Self-Hosting Isn't as Hard as You Think

Tue, 12 Mar 2024

When the idea of self-hosting personal services like email or XMPP (chat) comes up, sometimes folks I speak with seem to immediately balk at the thought and shut down the conversation. Reasons like this often pop up:

  • "I don't have a dedicated computer to run all the time!"
  • "My internet connection isn't reliable enough or isn't on all the time."
  • "Don't I need a static IP address?"

They envision needing dedicated servers, 24/7 internet connections, static IPs, everything. But the exciting truth is that self-hosting in the modern era is far more flexible and resilient, and services like email and XMPP are surprisingly accessible, even for those without those things.

Understanding the Needs: What Does Self-Hosting Take?

  • Email: The backbone of email protocols is designed for resilience. Think back to dial-up days-sometimes, that was how one mail server would communicate with another. If your mail server is offline, the sender's server won't just give up - it'll queue the message and retry later. Plus, personal email doesn't demand hefty bandwidth. A small, efficient computer can easily handle the email needs of a single person with friends and family or even a small group without breaking a sweat.
  • XMPP: Like email, XMPP (the protocol behind many chat services) operates on surprisingly little bandwidth-just enough to handle text messages. XMPP also has ways to handle offline messages.
  • Dynamic DNS: A static IP address isn't a necessity. Dynamic DNS seamlessly updates your domain records even if your home IP address changes. It's a lifesaver if you don't have a static address.
  • Backup MX with a Friend: This is where it gets fun! Coordinate with a trusted friend who also self-hosts. You can configure your domains to list each other as 'backup MX' (mail exchange) servers. That way, if one server goes down, the other takes over temporarily.

The Bottom Line: Reclaim Control

Self-hosting things like personal email or messaging is more attainable than many assume. Yes, it takes some effort, but it also offers benefits.

  • Control: Set things up exactly how you like.
  • Privacy: Your data stays yours, not on some company's servers.
  • Learning: It's a fantastic way to understand internet technologies.

Self-hosting is a journey, not a sprint. If you're feeling inspired or merely curious, or if the idea of self-hosting has intrigued you in the past but seemed out of reach, think again! The hurdles are lower than you think, and the rewards of taking ownership of your online communications are worth it. Excellent online guides and communities are dedicated to making self-hosting accessible to everyone. Start small and experiment. You might find it's surprisingly within reach!