When you have a(n old) computer lying around, and you have cheap electricity and a good internet connection, self hosting might be a good option for you.
Why would you choose selfhosting?
- You have control over the hardware, and you can upgrade your server in the future. For example: if you host a file server and your hard drive goes full, you can simply add another hard drive or upgrade it.
- No bandwith limits, storage limits, etc. (some VPSes have this)
- It can be cheaper than using a VPS. This only is the case if you got the server for really cheap and your electricity is cheap.
You can have a media server to consoom your content (for example with
Jellyfin). You can technically do this on a VPS, but that will be more expensive than self hosting. If you have a media server, you can stream media from your server to more devices. (I recommend just downloading it on your device, but if you have multiple devices, this could be a good solution)
Some possible downsides of choosing to host at home could be:
- Your ISP not approving of what you're doing. Some ISP's do not condone you hosting at home. Usually when this is the case, it could be harder if you want to forward ports, or it could be impossible to get a static IP address. Check your ISP's terms of service. Sometimes, it will say that hosting a webserver, email server, and more, is not allowed.
- This can also include blocked ports. ISPs can block certain ports to the world. Sometimes ISPs only block 445/139 (which is for the better as Samba, using these ports isn't really secure and it's outdated). But some ISPs (sadly) block crucial ports like 80 and/or 443. You need to check this before trying anything. If this is the case, a way to get around it is to get another ISP or use an alternative port. A great website to check this is: canyouseeme.org. You can also check if you did the port forwaring correctly here.
- Security. Opening your network to the public could bring security risks. For example, never open a Samba server to the public, because it's a pretty old protocol, and it has some security vulnerabilities. Be sure you are forwarding the right port, and don't just forward random ports to the internet. Also, if you are getting DDoSed, your ISP will temporarily shut down your whole internet connection.
- When setting up an email server, it can be way harder to not have your email show up as spam in other's people email. If you use a VPS, this is way easier.
- Space, power consumption and noise. Of course, this differs per server.
Your mileage may vary, go and check each of these points, and see if selfhosting is the right choice for you. Try and calculate your power consumption and see if your electricity cost is not too expensive.
For me, the upsides outweighed the downsides, which is why I chose to host at home. But, this differs with each person and scenario. Go and research what your exact situation is, before trying anything. Otherwise you'll have to face some bad surprises.
What kind of hardware should you choose?
If you pay your own electricity bill, power consumption is a big factor. Most old laptop computers are ideal in the sense that they don't use a lot of power, and if the battery still works, you have a built-in UPS! The bad thing is, most old laptop computers aren't that powerful, and they lack in upgradability. (you shouldn't really be using anything older than 2006, and I recommend at least a performance equivalant of a Core 2 CPU)
If you can find an energy efficient desktop (under 100W), that is a great option. They are pretty upgradable and they don't use a lot of power. They can also be pretty cheap, but old laptops are usually cheaper. If you can afford new hardware, and are willing to build a PC, you can find really power effecient CPU/motherboard combos, and they can be cheap, for example the Celeron J3060. I recommend a low wattage power supply or an effecient one for these kinds of builds. Pico PSUs are pretty tiny and efficient solutions in these builds.
Of course, if you don't pay your electricity bill or cost is not a problem for you, you can use just about any old desktop (as long as it's not from the 90's, I recommend at least a Core 2 chip again, or an Athlon 64 X2).
Of course, hardware choices depend on the usecase. The above recommendations I gave you work fine for e-mail server, webserver and fileserver types of applications, but they will struggle to transcode video if you are going to host a media server. You'll need a faster CPU, but also a faster GPU. As an example, the Athlon 200GE or 3000G are good and efficient choices for these builds. They are decent CPUs, but also have a built in GPU that will transcode video just fine.
If you need a lot of storage, go for a case with a lot of mounts for hard drives, this way you can easily mount multiple hard drives. Pros of multiple hard drives are redundancy and speed. Cons could be that they create more heat and noise. You can't use a laptop if you want multiple drives, except if you use a hard drive caddy for the CD/DVD drive bay. Some business laptops even support RAID 1 (redundancy) and RAID 0 (speed and more storage, but you lose your files if one hard drive breaks) this way.
Once you have the machine, you can install the OS. I recommend Debian, as all of the guides on this website are Debian specific. Debian just werks as a server OS.
You'll need to burn a Debian install image onto a USB flash drive or a CD. You can download the image here, and you can also find information on how to burn the image onto a USB flash drive or CD there.
While installing Debian, do not install any desktop environment. But install an SSH server when you get the chance. Also leave webserver unchecked, even if you want to use it as a webserver. You'll have a chance to install this later.
Every time you are going to set up a new server program, you need to forward a port corresponding to that program. For example, HTTP is port 80, HTTPS is 443, etc. You need to set this up on your router's NAT settings (sometimes just called port forwarding, this differs per router). These steps differ for each router. Refer to your routers manual. A simple command to see what your servers IP address is, is to run
ifconfig on your server. This shows a lot of network info, but it will also show your local IP address needed for port forwarding.
- SSH: port 22 (open this port if you want to admin your server outside your network)
- HTTP: port 80 (open this port if you want basic webserver functionality)
- HTTPS: port 443 (you should open this port if you are setting up a webserver because encryption)
Static or dynamic IP address
If you want to host your server at home, make sure you have a static IP address, or you can change your dynamic IP address to a static one. Refer to your router settings, some ISPs will have options on this here. If you can't find anything on this, get in touch with your ISP.
Once you've made sure you have a static IP address, you can find out what the IP address is with various websites. You can use a search engine to easily find this out. Write this down as you'll need it later.
Once you're done, you can pretty much follow every guide on this website, the only difference is that you'll need to forward the ports you'll be using for the server.
Finding the ports you'll need to forward
If you need to know what port you'll need to forward, there's a command for that. Just type
netstat -tulpn in your servers command line. If you want to see the name of the programs, you need to run it as a root user. You can do this by putting
sudo before the command.
Local Address State PID/Program name 0.0.0.0:25 LISTEN 887/master 0.0.0.0:1883 LISTEN 22452/mosquitto 0.0.0.0:445 LISTEN 798/smbd 0.0.0.0:993 LISTEN 381/dovecot 127.0.0.1:3306 LISTEN 560/mysqld 0.0.0.0:587 LISTEN 887/master 0.0.0.0:139 LISTEN 798/smbd 127.0.1.1:12301 LISTEN 412/opendkim 0.0.0.0:143 LISTEN 381/dovecot 0.0.0.0:465 LISTEN 887/master 0.0.0.0:22 LISTEN 472/sshd :::25 LISTEN 887/master :::443 LISTEN 1769/apache2 :::1883 LISTEN 22452/mosquitto :::445 LISTEN 798/smbd
In this example, if you need to find the port number from
dovecot, you can look for it in the
Program name column. Then you can see in the local address column that the reported local address is
0.0.0.0:993. You need to look for the part after the semicolon. In this case it's 993. So you'll need to forward port 993.
Written by hiddej