Getting started with Mastodon!

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Mastodon Setup

Howdy, stranger! This document is the other half of this video, in which I set up a single-server instance of Mastodon. This was assembled on 9 April 2017, and there’s a good chance that some of the specifics here will change over time. I’ll keep an updated version up on

(What is Mastodon? I’ll do another post on that sometime!)

If you’d like, you can download a plain HTML, styled HTML or PDF version of this post instead – it might make copying some of the code easier.

UPDATE 17 April 2017: Mastodon has reached v1.2, and now requires Ruby 2.4.1. The post has been updated with new commands required as of today, and an upgrade guide is below.

0. Pre-Prerequisites

At a bare minimum, you’re going to need:

  • A domain name, with the ability to add an A record yourself
  • A free account, with the account verified and your sandbox enabled to send to you
  • A 1GB RAM machine with decent network access. This document uses a DigitalOcean VM.

This setup procedure skips a few things that you may want to do on a “productionized” or “community” instance of Mastodon, such as configuring S3 file storage, or using a non-sandbox email send account. You may also want a beefier machine than just 1GB RAM.

For reference, the OS version in use is Ubuntu 16.04.2 LTS and all the commands are being run from the root user unless explicitly specified.

1. Getting started!

The first couple steps:

  • Create the VM
  • Point your domain to it immediately, by setting the A record to the public IP
  • Log into the VM
  • Set your root password
  • Create a new Mastodon user: adduser mastodon
  • Update the apt cache: apt-get update

2. Install Prerequisites

Now we’ll grab all the prerequisite software packages in one go:

# apt-get install imagemagick ffmpeg libpq-dev libxml2-dev libxslt1-dev nodejs file git curl redis-server redis-tools postgresql postgresql-contrib autoconf bison build-essential libssl-dev libyaml-dev libreadline6-dev zlib1g-dev libncurses5-dev libffi-dev libgdbm3 libgdbm-dev git-core letsencrypt nginx

That’ll take a little while to run. When it’s done, you’ll need Node (version 4) and yarn:

# curl -sL | bash -
# apt-get install nodejs
# npm install -g yarn

You’ll also want to be sure that redis is running, so do:

# service redis-server start

3. Configure Database

With Postgres installed, you need to create a new user. Drop into the postgres user and create a mastodon account:

# su - postgres
$ psql
> \q
$ exit

Later on we’ll configure mastodon to use that.

4. Generate SSL certificate

Before configuring nginx, we can generate the files we’ll need to support SSL. First, kill nginx:

# service nginx stop

Now proceed through the LetsEncrypt process:

  • Run letsencrypt certonly
  • Enter your email address
  • Read and acknowledge the terms
  • Enter the domain name you chose

If the domain name has propagated (which is why it’s important to do this early), LetsEncrypt will find your server and issue the certificate in one go. If this step fails, you may need to wait a while longer for your domain to propagate so that LetsEncrypt can see it.

5. Configure nginx

With the SSL cert done, time to configure nginx!

# cd /etc/nginx/sites-available
# nano mastodon

Simply substitute your domain name where it says in this snippet (lines 9, 15, 23, 24), then paste the entire thing into the file and save it.

map $http_upgrade $connection_upgrade {
  default upgrade;
  ''      close;

server {
  listen 80;
  listen [::]:80;
  return 301 https://$host$request_uri;

server {
  listen 443 ssl;

  ssl_protocols TLSv1.2;
  ssl_ecdh_curve prime256v1;
  ssl_prefer_server_ciphers on;
  ssl_session_cache shared:SSL:10m;

  ssl_certificate     /etc/letsencrypt/live/;
  ssl_certificate_key /etc/letsencrypt/live/;

  keepalive_timeout    70;
  sendfile             on;
  client_max_body_size 0;
  gzip off;

  root /home/mastodon/live/public;

  add_header Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=31536000; includeSubDomains";

  location / {
    try_files $uri @proxy;

  location @proxy {
    proxy_set_header Host $host;
    proxy_set_header X-Real-IP $remote_addr;
    proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
    proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-Proto https;

    proxy_pass_header Server;

    proxy_pass http://localhost:3000;
    proxy_buffering off;
    proxy_redirect off;
    proxy_http_version 1.1;
    proxy_set_header Upgrade $http_upgrade;
    proxy_set_header Connection $connection_upgrade;

    tcp_nodelay on;

  location /api/v1/streaming {
    proxy_set_header Host $host;
    proxy_set_header X-Real-IP $remote_addr;
    proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
    proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-Proto https;

    proxy_pass http://localhost:4000;
    proxy_buffering off;
    proxy_redirect off;
    proxy_http_version 1.1;
    proxy_set_header Upgrade $http_upgrade;
    proxy_set_header Connection $connection_upgrade;

    tcp_nodelay on;

  error_page 500 501 502 503 504 /500.html;

Once you’ve saved and closed the file, enable it by creating a symlink:

# ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/mastodon /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/mastodon

Then test that the file is OK by running nginx -t. If it reports any errors, you’ll want to fix them before moving on. If the file comes back OK, fire it up!

# service nginx start

Open a browser tab and navigate to your domain. You should get a 502 Gateway Error, secured with your LetsEncrypt cert. If not, go back and make sure you’ve followed every preceding step correctly.

6. Configure Systemd

Mastodon consists of 3 services (web, sidekiq and streaming), and we need to create config files for each. You can use the code straight from this page, as-is.

# cd /etc/systemd/system/

The first file is called mastodon-web.service and consists of the following:


ExecStart=/home/mastodon/.rbenv/shims/bundle exec puma -C config/puma.rb


The next file is called mastodon-sidekiq.service and consists of the following:


ExecStart=/home/mastodon/.rbenv/shims/bundle exec sidekiq -c 5 -q default -q mailers -q pull -q push


The final file is called mastodon-streaming.service and consists of the following:


ExecStart=/usr/bin/npm run start


Once all those are saved, we’ve done all we can with the root user for now.

7. Switch to the Mastodon user

If you haven’t yet logged into the server as mastodon, do so now in a second SSH window. We’re going to set up ruby and pull down the actual Mastodon code here.

8. Install rbenv, rbenv-build and Ruby

As the mastodon user, clone the rbenv repo into your home folder:

$ git clone ~/.rbenv

When that’s done, link the bin folder to your PATH:

$ echo 'export PATH="$HOME/.rbenv/bin:$PATH"' >> ~/.bash_profile

Then add the init script to your profile:

$ echo 'eval "$(rbenv init -)"' >> ~/.bash_profile

That line is valid for the OS we’re on (Ubuntu 16.04 LTS) but it may differ slightly for you. You can run ~/.rbenv/bin/rbenv init to check what line you need to use.

Once you’ve saved that, log out of the mastodon user, then log back in to complete the rest of this section.

Install the ruby-build plugin like so:

$ git clone ~/.rbenv/plugins/ruby-build

Then install Ruby v2.4.1 proper:

$ rbenv install 2.4.1

This could take up to 15 minutes to run!

When it’s done, change to your home folder and clone the Mastodon source:

$ cd ~
$ git clone live
$ cd live

Next up, dependencies! Always more dependencies – we’ll install bundler, then use that to install everything else:

$ gem install bundler
$ bundle install --deployment --without development test
$ yarn install

If all of those succeeded, we’re ready to configure!

9. Configure Mastodon

Before diving into the configuration file, generate 3 secret strings by running this command 3 times:

$ bundle exec rake secret

Copy those out to a text file – you’ll paste them back in later. Create the config file by copying the template, then editing it with nano:

$ cp .env.production.sample .env.production
$ nano .env.production

Inside this file we’re going to make several quick changes.


To enable federation, you need to set your domain name here:

Then, for these 3, paste in each key you generated earlier:


Finally, configure your SMTP details:

SMTP_LOGIN= (whatever your mailgun is)
SMTP_PASSWORD= (whatever your mailgun is)

Save and close the file.

10. Run installer

If you’ve done everything correctly, this command will install the database:

$ RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rails db:setup

If that passes successfully (it’ll echo out every command it runs), you can then precompile the site assets, which may take a few minutes:

$ RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rails assets:precompile

At this point, we’re almost ready to go!

11. Configure cronjob

This is technically optional, but highly recommended to keep your instance in good order. As the mastodon user, start by determining where your bundle command lives:

$ which bundle

That path will be substituted for $bundle. Now, edit your own crontab:

$ crontab -e

Select nano (2) if you’re prompted. As of version 1.2 (17 April 2017) you only need one daily task in your crontab:

5 0 * * * RAILS_ENV=production $bundle exec rake mastodon:daily

Save and close the crontab.

12. Log out and return to root

We’re done with the mastodon account. Log out and return to your root shell.

13. Start Mastodon

The moment of truth! Enable the Mastodon services (so that they start on boot):

# systemctl enable /etc/systemd/system/mastodon-*.service

Then fire up Mastodon itself:

# systemctl start mastodon-web.service mastodon-sidekiq.service mastodon-streaming.service

Open up a browser tab on your domain. Mastodon can take up to 30 seconds to warm up, so if you see an error page, don’t fret. Only fret if it’s there for longer than a minute – that requires troubleshooting, which is outside the scope of this document.

You should eventually get a signup page. Congratulations! Register an account for yourself, receive the confirmation email, and activate it. This should enable you (the first user) as an administrator.

14. Securing Mastodon

This is by no means a comprehensive guide to server security, but there are two quick things you can change while the root shell is open. Start by editing the passwd file:

# nano /etc/passwd

Find the mastodon entry (it’ll be near the bottom) and replace /bin/bash with /usr/sbin/nologin. Save and quit. This will prevent anyone from logging in as the mastodon user.

Next, configure ufw. First check if it’s disabled:

# ufw status

It should be off, since this is a brand new VM. Configure it to allow SSH (port 22) and HTTPS (port 443), then turn it on:

# ufw allow 22
# ufw allow 443
# ufw enable
? y

That will prevent any connection attempts on other ports.

15. Enjoy!

If you enjoyed this guide, I’d appreciate a follow! You can find me by searching in your Mastodon web UI. Give me a shout if you were able to get an instance set up with these instructions, or if you ran into any problems.

16. Upgrade to v1.2 (17 April 2017)

If you’ve installed Mastodon according to these instructions, you’ll need to do a few things to upgrade to the latest version.

Start by logging into your instance as the root user, then re-enabling your mastodon user shell (in step 14, change the mastodon user’s shell back to /bin/bash). We’ll use it in a bit to perform the upgrades themselves.

When that’s done, stop the Mastodon services like so:

# systemctl stop mastodon-*

That will shut down all the Mastodon services. In a new window, log into your mastodon user and install Ruby 2.4.1, the new preferred version:

$ cd live
$ rbenv install 2.4.1
$ gem install bundler --no-ri --no-rdoc

This will install the latest Ruby, and the version-appropriate bundler. Now pull down the latest source code:

$ git pull

There are a couple of one-time commands to run – in order, they are to install new dependencies, run database migrations, do a one-time avatar migration, and recompile the frontend.

$ bundle install
$ yarn install
$ RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rails db:migrate
$ RAILS_ENV=production rake mastodon:maintenance:add_static_avatars
$ RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rails assets:precompile

When this is all done, make sure your crontab has been updated to use the new mastodon:daily command. Refer to step 11 above for details.

Finally, the teardown – log out of the mastodon user, and switch back to your root connection. Set the mastodon user’s shell back to /usr/sbin/nologin (step 14) and restart the Mastodon services:

# systemctl start mastodon-web.service
# systemctl start mastodon-sidekiq.service
# systemctl start mastodon-streaming.service

Give it a few seconds to warm up, and check that they’re running with:

# systemctl status mastodon-web.service

If you get a green dot with “running”, you’re good to go!


A lot of this guide was sourced from the official Production guide on the Mastodon Github page. I reorded it into a logical sequence after running through it for a few tries.

This post was updated for v1.2 (and v1.1.2) upgrade notes on 17 April 2017.

Published by

Wogan May

By day, I run a software development agency focused on business tools, process optimization, data integration and automation. By night, I build tools and platforms that serve online creators.

35 thoughts on “Getting started with Mastodon!”

    1. Glad it was useful!

      Yeah, in the last 24 hours, Gargron released an update that now requires Ruby 2.4.1 – that’s how fast this is all moving. I will update this guide as a result.


  1. Thank you for your guide. Sorry I’m not really following. Is the only time you install under mastodon account only after step 7? I messed up somewhere because I get 422 remote account could not be resolved. Thanks.


    1. The first user registered on the instance (you) are automatically an admin. If you need to give other users admin privileges, there’s a simple database flag you can manually set.


  2. Hi! i’m getting an issue at step 13, regarding the mastodon-sidekiq.service file, the error is as follows:
    ● mastodon-sidekiq.service – mastodon-sidekiq
    Loaded: error (Reason: Invalid argument)
    Active: inactive (dead)

    Apr 15 21:39:04 ubuntu-1gb-nyc2-01 systemd[1]: [/etc/systemd/system/mastodon-sidekiq.service:17] Unknown lvalue ‘Description’ in section ‘Install’
    Apr 15 21:39:04 ubuntu-1gb-nyc2-01 systemd[1]: [/etc/systemd/system/mastodon-sidekiq.service:18] Unknown lvalue ‘After’ in section ‘Install’
    Apr 15 21:39:04 ubuntu-1gb-nyc2-01 systemd[1]: mastodon-sidekiq.service: Service has more than one ExecStart= setting, which is only allowed for Type=oneshot services. Refusing.
    Apr 15 21:44:28 ubuntu-1gb-nyc2-01 systemd[1]: [/etc/systemd/system/mastodon-sidekiq.service:17] Unknown lvalue ‘Description’ in section ‘Install’
    Apr 15 21:44:28 ubuntu-1gb-nyc2-01 systemd[1]: [/etc/systemd/system/mastodon-sidekiq.service:18] Unknown lvalue ‘After’ in section ‘Install’
    Apr 15 21:44:28 ubuntu-1gb-nyc2-01 systemd[1]: mastodon-sidekiq.service: Service has more than one ExecStart= setting, which is only allowed for Type=oneshot services. Refusing.
    Warning: mastodon-sidekiq.service changed on disk. Run ‘systemctl daemon-reload’ to reload units.


  3. Hi for mailgun I get stuck with this (this is from mailgun logs) “Free accounts are for test purposes only. Please upgrade or add the address to authorized recipients in Account Settings.” I think you need to add credit card details for this to work correctly and upgrade from their free account.


  4. Hi,
    Working until the very end:

    mastodon@mastodon:~/live$ RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rails assets:precompile
    rails aborted!
    BrowserifyRails::BrowserifyError: Unable to run node_modules/.bin/browserify. Ensure you have installed it with npm.

    Any ideeas?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am getting an error page when trying to go to the login page of mastodon. It says “We’re sorry, but something went wrong.” I ran though the steps again making sure everything was configured right and on the last steps when I run systemctl start mastodon-web.service mastodon-sidekiq.service mastodon-streaming.service it looks like everything is working but when running systemctl status mastodon-web.service mastodon-sidekiq.service mastodon-streaming.service -l to show any errors it gives errors for the first two files the last one seems to start correctly. It says failed to start mastodon-web and mastodon-sideqik with the error 203/EXEC failed RESULT:start-limit. I have tried to figure out the problem but cant seem to find the issue in the files. I double checked to make sure I had them copied exactly but everything was the same.


  6. Hi,
    thanks for your guide. Yesterday I installed my server successfully .

    Today I’ve made the update and did a mistake while copy-pasting.
    I did
    “RAILS_ENV=production rake”
    instead of “RAILS_ENV=production rake mastodon:maintenance:add_static_avatars”. After I recognized my mistake I did the update guide again. But now I don’t get a login screen. Just a blank page with grey background.

    The services are running but a journalctl -f is showing a loop
    (mastodon@ start /home/mastodon/live
    babel-node ./streaming/index.js –presets es2015,stage-2
    info Starting streaming API server master with 0 workers)
    and the CPU usage is permanent at 100%.

    Do you know where I can search for some logs? The /home/mastodon/log/ folder has only 1 empty file.


  7. Hi. I know it’s lame but I already have several service on Apache and would like to setup my mastodon instance there as well. Could you help with step 5?


  8. Hi, thanks for the post, just what I was looking for.
    I did everything as you explain but I do not get the email confirmation of the first account, my doubt remains in the user and pasword to be used in point 9:

    “Finally, configure your SMTP details:

    SMTP_LOGIN= (whatever your mailgun is)
    SMTP_PASSWORD= (whatever your mailgun is)”

    I am not clear if it is the user of mailgun or the one of the domain that registered, I would appreciate it to clarify to me.


  9. Hi, it worked so smoothly. Now the issue is that I am not receiving the mail from mastodon to my registered email. Mailgun does not show nothing on the logs, but if I send an email from command line (curl example) reaches my mailbox. So I am kind of lost here… Thanks
    Running from ubuntu in amazon.


  10. Thank you the excellent walk-through! I used it in parallel with another since my install was on CentOS 7 and mostly similar (as you’d expect). One point of interest though is at the end of step 13 the system didn’t automatically make me an Administrator.

    I had to run this:

    RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rails mastodon:make_admin USERNAME=BobTheBuilder

    …from the /home/mastodon/live directory as the mastodon user to enable Admin.

    Thanks again and great stuff 🙂


  11. Hello,

    I get an error after this line:

    ‘gem install bundler’

    The error I get is
    ‘rbenv: version `2.5.3′ is not installed (set by /home/mastodon/live/.ruby-version)’

    I know is probably because of ruby and because this guide is a bit old, but I little help in order to fix it would be awesome.


    1. I’ve tried to install 2.5.3. So to replace this line ‘rbenv install 2.4.1’ with this one ‘rbenv install 2.5.3’, but I got other huge errors 😀


      1. Yeah that’s fairly likely to happen between Ruby versions – lots of dependencies get updated all at once.

        The recommended way to start up Mastodon nowadays is probably to use the Docker image. I haven’t touched anything Mastodon-related in a while though, so all I can really point you to are their official guides on


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