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 development 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, back up, 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 channels 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

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 formatting, including bold/italic, links, lists, and more.

Your organization profile picture should be a square image. It will be displayed at 100×100 pixels, or more on high-resolution displays.

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

  2. Select Organization settings.

  3. On the left, click Organization profile.

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

  5. (optional) Click Preview organization profile to see a preview of your organization's login page in a new browser tab.

  6. Click Save changes.

Zulip Cloud customers who wish to use this feature must upgrade to Zulip Cloud Standard or Zulip Cloud Plus.

You can customize the logo users see in the top left corner of the Zulip app. For best results:

  • The logo should be a wide rectangle image with an 8:1 width to height ratio. It will be displayed at 200×25 pixels, or more on high-resolution displays.

  • 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 Organization settings.

  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 Organization settings.

  3. Click on the Organization settings and Organization permissions tabs, as well as 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

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

Create channels

Channels organize conversations based on who needs to see them. For example, it is common to have a channel for each team in an organization. Because Zulip further organizes messages into conversations labeled with topics, there is generally no need to create dedicated channels for specific projects.

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

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

Add clear descriptions to your channels, especially public channels.

How to create a channel

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

  2. Select Channel settings.

  3. Click All channels in the upper left.

  4. Click Create channel on the right.

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

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

Tips for creating channels

For most classes, the following channels are recommended:

  • #announcements: For general announcements about the class. When creating this channel, 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 channel for each lecture or unit, e.g., “Lecture 1: Course intro” or “Unit 3: Sorting algorithms”.
  • A channel for each section/tutorial group (e.g., “Section 1”)

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

A few notes:

  • Small classes may need just one discussion channel for all lectures.
  • If you are using a single Zulip organization for more than one class, all channel 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 channels for new users to include #announcements, #general, and all lecture/unit channels.

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 channels 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 channels 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. Users can log in with any allowed authentication method, regardless of how they signed up.

  2. Invite users by sending email invitations or sharing a reusable invite link.

  1. Allow users to join without an invitation.

  2. Configure the appropriate email domain restrictions for your organization.

  3. Share a link to your registration page, which is 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 channels later on, you can add users by group or copy membership from another channel (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 Group settings.

  3. Click Create user group on the right, or click the plus () icon in the upper right.

  4. Fill out the requested information, and click Continue to add members.

  5. Add users who will be members of the group, and click Create.

Note: You will only see the Create user group button if you have permission to create user groups.

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 channels to indicate the class and term in which they were used, for example:
    • #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 channels from the class private. You’ll be able to find and reuse content yourself, and invite course staff to these private channels as needed.
  • You may choose to deactivate students’ Zulip accounts when the class is over.
  • Unpin channels from the class from your personal view.

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

Further reading