Frequently asked questions

Is it totally free?

YES. eLabFTW is free/libre software, so it is totally free of charge and always will be. Read more about the free software philosophy.

But how is it better than something I can buy?

The difference is huge. Because eLabFTW is not only free (as in beer), but it is free (as in speech). This means that you can have a look at the code (and improve it) and you can also redistribute the code with your improvements.

But more importantly, you cannot trust your data with something that acts like a black box. What if the data you upload on the server of a company can be read by someone else ? With eLabFTW, you install it on your own server, and you are the master of your data at all time.

What about patents and intellectual property?

Since March 2013, the USA modified their law (see America Invents Act) to switch from first-to-invent to first-inventor-to-file. This means that proving that you did this experiment before someone else has become less critical. It is only needed if you invented something, before someone put a patent on it (and you can prove it), and you want to keep using it as prior user.

Fortunately, eLabFTW allows rock solid timestamping of your experiments. With just one click of a mouse, and for free, you can timestamp your work.

If needed, you can also choose another TimeStamping Authority allowing RFC 3161 timestamping.

Why use eLabFTW?

  • It’s free and open source software
  • It improves the value of your experiments by allowing you to keep a good track of it
  • It makes searching your data as easy as a google search
  • Everything can be organized in your lab
  • It makes it easy to share information between co-workers or collaborators
  • It is simple to install and to keep up to date
  • It works for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, BSD, Solaris, etc…
  • Protected access with login/password (password is very securely stored as salted SHA-512 sum)
  • It can be used by multiple users at the same time
  • It can be used by multiple teams
  • You can have templates for experiments you do often
  • You can export an experiment as a PDF
  • You can timestamp an experiment so it is legally strong
  • You can export one or several experiments as a ZIP archive
  • You can duplicate experiments in one click
  • There is advanced search capabilities
  • The tagging system allows you to keep track of family of experiments
  • Experiments can have color coded statuses (that you can edit at will)
  • You can link an experiment with an item from the database to retrieve in a click the plasmid/sirna/antibody/chemical you used
  • And it works the other way around, you can find all experiments done with a particular item from the database !
  • There is a locking mechanism preventing further edition
  • You can prevent users from deleting experiments
  • You can comment on an experiment (if it’s not your experiment)
  • You can import your old database stored in an excel file
  • and much more…

You also have to consider the fact that installing eLabFTW on your own server means that no one will be able to snoop on your data. If you have ever used Evernote or basically any online ELN that says «Free», read carefully the privacy policy, you might be surprised what they allow themselves to do under the cover of «to improve your experience»…

Is this system stable? Can I trust my data with it?

Yes. It is used in numerous research centers all over the world since a few years now and if an issue is found it is quickly reported and fixed.

However, having an automated backup strategy is mandatory in order to be sure nothing will be lost.

Being able to do backups is yet another advantage over paper (you can’t backup paper !).

Who else is using it?

Here are some places running eLabFTW (non-exhaustive list):

  • Cardiff University
  • Hannover Medical School
  • Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie GmbH
  • Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
  • Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi
  • Institut Curie
  • Karolinska Institutet
  • Kuwait University
  • Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics
  • MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
  • Texas Tech University
  • UMC Utrecht
  • University of Alberta
  • University of California
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Helsinki
  • University of North Dakota
  • University of Tennessee
  • University of Warwick
  • Uppsala University
  • Washington University
  • Weizmann Institute

Is the data encrypted?

The data is encrypted when travelling from your browser to the server with the highest quality encryption currently available (TLSv1.2 with modern ciphers).

The passwords are not recoverable in case of a breach.

Only manually validated accounts can interact with the software. It is secure by default.

Is eLabFTW still maintained?

As of Aug 02, 2017 I’m still actively working on it. Improvements are coming in a steady flow. There are good chances that I will continue to do so for a few years. In the unlikely event I’m not able to work on it anymore, anyone can continue the work, as the source code is available and well commented.

Will I be able to import my plasmids/antibodies/whatever in the database from a Excel file?

Yes, in the admin panel, click on the Import CSV link and follow the instructions.

Can I try it before I install it?

Sure, there is a demo online here : eLabFTW live DEMO

But what about the others ELN out there?

First I’ll only speak about the others free and open source lab notebook. Because there is no point in comparing free and privative software, as it’s not the same philosophy at all!

  • Labtrove : labtrove is a glorified Wordpress plugin. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to install it so I can’t really talk about it... Also, it wasn’t updated since 2011 so it probably won’t work with latest versions of Wordpress.
  • Indigo : It’s for chemists only and it’s in Java :/
  • Electronic laboratory notebook on sourceforge : Looks like it was made in 1999, poorly written, only client (no server), java.
  • MediaWiki : although it’s very nice to have a wiki in your team, this is not designed to be an electronic lab notebook. So you should definitely have a wiki, but don’t use it to store your experiments!
  • Mylabbook : nothing to see here. It’s an empty shell.
  • Labbook : a perl based software, still stuck in 1999 and virtually impossible to install/use.
  • Cynote : has some qualities, but UI is terrible and the project is dead since 2010.

What about compliance to standards?

eLabFTW tries to comply to the following standards :

What are the technical specifications?

eLabFTW is a server software that should be installed on a server.

Requirements for the server

The operating system of the server can be any.

The best is to have Docker installed. Otherwise, make sure to have:

  • a webserver (nginx, apache, cherokee, lighttpd, …)
  • PHP version > 5.6
  • MySQL version > 5.5
  • HTTPS enabled
  • PHP extensions openssl, gmagick, hash and zip activated

Requirements for the client - Any operating system with any browser (recent version).

Failed creating uploads/ directory

If eLabFTW couldn’t create an uploads/ folder, that’s because the httpd user (www-data on Debian/Ubuntu) didn’t have the necessary rights. To fix it you need to:

  1. Find what is the user/group of the web server. There is a good chance that it is www-data. But it might also be something else.
  2. Now that you know the user/group of the webserver, you can do that (example is shown with www-data, but adapt to your need):
cd /path/to/elabftw
mkdir -p uploads/tmp
chown -R www-data:www-data uploads
chmod 400 config.php

The last line is to keep your config file secure. It might fail because the file is not there yet. Finish the install and do it after then.

If you have problems updating (git pull is failing because of permissions), read more about GNU/Linux permissions and groups. For instance, you can add your user to the www-data group:

usermod -a -G www-data `whoami`

Extension is not loaded

Install everything needed by elabftw:

sudo apt-get install php-gettext php5-gd php5-curl libapache2-mod-php5

Now reload the Apache server:

sudo service apache2 reload

I can’t upload a file bigger than 2 Mb

Edit the file php.ini and change the value of upload_max_filesize to something bigger, example:

upload_max_filesize = 128M


Don’t forget to remove the ; at the beginning of the line !

I can’t export my (numerous) experiments in zip, I get an error 500

Edit the file /etc/php/php.ini or any file called php.ini somewhere on your filesystem. Try sudo updatedb;locate php.ini. For XAMPP install, it is in the config folder of XAMPP. Now that you have located the file and opened it in a text editor, search for memory_limit and increase it to what you wish. Official documentation on memory_limit.

You can also increase the value of max_execution_time and max_input_time. Then restart your webserver:

sudo service apache2 restart

Languages don’t work

eLabFTW uses gettext to translate text. This means that you need to have the associated locales on the server. To see what locale you have:

locale -a

To add a locale, edit the file /etc/locale.gen and uncomment (remove the #) the locales you want. If you don’t find this file you can try directly the command:

locale-gen fr_FR.UTF-8

Replace with the locale you want, of course. See here to see a list of languages (and locales) supported by eLabFTW. Then do:

sudo locale-gen

And reload the webserver.