Setting up Zulip for a class

Welcome to Zulip! This page will guide you through setting everything up for teaching with Zulip. If you are using Zulip for a different purpose, we recommend checking out the Setting up your organization guide instead.

If you are a student, or if your Zulip organization is already set up, you can proceed to the Using Zulip for a class guide.

If you encounter any problems as you're getting started, please drop by our friendly developer community and let us know!

Trying out Zulip

You can start by reading about Zulip for Education, and how Zulip can become the communication hub for your class. Zulip is the only modern team chat app that is ideal for both live and asynchronous conversations. Post lecture notes and announcements, answer students’ questions, and coordinate with teaching staff all in one place.

We also highly recommend trying Zulip for yourself! You can:

Choosing between Zulip Cloud and self-hosting

Whether signing up for Zulip Cloud or self-hosting Zulip is the right choice for you depends on your needs.

If you aren’t sure what you need, our high quality export and import tools (cloud, self-hosted) ensure you can always move from our hosting to yours (and back).

Advantages of Zulip Cloud

  • Simple managed solution, with no setup or maintenance overhead. Sign up with just a few clicks.
  • Always updated to the latest version of Zulip.
  • Anyone can start with Zulip Cloud Free, which works well for a typical class.
  • For large classes and departments, we offer special Zulip for Education pricing, with the same features as Zulip Cloud Standard. You can always get started with Zulip Cloud Free, and upgrade down the line if needed.

Advantages of self-hosting Zulip

  • Zulip is 100% open-source software, with no "open core" catch.
  • We work hard to make it easy to set up, backup, and maintain a self-hosted Zulip installation.
  • Retain full control over your data. If cloud hosting is not an option due to stringent data and privacy requirements (e.g. in the European Union), self-hosting is the option for you.
  • Customize Zulip for all your needs.

Do I need a separate Zulip organization for each class?

There are a few ways to set up Zulip, and different ones may be convenient for your needs:

  • If your school or department already has a Zulip organization, you will probably find it easiest to just add your class to it. Advantages:

    • Students and staff can use a single Zulip account for all classes.
    • You can create department-wide channels, e.g. for announcing talks or other events.
    • You don’t need to set up a separate server if you’re self-hosting Zulip.
  • You can set up a separate Zulip organization for each class you’re teaching. Advantages:

    • This makes it simple to manage permissions. e.g. if you want to make sure TAs from one class cannot moderate discussion from a different class.
    • Students can’t see who is in streams for other classes.
    • You can easily switch between multiple Zulip organizations in the Zulip desktop apps.
  • You can use a single Zulip organization for several classes you’re teaching, perhaps re-purposing a Zulip organization from a prior term. Advantages:

    • Information from your classes is all in one place, e.g. if you want to re-post a response to a question that was also asked last time you taught the class.

If you change your mind down the line, you can rename your Zulip organization by sending a request to support@zulip.com.

Create your organization profile

The information in your organization profile is displayed on the registration and login page for your organization, and in the Zulip app.

Edit organization profile

The organization description supports full Markdown syntax, including bold/italic, links, lists, and more.

  1. Click on the gear () icon in the upper right corner of the web or desktop app.

  2. Select Manage organization.

  3. On the left, click Organization profile.

  4. Edit your organization name, description, and profile picture.

  5. Click Save changes.

This feature is only available to Zulip Cloud Standard and self-hosted organizations.

You can customize the logo users see in the upper left corner of the Zulip app. For best results make sure your logo has a transparent background, and trim any bordering whitespace. To upload a logo:

  1. Click on the gear () icon in the upper right corner of the web or desktop app.

  2. Select Manage organization.

  3. On the left, click Organization profile.

  4. Under Organization logo, upload a new logo.

Make sure to test the logo in both light theme and dark theme.

Customize organization settings

Review the settings for your organization to set everything up how you want it to be.

  1. Click on the gear () icon in the upper right corner of the web or desktop app.

  2. Select Manage organization.

  3. Click on "Organization settings" and "Organization permissions" tabs, and any others that are of interest.

A few settings to highlight:

Roles and permissions

Zulip offers several levels of permissions based on user roles. Here are some recommendations for how to assign roles and permissions for a class.

Who Role
Lead instructor, IT Owner (also has all Administrator permissions)
Other instructors, head TA Administrator
Teaching assistants, lab assistants Moderator
Students Member
Settings

These are the default permissions for new Education (non-profit) and Education (for-profit) organizations.

Who Role
IT Owner (also has all Administrator permissions)
IT, department leadership Administrator
Professors, Lecturers, head TAs Moderator
Teaching assistants, lab assistants, students Member
Settings

Create streams

In Zulip, streams determine who gets a message. They are similar to channels in IRC/Slack/Discord, chat rooms, and email lists.

We recommend setting up some streams before inviting other users to join Zulip, so that you can automatically subscribe everyone to the right set of streams.

If you later create additional streams, no worries! You can always add a group of users or all the members of another stream to a new stream.

Add clear descriptions to your streams, especially public streams.

How to create a stream

  1. Click on the gear () icon in the upper right corner of the web or desktop app.

  2. Click Manage streams.

  3. Click All streams in the upper left.

  4. Click Create stream on the right.

  5. Fill out the requested info, and click Create.

For more details about stream settings, see Create a stream.

Tips for creating streams

For most classes, the following streams are recommended:

  • #announcements: For general announcements about the class. When creating this stream, restrict posting permissions so that only course staff (Administrators and moderators are allowed to post.
  • #staff (private): For discussions among course staff.
  • #general: For random topics, e.g. students forming study groups.
  • A stream for each lecture or unit, e.g. “Lecture 1: Course intro” or “Unit 3: Sorting algorithms”.
  • A stream for each section/tutorial group (e.g. “Section 1”)

You can start by creating streams for just the first few lectures/units at this point. When you create a new stream, you will be able to copy stream membership from existing streams.

A few notes:

  • Small classes may need just one discussion stream for all lectures.
  • If you are using a single Zulip organization for more than one class, all stream names should be prefixed with the name of the class, e.g. “CS101 > Lecture 1: Course intro”.

Customize settings for new users

Customize settings for new users to get them off to a great start.

If using your Zulip organization for a single class, set default streams for new users to include #announcements, #general, and all lecture/unit streams.

Invite users to join

Before inviting users, you may want to delete any test messages or topics.

How to invite users to join

To simplify subscription management, be sure to set the streams students and staff should be added to when you create the invitations. You may choose to send invitations to course staff separately, so that they can immediately be added to private streams for your class.

  1. Configure allowed authentication methods. By default, Zulip allows logging in via email/password as well as various social authentication providers like Google, GitHub, GitLab, and Apple.

  2. Invite users by sending out an email or sharing a reusable invite link. Note that on most Zulip servers (including Zulip Cloud), email invitations and reusable invitation links expire 10 days after they are sent.

  1. Allow anyone to join without an invitation.

  2. Share a link to your registration page, which is https://your-domain.zulipchat.com for Zulip Cloud organizations.

To get everyone off to a good start, you may wish to share the guide to Getting started with Zulip and the guide to Using Zulip for a class.

If you create new streams later on, you can add users by group or copy membership from another stream (e.g. from Lecture 5 to Lecture 6).

Create user groups

User groups allow you to mention multiple users at once, notifying them about a message. For example, you may find it useful to set up the following user groups:

  • @staff
  • @TAs
  • @graders
  • @students
  • @section1, @section2, etc.

How to create a user group

  1. Click on the gear () icon in the upper right corner of the web or desktop app.

  2. Select Manage organization.

  3. On the left, click User groups.

  4. Under Add a new user group, enter a Name and Description.

  5. Click Save.

  6. Find the group in the list below, and add members. Zulip will notify everyone who is added.

Set up integrations

Zulip integrates directly with dozens of products, and with hundreds more through Zapier and IFTTT. Popular Zulip integrations include GitHub and Twitter. The integrations page has instructions for integrating with each product.

Cleaning up at the end of a class

If you plan to use the same Zulip organization in future terms (either for your own classes or for your department), you will likely want to:

  • Rename all streams to indicate the class and term in which they were used, e.g.:
    • #announcements → #FA21 - CS101 - announcements
    • #CS101 > Lecture 1: Course intro → #FA21 - CS101 > Lecture 1: Course intro
  • If you do not want students from future classes to see messages from the prior term (e.g. because you posted homework solutions), make all the streams from the class private. You’ll be able to find and reuse content yourself, and invite course staff to these private streams as needed.
  • You may choose to deactivate students’ Zulip accounts when the class is over.
  • Unpin streams from the class from your personal view.

If you do not plan to reuse the Zulip organization, you can instead:

Further reading