How To Set Up SETI@home on Ubuntu 14.04 or Debian 7

Published on March 11, 2015
How To Set Up SETI@home on Ubuntu 14.04 or Debian 7


SETI@home is a large volunteer distributed computing project where software running on participant systems is used to analyze space telescope radio data in order to identify signals or signs of intelligent life. SETI@home uses software known as BOINC which is available on many platforms including Linux.

BOINC has a graphical application but also works via the command line. This makes running SETI@home on a Droplet or another headless server very feasible. SETI@home requires very little disk space for usage — typically, 100MB of space is sufficient — but can utilize as much CPU as it’s given.


  • An Ubuntu 14.04 or Debian 7 Droplet, any size.

  • A sudo non-root user. You can follow the first four steps of this tutorial for setup on Ubuntu, and this tutorial for Debian.

Step One — Install boinc-client

SETI@home operates via the BOINC client which is available in the standard Debian and Ubuntu repositories.

sudo apt-get install boinc-client

Step Two — Connect to a SETI@home Account

With SETI@home, you’ll earn SETI credit for work completed. To connect this host to a SETI@home account and receive credit, an account key is needed.

First, create a SETI@home account or log in to your existing SETI@home account. Once inside, click View next to Account keys.

Account Keys

You’ll see your SETI@home account key on the top of the next page. Run the following command with your account key:

boinccmd --project_attach http://setiathome.berkeley.edu account_key

At this point, boinc will begin crunching away with default values.

For now, stop the boinc-client service so CPU usage preferences can be set.

sudo service boinc-client stop

Step Three — Configure Host CPU Usage Preferences

By default, the BOINC client will use 100% of available CPU. In this step, we will configure the host to use less CPU.

Note: In a cloud hosting environment, you are required to lower your CPU utilization from 100% to avoid excessive high usage, which might affect neighboring Droplets.

Local host preferences are set in the file /var/lib/boinc client/global_prefs_override.xml, which will be empty initially. An example file is given below for this guide, which is the recommended configuration for a Droplet.

Edit the file /var/lib/boinc-client/global_prefs_override.xml.

sudo nano /var/lib/boinc-client/global_prefs_override.xml

You will see an some existing text that looks like this:


Delete that, and paste in this example file.


Next we will inspect two settings in this example file concerning CPU, which are highlighted above.

The first preference is cpu_usage_limit, which is used to limit the amount of CPU used by SETI@home. The example file uses a setting of 25.000000, meaning CPU usage is limited to 25% max. 25.000000 is a good setting if your machine is dedicated for another task or service but contribution to SETI@home is still desired.

The second preference is suspend_cpu_usage which is used to temporarily suspend SETI@home from operation when CPU usage by other application reaches that level. In the example file, suspend_cpu_usage is set to 50.000000, or 50%.

You can read more about BOINC preferences on their wiki.

After saving and closing the file, start the boinc-client. This will allow SETI@home to start performing work.

sudo service boinc-client start

Step Four — Verify the Newly Added Host

After about five minutes, the new host should appear online. Connected computers can be viewed inside the SETI@home account page.

Connected Computers

Step Five — Check the Status of Work Units

To view the status of work units or tasks, use the command:

boinccmd --get_simple_gui_info

Note that this displays your general SETI@home account information followed by current executing tasks on this specific host.

Below is example output for --get_simple_gui_info:

boinccmd --get_simple_gui_info
======== Projects ========
1) -----------
   name: SETI@home
   master URL: http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/
   user_name: stmiller
   team_name: SETI.USA
   resource share: 100.000000
   user_total_credit: 33159.675770
   user_expavg_credit: 1409.252845
   host_total_credit: 0.000000
   host_expavg_credit: 0.000000
   nrpc_failures: 0
   master_fetch_failures: 0
   master fetch pending: no
   scheduler RPC pending: no
   trickle upload pending: no
   attached via Account Manager: no
   ended: no
   suspended via GUI: no
   don't request more work: no
   disk usage: 0.000000
   last RPC: 1423684749.199424
   project files downloaded: 0.000000
   name: Message boards
   description: Correspond with other users on the SETI@home message boards
   URL: http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/forum_index.php
   name: Help
   description: Ask questions and report problems
   URL: http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/forum_help_desk.php
   name: Your account
   description: View your account information
   URL: http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/home.php
   name: Your preferences
   description: View and modify your computing preferences
   URL: http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/prefs.php?subset=global
   name: Your results
   description: View your last week (or more) of computational results and work
   URL: http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/results.php?userid=9351194
   name: Your computers
   description: View a listing of all the computers on which you are running SETI@Home
   URL: http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/hosts_user.php?userid=9351194
   name: Your team
   description: View information about your team: SETI.USA
   URL: http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/team_display.php?teamid=115396
   name: Donate
   description: Donate to SETI@home
   URL: http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/sah_donate.php

======== Tasks ========
1) -----------
   name: 25fe12ab.24545.17667.438086664204.12.226_0
   WU name: 25fe12ab.24545.17667.438086664204.12.226
   project URL: http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/
   report deadline: Wed Mar  4 02:06:18 2015
   ready to report: no
   got server ack: no
   final CPU time: 0.000000
   state: downloaded
   scheduler state: scheduled
   exit_status: 0
   signal: 0
   suspended via GUI: no
   active_task_state: EXECUTING
   app version num: 701
   checkpoint CPU time: 352.733700
   current CPU time: 378.866400
   fraction done: 0.088431
   swap size: 110309376.000000
   working set size: 40030207.999996
   estimated CPU time remaining: 2505.901220

The status of SETI@home credit can also be viewed inside your account page under Computing and credit.


The SETI@home forum is the best place for news and questions about running SETI@home.

To join a team, view the team page!

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About the authors

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staff technical writer

hi! i write do.co/docs now, but i used to be the senior tech editor publishing tutorials here in the community.

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The tutorials from DigitalOcean are always so nice and clear.

Thank You, thats was easy on my dedi debian 7. Team Sweden

Works on 16.04

Just to let you know, this still works, exactly as written, on Ubuntu 18.04.3 :-)

Thank You, this article is the article I’m looking for.

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