Templates in Renku

Templates come in handy when you want to be able to use the same kind of high level project structure, dependencies, and/or scripts layouts over and over. The two main aspects of the project that can be templated are:

  • the directory structure & files

  • the Docker image that builds your environment

When you create a project on the RenkuLab platform, you can choose between a few templates. You should see at least a Python setup (Basic Python Project) and a R setup (Basic R Project). In many cases, you can use these templates as-is (see the Directory Structure below). If you prefer another language, you require a different IDE, or the base templates don’t meet your needs for any other reason, you can create new ones! Check out Sessions on RenkuLab.

Note that you can create projects that are specifically intended to be templates that others can use by adding to the base Renku template. If you’re familiar with Cookiecutter, you can also create a cookiecutter template as a Renku project.

Directory Structure

The default provided directory structure is the following.

data and notebooks

The data and notebooks directories are where you should keep your… data (added via renku dataset) and notebooks (by double-clicking on a python3 or R kernel image from the JupyterLab instance while you’re inside the dir), respectively. You can add further nesting of directories under these locations to keep your project organized.

Moreover, you will probably want to create other top-level directories, like src for keeping scripts that you create from your notebooks when your analysis stabilizes, and docs if you wish to keep your documentation separate from the analysis.

The .gitkeep files in these directories by default are a convention used to git commit “empty” directories (where normal git behavior is to omit empty directories).

environment.yml and requirements.txt

These two files are where you write in your conda (environment.yml) and pip (requirements.txt) library dependencies. This is so that when you kill a notebook or anyone forks your project, (re)starting a session will pre-install your libraries.

To make it easy to remember to write your dependencies to this file, instead of pip install <library> in a terminal, for instance, you can get into the habit of running pip install -r requirements.txt.


This is your typical .gitignore file that you use for git projects. Write into here any files that you don’t want to be tracked.


This yml file is for “continuous integration” in GitLab. It is configured so that every time you make a commit, your project’s docker image is rebuilt. In most cases, this build should be successful. If, however, you are making modifications to the Dockerfile, you should pay attention to the CI/CD tab in GitLab to check for failing builds. Take a look at Sessions on RenkuLab.


When you run the notebook server, a Docker image is built for your project as defined by this Dockerfile. The FROM line in this Dockerfile defines which Renku Docker image sets up the base of your project; this includes dependencies for the Renku CLI, JupyterLab, and maybe R kernels & RStudio, depending on which template you selected upon project creation.

The lines following FROM define the installation of your own software dependencies; they are the instructions for conda/pip installations of the libraries in your requirements.txt file. If there’s nothing special about the libraries you’re installing, you wont have to make changes to this file. Else, check out Sessions on RenkuLab.


The .dockerignore file is just like a .gitignore file, in that it allows you to specify which files to ignore in a docker build. If you are not making changes to the docker build, you can .dockerignore this file.


The README.md file is shown on a project’s home page. It’s good to have at least the name of the project and a brief overview of the project for your intended audience.


The .renku directory includes a renku.ini file which contains project-level configuration for renku, stored using the INI format. Currently, it can be used to specify defaults values for launching sessions.


If your project has specific resources requirements to run, or if it should default to RStudio or anything other than JupyterLab, then you will want to provide a configuration for the sessions.

Although the file may be modified manually, it is recommended to use the renku config set interactive.<property> <value> command.

Here is the list of properties that can be customized in a standard Renkulab deployment:

  • default_url [string]: URL to use when starting a new session (/lab, /tree, …)

  • cpu_request [float]: CPUs quota (0.5, 1, …)

  • disk_request [string]: disk storage quota (1G, 4G, …)

  • mem_request [string]: memory quota (1G, 2G, …)

  • gpu_request [int]: GPU quota (0, 1, …)

  • lfs_auto_fetch [bool]: whether to automatically fetch lfs files or not (true, false)

  • image [string]: optional pinned Docker image (registry.renkulab.io/namespace/my-project:a1b2c3d)


We use JupyterLab as the default web interface for sessions. If you work in R, you may prefer to have RStudio. This can be achieved by using /rstudio as the default_url instead of /lab.

> renku config set interactive.default_url "/rstudio"

Verify that your renku.ini file looks like the following.

[renku "interactive"]
default_url = /rstudio

If you ran this command locally, you will need to push back to the renkulab server, e.g.,

> git push

before this change is available (renku config automatically creates a commit).

You can now start a new environment against the latest commit and you will have RStudio as the default web interface.


Using the same approach as above for RStudio, it is possible to switch the interface from JupyterLab to the classic Jupyter Notebook by using /tree as the default_url instead of /lab.

> renku config set interactive.default_url "/tree"

What can I touch? What should I not touch?

What you should or should not touch depends on how well aligned your project is with the defaults that Renku provides. Here are two example use cases:

User #1: Default everything

You’re a python developer and you’re ok with JupyterLab and the version of python provided by the base template. You install all of your libraries with pip or conda. While you work on this project, you can feel comfortable modifying the following (as well as creating your own directories and subdirectories to match your project’s structure):

  • data and notebooks directories

  • .gitignore

  • requirements.txt (pip) and environment.yml (conda)

  • README.md

User #2: Extra dependencies

You want a different version of python than the one provided, you want to install software that requires additional non-python/R dependencies, or you want to make other changes, and you’re comfortable editing Dockerfiles. In addition to the files above, you might modify the following. Consult Sessions on RenkuLab.

  • Dockerfile

  • .dockerignore

  • .gitlab-ci.yml


Modifying these files can result in an image that does not build. Resetting to default values and killing and restarting the notebook should bring you back to a working state.

You can add any extra directories, sub-directories, and files anywhere without a problem, but you probably want to leave the dotfiles in the level that they’re in in the default templates. Some of the integrated tools expect to find these files in the top level of the project and will fail otherwise.

What else could be templated?

Here are some other aspects of a project that could make use of a template:

  • documentation

  • subdirectories for keeping different parts of a project (note that you’ll want to add .gitkeep files into empty directories to be able to git commit them)

  • python scripts with argparse set up for inputs and outputs

  • Dockerfile with installation of alternate IDE

One way to write templates for these aspects of the project is to create them with Cookiecutter. Cookiecutter is a CLI that creates projects from project templates. You can define your own templates, or check out some of the curated cookiecutters. Note that some of these clash with the renku templates (i.e. content in Dockerfile, .gitignore, etc.). As long as you read the docs above to understand which parts are required for renku, you should be able to merge these manually.

Create a template repository

We maintain an official Renku template repository that provides a few basic templates you can use to initiate your projects. That should cover the most common use cases, but we assume users want to create their own templates to speed up the bootstrap phase of a new project.

The easiest way to create your own templates is to clone our Renku template repository and modify it as you need.


The manifest file contains all the specifications needed by the renku init function to create a new project. You can specify multiple templates in the same repository. Each of them requires an entry with the following parameters:

  • folder: the target folder inside the repository where the template files are stored. Please use a different folder for each template.

  • name: a short user-friendly name.

  • description: a brief description of your template. This will be presented to the user when choosing between templates.

  • variables: we support the Jinja template engine in both file content and filenames. You can therefore ask users for specific values for any number of variables. The syntax is <variable_name>: <variable_description>, where the name will be used as the variable name provided to the engine and the description will be presented to the user to explain the variable’s intended use.

  • allow_template_update: When set to true, indicates that this template supports being updated. When the template gets updated, projects created from it will get updated with the new template files. Defaults to false. Also see immutable_template_files.

  • immutable_template_files: A list of file paths inside the template (relative to the project root) that should not be changed by users for allow_template_update to work. Users changing any of these files will get a warning when trying to commit those changes. Template files not in this list won’t get updated on template update if they were modified by a user. If a user does change one of these files, automated template update is no longer supported on that project, to prevent broken/inconsistent projects.

In addition to the custom variables mentioned above, we also provide some renku-specific variables that are always available in templates, namely:

  • name: The name of the project.

  • __template_source__: The git repository the template originated from or renku if the template was distributed as a part of renku-python.

  • __template_ref__: The branch/tag of the template repository.

  • __template_id__: The id of the template inside the repository.

  • __repository__: The repository where the project resides in (only set when creating a project online in renkulab).

  • __namespace__: The project namespace (only set when creating a project online in renkulab).

  • __sanitized_project_name__: Sanitized name of the project (without special characters) as used in Gitlab and URLs.

  • __project_slug__: The project slug (<namespace>/<sanitized project name>) (only set when creating a project online in renkulab).

  • __renku_version__: Renku version to be used for the project.

Use custom template repositories

If you installed the renku command-line interface locally, you can specify a template repository as an argument to the renku init command. If you do this, we recommend that you also specify a tag (or a commit) when creating a new project from a custom repository to ensure that the action is reproducible. You can find further details in renku init docs.

If you are using a RenkuLab instance, you can use a custom template repository by changing the Template source to Custom on the project creation page. There, you will be able to insert a URL pointing to your template repository.

Custom template source

Fill in the reference and click on Fetch templates. This will parse and validate the repository, showing the list of available templates.

An error may occur while fetching the templates for many reasons. Most of the time, the template repository is invalid (in that case, double-check the manifest file), or the URL/reference combination is wrong. The UI should show a meaningful error description.


Remember to provide the URL to the git repository. For GitHub and other code management systems, you can provide the link used to clone through https, ending with .git. You can usually leave the .git extension out, but pay particular attention when you try to copy-paste directly from your browser. Even an additional final slash can lead to an invalid URL, and the error may be confusing. This is what you get if you use https://github.com/SwissDataScienceCenter/renku-project-template/ instead of https://github.com/SwissDataScienceCenter/renku-project-template:

Error fetching custom templates

If you think your template may be useful for the broader community, you can have more visibility by including it in the community-contributed project templates repository. Feel free to open a pull request and we will validate it.

If you are working in a dedicated RenkuLab deployment and your local community needs the templates, you should contact the administrators to include your repository in the RenkuLab template source through the renku-values file.