A tinted screenshot of the default Mastodon instance landing page, with a custom logo showing my name and also listing me as the only user.

Lessons learned from running a single-person Mastodon instance

I came across a blog post recently that argues against hosting your own Mastodon instance. Most of the issues listed there are valid criticism, and while I don’t think hosting your own instance is for everyone (I’d personally suggest you to get together with a bunch of your friends and host a small instance), and there are other options for running an ActivityPub-based, Mastodon-compatible server, it is worth noting that Mastodon is by far the most popular, which means you are more likely to find solutions for the problems you’ll encounter, often thanks to other people who run into the same issues.

So, if you’re thinking about giving it a try, definitely go for it.

To help you out, here’s a few lessons I’ve learned from the last few months. Let me start by addressing some of the points from the blog post above.

Also, I started a poll on this topic, and the early results and responses indicate that most people who try to host their own instance don’t look back, despite some of the challenges.

Are you running your own Mastodon instance? How's your experience been? Any tips you'd share with folks wanting to give this a try? (Responses might be included in a blog post I'm working on.)

— Stefan Bohacek (@stefan@stefanbohacek.online) 2023-03-12T19:40:33.491Z

For people who run their own fediverse server, what was the biggest reason for this?

(Leave a comment if it's another reason!)

— Stefan Bohacek (@stefan@stefanbohacek.online) 2023-04-23T18:53:07.077Z

Missing posts and replies

Yes, this is a pain. Because of how fediverse works, you will not see posts from people your instance doesn’t know about. As the author pointed out, there are open tickets to address this problem by Mastodon (123), and some mobile clients already do have a solution.

Best thing to do here is to follow a bunch of people (remember, there is no algorithm, so you will only get what you ask for) and interact with others.

I am also currently testing out Michael Thomas’ GitHub action (you can also run it locally using cron), which lets you backfill any missing posts and account details. (You can learn more about this project on his blog.)

And to plug my own project here, I’m currently testing a browser extension that makes it easier to switch between my instance, and the original instance that has all the replies to a post I want to respond to.

This is really up to you if this matters to you. I like to engage with folks and the things they share that I find interesting, so metrics like likes and follower counts aren’t super useful. And you can always open the original page to see those details.


If you’re the only person on your instance, the expectation should be that your local instance will only show things that you posted, that seems pretty sensible.

And going back to Eric’s post, it had one factual inaccuracy.

But almost no one outside of your followers will see your hashtagged posts.

Here’s a really good chart from @cassolotl that explains how the content in the fediverse propagates.

What makes up each timeline?

- If following @Foo, toots show in Home timeline.
- If @Foo is on your instance, toots show in Local timeline.
- If someone on your instance follows @Foo, their toots end up in your Federated timeline.
- If someone on your instance searches for a toot by URL, that toot ends up on your Federated timeline.

This applies to toots sent as Public only.

So, in short, if you have at least one follower on a particular instance, everyone will be able to see your posts, including when browsing the tags you’ve used. This goes back to the need to network and connect with others.

And while we’re on the topic of hashtags, another tool I’ve made recently lets you explore them in the wider fediverse.

Plus there is a multitude of other third-party content discovery tools, like Trending on Mastodon, or Fediview, not to mention “Home feed digest” being listed on Mastodon’s public roadmap, under “Exploring”.

Where to host

Alright, so if you made it this far and you’re still onboard with running your own one-person or a small Mastodon instance, here are your options.

Easiest way to start will be looking at some of the managed hosting services that are now popping up. These include:

There's now quite a lot of options for hosting your own Mastodon/fediverse community.

spacehost.live (early access)

Exciting times!

— Stefan Bohacek (@stefan@stefanbohacek.online) 2023-07-25T16:00:23.981Z

The prices are typically in the range of $6-12 a month, with toot.io being focused more on communities with their $24/month, 100 user plan.

For the more adventurous among you, DigitalOcean has a 1-click Mastodon app that runs on their $7/month virtual server. (This is the option I went with. Feel free to use my referral link to sign up.)

If you run you own server, but don’t use DigitalOcean, you could give CapRover a try, which lets you install Mastodon, among other 1-click self-hosted apps.

And if you want to get really nerdy, you can even run it on a Raspberry Pi. And much like moving your account from one instance to another, you can even move your whole Mastodon installation to another hosting service.

Do note that if you have a lot of followers, you will benefit from beefing up your server, so that it can handle all the messages it has to send out and receive to keep things in sync. Similarly, if one of your posts gets popular, you will see an increase in activity, but things should calm back down pretty soon.

And also remember to keep your instance up-to-date!

More resources

To wrap things up, here’s a few useful links that cover what it takes to run your own instance.

I hope you find the information shared here useful, and good luck with your instance!

More from the blog

A tinted screenshot showing domains where I have followers and follow accounts blocked by one of Mastodon's instances.
A tinted, zoomed in screenshot of a JSON object showing server information about a Mastodon instance.
A tinted screenshot of an unlabeled scatter chart, with most data points grouped on the right.

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