Running your own server on Mastodon and the Fediverse

How do I create my own server?

There are three different ways you can make your own server on the Fediverse:

  • Easiest by far is to use a managed hosting service, where you pay a monthly fee to the hosting company and they do all the technical stuff behind the scenes, including installation, upgrades, maintenance etc. This is so easy that it allows non-technical people to have their own servers. You can find out a lot more about this by visiting my other site Grow Your Own Services, especially the section on growing your own social network ⧉.
  • A medium difficulty option is getting a VPS or home computer and installing special software intended for people who run their own servers, such as YunoHost ⧉, FreedomBox ⧉ or LibreServer ⧉. This requires some technical knowledge, especially to install the software, but after the initial set-up the process the rest is done through a graphical interface and relatively painless.
  • The most difficult option is to install and maintain everything from scratch. This demands the most technical knowledge, but also provides the most flexibility. You can find installation instructions for all Fediverse platforms in their documentation, usually on their official website. For example, Mastodon’s installation instructions are here ⧉.

Some Fediverse server types are available to set up through all three options, others may only be available by manually installing from scratch.

What do I call my server? What kind of domain name or subdomain should I use?

When a Fediverse server is created, you have to give it its own name. This can be a domain name (example.com) or subdomain (social.example.com). People can use this server name when signing into their account on an app, or when using the server through a web browser.

The best domain names are usually short, easy to spell and memorable. You may want to avoid offensive words, as they can make it difficult to tell people about your server on other platforms. If you already own a domain, you can use subdomains for your servers.

It’s also probably a good idea to use a name that doesn’t mention the software that it is running. For example, if you were making a Mastodon server you probably shouldn’t mention the word Mastodon in the domain or subdomain.

Software projects tend to change over the years, in their content, leadership or maintenance, and it may be that in the future you want to switch to a different kind of software on your server. It could be confusing for your users if your server mentions one kind of software but runs another.

Alternatively, software projects sometimes rename themselves, and this too can cause confusion for your server’s users.

On top of this, some software projects trademark their names and only let servers use the name if they’re running that specific software. This could make it legally difficult for your server to transition to another kind of software in the future.

Setting up a Mastodon server’s “See what’s happening” page correctly

If you run a Mastodon server, you can optionally show visitors who aren’t logged in your server’s Local timeline or Federated timeline through the See what’s happening link on the front page of your server’s website. (Local timelines show all public posts made by your server’s users, Federated timelines show all public posts from the entire Fediverse that are visible to your server.)

To switch on your server’s See what’s happening link, log in through your server’s website and go to Preferences > Administration > Site settings > Allow unauthenticated access to public timeline, then tick the box and click Save changes.

To choose between showing your site’s Local or Federated timeline, go to Preferences > Administration > Site settings > Include federated content on unauthenticated public timeline page, and then make the following choice: to show Local UNTICK this, to show Federated TICK this. After making your choice, click Save changes.

Note that this feature will not work at all if you have Authorized Fetch / Secure Mode switched on. The link will appear but the linked page will be blank.

Using custom emoji on your server

One of the most fun features of running your own Mastodon server is the ability to add custom emoji. All members of your server can use them, and they will be visible in your member’s posts that federate to other servers. You can also clone custom emoji from other servers, or block them if you see something unsuitable.

To access emoji settings, log into your server’s website with your administrator’s account, then go to Preferences > Administration > Custom emoji.

When you first log in, you will see a long list of all the custom emoji visible to your server, including your own and those of all the servers you federate with. To show just your own click the Local tab at the top, to show just those on other servers click Remote.

To add your own custom emoji, click the Upload button at the top. Add a shortcode, which is a word or words which describes what the emoji looks like. If you use several words, write them as CamelCase or with underscores separating them. Shortcodes are really important as they let blind people hear emoji through screen reader apps. After the shortcode is done, browse for the image file and click Upload. You can upload PNG or GIF files up to 50kb in size, and they can be still or animated.

To clone an emoji from another server, tick the box next to it on the list and click Copy. If you’re looking for a particular emoji on a long list, use its shortcode in the search box.

To block an emoji from another server, for example if it is offensive, tick the box next to it on the list and click Disable or Delete.

Recommending accounts to new users on your server

On Mastodon, you can manually choose Fediverse accounts to recommend to new users when they sign up on your server. The recommendations can be accounts on your server or other people’s servers, all you need is their full Fediverse address.

To set your server’s recommended follows, log in through the website with your admin account and go to Preferences > Administration > Site Settings > Recommend these accounts to new users. Paste in the full Fedi addresses of the accounts you want to recommend, separated by commas, and then press the Save changes button.

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