Private Learning Portal With Moodle in your Raspberry PI

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World digitalization is spreading on all life fields. Internet reached each home, so also learning process changed with many web courses rising.

In this article, I’ll show you how to create your personal learning portal with Moodle on a Raspberry PI single board computer.

What Is Moodle

moodle logo

Moodle is an Open Source learning management system. It enables educators to create their own private website filled with dynamic courses that extend learning, any time, anywhere.

The Moodle web interface can be accessed from any browser and is easy to navigate on both desktop and mobile devices. You can find a customizable Dashboard (both for users and administrators) displaying current, past and future courses, along with tasks due.

Besides other features, the most important are:

  • Collaborative tools and activities
  • All-in-one calendar
  • File Management
  • Simple and intuitive text editor
  • Notifications management
  • Progress tracking

The full feature list can be found on Moodle Docs feature page.

What We Need

As usual, I suggest adding from now to your favourite e-commerce shopping cart all needed hardware, so that at the end you will be able to evaluate overall costs and decide if continue with the project or remove them from the shopping cart. So, hardware will be only:

RPI 3 model A+

In this guide, I’ll use the cheap Raspberry PI 3 model A+ (please refer to comparing Raspberry PI models for differences between boards).

Check hardware prices with the following links:

Amazon raspberry pi boards box
Amazon Micro SD box
Amazon Raspberry PI Power Supply box

Step-by-Step Procedure

Install Operating System

We’ll use a light OS without desktop environment, so having more power for services instead of wasting CPU and RAM. For this preparation part, please refer to install Raspberry PI OS Lite. (I’ve used the 64-bit as it is supported by the RPI 3 Models onward.

Make your operating system up-to-date:

sudo apt update -y && sudo apt upgrade -Y

You may also adopt some performance improvements for your Raspberry PI, as reducing the RAM dedicated to graphic board (Manage Raspberry PI GPU Memory Split) and increase Swap space to 1000MB (Set Raspberry PI Swap Memory).

Install Lamp Server

Moodle works on apache web server, but requires also PHP and a database to store its data. We’ll install a simple LAMP (Linux Apache Mysql Php) server, changing Mysql with MariaDB which performs better on Raspberry PI. For this step, please refer to my LAMP server on Raspberry PI tutorial.

Install Requirements

Moodle requires a number of PHP settings and modules to be prepared to work. From terminal, start editing PHP configuration:

sudo nano /etc/php/7.4/apache2/php.ini

Check these settings in your php.ini. For settings that use ON/OFF as their values, you can substitute 1 for ON and 0 for OFF if you prefer. If you change some configurations, don’t forget to restart the server. Bolded comments identify the default php configuration. You can also leave all as is.

  • max_input_vars in the default configuration is commented (with a semicolumn at the start of the line). Uncomment and set it to 5000
  • memory_limit needs to be at least 128M (although some functions may not work if this low). Moodle will refuse to install if lower. Moodle recommends at least 128M. Large systems may need an even higher setting. > 128 BY DEFAULT
  • session.save_handler needs to be set to FILES. > OK BY DEFAULT
  • file_uploads needs to be ON. > OK BY DEFAULT
  • session.auto_start needs to be OFF. > OK BY DEFAULT
  • post_max_size and upload_max_filesize restrict the maximum file size that you can upload. > 8M and 2M by defalut

Close the file and save it (if you have made any changes).

The next list identifies PHP modules and extensions needed or recommended. Bolded comments check if already installed with php. We’ll install the missing ones with the one line apt command at the end of the list:

  • iconv extension > OK BY DEFAULT
  • mbstring extension > ADDED BELOW
  • curl extension > ADDED BELOW
  • openssl extension > OK BY DEFAULT
  • tokenizer extension > OK BY DEFAULT
  • xmlrpc extension > ADDED BELOW
  • soap extension > ADDED BELOW
  • ctype extension > OK BY DEFAULT
  • zip extension > ADDED BELOW
  • gd extension > ADDED BELOW
  • simplexml extension > ADDED BELOW
  • spl extension > OK BY DEFAULT
  • pcre extension > OK BY DEFAULT
  • dom extension > OK BY DEFAULT
  • xml extension > ADDED BELOW (same as simplexml)
  • intl extension > ADDED BELOW
  • json extension > OK BY DEFAULT
  • The appropriate extension for your chosen database is also required. > DONE WITH MARIADB INSTALLATION
  • Other PHP extensions may be required to support optional Moodle functionality, especially external authentication and/or enrolment (e.g. LDAP extension for LDAP authentication and the sockets extension for Chat server). > NOT NEEDED IN THIS PROJECT

From terminal, use the following command to install missing packages:

sudo apt install php-mbstring php-curl php-xmlrpc php-soap php-zip php-gd php-xml php-intl -y

Restart Apache service:

sudo systemctl restart apache2.service

We need also to send mail (like for notifications and user registration). Let’s install Exim:

sudo apt install exim4

Configure Exim in sending mail to external domains:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure exim4-config

Change only first screen configuring installation as internet site:

Raspberry pi exim4 configuration internet site

You can leave all other parameters as default or change them at your choice.

Test sending a mail. Following command will open an Exim session. The terminal will listen to what is added from the user to add it in the mail sent (change myEmail@example.com) with your mail:

exim -v myEmail@example.com

Then type:

From: yourEmailAddress@example.com
Subject: Exim Subject test
Text to be included in message Body

Then press CTRL+D and your mail will be sent. Once sending is complete, you can press ENTER to go back to the terminal prompt.

NOTE: Please note that your IP Address may be blocked by internet antispam, thus resulting in an error like “Client host [x.x.x.x] blocked using Spamhaus” in sending logs. In this case, you will need to use an authenticated email sending strategy.

Also, check in your recipient Spam box that the test email has been delivered.

Install and Configure Moodle

We’ll connect to MariaDB with root user (default password is empty) to create the new database and grant permissions (remember to use semicolumns at the end of each command row as shown below). Before starting, prepare a user/password combination to use instead of default ones (moodleuser / moodlepassword):

sudo mysql -uroot -p

Press ENTER if you have still your MariaDB root password empty or type your password and press ENTER. Run following lines, using your prepared DB moodle user and password):

CREATE DATABASE moodle DEFAULT CHARACTER SET utf8mb4 COLLATE utf8mb4_unicode_ci;
GRANT SELECT,INSERT,UPDATE,DELETE,CREATE,CREATE TEMPORARY TABLES,DROP,INDEX,ALTER ON moodle.* TO 'moodleuser'@'localhost' IDENTIFIED BY 'moodlepassword';
flush privileges;
quit

Prepare an empty folder for Moodle files:

sudo mkdir /opt/moodle

And grant to www-data (apache user) ownership on this folder:

sudo chown -R www-data:www-data /opt/moodle/

We’ll get Moodle code from git (it will take a while, there are some hundreds of MB to be downloaded):

sudo apt install git
git clone -b MOODLE_311_STABLE git://git.moodle.org/moodle.git

This downloads a copy of Moodle code inside a new local directory in your working folder. Copy downloaded content under /var/www/html/ folder:

sudo mkdir /var/www/html/moodle/
sudo cp /home/pi/moodle/* /var/www/html/moodle/ -r

Copy configuration template to config.php:

sudo cp /var/www/html/moodle/config-dist.php /var/www/html/moodle/config.php

Edit config.php to use your configuration

sudo nano /var/www/html/moodle/config.php

Edit variables according to your configuration (192.168.1.177 is my Raspberry PI IP address, so use your one or external address). You need at least to identify and modify the following ones:

$CFG->dbtype = 'mariadb';
$CFG->dbhost = 'localhost';
$CFG->dbname = 'moodle';
$CFG->dbuser = 'moodleuser';
$CFG->dbpass = 'moodlepassword';
$CFG->dataroot = '/opt/moodle';
$CFG->wwwroot = 'http://192.168.1.177/moodle';

Close and save. Assign www-data ownership on html moodle folder:

sudo chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www/html/moodle/

Setup the cron for scheduled jobs:

sudo crontab -u www-data -e

Select “1. /bin/nano” by typing 1 and pressing ENTER

Append the following string:

* * * * * /usr/bin/php /var/www/html/moodle/admin/cli/cron.php >/dev/null

With this setting, our cron will run each minute. Before starting to install moodle, this script needs to run at least 1 time.

From your favourite web browser, use following URL (changing “192.168.1.177” with your Raspberry PI IP address one):

http://192.168.1.177/moodle/

From here, installation proceeds from the web interface.

The first screen requires copyright notice confirmation:

Raspberry pi moodle start install wizard

Read License and confirm with the “Continue” if you want to continue the installation. Next screen shows requirements check:

Raspberry pi moodle wizard check requirements

You will find final warnings regarding https activation. This checks is not mandatory and can be skipped at this moment, this will not intake our test installation. In order to get your Raspberry PI supporting https you can use my Self Signed Certificate (https) in Raspberry PI with Apache (where your Raspberry PI is not exposed on internet) or Use Let’s Encrypt and Certbot to secure Raspberry PI-hosted websites automatically (is your Raspberry PI services are exposed on internet).

Please click the “Continue” button at the end of this page.

Platform installation and configuration will start now. taking a while (especially on initial System operations). It will end in a very few minutes, showing the installation progress:

Raspberry pi moodle wizard progress

Scroll down to the end of this page and click the “Continue” button. Next page will ask you to configure your first admin user. You will be also able to create later other admin users. Required fields are the new password, first name, surname and email address, but you can laso change the “admin” uesername to a custom one:

Raspberry pi moodle wizard create admin

Please fill the forms and click “Update Profile” button at the end of the page. Front page preferences will be shown now:

Raspberry pi moodle wizard customize front page

Configure at your choice, taking care in setting correctly the NoReply address (IP address as the domain will not be accepted). Click “Save Changes”.

Your browser will be finally redirected to the admin web dashboard:

Raspberry pi moodle dashboard

From here you are ready to use your Learning Platform with Moodle on Raspberry PI.

Please refer to Moodle Docs page for customizing and using your site.

What’s Next

If you want to discover many other projects for your Raspberry PI, you can take a look at peppe8o Raspberry PI tutorials.

Enjoy!

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