OpenCongress for Developers

At its core, OpenCongress is an open-source Ruby on Rails application for aggregating and managing open government data. Right now the website is focused on US Congress, but our vision is to bring tools for transparency and engagement to constituents of any governing body, from the UN to your local neighborhood association.

We rely on developers from the community to help us improve the code. Can you help?


A Ruby on Rails application for gathering, displaying and tracking information about the United States Congress

Getting started with our code


By far, the fastest and easiest way to get started with OpenCongress is by downloading and installing our vagrant box.

You can get vagrant at

Once you've installed vagrant, just run:

vagrant box add opencongress
vagrant init opencongress
vagrant up

Then connect to your new VM:

vagrant ssh

From here, you can skip down to 'gem install bundler'

Running locally

Start by installing all the packages required by OpenCongress. The main dependencies are postgres and ImageMagick; OpenCongress will not run on mysql or sqlite. The following commands are suggestions, but ultimately you'll need to get postgres running to be able to run the app. We are currently running postgres 9.1 in production.

For Ubuntu 14.04 (Trusty):


install needed libraries

sudo apt-get install postgresql postgresql-server-dev-9.3 libxml2-dev \

                 libxslt-dev libcurl4-openssl-dev libmysqlclient-dev \
                 imagemagick libssl-dev libreadline-dev


For Mac OS X, start by installing Homebrew, then run:

brew install postgresql postgresql-server ImageMagick md5sha1sum wget wkhtmltopdf ghostscript

Follow the instructions after the packages install for initializing your database

Install Ruby and the bundle of dependencies:


install rbenv (see:

git clone ~/.rbenv git clone ~/.rbenv/plugins/ruby-build echo 'export PATH="$HOME/.rbenv/bin:$PATH"' >> ~/.bashprofile source ~/.bashprofile

install ruby

rbenv install 1.9.3-p484

gem install bundler rbenv rehash # this puts the "bundle" command in your PATH bundle install ```

Note for OS X: You may need to specify additional compile options for your gems. Try: ARCHFLAGS="-arch x86_64" bundle install

Generate your settings files. First change into the opencongress directory and then:

cp config/api_keys.yml.example config/api_keys.yml
cp config/application_settings.yml.example config/application_settings.yml
cp config/database.yml.example config/database.yml

Be sure to fill out these new files with the relevant details before proceeding.

Database setup

Running the following commands will create an 'opencongress' user and empty databases for the three environments (test, development, production). The migration command will populate the development database with an empty schema.


make a postgres superuser for opencongress

sudo -u postgres createuser opencongress -sP

Make sure to put your password in config/database.yml!

create the postgres database

sudo -u postgres createdb opencongress_development -O opencongress

rake db:init rake db:migrate ```

Legislative Data (optional)

To import legislative data into your database, run the following command:

rake update

This will download data files from The United States project and import them into your database. The default location for storage of the data files is /tmp/opencongress_data but you can change this by editing config/application_settings.yml. This task will import ALL of the data for the current session of Congress: it will take a long time and occupy a LOT of space on your filesystem! Keep this in mind before importing the data!

Starting the server

To start the webserver:

rails s


We are currently focused on getting the code up to speed--more friendly for developers and better covered by tests. If you would like to help out, please be sure any new code is tested appropriately under RSpec, Capybara and/or Cucumber and send pull requests to this github repo. We'd especially love help in improving test coverage, but all pull requests are welcome. See the Sunlight Community page for specific asks related to this project.


OpenCongress is distributed under the GPLv3.

Quick links

OpenCongress is written with Ruby on Rails, backed by a PostgreSQL database and Solr full-text indexing. Our Wiki runs on Semantic MediaWiki.

Contact Us

Want to work on OpenCongress, show off your use of our API, or just say hello? Send us an e-mail () with a short note of introduction. We don't bite.

Licensing Terms

OpenCongress site code is available available on github and is licensed under the GNU Public License (GPL), so we encourage you to contribute to our code and reuse it in non-commercial contexts, as long as attribution to OpenCongress is given.

We encourage you to remix and excerpt our site and wiki content, as long as attribution to OpenCongress is given and you share your content as well. Our site content is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 US License, and our wiki content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL).