About me: My name is Solène Rapenne, pronouns she/her. I like learning and sharing knowledge. Hobbies: '(BSD OpenBSD Qubes OS Lisp cmdline gaming security QubesOS internet-stuff). I love percent and lambda characters. OpenBSD developer solene@. No AI is involved in this blog.

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Why self hosting is important

Written by Solène, on 23 July 2021.
Tags: #fediverse #selfhosting #chatons #life #internet

Comments on Fediverse/Mastodon

1. Introduction §

Computers are amazing tools and Internet is an amazing network, we can share everything we want with anyone connected. As for now, most of the Internet is neutral, meaning ISP have to give access to the Internet to their customer and don't make choices depending on the destination (like faster access for some websites).

This is important to understand, this mean you can have your own website, your own chat server or your own gaming server hosted at home or on a dedicated server you rent, this is called self hosting. I suppose putting the label self hosting on dedicated server may not make everyone agree, this is true it's a grey area. The opposite of self hosting is to rely on a company to do the job for you, under their conditions, free or not.

2. Why is self hosting exactly? §

Self hosting is about freedom, you can choose what server you want to run, which version, which features and which configuration you want. If you self host at home, You can also pick the hardware to match your needs (more Ram ? More Disk? RAID?).

Self hosting is not a perfect solution, you have to buy the hardware, replace faulty components, do the system maintenance to keep the software part alive.

3. Why does it matter? §

When you rely on a company or a third party offering services, you become tied to their ecosystem and their decisions. A company can stop what you rely on at any time, they can decide to suspend your account at any time without explanation. Companies will try to make their services good are appealing, no doubt on it, and then lock you in their ecosystem. For example, if you move all your projects on github and you start using github services deeply (more than a simple git repository), moving away from Github will be complicated because you don't have _reversibility_, which mean the right to get out and receive help from your service to move away without losing data or information.

Self hosting empower the users instead of making profit from them. Self hosting is better when it's done in community, a common mail server for a group of people and a communication server federated to a bigger network (such as XMPP or Matrix) are a good way to create a resilient Internet while not giving away your rights to capitalist companies.

4. Community hosting §

Asking everyone to host their own services is not even utopia but rather stupid, we don't need everyone to run their own server for their own services, we should rather build a constellation of communities that connect using federated protocol such as Email, XMPP, Matrix, ActivityPub (protocol used for Mastodon, Pleroma, Peertube).

In France, there is a great initiative named CHATONS (which is the french word for KITTENS) gathering associative hosting with some pre-requisites like multiple sysadmin to avoid relying on one person.

[English] CHATONS website

[French] Site internet du collectif CHATONS

In Catalonia, a similiar initiative started:

[Catalan] Mixetess website

5. Quality of service §

I suppose most of my readers will argue that self hosting is nice but can't compete with "cloud" services, I admit this is true. Companies put a lot of money to make great services to get customers and earn money, if their service were bad, they wouldn't exist long.

But not using open source and self hosting won't make alternatives to your service provider greater, you become part of the problem by feeding the system. For example, Google Mail GMAIL is now so big that they can decide which domain is allowed to reach them and which can't. It is such a problem that most small email servers can't send emails to Gmail without being treated as spam and we can't do anything to it, the more users they are, the less they care about other providers.

Great achievements can be done in open source federated services like Peertube, one can host videos on a Peertube instance and follow the local rules of the instance, while some other big companies could just disable your video because some automatic detection script found a piece of music or inappropriate picture.

Giving your data to a company and relying on their services make you lose your freedom. If you don't think it's true this is okay, freedom is a vague concept and it comes with various steps on a high scale.

6. Tips for self hosting §

Here are a few tips if you want to learn more about hosting your own services.

  • ask people you trust if they want to participate, it's better to have more than only one person to manage servers.
  • you don't need to be an IT professional, but you need to understand you will have to learn.
  • backups are not a luxury, they are mandatory.
  • asking (for contributing or as a requirement) for money is fine as long as you can justify why (a peertube server can be very expensive to run for example).
  • people around usually throw old hardware, ask friends or relative if they have old unused hardware. You can easily repair "that old Windows laptop I replaced because wifi stopped working" and use it as a server.
  • electricity usage must be considered but on the other hand, buying a brand new hardware to save 20W is not necessarily more ecological.
  • some services such as email servers can't be hosted on most ISP connection due to specific requirements
  • you will certainly need to buy a domain name
  • redundancy is overkill most of the time, shit happens but in redundant servers shit happens twice more often

IndieWeb website: a community proposing alternatives to the "corporate web".

There is a Linux disribution dedicated to self hosting named "Yunohost" (Y U No Host) that make the task really easy and give you a beginner friendly interface to manage your own service.

Yunohost website

Yunohost documentation "What is Yunohost ?"

7. Conclusion §

I'm self hosting since I first understood running a web server was the only thing I required to have my own PHP forum 15 years ago. I mostly keep this blog alive to show and share my experiments, most of the time happening when playing with my self hosting servers.

I have a strong opinion on the subject, hosting your own services is a fantastic way to learn new skills or perfect them, but it's also important for freedom. In France we even have associative ISP and even if they are small, their existence force the big ISP companies to be transparent on their processes and interoperatibility.

If you disagree with me, this is fine.