Server Setup

As an alternative to our provided online survey hosting services, Sawtooth Software also allows users to publish online surveys onto their own servers (with a cloud hosting partner, located on-premises, or in any other hosting solution). This hosting arrangement is what we refer to as “self-hosting” surveys.

Before you begin

Self-hosting is an offering intended for teams with prior experience managing web server and database systems. Sawtooth Software cannot set up a self-hosted system for you, and our technical support will provide a good faith effort to help troubleshoot issues you may come across, but we make no guarantees that the self-hosting system you set up will function in a specific way or provide any guaranteed level of performance. We are only able to provide a limited amount of hosting support to customers who choose to self-host surveys, as individual implementations of server and database systems can vary greatly. An alternative to self-hosting is renting a dedicated server hosted by Sawtooth Software and may better meet your survey hosting needs. Send an email to for costs and details about dedicated server rentals.

Lifecycle of a self-hosted survey

A survey author creates a survey using Lighthouse Studio (a desktop application) on a Windows computer. When the survey is ready to field, Lighthouse Studio packages the survey so it can be hosted on a webserver. Lighthouse Studio creates one web application package per survey. This package includes executable Perl files that run the survey and store response data in a SQL database. Included in the web application package is an Admin Module that provides a password protected interface accessible via a web-browser for monitoring and reviewing live survey data. The generated package is self-contained and does not require authentication with Sawtooth Software to run.

A self-hosted survey can be uploaded to a given server using SFTP from within Lighthouse Studio, or the web application package can be manually moved to the web server using another method (a third-party FTP client, network connection, etc.)

After uploading the survey, the survey author will send out a survey URL to respondents and manage the survey using the web application’s included Admin Module. Lighthouse Studio cannot send out email invites, but surveys authored in it do support unique links generated by other mass email platforms. When the desired number of respondents have been collected, the survey author can close the survey using the Admin Module.

This configuration has been known to work for many customers who choose to self-host their surveys. It will also provide the best server performance for self-hosting configurations.

Operating System

Ubuntu 18.04.06 LTS

Web Server

NGINX (latest version)


MySQL 5.7


Perl Runtime Environment (Perl version 5.14.2 or later)

Perl Modules

  • DBI - Database Interface Module (version 1.6 or later)
  • DBD:: MySQL - MySQL Database Driver Module (version 4.0.2 or later)
  • JSON::PP - Pure Perl JSON Encoder/Decoder Module (version 4.00 or later)
  • (Optional) DateTime - Date & Time Module (version 1.06 or later)

    File Transfer

    FTP, SFTP, or FTPS

    Guidelines & Information

  • Lighthouse Studio has a built-in “auto-uploader” that utilizes FTP, SFTP, or FTPS connections to upload new surveys to the server (or to make updates to an existing survey by overwriting files that are already on the server)
  • Servers configured to listen for these connections will allow survey authors to “deploy” surveys and updates using Lighthouse Studio without server administrator intervention
  • Most Linux distributions that accept SSH connections can be easily configured to also allow SFTP connections without the need to install additional software
  • Make sure the folder to which the SFTP user can upload is the same as (or linked to) the public web directory of the webserver
  • Make sure the webserver has execution permissions on the uploaded files
  • Lighthouse Studio requires a username and password to utilize FTP, SFTP, or FTPS (key-based authentication is not currently supported)
  • Lighthouse Studio’s “auto-uploader” will attempt to set correct permissions on all files it uploads. If files are uploaded in some other way, you may need to set file permissions according to this chart:
File/Folder Name Permissions
/login.html 644
/admin.html 644
/admin 703
/admin/_ssi.cgi 755
/admin/_config.cgi 755
/admin/db_setup 707
/admin/db_setup/_questionnaire.cgi 755
/cgi-bin 705
/cgi-bin/ 755
/cgi-bin/ 755
/graphics 707
Every folder in /graphics 707

Other Server Configurations (Unsupported)

The following are different self-hosting configurations that have been known to work for some customers. Though, we discourage use of any services outside of the Recommended Server Configuration, as they are not supported by the Sawtooth Software hosting team.

Operating System

  • Linux
    • CentOS
    • Debian
    • Red Hat Enterprise
  • Windows
    • Windows Server (2012 or later)

      Web Server

  • Apache (version 2.3 or later)
  • Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) (Windows Server 2012 or later)


  • MariaDB (version 10.2 or later)
  • Microsoft SQL Server (2012 or later)


    Refer to Recommended Server Configuration
  • Microsoft SQL Server
    • DBD::ODBC - SQL Server Database Driver Module (minimum version will depend on version of SQL Server used

Verifying Configuration

In order to help server administrators confirm that their configurations are correct, Sawtooth Software has published three Perl application test scripts that can be used to verify correct server functionality before a survey is uploaded. These files should be placed in the root directory of the webserver (where survey files are expected to reside) and should be given execute permissions:

This script simply tests that Perl is executing properly. Navigating to this test script in your browser should output plain, rendered HTML if the server is configured properly.

Download Script

This script displays the working directories available in the Perl runtime environment, as well as the files in the current working directory for debugging purposes. Perhaps most importantly, this script also displays whether the recommended perl modules are installed and accessible in the Perl runtime environment.

Download Script

This script, when modified in a text editor to include a database type, hostname, db name, and credentials, will verify that a database connection can be successfully made.

Download Script

Server Resources

Configuring a self-hosted server with sufficient specifications (CPU types, number of cores, RAM, etc.) to handle survey traffic is a tricky yet crucial task. A robust server configuration depends considerably on survey traffic. We recommend working with survey authors to determine a survey fielding strategy that balances survey traffic with server power. A strategy that invites a high number of survey respondents at once will overwhelm smaller servers. Our recommendation is to plan server capacity for the highest expected traffic load, and to send survey invites in batches that will not exceed server resources.

Example Survey Traffic

In our experience, survey traffic generally surges soon after respondents are invited and then tapers off as time goes on. Because of this behavior we recommend spacing out survey invitations in smaller groups over time to avoid a high volume of concurrent respondents.


Overwhelming the server with survey traffic can impact survey performance and respondents may see error messages. This could potentially result in more incomplete responses than desired. A survey invitation plan is especially important if there are multiple surveys hosted on the same server.

Estimating Survey Traffic

The best estimate of survey traffic is the expected survey response rate, or the number of people estimated to answer the survey divided by the number of people invited to take the survey. For example, for an email list of 10,000, if 2,000 people are expected to respond, the response rate would be 20%.

When you know the estimated response rate and the number of invitations that may be sent out for a given survey, you can determine if your server configuration is robust enough to handle the traffic. If not, you may either need to invite smaller batches of respondents at a time or increase the server specifications to handle more concurrent respondent connections.

In some cases, a small portion of the email list can be tested on the server to better estimate what the response rate might be and gauge the server’s performance, indicating whether a more performant server is needed.

If you have any questions, please reach out to us at

Support and Troubleshooting from Sawtooth Software

For customers who need more help with their server configuration than the details included on this page, we offer paid consulting priced at $300 per hour. If you are interested in this option, please email

Disclaimer of Liability

The material and information contained on this page is for general information purposes only. You should not rely upon the material or information on this page as a basis for making any business, legal or any other decisions. Whilst we endeavor to keep the information up to date and correct, Sawtooth Software, Inc. makes no representations or warranties of any kind, expressed or implied about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the page or the information, products, services or related graphics contained on the page for any purpose. Any reliance you place on such material is therefore strictly at your own risk.