None of the help desk solutions I have used are quite as powerful, flexible, and reliable as OTRS. The open source system has a user list that’s a veritable who’s who: NASA, Philips, Nokia, Fujitsu, Fedora, Boeing, and Porsche to name a few. With a list like that, you can be sure OTRS is up to the task.


The OTRS feature set includes the following and much more:

  • Ticket management
  • Knowledge management
  • Self service
  • Service catalog
  • Time accounting
  • Reporting
  • Surveys
  • iPhone app
  • Access management
  • Master/slave
  • Integration into existing environment
  • System monitoring
  • Plugin system

OTRS is fine-tuned to run on the Linux operating system, although it will run on multiple platforms. In this tutorial, I show how to install OTRS on a LAMP server with a Ubuntu base and get it up and running.

System requirements


  • Minimum 2 GHz Xeon or comparable CPU, 2 GB RAM, and a 160 GB hard drive


  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)
  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES)
  • UNIX derivates like OpenBSD or FreeBSD
  • Microsoft Windows
  • Mac OSX


  • MySQL 4.1 or higher (recommended)
  • Oracle 10g or higher
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2005 or higher
  • PostgreSQL 8.0 or higher
  • DB2 8 or higher

Web server

  • Apache2 + mod_perl2 or higher (recommended)
  • Webserver with CGI support (CGI is not recommended)
  • Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) 6 or higher


  • Perl 5.8.8 or higher (required additional modules)


Step 1: Install the necessary files

Open a terminal window, or just log in to the machine if you have a GUI-less server install. Then issue the command sudo apt-get install otrs2, which will begin the installation; it will pick up all of the requirements and install the packages. Once the packages are installed, you will be prompted to configure the database.

Step 2: Configure the database

This section of the installation is driven by an ncurses interface. I will walk you through the process of configuring either a PostgreSQL or a MySQL database.

The first screen asks you if you want to proceed with the installation. Use the Tab key to select Yes and then hit [Enter]. The next screen  requires you to select the database you want to use (Figure A).
Figure A

Use the arrow keys to select your database and then use the Tab key to select OK.

Now we’ll move on to the database user authentication part of the installation. You will be required to enter the password for the database administrator and then tab down to OK and hit [Enter]. In the final screen you must enter a password for the otrs2 to register the database on the server (Figure B). Tab to OK and hit [Enter] — you will be prompted to confirm the password you just entered. When you complete that step, the terminal portion of the installation is complete.
Figure B

This password is for the MySQL or PostgreSQL database admin user.

Step 3: Web-based installation
The rest of the installation is handled via web browser. Open a web browser on any machine that can reach the server housing the OTRS installation and point it to http://ADDRESS_OF_SERVER/otrs/ You will be prompted for login credentials (Figure C).
Figure C

If you’ve lost your password or want to change languages, here’s the place to do it.

The default credentials for logging in are:

user: root@localhost

pass: root

It would be wise to immediately create a new admin user as soon as you log in; you do not want to use OTRS as this user. To create a new admin user, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to OTRS.
  2. Click the Admin button.
  3. In the Admin area, click the Users section.
  4. Click the Add button under Add User (Figure D).
  5. Fill out the necessary information for the user.
  6. Click the Submit button.
  7. In the next screen, check the boxes for: move_into, create, note, owner, priority, rw.
  8. Click the Submit button.

Figure D

You can even control if a user is out of office from this screen. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Once the new user is created, log out of the root@localhost user and log in with the new admin user; you can now safely begin to set up your OTRS help system. You should go back to the admin section and walk through the various sections of the core setup. You need to finish the user/group administration and set up the following:

  • Queue and Responses: Set up automated responses to various actions, as well as the different types of ticket queues necessary for your business.
  • System: Set up various email addresses for the system, as well as various notifications, services, types, and more.
  • Misc: Set up the postmaster mail account, admin notifications, session management, and more.


OTRS is an incredibly powerful help desk/ticket system that can be used by small and large companies in almost any industry; it’s also flexible and reliable enough to serve all of your help desk needs. The good news keeps getting better: OTRS is open source, so it won’t set your IT budget back.