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Zoltar: A Launcher For Node-Powered Websites


zoltar launches your node-powered sites on demand when you access them by their actual names. No more "node app", no more "http://localhost:3000".

zoltar also provides a simple web-based console where you can see the output of all of your apps and easily shut them down, launch more, or visit their homepages.

Setting up zoltar

  1. Move your node-powered sites to ~/node-sites (or not, see "Changing the Configuration"). Each one should have an app.js file. The layout looks like this:

    ~/node-sites/site1/app.js ~/node-sites/site2/app.js ~/node-sites/site3/app.js

Etc. Don't put anything that isn't a node-powered website in this folder.

index.js and server.js are also accepted, as well as anything specified as main in package.json.

If you want a custom startup just for Zoltar, you can have that too. Just provide a bash script called start-dev and make sure it's executable, and Zoltar will run that instead.

For instance, you might choose to make sure Express runs in debug mode with a start-dev file like this:

# Run the app in debug mode 
DEBUG=express:* node app

Again, make sure you chmod 700 start-dev so that the script is executable.

  1. Your apps must respect the PORT environment variable and listen on that port. (If you have ever developed for Heroku you may already be doing this. Some high-level libraries, like appy and apostrophe-site, do it out of the box.)

This works:

app.listen(process.env.PORT || 3000);

That will listen on port 3000 if PORT is not set.

  1. Pick up zoltar from github. cd to the folder and run npm install:

     git clone
     cd zoltar
     npm install
  2. Now start the proxy:

     node app
  3. configure your system to use the provided proxy.pac file for webserver proxy configuration. All the major web browsers provide a way to do this, so this works across Windows, Linux and Mac. On a Mac you can just do it system-wide:

  • Go to System Preferences
  • Open "Network"
  • Click "Advanced"
  • Click "Proxies"
  • Check the "Automatic Proxy Configuration" box
  • In the "URL" field, paste this URL and edit it to suit where you downloaded zoltar: file://localhost/Users/boutell/src/zoltar/proxy.pac

Launching Your Sites

Now, try visiting one of your sites! If you have ~/node-sites/site1/app.js then you can visit:

(Note: Chrome will be a pain at first and insist you don't really mean it if you just type without the http. But it'll get over it after it sees you mean it the first couple times.)

Boom! Your site fires up in the background and you see the homepage.

Viewing the Console

Try visiting:

You can see all the console output of each site. There is an "x" to shut each site down.

Launching a Site From the Console

And, if you click one of the tabs at right for sites not already running, they start up and open in your browser.

Visiting a Running Site From the Console

If you double-click the tab for a site that is already running, a new browser window is opened to visit that site.

Restarting a Site

Just click the "↺" icon.

Changing the Configuration

See config-example.js for configurable parameters. Copy that file to config.js and it will take effect. If you change the proxy port you must also change it in proxy.pac and you may need to select that file again in your operating system's network control panel.

Note that you can change the nodeCommand parameter to start your apps via nodemon or forever instead of node.

About P'unk Avenue and Apostrophe

zoltar was created at P'unk Avenue to support our work developing projects with Apostrophe, an open-source content management system built on node.js. zoltar isn't mandatory for Apostrophe and vice versa, but they play very well together. If you like zoltar you should definitely check out the Apostrophe sandbox project.


First off: thanks to proxy.pac zoltar only looks at .dev sites and keeps its filthy mitts completely off the rest of your web traffic. So if a website is not working, don't blame zoltar. It wasn't even there, okay?

Having said that... feel free to open issues on github. We welcome pull requests.