This guide covers handling WebAnno from an administrator’s perspective.

Switch to the new annotation tool INCEpTION! It is like WebAnno but way more modern and with a ton of additional features and improvements. WebAnno has grown old and does not even run anymore on Java versions 16 and higher. In most cases you can simply export your projects from WebAnno, import them into INCEpTION and continue to work. So, don’t hesitate and give it a try!


You can run WebAnno on any major platform supporting Java, i.e. Linux, macOS or Windows. However, we do not provide explicit for setting up a production-ready instance of each of these platforms.

This guide assumes Debian 9.1 (Stretch). It may also work on Ubuntu with some modifications, but we do not test this. Instructions for other Linux distributions and other platforms (i.e. macOS and Windows) likely deviate significantly.

It is further assumed that the user www-data already exists on the system and that it shall be used to run the application.

All commands assume that you are logged in as the root user.

If you cannot log in as root but have to use sudo to become root, then the recommended way to do that is using the command sudo su -.

System Requirements

Table 1. Requirements for users


Chrome or Safari

Table 2. Requirements to run the standalone version

Java Runtime Environment

version 8 (up to 15)

Table 3. Requirements run a WebAnno server

Java Runtime Environment

version 8 (up to 15)

Apache Tomcat

version 8.5 or higher (Servlet API 3.1.0)

MySQL Server

version 5 or higher

Java 15 is the last version on which WebAnno runs. To run on a later version of Java, please switch to INCEpTION.

Install Java

You can install an Oracle Java 8 JDK using the following commands.

$ apt-get update
$ apt-get install dirmngr
$ echo "deb trusty main" | tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/webupd8team-java.list
$ echo "deb-src trusty main" | tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list.d/webupd8team-java.list
$ apt-key adv --keyserver hkp:// --recv-keys EEA14886
$ apt-get update
$ apt-get install oracle-java8-installer
$ apt-get install oracle-java8-set-default

Application home folder

The WebAnno home folder is the place where WebAnno’s configuration file resides and where WebAnno stores its data. Mind that if you are using a MySQL database server (recommended), then WebAnno also stores some data in the MySQL database. This is important when you plan to perform a backup, as both the home folder and the database content need to be included in the backup.

Now, let’s go through the steps of setting up a home folder for WebAnno and creating a configuration file instructing WebAnno to access the previously prepared MySQL database.

  • Create WebAnno home folder. This is the directory where WebAnno settings files and projects (documents, annotations, etc.) are stored

    $ mkdir /srv/webanno
  • Edit /srv/webanno/ to define the database connection as well as internal backup properties:

    # 60 * 60 * 24 * 30 = 30 days
    # 60 * 5 = 5 minutes
  • Fix permissions in WebAnno home folder

    $ chown -R www-data /srv/webanno


WebAnno uses an SQL database to store project and user data.

WebAnno uses by default an embedded HSQLDB database. However, we recommend using the embedded database only for testing purposes. For production use, we recommend using a MySQL server. The reason for this is, that:

  • some users have reported that HSQLDB databases may become corrupt when the computer crashes (note that this could probably also happen with MySQL, but we did so far not have any reports about this);

  • most WebAnno developers use MySQL when running WebAnno on their servers;

  • in the past, we had cases where we described in-place upgrade procedures that required performing SQL commands to change the data model as part of the upgrade. We promise to try avoiding this in the future. However, in case we offer advice on fixing anything directly in the database, this advice will refer to a MySQL database.

We try to keep the data model simple, so there should be no significant requirements to the database being used. Theoretically, it should be possible to use any JDBC-compatible database after adding a corresponding driver to the classpath and configuring WebAnno to use the driver in the file.


For production use of WebAnno, it is highly recommended to use a MySQL database. In this section, we briefly describe how to install a MySQL server and how to prepare it for use with the application.

Prepare database

  • Install MySQL

    $ apt-get install mysql-server
  • make sure your MySQL server is configured for UTF-8. Check the following line is present in /etc/mysql/mariadb.conf.d/50-server.cnf (this is specific to Debian 9; on other systems the relevant file may be /etc/mysql/my.cnf):

    character-set-server = utf8
    collation-server     = utf8_bin
  • also ensure the default settings for client connections to are UTF-8 in /etc/mysql/mariadb.conf.d/50-server.cnf (again Debian 9; likely in /etc/mysql/my.cnf on other systems)

    default-character-set = utf8
  • login to MySQL

    $ mysql -u root -p
  • create a database

    mysql> CREATE DATABASE webanno DEFAULT CHARACTER SET utf8 COLLATE utf8_bin ;
  • create a database user called webanno with the password t0t4llYSecreT which is later used by the application to access the database (instructions for file below).

    mysql> CREATE USER 'webanno'@'localhost' IDENTIFIED BY 't0t4llYSecreT';
    mysql> GRANT ALL PRIVILEGES ON webanno.* TO 'webanno'@'localhost';
For production use, make sure you choose a different, secret, and secure password.

Configuration options

This section explains some settings that can be added to the database.url in the file when using MySQL. Settings are separated from the host name and database name with a ? character and multiple settings are separated using the & character, e.g.:


To suppress the warning about non-SSL database connections with recent MySQL databases, append the following setting to the database.url:


Recent MySQL drivers may refuse to work unless a database server timezone has been specified. The easiest way to do this is to add the following setting to the database.url:


If you plan to use UTF-8 encoding for project name and tagset/tag name, make sure either of the following settings for MySQL database

  • in the file, make sure that database.url includes

  • change the my.conf MySQL databse configuration file to include the following line

    character-set-server = utf8

HSQLDB (embedded)

WebAnno displays a warning in the user interface when an embedded database is being used. It is not recommended to used an embedded database for various reasons:

  • HSQLDB databases are known to run a risk of becoming corrupt in case of power failures which may render the application inaccessible and your data difficult to recover.

  • In very rare cases it may be necessary to fix the database content which is more inconvenient for embedded databases.

In case that you really want to run WebAnno with an embedded database in production, you probably want to disable this warning. To do so, please add the following entry to the file:


Running via embedded Tomcat (JAR)

The WebAnno standalone JAR with an embedded Tomcat server and can be easily set up as a UNIX service. This is the recommended way of running WebAnno on a server.

The instructions below expect a Debian Linux system. Details may vary on other OSes and Linux distributions.

Installing as a service

To set it up as a service, you can do the following steps. For the following example, we assume that you install WebAnno in /srv/webanno:

  • Copy the standalone JAR file webanno-standalone-3.6.11.jar to /srv/webanno/webanno.jar. Note the change of the filename to webanno.jar.

  • Create the file /srv/webanno/webanno.conf with the following content

    JAVA_OPTS="-Djava.awt.headless=true -Dwebanno.home=/srv/webanno"
  • In the previous step, you have already created the /srv/webanno/ file. You may optionally configure the Tomcat port using the following line


    If you need to do additional configurations of the embedded Tomcat, best refer to the documentation of Spring Boot itself.

  • Make sure that the file /srv/webanno/webanno.conf is owned by the root user. If this is not the case, WebAnno will ignore it and any settings made there will not have any effect. If you start WebAnno and instead of using the MySQL database, it is using an embedded database, then you should double-check that /srv/webanno/webanno.conf is owned by the root user.

    $ chown root:root /srv/webanno/webanno.conf
  • We will run WebAnno as the user www-data. Change the owner/group of /srv/webanno/webanno.jar to www-data. When the service is started, Do NOT run WebAnno as root.

    $ chown www-data:www-data /srv/webanno/webanno.jar
  • Make the JAR file executable:

    $ chmod +x /srv/webanno/webanno.jar
  • Create a file in /etc/systemd/system/webanno.service with the following content:

  • Enable the WebAnno service using

    $ systemctl enable webanno
  • Start WebAnno using

    $ systemctl start webanno
  • Check the log output

    $ journalctl -u webanno
  • Stop WebAnno using

    $ systemctl stop webanno

Running the standalone behind HTTPD

These are optional instructions if you want to run WebAnno behind an Apache web-server instead of accessing it directly. This assumes that you already have the following packages installed:

  • Apache Web Server

  • mod_proxy

  • mod_proxy_ajp

  • Add the following lines to /srv/webanno/

  • Edit /etc/apache2/conf.d/webanno.local.conf

    ProxyPreserveHost On
    <Proxy ajp://localhost/webanno >
      Order Deny,Allow
      Deny from none
      Allow from all
    <Location /webanno >
      ProxyPass ajp://localhost:18009/webanno timeout=1200 secret="SECRET_STRING_YOU_CHOOSE"
      ProxyPassReverse http://localhost/webanno
  • Restart Apache web server

    $ service apache2 restart
The secret option is supported e.g. in link: mod_proxy_ajp.html[Apache HTTP 2.5 mod_proxy_ajp]. If you are using reverse proxy which does not support passing along a secret, you may set server.ajp.secret-required=false in the file.

Running via separate Tomcat (WAR)

You can also deploy the WebAnno WAR archive into a separately installed Tomcat instance.

Installing Tomcat

  • Install package to install user-instances of Tomcat.

    $ apt-get install tomcat8-user authbind
  • Create new instance

    $ cd /opt
    $ tomcat8-instance-create -p 18080 -c 18005 webanno
    $ chown -R www-data /opt/webanno
If WebAnno is the only application you install on your server, then you can also have WebAnno running on port 80 or port 443. In that case, substitute all instances of port 18080 in these guidelines with the respective port. Mind that running via SSL on port 443 requires additional steps that we have not yet documented. Ports lower than 1024 are privileged and the WebAnno init script will automatically use a tool called authbind to allow WebAnno to operate on these ports as the unprivileged www-data user.
  • Configure the startup script. Edit /etc/init.d/webanno and add the following contents or just download the file from here and place it in /etc/init.d.

    # Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0:
    # kFreeBSD do not accept scripts as interpreters, using #!/bin/sh and sourcing.
    if [ true != "$INIT_D_SCRIPT_SOURCED" ] ; then
        set "$0" "$@"; INIT_D_SCRIPT_SOURCED=true . /lib/init/init-d-script
    # Provides:          webanno
    # Required-Start:    $remote_fs $syslog
    # Required-Stop:     $remote_fs $syslog
    # Default-Start:     2 3 4 5
    # Default-Stop:      0 1 6
    # Short-Description: WebAnno init script
    # Description:       This file should be placed in /etc/init.d. It
    #                    allows starting/stopping WebAnno using the 
    #                    "service" command and ensures that WebAnno starts
    #                    when the system is booted.
    # Author: Richard Eckart de Castilho
    JAVA_OPTS="-Djava.awt.headless=true -Xmx750m -XX:+UseConcMarkSweepGC -Dwebanno.home=$WEBANNO_HOME"
    setup_authbind() {
      # log_action_msg "Setting up authbind configuration for $DESC on port $WEBANNO_PORT"
      touch /etc/authbind/byport/$WEBANNO_PORT
      chmod 500 /etc/authbind/byport/$WEBANNO_PORT
      chown $WEBANNO_USER /etc/authbind/byport/$WEBANNO_PORT
      AUTHBIND="authbind --deep"
    tomcat_pid() {
      echo `ps -fe | grep -- "-Dcatalina.base=$CATALINA_BASE" | grep -v grep | tr -s " "|cut -d" " -f2`
    do_start_cmd_override() {
      if [ $WEBANNO_PORT -lt 1024 ]
      su - www-data -s "/bin/bash" -c "JAVA_OPTS=\"$JAVA_OPTS\" $AUTHBIND $CATALINA_BASE/bin/" > /dev/null 2>&1
    do_stop_cmd_override() {
      su - www-data -s "/bin/bash" -c "$CATALINA_BASE/bin/" > /dev/null 2>&1
    do_status() {
      local pid
      if [ -n "$pid" ]
        log_action_msg "Status $DESC: running"
        return 0
        log_action_msg "Status $DESC: stopped"
        return 1
  • Make the script executable and register it to run during system start:

    $ chmod +x /etc/init.d/webanno
    $ update-rc.d webanno defaults
If you deploy WebAnno on a Linux machine that is short on entropy, you can significantly decrease startup time by adding to the JAVA_OPTS variable in the init script.

Now we have a dedicated Apache Tomcat instance for WebAnno installed at /opt/webanno/ that automatically starts when the system boots and that can be managed through the usual service commands.

Deploying the WAR file

  • Place the WebAnno WAR into the Tomcat webapps folder:

    $ cp webanno-webapp-3.6.11.war /opt/webanno/webapps/webanno.war
    Mind that the copy command above renames the WAR file to webanno.war! This is important so that WebAnno is accessible at the URL noted later in the present guidelines.
  • Start WebAnno

    $ service webanno start
  • Open it with your browser at http://localhost:18080/webanno. If you chose to run WebAnno behind the Apache web-server use http://localhost/webanno. The first time, it will create a username admin with password admin. Log in with this username and proceed.

Running the WAR behind Apache HTTPD

These are optional instructions if you want to run WebAnno behind an Apache web-server instead of accessing it directly. This assumes that you already have the following packages installed:

  • Apache Web Server

  • mod_proxy

  • mod_proxy_ajp

  • Edit /opt/webanno/conf/server.xml and enable AJP Connector on localhost (comment in, add address, and change port

    <Connector port="18009" protocol="AJP/1.3" redirectPort="8443" address=""/>
  • Disable HTTP Connector (just comment it out)

    <!--Connector port="8080" protocol="HTTP/1.1".
               redirectPort="8443" /-->
  • Edit /etc/apache2/conf.d/webanno.local.conf

    ProxyPreserveHost On
    <Proxy ajp://localhost/webanno >
      Order Deny,Allow
      Deny from none
      Allow from all
    <Location /webanno >
      ProxyPass ajp://localhost:18009/webanno timeout=1200
      ProxyPassReverse http://localhost/webanno
  • Restart Apache web server

    $ service apache2 restart

Securing with SSL

This section assumes Debian 9.1 (Stretch) as the operating system using NGINX as a web server.

It further assumes that you want to use Let’s Encrypt as a CA for obtaining valid SSL certificates.

  • In addition, you will need a fully registered domain name. This tutorial uses Replace it accordingly.

We strongly encourage securing your production system with a firewall like UFW.

Obtaining a Let’s Encrypt certificate

The Certification Authority (CA) Let’s Encrypt provides free TLS/SSL certificates. These certificates allow for secure HTTPS connections on web servers. Let’s Encrypt provides the software Certbot which automates the obtaining process for NGINX.

$ apt-get install python-certbot-nginx -t stretch-backports
  • Obtain the certificates for your domain

$ certbot --nginx certonly -d
  • You will be prompted to enter your e-mail address and asked to agree to the terms of service. Certificate renewal information will be sent to this e-mail. If the certification process is successful it will yield the information where your certificates can be found.

 - Congratulations! Your certificate and chain have been saved at
   /etc/letsencrypt/live/ Your cert will
   expire on 2019-04-22. To obtain a new or tweaked version of this
   certificate in the future, simply run certbot again with the
   "certonly" option. To non-interactively renew *all* of your
   certificates, run "certbot renew"
 - Your account credentials have been saved in your Certbot
   configuration directory at /etc/letsencrypt. You should make a
   secure backup of this folder now. This configuration directory will
   also contain certificates and private keys obtained by Certbot so
   making regular backups of this folder is ideal.
 - If you like Certbot, please consider supporting our work by:

   Donating to ISRG / Let's Encrypt:
   Donating to EFF:          
Certificates issued by Let’s Encrypt are valid for 90 days. You will receive an expiry notification to the e-mail address you provided during the certification process.
  • Run Certbot with the command renew to renew all certificates that are due. You can also create a cron job for this purpose. The command for renewal is

$ certbot --nginx renew
  • You can simulate the certificate renewal process with the command

$ certbot --nginx renew --dry-run
  • The directory /etc/letsencrypt/live/ now contains the necessary certificates to proceed

$ ls /etc/letsencrypt/live/
cert.pem  chain.pem  fullchain.pem  privkey.pem

Installing NGINX

This section assumes Debian 9.1 (Stretch) as the operating system using NGINX as a web server. It further assumes that you want to use Let’s Encrypt as a CA for obtaining valid SSL certificates.

  • You can install NGINX by typing

$ apt-get update
$ apt-get install nginx
  • Verify the installation with

$ systemctl status nginx
● nginx.service - A high-performance web server and a reverse proxy server
   Loaded: loaded (/lib/systemd/system/nginx.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled)
   Active: active (running) since Mon 2019-01-21 14:42:01 CET; 20h ago
     Docs: man:nginx(8)
  Process: 7947 ExecStop=/sbin/start-stop-daemon --quiet --stop --retry QUIT/5 --pidfile /run/ (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)
  Process: 7953 ExecStart=/usr/sbin/nginx -g daemon on; master_process on; (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)
  Process: 7950 ExecStartPre=/usr/sbin/nginx -t -q -g daemon on; master_process on; (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)
 Main PID: 7955 (nginx)
    Tasks: 9 (limit: 4915)
   CGroup: /system.slice/nginx.service
           ├─7955 nginx: master process /usr/sbin/nginx -g daemon on; master_process on;
           ├─7956 nginx: worker process
  • You can stop, start or restart NGINX with

$ systemctl stop nginx

$ systemctl start nginx

$ systemctl restart nginx

Putting it all together

By now you should have

  • WebAnno running on port 8080

  • NGINX running with default configurations on port 80

  • your issued SSL certificates

If you are running WebAnno on a different port than 8080, please make sure to adjust the configurations below accordingly!

We will now configure NGINX to proxy pass all traffic received at to our WebAnno instance.

Create a new virtual host for your domain. Inside of /etc/nginx-sites-available/ create a new file for your domain (e.g. Paste the following contents:

# Server block for insecure http connections on port 80. Redirect to https on port 443
server {
        listen          80;
        listen          [::]:80;
        return          301 https://$server_name$request_uri;

# Server block for secure https connections
server {
        listen 443 ssl;
        listen [::]:443 ssl;

        ssl on;

        # Replace certificate paths
        ssl_certificate         /etc/letsencrypt/live/;
        ssl_certificate_key     /etc/letsencrypt/live/;
        ssl_trusted_certificate /etc/letsencrypt/live/;

        # Modern SSL Config from
        ssl_protocols TLSv1.2;
        ssl_prefer_server_ciphers on;
        ssl_session_timeout 1d;
        ssl_session_tickets off;
        add_header Strict-Transport-Security max-age=15768000;
        ssl_stapling on;
        ssl_stapling_verify on;

        ignore_invalid_headers off; #pass through headers from WebAnno which are considered invalid by NGINX server.

        # Change body size if needed. This defines the maximum upload size for files.
        client_max_body_size    10M;

        # Uncommend this for a redirect from to
        #location / {
        #    return 301 https://$host/webanno;

        location ^~ /webanno/ {
            proxy_redirect default;
            proxy_http_version 1.1;

            proxy_set_header   Host             $host;
            proxy_set_header   X-Real-IP        $remote_addr;
            proxy_set_header   X-Forwarded-For  $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
            proxy_set_header   X-Forwarded-Proto $scheme;
            proxy_max_temp_file_size 0;

            proxy_connect_timeout      180;
            proxy_send_timeout         180;
            proxy_read_timeout         180;

            proxy_temp_file_write_size 64k;

            # Required for new HTTP-based CLI
            proxy_request_buffering off;
            proxy_buffering off; # Required for HTTP-based CLI to work over SSL
            proxy_set_header Connection ""; # Clear for keepalive

    # Deny access to Apache .htaccess files. They have no special meaning for NGINX and might leak sensitive information
    location ~ /\.ht {
            deny all;

Create a symlink for the new configuration file to the folder for accessible websites:

$ ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/ /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/

Test if the NGINX configuration file works without restarting (and possibly breaking) the webserver:

$ nginx -t
nginx: the configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf syntax is ok
nginx: configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf test is successful

If the config works restart the webserver to enable the new site

$ service nginx restart

Tell WebAnno that it is running behind a proxy

If you are running WebAnno via the JAR file, edit the file to add these settings:


If you are running WebAnno as a WAR using a separate Tomcat instance, edit server.xml file at /opt/webanno/conf/server.xml and insert the following <Valve> property into the <Host> block:

        <!-- Announce NGINX proxy header fields to WebAnno
        <Valve className="org.apache.catalina.valves.RemoteIpValve"
        <!-- -->


Restart WebAnno

$ service webanno restart

WebAnno now knows how to interpret the proxy header fields from NGINX. With this step, everything is now set up to access WebAnno trough a secure https connection.

CSRF protection

Depending on your situation, you may get an error message such as this when trying to use WebAnno.

Whitelabel Error Page This application has no explicit mapping for /error, so you are seeing this as a fallback.

Fri Nov 29 14:01:15 BRT 2019 There was an unexpected error (type=Bad Request, status=400). Origin does not correspond to request

If this is the case, then CSRF protection is kicking in. What seems to work in this case is to turn off CSRF entirely by adding the following lines to your file (see Settings):

Turning off a security feature is obviously not a great solution. Better check out the documentation for the Wicket Spring Boot CSRF settings and if you figure out a better solution than the above, please get in touch with use via our issue tracker.

Running via Docker

Quick start

If you have Docker installed, you can run WebAnno using

docker run -it --name webanno -p8080:8080 webanno/webanno:3.6.11

The command download WebAnno from Dockerhub and starts it on port 8080. If this port is not available on your machine, you should provide another port to the -p parameter.

The logs will be printed to the console. To stop the container, press CTRL-C.

To run the WebAnno docker in the background use

docker run -d --name webanno -p8080:8080 webanno/webanno:3.6.11

Logs are accessible by typing

docker logs webanno
Use docker run only the first time that you run WebAnno. If you try it a second time, Docker will complain about the name webanno already being in use. If you follow Docker`s suggestion to delete the container, you will loose all your WebAnno data. Further below, we explain how you can store your data outside the container in a folder on your host.

When you want to run WebAnno again later, use the command

docker start -ai webanno

or for the background mode

docker start webanno

Storing data on the host

If you follow the quick start instructions above, WebAnno will store all its data inside the docker container. This is normally not what you want because as soon as you delete the container, all data is gone. That means for example that you cannot easily upgrade to a new version of the WebAnno docker image when one is released.

To store your data on your host computer, first create a folder where you want to store your data. For example, if you are on Linux, you could create a folder /srv/webanno:

$ mkdir /srv/webanno

When you run WebAnno via Docker, you then mount this folder into the container:

docker run -it --name webanno -v /srv/webanno:/export -p8080:8080 webanno/webanno:3.6.11

Settings file

The dockerized WebAnno expects the file in the /export folder. Instead of injecting a custom file into the container, it is strongly recommender to use the instructions above (Storing data on the host) to mount a folder from the host system to /export then to place the into the mounted folder Thus, if you follow the instructions above, the settings file would go to /srv/webanno/ on the host system.

Connecting to a MySQL database

By default, WebAnno uses an embedded SQL database to store its metadata (not the texts and annotations, these are stored in files on disk). For production use, it is highly recommended to use a separate MySQL database instead of the embedded SQL database.

Docker Compose

Using Docker Compose, you can manage multiple related containers. This section illustrates how to use Docker Compose to jointly set up a WebAnno container as well as a database container (i.e. this one).

The following Compose script sets these containers up.

The script contains example usernames and passwords used by the WebAnno container to connect to the database container, namely DBUSER and DBPASSWORD. It is highly recommended that you change these!
Docker Compose script
# docker-compose up [-d]
# docker-compose down
version: '2.1'


    image: "mysql:5"
      - MYSQL_DATABASE=webanno
      - MYSQL_PORT=3306
      - ${WEBANNO_HOME}/mysql-data:/var/lib/mysql
    command: ["--character-set-server=utf8", "--collation-server=utf8_bin"]
      test: ["CMD", "mysqladmin" ,"ping", "-h", "localhost", "-pDBPASSWORD", "-uDBUSER"]
      interval: 20s
      timeout: 10s
      retries: 10

    image: "${WEBANNO_IMAGE:-webanno/webanno}:${WEBANNO_VERSION:-3.6.11}"
      - "${WEBANNO_PORT}:8080"
      - WEBANNO_DB_DIALECT=org.hibernate.dialect.MySQL5InnoDBDialect
      - WEBANNO_DB_DRIVER=com.mysql.jdbc.Driver
      - WEBANNO_DB_URL=jdbc:mysql://mysqlserver:3306/webanno?useSSL=false&useUnicode=true&characterEncoding=UTF-8
      - ${WEBANNO_HOME}/server-data:/export
        condition: service_healthy
    restart: unless-stopped

Place the script into any folder, change to that folder, and issue the commands

export WEBANNO_HOME=/srv/webanno
export WEBANNO_PORT=8080
docker-compose -p webanno up -d

This will start two docker containers: webanno_mysqlserver_1, and webanno_webserver_1. You can check the logs of each by running

docker logs webanno_mysqlserver_1
docker logs webanno_webserver_1

Two directories in your WebAnno home folder will be created: mysql-data and webserver-data. No data is stored in the containers themselves, you are safe to delete them with

docker-compose -p webanno down

You can also just stop or pause them, please see the docker-compose reference for details.

The settings within the docker-compose.yml file are just examples. Adjust the database URL, username, and password accordingly.


In general, it is possible to perform an in-place upgrade of the application. However, before doing an upgrade, it is recommender to create a backup of the application and data to allow coming back to a working system if case of a problem during the upgrade. Mind that the upgrade is only completed once the new version has successfully started because during startup, the application may make changes to the database schema or to the data on disk.

Backup your data

  • Make a copy of your WebAnno home folder

  • If you are using MySQL, make a backup of your WebAnno database, e.g. using the mysqldump command.

Upgrading with embedded Tomcat

  • Stop the WebAnno service

  • Replace the webanno.jar file with the new version

  • Ensure that the file has the right owner/group (usually www-data)

  • Start the WebAnno service again

Upgrading with separate Tomcat

  • While Tomcat is running, delete the old WAR from your webapps folder

  • Wait until Tomcat has automatically deleted the WebAnno folder

  • Stop Tomcat

  • Place the new WAR file into your webapps folder

  • Start Tomcat

Upgrading Tomcat 7 to Tomcat 8

If you have been using our installation instructions to install WebAnno on Linux, you are probably running an instance of Tomcat 6. WebAnno 3.3.0 is no longer compatible with Tomcat 6 and requires at least Tomcat 8.

To upgrade your existing instance, you can try the following procedure (adapt the procedure as necessary if you have deviated from our installation instructions):

  • Stop the current WebAnno Tomcat 7 instance

$ service webanno stop
  • Move your old Tomcat instance out of the way

$ mv /opt/webanno /opt/webanno-tomcat7
  • Install tomcat8-user package (this will automatically uninstall Tomcat 7)

$ apt-get install tomcat8-user
  • Create new instance

$ cd /opt
$ tomcat8-instance-create -p 18080 -c 18005 webanno
$ chown -R www-data /opt/webanno
  • Copy the WAR file over to the new instance

$ mv /opt/webanno-tomcat7/webapps/webanno.war /opt/webanno/webapps/webanno.war
  • Stop the new WebAnno Tomcat 8 instance

$ service webanno start
If you have made additional changes to the Tomcat 7 configuration files, e.g. changed conf/server.xml, please make sure to redo them in the new Tomcat 8 instance.

Upgrading via export/import

This option can be used when performing an upgrade by exporting all data from once instance of the application into another instance which may potentially reside on a different machine. It is a very tedious approach because there is no option to bulk-export all projects.

  • Log into WebAnno and export all the projects that you wish to migrate using the Export pane in the project settings

  • Move your WebAnno home folder to a safe location so that WebAnno and create a new home folder in the old location

  • Copy the back from your moved folder

  • Start the new WebAnno version to initialize the database

  • Recreate the users

    • If you are using MySQL

      • create a new database for the new WebAnno version and update the accordingly

      • use mysqldump to dump the tables users and authorities from the old database and load it back into the new database

    • If you are not using MySQL, you have to recreate the users manually

  • When upgrading to WebAnno 2.x from a pre 2.x version, remove the file from the WebAnno home folder

  • Restart WebAnno and import the previously exported projects

Migration notes

Version 3.2.x to 3.3.0

  • When upgrading from 3.2.x or earlier to 3.3.0 or later, Automation projects break.

Version 2.3.1 to 3.0.0

  • The access permissions of administrators have changed. Administrators can no longer access annotation, curation, and monitoring pages for all projects. They can only access them if they are annotators, managers, or curators in the respective projects. However, they still have full access to the project settings of all projects and can simply give themselves the missing permissions. After an upgrade to 3.0.0, all administrators who require project permissions on existing projects should assign these permissions to themselves. This also applies when importing old projects. For new projects, the creator of the project always starts with annotator, curator, and manager permissions. If these permissions are not required by the project creator, they should be removed after project creation.

Remote API

In order to programmatically manage annotation project, a REST-like remote API is offered. This API is disabled by default. In order to enable it, add the setting remote-api.enabled=true to the file.

Once the remote API is enabled, it becomes possible to assign the role ROLE_REMOTE to a user. Create a new user, e.g. remote-api via the user management page and assign at least the roles ROLE_USER and ROLE_REMOTE. Most of the actions accessible through the remote API require administrator access, so adding the ROLE_ADMIN is usually necessary as well.

Once the remote API has been enabled, it offers a convenient and self-explanatory web-based user interface under <APPLICATION_URL>/swagger-ui.html which can be accessed by any user with the role ROLE_REMOTE. Here, you can browse the different operations, their parameters, and even try them out directly via a web browser. The actual AERO remote API uses <APPLICATION_URL/api/aero/v1 as the base URL for its operations.

Table 4. Remote API settings
Setting Description Default Example


Enable remote API




Webhooks allow WebAnno to notify external services about certain events. For example, an external service can be triggered when an annotator marks a document as finished or when all documents in a project have been completely curated.

Webhooks are declared in the file. For every webhook, it is necessary to specify an URL (url) and a set of topics (topics) about with the remote service listening at the given URL is notified. If the remote service is accessible via https and the certificate is not known to the JVM running WebAnno, the certificate verification can be disabled (verify-certificates).

The following topics are supported:

  • DOCUMENT_STATE - events related to the change of a document state such as when any user starts annotating or curating the document.

  • ANNOTATION_STATE - events related to the change of an annotation state such as when a user starts or completes the annotation of a document.

  • PROJECT_STATE - events related to the change of an entire project such as when all documents have been curated.

Example webhook configuration


Application settings are managed via a file called which must reside in the application home folder. The file is optional. If it does not exist, default values are assumed.

General Settings

Table 5. General settings
Setting Description Default Example


Warn about unsupported browser




Show a page with a stack trace instead of an "Internal error" page. Do not use in production!




Custom message to appear on the login page, such as project web-site, annotation guideline link, …​ The message can be an HTML content.


<span style="color:red; font-size: 200%;">Use are your own risk.</span>


Whether regular users can access their own profile to change their password and other profile information. This setting has no effect when running in pre-authentication mode.




Whether the list of users show in the users tab of the project settings is restricted. If this setting is enable, the full name of a user has to be entered into the input field before the user can be added. If this setting is disabled, it is possible to see all enabled users and to add any of them to the project.



Database connection

Table 6. Database settings in the file
Setting Description Default Example


Database dialect




Database driver




JDBC connection string

location in application home



Database username




Database password




Initial database connection pool size



Minimum database connection pool size



Maximum database connection pool size



Warn about using an embedded database



The basic database connection details can also be configured via environment variables. When these environment variables are present, they are preferred over the file. The following environment variables can be used:

Table 7. Database configuration via environment variables
Setting Description Default Example


Database dialect




Database driver




JDBC connection string

location in application home



Database username




Database password



Server Settings

These settings relate to the embedded web server in the JAR version of WebAnno.

Table 8. Server settings
Setting Description Default Example


Port on which the server listens




IP address on which the server listens


Port for AJP connector

-1 (disabled)



IP address on which the AJP connector listens


Whether AJP connections require a shared secret




Shared secret for AJP connections


some secret string of your choice

The application is based on Spring Boot and using an embedded Tomcat server. You can configure additional aspects of the embedded web server using default Spring Boot configuration settings.

Internal backup

WebAnno stores its annotations internally in files. Whenever a user performs an action on a document, the file is updated. It is possible to configure WebAnno to keep internal backups of these files, e.g. to safeguard against crashes or bugs.

The internal backups are controlled through three properties:

Table 9. Database settings in the file
Setting Description Default Example


Time between backups (seconds)

0 (disabled)

300 (60 * 5 = 5 minutes)


Maximum number of backups to keep

0 (unlimited)



Maximum age of backups to keep (seconds)

0 (unlimited)

2592000 (60 * 60 * 24 * 30 = 30 days)

By default, backups are disabled (backup.interval is set to 0). Changing this properties to any positive number enables internal backups. The interval controls the minimum time between changes to a document that needs to have elapsed in order for a new backup to be created.

When backups are enabled, either or both of the properties backup.keep.number and backup.keep.time should be changed as well, because their default values will cause the backups to be stored indefinitely and they will eventually fill up the disk.

The properties backup.keep.number and backup.keep.time control how long backups are keep and the maximal number of backups to keep. These settings are effective simultaneously.

Example: Make backups every 5 minutes and keep 10 backups irrespective of age
backup.interval    = 300
backup.keep.number = 10
backup.keep.time   = 0
Example: Make backups every 5 minutes and all not older than 7 days (60 * 60 * 24 * 7 seconds)
backup.interval    = 300
backup.keep.number = 0
backup.keep.time   = 604800
Example: Make backups every 5 minutes and keep at most 10 backups that are not older than 7 days
backup.interval    = 300
backup.keep.number = 10
backup.keep.time   = 604800

Custom header icons

WebAnno allows adding custom icons to the page header. You can declare such custom icons in the file as shown in the example below. Each declaration begins with the prefix style.header.icon. followed by an identifier (here myOrganization and mySupport). The suffixes .linkUrl and .imageUrl indicate the URL of the target page and of the icon image respectively. Images are automatically resized via CSS. However, to keep loading times low, you should point to a reasonably small image.

The order of the icons is controlled by the ID, not by the order in the configuration file!

Example: Custom header icon
Setting Description Default Example


Logo image displayed in the upper-right corner


path to an image file


Icons/links to display in the page header. For details, see below.


Annotation editor

Setting Description Default Example


Whether to scroll the annotation being edited into the center of the page



The number of sentences to display per page



Whether to select annotations with a single click



Whether "remember layer" is activated by default



If the tagset is larger than the threshold, an auto-complete field is used instead of a standard combobox.




When an auto-complete field is used, this determines the maximum number of items shown in the dropdown menu.



External pre-authentication

WebAnno can be used in conjunction with header-based external per-authentication. In this mode, the application looks for a special HTTP header (by default remote_user) and if that header exists, it is taken for granted that this user has been authenticated. The application will check its internal database if a user by the given name exists, otherwise it will create the user.

Pre-authentication can be enabled by setting the property auth.mode to preauth. When enabling pre-authentication mode, the default roles for new users can be controlled using the auth.preauth.newuser.roles property. The ROLE_USER is always added, even if not specified explicitly. Adding also the role ROLE_PROEJCT_CREATOR allows all auto-created users also to create their own projects.

Since the default administrator user is not created in pre-authentication, it is useful to also declare at least one user as an administrator. This is done through the property auth.user.<username>.roles where <username> must be replaced with the name of the user. The example below shows how the user Franz is given administrator permissions.

Example: Authenticate using the remote_user header, new users can create projects, user Franz is always admin.
auth.mode                     = preauth
auth.preauth.header.principal = remote_user
auth.preauth.newuser.roles    = ROLE_PROJECT_CREATOR
auth.user.Franz.roles         = ROLE_ADMIN
The roles specified through auth.preauth.newuser.roles are saved in the database when a user logs in for the first time and can be changed after creation through the user interface.
The roles added through auth.user.<username>.roles properties are not saved in the database and cannot be edited through the user interface.
Setting Description Default Example


Authentication mode




Principal header


some other header


Default roles for new users (comma separated)




Extra roles for user (comma separated)