Matrix Synapse

Matrix is easy-to-use, decentralized and encrypted private chat software. Matrix is federated, meaning that with a Matrix account on any server, including your own, you can talk to any other Matrix account on the internet, similar to email. Matrix also allows fully end-to-end encrypted group chats.

Synapse is the name of the default Matrix server. It is written in Python. While it is requires somewhat more system resources than an XMPP server, it makes up for that in being very accessible to non-technical users.


The latest version of Synapse is not in the Debian package repositories by default, but we can easily add Matrix’s repository including it:

apt install -y lsb-release wget apt-transport-https
wget -O /usr/share/keyrings/matrix-org-archive-keyring.gpg
echo "deb [signed-by=/usr/share/keyrings/matrix-org-archive-keyring.gpg] $(lsb_release -cs) main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/matrix-org.list

After we update our packages lists, we will be able to install Synapse with apt.

apt update
apt install matrix-synapse-py3

When prompted, give your main domain name (not a subdomain). This will be the domain appended to your Matrix address, e.g. (If you want to run Synapse under a different subdomain than the actual server name, then you must set up delegation.)

Nginx configuration

Create an Nginx configuration file for Matrix, say /etc/nginx/sites-available/matrix and add the content below:

server {

        listen 80;
        listen [::]:80;

        listen 443 ssl http2 default_server;
        listen [::]:443 ssl http2 default_server;
        listen 8448 ssl http2 default_server;
        listen [::]:8448 ssl http2 default_server; 
        location ~* ^(\/_matrix|\/_synapse|\/_client) {
                proxy_pass http://localhost:8008;
                proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $remote_addr;
                client_max_body_size 50M;

        # These sections are required for client and federation discovery
        # (AKA: Client Well-Known URI)
        location /.well-known/matrix/client {
                return 200 '{"m.homeserver": {"base_url": ""}}';
                default_type application/json;
                add_header Access-Control-Allow-Origin *;

        location /.well-known/matrix/server {
                return 200 '{"m.server": ""}';
                default_type application/json;
                add_header Access-Control-Allow-Origin *;

Note the client_max_body_size variable. By default, Nginx caps the size of files it can transfer. We increase that to 50M if needed by Matrix. (Note however that both Matrix and Nginx have seperate settings for this and to raise it to something much larger, you will have to increase the value in both configuration files.)

Now let’s enable the Nginx Matrix site and run certbot to get an encryption certificate and restart Nginx.

ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/matrix /etc/nginx/sites-enabled
certbot --nginx -d


Read the config file

The configuration file for Matrix is in /etc/matrix-synapse/homeserver.yaml. It is well documented and commented, so you can read about the settings, but let’s change the essential ones here.

Make what changes you want and run systemctl reload matrix-synapse to make the system configuration active.

Database Setup

Synapse, like PeerTube and Prosody, supports PostgreSQL as a database backend. This can significantly increase performance, epsecially if you’re already running PostgreSQL to run any other services.

Begin by installing PostgreSQL:

apt install postgresql

Then start the daemon:

systemctl restart postgresql

Now create a user named synapse_user to manage your database:

su -c "createuser --pwprompt synapse_user" postgres

And finally, create the actual database:

su -c "psql -c 'CREATE DATABASE synapse ENCODING 'UTF8' LC_COLLATE='C' LC_CTYPE='C' template=template0 OWNER synapse_user;'" postgres

Now edit the database configuration in /etc/matrix-synapse/homeserver.yaml and comment out the following lines for the previous SQLite configuration:

# database:
  # name: sqlite3
  # args:
    # database: DATADIR/homeserver.db

Note: The example above is how yours should look like after it’s commented out.

Then, uncomment the following configuration above, and set the appropriate entries:

  name: psycopg2
    user: synapse_user
    password: secretpassword
    database: synapse
    host: localhost
    cp_min: 5
    cp_max: 10

Ensure that synapse is set to your database name, synapse_user is set to that database’s owner, and that secretpassword is set to that user’s password.

Adding Users and Admins

If you allow open registration on your server in the configuration file, you can create an account through Element or another Matrix client, but you are probably going to want an official admin account to use. To make one, simply run the following command, which will then give you several choices for creating a user, among which will be the ability to make it an admin.

Before setting up the admin user, make sure to set a registration_shared_secret in /etc/matrix-synapse/homserver.yaml:

registration_shared_secret: ???

Then, run the following command to register a user:

register_new_matrix_user -c /etc/matrix-synapse/homeserver.yaml

This command will prompt you for a username, password and whether to make the user an admin or not.

Voice and Video Calls

For native voice and video call support, the Synapse homserver needs to interface with a working TURN and STUN Server.

First, follow the guide on installing and setting up coturn, setting either a shared secret or username-password pair for authentication.

Then, in /etc/matrix-synapse/homeserver.yaml, edit the configuration as follows:

turn_uris: [ "", "" ]

## This is how long call credentials are valid. Lessen to prevent abuse.
turn_user_lifetime: 86400000

## Keep this enabled unless for security reasons.
turn_allow_guests: True

If you’re using a shared secret, add the following config:

turn_shared_secret: "your secret here"

Otherwise, add this config if you’re using username-password pairs:

turn_username: "turnserver_username"
turn_password: "turnserver_password"

URL Previews

To enable server-generated previews of webpages, change this line to true in /etc/matrix-synapse/homeserver.yaml:

url_preview_enabled: true

And make sure to uncomment the url_preview_ip_range_blacklist: section; Otherwise, Synapse will refuse to start up again!


Using the Nginx configuration provided with this guide, federation should work out of the box with Synapse. You can test whether it’s working using the Matrix Federation Tester.

However, some extra features can be enabled to increase the usability of your homeserver over federation. In /etc/matrix-synapse/homeserver.yaml, the following lines can be edited:

allow_public_rooms_over_federation: true

This can be un-commented to allow users to add your homserver to their list of servers (in a client like Element) and see a list of all the public rooms.

allow_public_rooms_without_auth: true

This can be un-commented to enable guests to see public rooms without authenticating.

Using Matrix with Element Matrix logoElement

There are many different clients that can be used on desktops or phones to chat on your Matrix server, but the most popular and most widely vetted is Element logoElement.

Get Element to access your Matrix server:

Note also that Element has a web client (i.e. a version that can be accessed on your own website) that is also easy to install on an Nginx server, although that will be covered in another article.