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Coordinate resources between an LMS like Canvas and a local directory

Project description


A software system for synchronizing curricular materials between a Learning Management Systems (LMS) and your local filesystem.

Major features include:

  • Pull and push data between an LSM and the file system
  • Lightweight, friendly Markdown-based format for local resources
  • Diffing of local and remote content
  • List and search for remote resources

We aim to support the following LMSes:

  • Canvas (pages, assignments, quizzes)
  • BlockPy (assignment, groups) <- In-progress


You can install Waltz from PyPi (the package name is lms-waltz even though the module and command line script is waltz):

foo@bar:~$ pip install lms-waltz

You can also install our dev version from GitHub:

foo@bar:~$ pip install git+

Setup Waltz

Waltz can synchronize content between a local directory and a remote server. You'll need to initialize the local directory, whether it is empty or already has your learning materials.

foo@bar:~$ waltz init

This will create two new files which should both be included in your .gitignore:

  • .waltz is a plain-text YAML file with settings for the current course repository.
  • .waltz.db is a SQLite database used in file uploading/downloading.

Setup a Service

Before you can start interacting with an LMS, you'll need to configure an instance of a service. For example, to configure a new Canvas service, you'll need the following:

  1. A short, easy-to-type name for the service instance (e.g., ud_canvas or cs1014_canvas)
  2. API token
  3. The URL base for your Canvas site (e.g.,
  4. The Course ID that you want to connect to (usually a large number)

Then, you can use the command below:

foo@bar:~$ waltz configure canvas <name> --base <url> --course <id> --token <token>

A more concrete example:

foo@bar:~$ waltz configure canvas ud_canvas --base --course 4234343432343 --token 1081~zJIOJSDFBBSDFIJAIJ==>...

If things went well, you can list the available services:

foo@bar:~$ waltz list
The following services are available:
         blockpy: (none configured)

By default, there's a Local service for the current directory (representing the connection to the filesystem). You can have more than one instance of a service, which can allow you to access multiple data sources from one course (e.g., to transfer resources between semesters). For convenience, you can refer to the first instance of a service by the service's name. In our case, anywhere that we use ud_canvas we could use canvas instead.

Identifying Resources

You can list available resources for a service:

foo@bar:~$ waltz list <service> <category>

So the following code checks the Pages for the Canvas course. Note that you could use the specific instance name instead of canvas, and either the singular or plural form of pages.

foo@bar:~$ waltz list canvas pages
Remote    Local    Title                      Path
--------  -------  -------------------------  --------------------
Yes       Yes      Abstraction                pages\
Yes       Yes      NetLogo-2        
Yes       No       Overview of Functions
Yes       No       Syllabus
Yes       No       Themes
Yes       Yes      Turtles                    pages\

The local service allows you to omit the category (but you can filter by category if you want):

foo@bar:~$ waltz list local

Resource         Title                        Path
---------------  ---------------------------  ---------------------------------------------------------
[unknown]        NetLogo-2          
[unknown]                                     pages\
[Page]           Turtles                      pages\
[quiz]           Backup Quiz                  quizzes\Backup
[unknown]                                     quizzes\Mangled
[quiz]           New Quiz                     quizzes\New
[assignment]     Video Upload Test            quizzes\Video Upload
[quiz question]  Complex Matching Question    quizzes\New Quiz Questions\Complex Matching
[quiz question]  Essay Question               quizzes\New Quiz Questions\Essay

The local service only knows the resource category and title if that information is available in the front-matter of the Markdown file. Otherwise, it can only report the path of potential resource files.

Similar to Git, you can use waltz commands from child folders and the system will search up for the configuration and use it appropriately.

Managing Resources

The two basic commands for moving resources are pull and push, moving resources between the local service and a remote one. If the local version does not already exist, it will be created in the current directory with a filename based on the title of the resource from the LMS.

foo@bar:~$ waltz pull <service> <category> <title>
foo@bar:~$ waltz push <service> <category> <title>

Generally, you want to fully specify the remote service, resource category, and title of the resource you want to use. This avoids ambiguity.

foo@bar:~$ waltz pull canvas assignment "Project 3"
foo@bar:~$ ls
foo@bar:~$ waltz push canvas assignment "Project 3"

However, the commands attempt to work intelligently to find the appropriate file given minimal amounts of information, particularly for pushing. If the given title matches the title of a file in the current directory (either based on the filename or the front-matter of the file), and that file has a resource specified, then the appropriate service can automatically be inferred.

foo@bar:~$ waltz push "Turtles"

If the desired files are not in the present folder, it will search subfolders.

TOOD: We are working on ways to further disambiguate resources that have the same name. This will be accomplished using their IDs or some other attribute. In general, however, you can avoid ambiguity by organizing the file system and your LMS resources appropriately.

Diffing Resources

Pushing and pulling resources can get quite complex, so it can be helpful to find out how the local version of a resource is different from the remote. The diff command has similar syntax to the other actions, but does not modify the filesystem when it is run.

foo@bar:~$ waltz diff canvas page "Turtles"

Screenshot showing web-based output of the Waltz Diff command, with the local version of a file on the left and the remote version on the right. Changes are highlighted using red, green, and yellow highlighting.

By default, diffing will create a new HTML file adjacent to the resource and automatically open that file in the browser. There is also simplified console output available.

Download, Decode, Encode, and Upload

Pulling is actually a two-step process: first you download a resource, and then you decode it. Similarly, Pushing requires you to encode a resource and then upload it.

The upload and download commands (which are available in Waltz) move data between Canvas and the local Waltz SQLite database. Generally, we download raw data from the remote service (e.g., a JSON blob) and upload using whatever API is available for the service.

The encode and decode commands (also available) move data between the local filesystem and the local Waltz SQLite database. Generally, this means we are decoding the raw data into a Markdown file or potentially even multiple files.


TODO: This feature is still in progress

The HTML body of a Resource can be built using a Template. We use the Jinja2 format to embed data.

Previewing Resources

TODO: This feature is still in progress

If you want to generate a web-friendly local version of a resource, you can use the preview command.

Building Public Versions

TODO: This feature is still in progress

Frequently, you want to create public versions of assignments that are viewable by folks who are not authorized to see the answers or other components of a resource. We distinguish between public (viewable by anyone), private (viewable by other teachers), and secret (viewable only by local course staff).

You can use the --hide_answers flag to remove answers and other private information from a resource, generating a new file in a parallel repository.

Secret information usually includes data covered by FERPA, such as students' grades or assignment submissions. Secret information is harder to secure in a VCS, but can be done through encryption. In general, however, data that is meant to be secret should be kept in a different repository. If you want it alongside the data, though, perhaps we could encrypt/decrypt the file, suspending git commands until all relevant files are re-encrypted?


  • Resource: A curricular material to be transferred around. Resources can be represented in different styles. Some resources can be composed of other resources.
  • Category: Resources of the same type. The "Pages" category is distinct from the "Assignment" category. Categories do not belong to a particular Service, meaning their names must be meaningfully distinct if they are different kinds of things.
  • Title: A name that, idealistically, is globally unique within a resource.
  • Markdown: A plain-text format that we use to store files locally. Meant to be easily edited. Can have Front-matter.
  • Front-matter: At the top of Markdown files, you can put "---" above and below YAML-encoded data to store extra data. We particularly look for a waltz attribute with additional Waltz information.

Service Specific Information

This section details information specific to individual services.


Waltz is not opinionated about file system organization. You are free to arrange your data into directories as you see fit. By default, new files are stored in the current working directory. However, existing files will be matched as best they can.

Largely, Waltz encourages resources to decode themselves as Markdown files. In particular, Markdown files with front-matter can be parsed and have special Waltz-specific information. The only requirement is to have an attribute named waltz. We also strongly encourage a title and resource attribute within.

  title: The Resource's Full Proper Name
  resource: Page
The body of the file

Additional attributes can be stored in the Markdown, and services attempt to leave them unmangled when downloading updated versions.


Instructure's Canvas has a rich API that allows us to control resources relatively well.

Code in Markdown files will be syntax-highlighted.

Uploading data into Canvas is somewhat limited. To get around the limitations, we store additional front-matter as HTML content hidden inside of an invisible DIV tag at the start of the resource's body. If that information is deleted on the server, however, there isn't much to be done to reclaim it. Be careful when deleting large swathes of data if you are relying on this feature! Also note that we do not currently encode any extra waltz front-matter, so you should be sure not to rely on extra data stored in that attribute.

You can use the --all switch to bulk download resources.

You can use the --destination <path> parameter to set the location where files will be decoded to.

Canvas Pages

A Canvas Page is decoded into a Markdown file with very minimal front-matter.

Canvas Assignments

A Canvas Page is decoded into a Markdown file with very minimal front-matter.

Canvas Quizzes

By default, quizzes are pulled as multiple files. The core file will hold the quiz itself, with the questions stored as a list of their names. Those questions' content will be then be stored as separate files in an adjacent folder named "<Quiz Title> Questions/". All question types are supported.

Groups are also supported, and will be represented inside of the core Markdown file alongside other questions. However, due to a limitation of the Canvas API, we are not able to keep the order of grouped questions - further, we cannot guarantee that question groups will be properly disposed of. When using quizzes, keep an eye on the Canvas side to make sure that the content is appropriately transferred.

A Canvas Quiz can be pulled as a combined single file.

foo@bar:~$ waltz pull canvas quiz "My Quiz" --combine 

You can specify a question bank to reuse questions between quizzes.

Canvas Files

TODO: This feature is still in progress

You can have either a folder dedicated to being a file system, or identify an individual file with an adjacent Markdown file.

Linking Resources

TODO: This feature is still in progress

We attempt to decode URLs to images, files, and other resources as intelligently as possible so that they make sense locally and remotely.

Full Command List

foo@bar:~$ waltz reset
foo@bar:~$ waltz init
foo@bar:~$ waltz configure <service> <name>
foo@bar:~$ waltz list <service> <category>
foo@bar:~$ waltz pull <service> <category> <title>
foo@bar:~$ waltz push <service> <category> <title>
foo@bar:~$ waltz download <service> <category> <title>
foo@bar:~$ waltz upload <service> <category> <title>
foo@bar:~$ waltz encode <service> <category> <title>
foo@bar:~$ waltz decode <service> <category> <title>
foo@bar:~$ waltz diff <service> <category> <title>

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