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How Temporal Auto-Setup Works




We often say that “Temporal Server is a simple Go binary”, and it's true: Each release includes 4 docker images, but also zipped versions of our temporal-server binary.


Yet most users are insulated from using this binary directly. There are several layers of abstraction to get through (docker-compose or Helm Chart, Dockerfile, and the script) before you reach this baseline understanding of Temporal (you can learn more in our Temporal Explained documentation. Together they map out the environment requirements of Temporal:


While the other pieces are industry standard formats with explanations available elsewhere, the auto-setup script is the most proprietary of them, and so essential that we often recommend beginners just use the temporalio/auto-setup Docker image for getting started (most beginners don’t even know this because we abstract it with docker-compose), before migrating to just the Temporal Server Docker image without auto-setup for production (where you can account for schema migrations and other tooling needs specific to your environment).

It’s worth:

  • knowing that the script exists and handles some critical pieces of the Temporal deployment model
  • understanding what it does to fill in the blanks between “it’s just a binary” to a zero configuration Quick Install default developer experience
  • understanding what is optional - so you can modify it when it is getting in your way, or have confidence throwing it out and writing your own

The goal of this post is not to explain every little detail (you can read the code yourself for that), but to highlight important pieces every self-hosted Temporal user should know. This should give you some great first-principles knowledge to deploy Temporal to anything from a simple VPS to a full Kubernetes cluster.

Auto-Setup at a High Level

Our basic Docker entrypoint does some bindings, but most importantly, it runs then does a few things (we will go deeper on the bolded parts):

  1. Temporal Schema Setup (if you don’t opt out):
    1. Validates seed environment variables (trivial step)
    2. Waits for the database to start (using nc for SQL databases, or temporal-cassandra-tool for Cassandra)
    3. Setup Temporal Schema on that database (more on this below)
  2. Elasticsearch Schema Setup (if you opt in):
    1. Validates seed environment variables (trivial step)
    2. Waits for Elasticsearch to start (optionally, timed out with a ES_SCHEMA_SETUP_TIMEOUT_IN_SECONDS env var)
    3. Setup Temporal’s Enhanced Visibility Schema on that Elasticsearch instance
  3. Setup Temporal Server:
    1. Wait for Temporal Server to start (from running concurrently, and checked using tctl cluster health | grep SERVING
    2. Register the default namespace (unless opted out with SKIP_DEFAULT_NAMESPACE_CREATION)
    3. Add basic custom search attributes (unless opted out with SKIP_ADD_CUSTOM_SEARCH_ATTRIBUTES)
Note that this script only handles setup - it doesn’t actually run the `temporal-server` binary itself. That job is given to ``, whose main job is to run `temporal-server` with flags for given service roles (mainly specified by the `SERVICES` env var).

Note that when we say to run each of these services separately in production so they can be independently scaled, this is the exact step where production differs from local development. You can run the same binary in multiple separate processes with different roles for each, as in:

# process 1
temporal-server start --service=history

# process 2
temporal-server start --service=frontend

# process 3
temporal-server start --service=matching

# process 4
temporal-server start --service=worker

You may also use the Docker container with the appropriate flags:

docker run -e CASSANDRA_SEEDS=10.x.x.x                  -- csv of cassandra server ipaddrs
-e KEYSPACE=<keyspace> -- Cassandra keyspace
-e VISIBILITY_KEYSPACE=<visibility_keyspace> -- Cassandra visibility keyspace
-e SKIP_SCHEMA_SETUP=true -- do not setup cassandra schema during startup
-e NUM_HISTORY_SHARDS=1024 \ -- Number of history shards
-e SERVICES=history,matching \ -- Spinup only the provided services
-e LOG_LEVEL=debug,info \ -- Logging level
-e DYNAMIC_CONFIG_FILE_PATH=config/foo.yaml -- Dynamic config file to be watched

Temporal Schema Setup

Database schema setup is only needed once for new databases being set up to work with Temporal Server, and is done with temporal-sql-tool or temporal-cassandra-tool depending on the type of database specified.

  • Together with the tctl CLI, these binaries are available in the temporalio/admin-tools Docker image.
  • These tools are also used for updating schemas when new Temporal versions are being rolled out to existing deployments.

The schema setup process is pretty similar across all database types:

  1. Create a new Temporal database with DBNAME
  2. Run the setup-schema command with the temporal-[db]-tool
  3. Run the update-schema command with the temporal-[db]-tool with a specific schema for that combination of database + schema version
  4. Create a new Standard Visibility database with VISIBILITY_DBNAME
  5. Run the setup-schema command with the temporal-[db]-tool
  6. Run the update-schema command with the temporal-[db]-tool with a specific Visibility schema for that combination of database + schema version

The schemas (both for initial setup and for updating) are worth browsing if you are interested in understanding Temporal at a database schema level, but be warned that these tables are considered Temporal internals and should not be relied on.

If enabled, Temporal’s Advanced Visibility Schema setup works in a similar way as described above.

Temporal Server Setup

Once the schema is setup, the setup_server function is started in a background process. This function waits for Temporal server to get started which happens in a meantime in the main process (in When Temporal server is started, this function does one more important thing that users may take for granted - it registers the default namespace using the standard tctl --ns default namespace register command.

  • This is the namespace that most beginners are used to seeing when they start up Temporal inside docker-compose - because the script does it for them! Without this script running, Temporal Server doesn’t have any namespaces registered. This can come as a surprise to some users who assume the default namespace is a necessary part of Temporal.
  • All SDKs Workers and Clients, as well as Temporal Web, connect to the default namespace if not specified - most production deployments of Temporal will want to connect to specific namespaces. (try running temporalite without any namespaces to see how SDK code without namespaces specified stops working!)
  • The script allows you to customize the name and retention period with the DEFAULT_NAMESPACE and DEFAULT_NAMESPACE_RETENTION env vars if you wish, but a production setup may want to register a number of namespaces differently.

The final part of the script also does registers some pre-defined custom search attributes (when running with Elasticsearch):

tctl --auto_confirm admin cluster add-search-attributes \
--name CustomKeywordField --type Keyword \
--name CustomTextField --type Text \
--name CustomIntField --type Int \
--name CustomDatetimeField --type Datetime \
--name CustomDoubleField --type Double \
--name CustomBoolField --type Bool

These are intentionally generically named, for demo purposes (eg for code samples) and for ease of use (since they are already set up, you don't have to add them when you find you need them later). As you advance in your usage, you may wish to drop this step in favor of better named and specified attributes - just keep in mind that you are limited to a maximum of 100.

Closing Thoughts

Now that you have a better idea of where Temporal Server ends and optional tooling begins, you can hopefully better adapt Temporal to your preferred infrastructure and recovery/upgrade tooling, and have more confidence in debugging issues as you support Temporal at your company. We are also working on more one-click-deploy solutions to other vendors like Render.

If you have followup questions, please feel free to ask on Discourse or Slack!