Install a Mastodon Server on Debian 10

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Mastodon is an open source and self-hosted microblogging platform. It’s a social media platform similar to Twitter, allowing users to follow other users and post text, pictures, and video content. Unlike Twitter, Mastodon is decentralized, meaning that its content is not maintained by a central authority.

What sets the Mastodon platform apart is its federated approach to social networking. Each Mastodon server operates independently — anyone can host a server and build their own community. But users from different servers can still follow each other, share content, and communicate.

Mastodon participates in the Fediverse, a collection of social networks and other websites that communicate using the ActivityPub protocol. That allows different Mastodon servers to communicate, and also allows other platforms in the Fediverse to communicate with Mastodon.

Mastodon servers range in size from small private instances to massive public instances, and typically center on special interests or shared principles. The biggest is Mastodon server is, a general-interest server created by the developers of the Mastodon platform. It has over 540,000 users and boasts a strong Code of Conduct.

Before You Begin

  1. If you have not already done so, create a Linode account and Compute Instance. See our Getting Started with Linode and Creating a Compute Instance guides.

  2. Follow our Setting Up and Securing a Compute Instance guide to update your system. You may also wish to set the timezone, configure your hostname, create a limited user account, and harden SSH access.

  3. Complete the steps in the Add DNS Records section to register a domain name to point to your Mastodon instance.

  4. Install and configure UFW for managing your machine’s firewall rules. Refer to the How to Configure a Firewall with UFW guide.

  5. Prepare an SMTP server for Mastodon to send email notifications to users when they register for the site, get a follower, receive a message, and for other Mastodon activity.

    • You can create your own SMTP server — and even host it on the same machine as your Mastodon server — by following the Email with Postfix, Dovecot, and MySQL guide.

      This guide uses PostgreSQL database as a backend for Mastodon. You can setup the SMTP server with PostgreSQL database instead of MySQL.
    • Alternatively, you can use a third-party SMTP service. This guide provides instructions for using Mailgun as your SMTP provider.

  6. Replace occurrences of in this guide with the domain name you are using for your Mastodon instance.

This guide is written for a non-root user. Commands that require elevated privileges are prefixed with sudo. If you’re not familiar with the sudo command, see the Users and Groups guide.

Install Docker and Docker Compose

Mastodon can be installed using its included Docker Compose file. Docker Compose installs and runs all of the requisites for the Mastodon environment in Docker containers. If you have not used Docker before, it is recommended that you review the following guides:

Install Docker

To install Docker CE (Community Edition), follow the instructions within one of the guides below:

For complete instructions on even more Linux distributions, reference the Install Docker Engine section of Docker’s official documentation.

Install Docker Compose

Docker Compose is available in plugin and standalone variants. However, Docker’s official documentation prioritizes the plugin. Further, the plugin has a straightforward installation and works well with past Docker Compose commands.

These steps thus show how to install the Docker Compose plugin. If you are interested in installing the standalone Docker Compose application, follow Docker’s official installation guide.


Many tutorials retain the Docker Compose standalone command format, which looks like the following:

docker-compose [command]

Be sure to replace this with the plugin’s command format when using this installation method. This typically just means replacing the hyphen with a space, as in:

docker compose [command]
  1. Enable the Docker repository for your system’s package manager. The repository is typically already enabled after you have installed the Docker engine. Follow our relevant guide on installing Docker to enable the repository on your system.

  2. Update your package manager, and install the Docker Compose plugin.

    • On Debian and Ubuntu systems, use the following commands:
    sudo apt update
    sudo apt install docker-compose-plugin
    • On CentOS, Fedora, and other RPM-based distributions, use the following commands:
    sudo yum update
    sudo yum install docker-compose-plugin

Download Mastodon

  1. Clone the Mastodon Git repository into the home directory, and change into the resulting Mastodon directory.

    cd ~/
    git clone
    cd mastodon

    Unless otherwise stated, the remainder of the commands related to Docker Compose should be run in this directory.

Configure Docker Compose

  1. Using your preferred text editor, open the docker-compose.yml file located in the mastodon directory.

  2. Comment out the build lines (adding # in front of each), and append a release number to the end of each image: tootsuite/mastodon line as here: tootsuite/mastodon:v3.3.0.

    Although you can use latest as the release, it is recommended that you select a specific release number. The Mastodon GitHub page provides a chronological list of Mastodon releases.

  3. In the db section, add the following beneath the image line; replace password with a password you would like to use for the PostgreSQL database that operates on the Mastodon backend.

    File: docker-compose.yml
      POSTGRES_PASSWORD: password
      POSTGRES_DB: mastodon_production
      POSTGRES_USER: mastodon
  4. The resulting docker-compose.yml file should look something like the example Docker file.

  5. Copy the .env.production.sample file to create a new environment configuration file.

    cp .env.production.sample .env.production
  6. Use Docker and Mastodon to generate a new value for the SECRET_KEY_BASE setting:

    SECRET_KEY_BASE=$(docker-compose run --rm web bundle exec rake secret)

    This creates a string of random characters. If you encounter an error in the next step, run the command again to generate another string.

  7. Insert the SECRET_KEY_BASE setting into .env.production using the sed command:

    sed -i -e "s/SECRET_KEY_BASE=/&${SECRET_KEY_BASE}/" .env.production
  8. Combine the previous two actions into one step to set a value for the OTP_SECRET setting in .env.production:

    sed -i "s/OTP_SECRET=$/&$(docker-compose run --rm web bundle exec rake secret)/" .env.production
  9. Generate values for VAPID_PRIVATE_KEY and VAPID_PUBLIC_KEYsettings:

    docker-compose run --rm web bundle exec rake mastodon:webpush:generate_vapid_key
  10. Copy the output from the previous command, open .env.production in your text editor, and paste the command output into the two lines for VAPID_PRIVATE_KEY and VAPID_PUBLIC_KEY.

  11. Fill out the remainder of the .env.production file’s fields.

    • LOCAL_DOMAIN: Enter your Mastodon server’s domain name.

    • DB_PASS: Enter the password you set for the database in the docker-compose.yml file.

    • Enter mastodon_db_1 for DB_HOST and mastodon_redis_1 for REDIS_HOST. In both of these values, mastodon corresponds to the name of the Mastodon base folder.

    • Fill out the SMTP fields with the information from your SMTP provider. If you set up your own SMTP server, use its domain name for SMTP_SERVER and add the following lines:

      File: .env.production
    • Comment out the sections denoted as “optional” by adding a # before each line in the section.

  12. The resulting .env.production file should resemble example environment file.

Complete the Docker Compose Setup

  1. Build the Docker Compose environment.

    docker-compose build
  2. Give ownership of the Mastodon public directory to user 991. This is the default user ID for Mastodon, and this command ensures that it has the necessary permissions.

    sudo chown -R 991:991 public
  3. Run Mastodon’s Docker Compose setup script. You are prompted to enter information about the Docker Compose services and the Mastodon instance.

    docker-compose run --rm web bundle exec rake mastodon:setup
    • Many prompts repeat fields you completed in the .env.production file. Make sure to enter the same information here as you entered in the file.

    • When prompted to create a Mastodon administrator user account, choose to do so (Y). Enter the username, password, and email address you would like to use to access the account.

    • For any other prompts, enter the default values by pressing Enter.

Initiate the Docker Compose Services

  1. Start the Docker Compose services. The following command assumes that you are in the base Mastodon directory (~/mastodon in this guide):

    docker-compose up -d
  2. Unless manually stopped, the Docker Compose services begin running automatically at system start up. Run the following command to manually stop the Docker Compose services:

    docker-compose down

Setup an HTTP/HTTPS Proxy

  1. Allow HTTP and HTTPS connections on the system’s firewall:

    sudo ufw allow http
    sudo ufw allow https
    sudo ufw reload
  2. Install NGINX, which proxies requests to your Mastodon server.

    sudo apt install nginx
  3. Copy the nginx.conf file included with the Mastodon installation to the sites-available NGINX folder; use your Mastodon domain name instead of in the file name.

    sudo cp ~/mastodon/dist/nginx.conf /etc/nginx/sites-available/
  4. Open the file with your preferred text editor, and replace all instances of with the domain name for your Mastodon site.

  5. Create a symbolic link of this file in the sites-enabled NGINX folder.

    cd /etc/nginx/sites-enabled
    sudo ln -s ../sites-available/

Get an SSL/TLS Certificate

Mastodon is served over HTTPS, so you need an SSL/TLS certificate. This guide uses Certbot to request and download a free certificate from Let’s Encrypt.

  1. Install the Snap app store. Snap provides application bundles that work across major Linux distributions.

    sudo apt install snapd
  2. Update and refresh Snap.

    sudo snap install core && sudo snap refresh core
  3. Ensure that any existing Certbot installation is removed:

    sudo apt remove certbot
  4. Install Certbot.

    sudo snap install --classic certbot
  5. Create a symbolic link for Certbot.

    sudo ln -s /snap/bin/certbot /usr/bin/certbot
  6. Download a certificate for your site.

    sudo certbot certonly --nginx

    Certbot prompts you to select from the NGINX sites configured on your machine. Select the one with the domain name you set up for your Mastodon instance.

  7. Certbot includes a chron job that automatically renews your certificate before it expires. You can test the automatic renewal with the following command:

    sudo certbot renew --dry-run
  8. Open the /etc/nginx/sites-available/ file again, and un-comment the ssl_certificate and ssl_certificate_key lines.

  9. Restart the NGINX server.

    sudo systemctl restart nginx

Using Mastodon

  1. In a web browser, navigate to your Mastodon site’s domain. You should see the Mastodon login page, where you can login as the admin user you created earlier or create a new user.

  2. You can navigate to your instance’s administration page by navigating to The administration page allows you to alter the look, feel, and behavior of your instance.

  3. If your instance is running but having issues, you can troubleshoot them from the Sidekiq dashboard. Either select Sidekiq from the administration menu or navigate to to see the dashboard.

To learn more about Mastodon, check out the official Mastodon blog with news and articles related to Mastodon. You can engage with the Mastodon administrator community on Mastodon’s discussion forum, where you can peruse conversations about technical issues and community governance.

When you are ready to make your instance known to the world, you can add it to the list over at by filling out the admin form.

More Information

You may wish to consult the following resources for additional information on this topic. While these are provided in the hope that they will be useful, please note that we cannot vouch for the accuracy or timeliness of externally hosted materials.

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