How I Ran My Own Mastodon Server in 10 Minutes

Jan 19, 2023

There’s much talk at the moment about alternatives to Twitter, mostly because people hate the abusement and hate that Twitter is now not actively suppressing anymore under its new ownership. Some just think, that Elon is a bad and narcistic person and don’t want to do anything with the platform anymore. For me, it’s mostly because a lot of people I follow just moved away from Twitter and there is not a lot to read on the feed anymore and yes also because of the new leadership direction. It seems that everybody moved on to Mastodon, which is basically the same concept, but implemented in a distributed manner. There is no one single company controlling the service, but rather a huge number of individual Mastondon instances running, of which all are controlled and administered by unrelated people or companies. The concept is very intriguing, but comes with some downside. If you want to connect on Mastodon, you first have to find a service instance that is willing to give you an account and finding those is not easy. If you google for it, you might find a list of servers, that is fairly up-to-date. You then click through every link and see if the server does have a sign up page. But before that you also might want to check the local timeline to see if the right kind of people are on that instance.

But there’s an alternative, one that also has the advantage of owning your own data. Run an instance for yourself or for you and your closest friends. I advice against of running a Mastodon server for just anybody, because that would come with a lot of time commitment to police the content. You don’t want to do that. Here is what I did for me and my friends of Made@Gloria.

It was easier than I thought. The TLDR is:

  1. Register a glorious domain with Hover

  2. Go to Digitalocean Marketplace and start a Mastodon droplet

  3. Follow the droplets installation readme

  4. Point the domain’s DNS to the droplet’s IP address

1. Register a glorious domain with Hover

If you run a web service on the internet, you may want people to find it. Which means, you need your own domain. I have an account at Hover, but you can use any other domain registrar. Choose one that also runs a DNS service. That makes it easier for you to point the domain to something.

2. Go to Digitalocean Marketplace and start a Mastodon droplet

Well, you can install a mastodon server on any virtual machine you can get, but that means following the lengthy install instructions and having a bit knowledge of the linux command line. The easier thing is to let other people do it for you. You can find preinstalled server images on a lot of hosting platforms. On Amazon AWS, you would browse for a Mastodon AMI. I happened to run this blog on Digitalocean and that’s where I checked. Digitalocean’s registry of system images is called Marketplace. There you can search for Mastodon and click on Create Droplet. Change the instance type to the cheapest one that is offered and make sure you have an SSH public key uploaded that you then choose for that instance or just let Digitalocean create a new one.

3. Follow the droplets installation readme

You will need to run a couple of commands in the command line to set up your service. Digitalocean makes that pretty easy. In your list of Droplets you get a link that opens up a drawer to detailed instructions on how to setup your Mastdon instance. For image upload you can use Digitalocean Spaces, which basically is an S3 clone. For email, I am using Sendgrid. You will also need to setup your own account as the instance’s admin.

RAILS_ENV=production bin/tootctl accounts modify alice --role Owner

That was somehow missing from the Getting Started instructions.

4. Point the domain’s DNS to the droplet’s IP address

Back on Hover click on DNS setup and create an A record to your Digitalocean droplet.

Sign in to your Mastdon instance and head to Preferences/Administration/Server Settings/Registrations. There you disable all registrations by not allowing anybody to sign up. Instead you are going to send out invites to individual people. And that’s it. It did not take me longer that 10 minutes to set this up. Well, I already had set up user accounts on Hover and Digitalocean. If you don’t I guess this comes on top of that.

Disclosure: The Digitalocean link above includes a referral which subsidizes this blog.

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