External services

When working with JupyterHub, a Service is defined as a process that interacts with the Hub’s REST API. A Service may perform a specific or action or task. For example, shutting down individuals’ single user notebook servers that have been is a good example of a task that could be automated by a Service. Let’s look at how the cull_idle_servers script can be used as a Service.

Real-world example to cull idle servers

JupyterHub has a REST API that can be used by external services. This document will:

  • explain some basic information about API tokens
  • clarify that API tokens can be used to authenticate to single-user servers as of version 0.8.0
  • show how the cull_idle_servers script can be:
    • used in a Hub-managed service
    • run as a standalone script

Both examples for cull_idle_servers will communicate tasks to the Hub via the REST API.

API Token basics

Create an API token

To run such an external service, an API token must be created and provided to the service.

As of version 0.6.0, the preferred way of doing this is to first generate an API token:

openssl rand -hex 32

In version 0.8.0, a TOKEN request page for generating an API token is available from the JupyterHub user interface:

Request API TOKEN page

API TOKEN success page

Pass environment variable with token to the Hub

In the case of cull_idle_servers, it is passed as the environment variable called JUPYTERHUB_API_TOKEN.

Use API tokens for services and tasks that require external access

While API tokens are often associated with a specific user, API tokens can be used by services that require external access for activities that may not correspond to a specific human, e.g. adding users during setup for a tutorial or workshop. Add a service and its API token to the JupyterHub configuration file, jupyterhub_config.py:

c.JupyterHub.services = [
    {'name': 'adding-users', 'api_token': 'super-secret-token'},

Restart JupyterHub

Upon restarting JupyterHub, you should see a message like below in the logs:

Adding API token for <username>

Authenticating to single-user servers using API token

In JupyterHub 0.7, there is no mechanism for token authentication to single-user servers, and only cookies can be used for authentication. 0.8 supports using JupyterHub API tokens to authenticate to single-user servers.

Configure cull-idle to run as a Hub-Managed Service

In jupyterhub_config.py, add the following dictionary for the cull-idle Service to the c.JupyterHub.services list:

c.JupyterHub.services = [
        'name': 'cull-idle',
        'admin': True,
        'command': 'python3 cull_idle_servers.py --timeout=3600'.split(),


  • 'admin': True indicates that the Service has ‘admin’ permissions, and
  • 'command' indicates that the Service will be launched as a subprocess, managed by the Hub.

Run cull-idle manually as a standalone script

Now you can run your script, i.e. cull_idle_servers, by providing it the API token and it will authenticate through the REST API to interact with it.

This will run cull-idle manually. cull-idle can be run as a standalone script anywhere with access to the Hub, and will periodically check for idle servers and shut them down via the Hub’s REST API. In order to shutdown the servers, the token given to cull-idle must have admin privileges.

Generate an API token and store it in the JUPYTERHUB_API_TOKEN environment variable. Run cull_idle_servers.py manually.

    export JUPYTERHUB_API_TOKEN='token'
    python3 cull_idle_servers.py [--timeout=900] [--url=]