running mastodon on arch linux

Here’s something i wanted to write a long time ago. I think it’s more relevant now, given the renewed popularity of Mastodon.

I’ve been on “the Fediverse” for a few years now. I think i originally signed up back in early 2017; i don’t remember the exact reason for the flood of users then, but i’ve had an account for about that long. A couple years ago i decided to set up my own instance - initially so that i could be sure i was somewhere that wouldn’t be outside of my control, but also with the hope of having a local instance for a group of friends. The latter didn’t quite pan out, but i stuck around now that i had my own little slice of the network.

Note that setting up your own Mastodon server is not without its issues! It’s a fair amount of upkeep just to make sure the thing stays running. That doesn’t even get into inter-instance moderation, especially if more people than just you are going to have accounts there. Frankly, content moderation is a harder ongoing task in comparison to just administering a server! I like the occasional recreational systems administration, though, so it’s been interesting.

what does it actually take

The specific stack of Mastodon consists of the following parts:

The Mastodon repo itself has configurations for docker-compose and Vagrant, as well as ready-made configuration for Heroku and similar services. If you want a push-button setup, one of these configurations will suffice. However, i wanted to avoid using Docker or other kinds of virtualization, and i wanted to run it on a VPS that i could control.

The official instructions for setting up Mastodon outside of Docker assume that you’re running Ubuntu or Debian, for the purposes of noting how to install dependencies or manage services. I ran my server on Ubuntu for a while, but ultimately i got fed up when i couldn’t easily upgrade from one LTS release to the next without starting fresh. I have more experience managing Arch Linux systems, and the lure of “not having to deal with OS versions upgrades” was strong. After a while i decided to migrate the server to Arch for ease of administration.

so how did you do it

I’m kinda assuming here that you already know how to set up Arch and have gotten a reasonable system running, with a personal user that can run sudo and either SSH access or other kind of terminal access. I’m not quite here to evangelize Arch and/or teach it; just to talk about setting up Mastodon on a semi-unsupported platform.

For the most part, the installation from source instructions can be followed pretty closely. Where the process diverges on a different distro usually comes down to different system package availability and user management. What follows is a series of “notes to self”, from what i can remember about setting up the Arch system in contrast with the official instructions.

When installing system packages:

An equivalent pacman call to install the prerequisite packages looks like this:

sudo pacman -S base-devel imagemagick ffmpeg libpqxx libxml2 libxslt protobuf \
  openssl libyaml nginx certbot certbot-nginx redis postgresql \
  postgresql-old-upgrade libidn jemalloc yarn

Because of the way system libraries are upgraded, many native extensions to Ruby gems can fail to link against them after an upgrade. Because of this, i tend to include an rm -rf vendor node_modules before each bundle install && yarn install during an update.

Because Arch’s version of OpenSSL is relatively new compared to the Ubuntu LTS releases, there’s an issue with the hash used by webpack when precompiling assets. To counteract this, add the following to your environment when running assets:precompile (i added it to the mastodon user’s bashrc):

export NODE_OPTIONS=--openssl-legacy-provider

Mastodon pins a Ruby version that it uses to run Rails and Sidekiq with. The official docs suggest to use rbenv to set a Ruby version for Mastodon, and it can be used here as well. When Mastodon changes its pinned Ruby version, you can quickly set it up with rbenv install (which will compile Ruby from source) followed by rbenv global (version). rbenv will likely complain about not knowing about the version in question, but it will also show a git pull command you can use to update its version list. (It’s probably also worth running rbenv versions and rbenv uninstall (old version) when this happens, too, so you can clean up old stuff.)

the mastodon user

Arch’s useradd command doesn’t have a --disabled-login flag like the adduser command used in the official docs. Instead, the wiki suggests setting the login shell to /usr/bin/nologin to disallow login shells for service users. However, this means that the simple su command used in the docs won’t work - it will try to run nologin, which will then refuse the login.

When creating the mastodon user, this is roughly the command i used:

sudo useradd --system --user-group --create-home --shell /usr/bin/nologin mastodon

When switching to the mastodon user, you’ll need to specify a shell as part of the command:

sudo su - -s /bin/bash mastodon

Because i like to copy/paste commands from the glitch-soc upgrade docs when performing Mastodon upgrades, i wanted to find a way to get the mastodon user to reload the Mastodon services without having to switch back to my primary user with sudo access. However, thanks to polkit, it’s possible to allow mastodon to reload the web services without needing sudo access. Write the following file:

// /etc/polkit-1/rules.d/10-mastodon.rules
polkit.addRule(function(action,subject) {
    var isSystemd = ( == "org.freedesktop.systemd1.manage-units");
    if (isSystemd) {
        var unit = action.lookup("unit");
        var user = subject.user;

        var mastoServices = ["mastodon-web.service", "mastodon-sidekiq.service", "mastodon-streaming.service"];
        var mastoUsers = ["mastodon"]; // add your personal user here if you want

        var isMastoService = (mastoServices.indexOf(unit) > -1);
        var isMastoUser = (mastoUsers.indexOf(user) > -1);
        if (isMastoService && isMastoUser) {
            return polkit.Result.YES;

regular cleanup

The Mastodon docs suggest running a cleanup command every week to clean up the media caches. However, they don’t ship with scripts or timers that do this, so i forgot to set it up initially. Add the following service and timer to run this regularly:

# /etc/systemd/system/mastodon-cleanup.service
Description=Weekly cleanup tasks for mastodon

ExecStart=/home/mastodon/live/bin/tootctl media remove
ExecStart=/home/mastodon/live/bin/tootctl preview_cards remove
# /etc/systemd/system/mastodon-cleanup.timer
Description=Run mastodon cleanup tasks weekly



to be continued?

I may add more things here if i run into more weird edges in systems administration.