configure your instance depending on your needs.

The CKAN harvester

The plugin includes a harvester for remote CKAN instances. To use it, you need to add the ckan_harvester plugin to your options file:

ckan.plugins = harvest ckan_harvester

After adding it, a ‘CKAN’ option should appear in the ‘New harvest source’ form.

The CKAN harvesters support a number of configuration options to control their behaviour. Those need to be defined as a JSON object in the configuration form field. The currently supported configuration options are:

  • api_version: You can force the harvester to use either version 1 or 2 of the CKAN API. Default is 2.
  • default_tags: A list of tags that will be added to all harvested datasets. Tags don’t need to previously exist.
  • default_groups: A list of groups to which the harvested datasets will be added to. The groups must exist. Note that you must use ids or names to define the groups according to the API version you defined (names for version 1, ids for version 2).
  • default_extras: A dictionary of key value pairs that will be added to extras of the harvested datasets. You can use the following replacement strings, that will be replaced before creating or updating the datasets:
    • {dataset_id}
    • {harvest_source_id}
    • {harvest_source_url} # Will be stripped of trailing forward slashes (/)
    • {harvest_source_title} # Requires CKAN 1.6
    • {harvest_job_id}
    • {harvest_object_id}
  • override_extras: Assign default extras even if they already exist in the remote dataset. Default is False (only non existing extras are added).
  • user: User who will run the harvesting process. Please note that this user needs to have permission for creating packages, and if default groups were defined, the user must have permission to assign packages to these groups.
  • api_key: If the remote CKAN instance has restricted access to the API, you can provide a CKAN API key, which will be sent in any request.
  • read_only: Create harvested packages in read-only mode. Only the user who performed the harvest (the one defined in the previous setting or the ‘harvest’ sysadmin) will be able to edit and administer the packages created from this harvesting source. Logged in users and visitors will be only able to read them.
  • force_all: By default, after the first harvesting, the harvester will gather only the modified packages from the remote site since the last harvesting. Setting this property to true will force the harvester to gather all remote packages regardless of the modification date. Default is False.
  • remote_groups: By default, remote groups are ignored. Setting this property enables the harvester to import the remote groups. There are two alternatives. Setting it to ‘only_local’ will just import groups which name/id is already present in the local CKAN. Setting it to ‘create’ will make an attempt to create the groups by copying the details from the remote CKAN.
  • remote_orgs: By default, remote organizations are ignored. Setting this property enables the harvester to import remote organizations. There are two alternatives. Setting it to ‘only_local’ will just import organizations which id is already present in the local CKAN. Setting it to ‘create’ will make an attempt to create the organizations by copying the details from the remote CKAN.
  • clean_tags: By default, tags are not stripped of accent characters, spaces and capital letters for display. If this option is set to True, accent characters will be replaced by their ascii equivalents, capital letters replaced by lower-case ones, and spaces replaced with dashes. Setting this option to False gives the same effect as leaving it unset.

Here is an example of a configuration object (the one that must be entered in the configuration field):

 "api_version": 1,
 "override_extras": true,
 "read_only": true,
 "remote_groups": "only_local",
 "remote_orgs": "create"

The harvesting interface

Extensions can implement the harvester interface to perform harvesting operations. The harvesting process takes place on three stages:

  1. The gather stage compiles all the resource identifiers that need to be fetched in the next stage (e.g. in a CSW server, it will perform a GetRecords operation).
  2. The fetch stage gets the contents of the remote objects and stores them in the database (e.g. in a CSW server, it will perform n GetRecordById operations).
  3. The import stage performs any necessary actions on the fetched resource (generally creating a CKAN package, but it can be anything the extension needs).

Plugins willing to implement the harvesting interface must provide the following methods:

from ckan.plugins.core import SingletonPlugin, implements
from ckanext.harvest.interfaces import IHarvester

class MyHarvester(SingletonPlugin):
A Test Harvester

def info(self):
    Harvesting implementations must provide this method, which will return a
    dictionary containing different descriptors of the harvester. The
    returned dictionary should contain:

    * name: machine-readable name. This will be the value stored in the
      database, and the one used by ckanext-harvest to call the appropiate
    * title: human-readable name. This will appear in the form's select box
      in the WUI.
    * description: a small description of what the harvester does. This will
      appear on the form as a guidance to the user.

    A complete example may be::

            'name': 'csw',
            'title': 'CSW Server',
            'description': 'A server that implements OGC's Catalog Service
                            for the Web (CSW) standard'

    :returns: A dictionary with the harvester descriptors

def validate_config(self, config):


    Harvesters can provide this method to validate the configuration entered in the
    form. It should return a single string, which will be stored in the database.
    Exceptions raised will be shown in the form's error messages.

    :param harvest_object_id: Config string coming from the form
    :returns: A string with the validated configuration options

def get_original_url(self, harvest_object_id):


    This optional but very recommended method allows harvesters to return
    the URL to the original remote document, given a Harvest Object id.
    Note that getting the harvest object you have access to its guid as
    well as the object source, which has the URL.
    This URL will be used on error reports to help publishers link to the
    original document that has the errors. If this method is not provided
    or no URL is returned, only a link to the local copy of the remote
    document will be shown.

        * For a CKAN record: http://{ckan-instance}/api/rest/{guid}
        * For a WAF record: http://{waf-root}/{file-name}
        * For a CSW record: http://{csw-server}/?Request=GetElementById&Id={guid}&...

    :param harvest_object_id: HarvestObject id
    :returns: A string with the URL to the original document

def gather_stage(self, harvest_job):
    The gather stage will recieve a HarvestJob object and will be
    responsible for:
        - gathering all the necessary objects to fetch on a later.
          stage (e.g. for a CSW server, perform a GetRecords request)
        - creating the necessary HarvestObjects in the database, specifying
          the guid and a reference to its job. The HarvestObjects need a
          reference date with the last modified date for the resource, this
          may need to be set in a different stage depending on the type of
        - creating and storing any suitable HarvestGatherErrors that may
        - returning a list with all the ids of the created HarvestObjects.

    :param harvest_job: HarvestJob object
    :returns: A list of HarvestObject ids

def fetch_stage(self, harvest_object):
    The fetch stage will receive a HarvestObject object and will be
    responsible for:
        - getting the contents of the remote object (e.g. for a CSW server,
          perform a GetRecordById request).
        - saving the content in the provided HarvestObject.
        - creating and storing any suitable HarvestObjectErrors that may
        - returning True if everything went as expected, False otherwise.

    :param harvest_object: HarvestObject object
    :returns: True if everything went right, False if errors were found

def import_stage(self, harvest_object):
    The import stage will receive a HarvestObject object and will be
    responsible for:
        - performing any necessary action with the fetched object (e.g
          create a CKAN package).
          Note: if this stage creates or updates a package, a reference
          to the package should be added to the HarvestObject.
        - creating the HarvestObject - Package relation (if necessary)
        - creating and storing any suitable HarvestObjectErrors that may
        - returning True if everything went as expected, False otherwise.

    :param harvest_object: HarvestObject object
    :returns: True if everything went right, False if errors were found

See the CKAN harvester for an example of how to implement the harvesting interface:


Here you can also find other examples of custom harvesters:

Running the harvest jobs

The harvesting extension uses two different queues, one that handles the gathering and another one that handles the fetching and importing. To start the consumers run the following command (make sure you have your python environment activated):

paster --plugin=ckanext-harvest harvester gather_consumer --config=mysite.ini

On another terminal, run the following command:

paster --plugin=ckanext-harvest harvester fetch_consumer --config=mysite.ini

Finally, on a third console, run the following command to start any pending harvesting jobs:

paster --plugin=ckanext-harvest harvester run --config=mysite.ini

The run command not only starts any pending harvesting jobs, but also flags those that are finished, allowing new jobs to be created on that particular source and refreshing the source statistics. That means that you will need to run this command before being able to create a new job on a source that was being harvested (On a production site you will tipically have a cron job that runs the command regularly, see next section).

Setting up the harvesters on a production server

The previous approach works fine during development or debugging, but it is not recommended for production servers. There are several possible ways of setting up the harvesters, which will depend on your particular infrastructure and needs. The bottom line is that the gather and fetch process should be kept running somehow and then the run command should be run periodically to start any pending jobs.

The following approach is the one generally used on CKAN deployments, and it will probably suit most of the users. It uses Supervisor, a tool to monitor processes, and a cron job to run the harvest jobs, and it assumes that you have already installed and configured the harvesting extension (See Installation if not).

Note: It is recommended to run the harvest process from a non-root user (generally the one you are running CKAN with). Replace the user ckan in the following steps with the one you are using.

  1. Install Supervisor:

    sudo apt-get install supervisor

    You can check if it is running with this command:

    ps aux | grep supervisord

    You should see a line similar to this one:

    root      9224  0.0  0.3  56420 12204 ?        Ss   15:52   0:00 /usr/bin/python /usr/bin/supervisord
  2. Supervisor needs to have programs added to its configuration, which will describe the tasks that need to be monitored. This configuration files are stored in /etc/supervisor/conf.d.

    Create a file named /etc/supervisor/conf.d/ckan_harvesting.conf, and copy the following contents:

    ; ===============================
    ; ckan harvester
    ; ===============================
    command=/usr/lib//ckan/default/bin/paster --plugin=ckanext-harvest harvester gather_consumer --config=/etc/ckan/std/std.ini
    ; user that owns virtual environment.
    command=/usr/lib//ckan/default/bin/paster --plugin=ckanext-harvest harvester fetch_consumer --config=/etc/ckan/std/std.ini
    ; user that owns virtual environment.

    There are a number of things that you will need to replace with your specific installation settings (the example above shows paths from a ckan instance installed via Debian packages):

    • command: The absolute path to the paster command located in the python virtual environment and the absolute path to the config ini file.
    • user: The unix user you are running CKAN with
    • stdout_logfile and stderr_logfile: All output coming from the harvest consumers will be written to this file. Ensure that the necessary permissions are setup.

    The rest of the configuration options are pretty self explanatory. Refer to the Supervisor documentation to know more about these and other options available.

  3. Start the supervisor tasks with the following commands:

    sudo supervisorctl reread
    sudo supervisorctl add ckan_gather_consumer
    sudo supervisorctl add ckan_fetch_consumer
    sudo supervisorctl start ckan_gather_consumer
    sudo supervisorctl start ckan_fetch_consumer

    To check that the processes are running, you can run:

    sudo supervisorctl status
    ckan_fetch_consumer              RUNNING    pid 6983, uptime 0:22:06
    ckan_gather_consumer             RUNNING    pid 6968, uptime 0:22:45

    Some problems you may encounter when starting the processes:

    • ckan_gather_consumer: ERROR (no such process)
      Double-check your supervisor configuration file and stop and restart the supervisor daemon:

      sudo service supervisor start; sudo service supervisor stop
    • ckan_gather_consumer: ERROR (abnormal termination)
      Something prevented the command from running properly. Have a look at the log file that you defined in the stdout_logfile section to see what happened. Common errors include:

      `socket.error: [Errno 111] Connection refused`
      RabbitMQ is not running::
        sudo service rabbitmq-server start
  4. Once we have the two consumers running and monitored, we just need to create a cron job that will run the run harvester command periodically. To do so, edit the cron table with the following command (it may ask you to choose an editor):

    sudo crontab -e -u ckan

    Note that we are running this command as the same user we configured the processes to be run with (ckan in our example).

    Paste this line into your crontab, again replacing the paths to paster and the ini file with yours:

    # m  h  dom mon dow   command
    */15 *  *   *   *     /usr/lib/ckan/default/bin/paster --plugin=ckanext-harvest harvester run --config=/etc/ckan/std/std.ini

    This particular example will check for pending jobs every fifteen minutes. You can of course modify this periodicity, this Wikipedia page has a good overview of the crontab syntax.



For contributing to ckanext-spatial or its documentation, follow the same guidelines that apply to CKAN core, described in CONTRIBUTING.


This extension is open and licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL) v3.0. Its full text may be found at:

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