If you’ve ever considered self-hosting a server to run one or more services instead of using existing web providers, you’ve probably wondered if it’s worth the hassle. That’s why.
What is self hosting?
Before we dive into some of the reasons why self hosting is great, let’s get everyone on the same page in case they’re unfamiliar with the term and practice.
Self-hosting is when you—using a home computer on a local network or a remote bare-metal host server you purchase—host your own services for various purposes.
Instead of using a backup service like Google Photos or iCloud, you host your own backup and viewing platform with Nextcloud Photos , PhotoPrism or similar. Instead of using a password management system like LastPass or 1Password , you host your own password manager like BitWarden .
If you can think of a service that you currently use online and/or pay for a subscription, there are probably one or more alternatives to replace it. For example, after so many years, is Google Reader still running out? Why not host your own RSS aggregator like Sismics Reader that no one can ever take away from you?
Now, before we get into the good reasons for self-hosting, we’ll be frank and honest with you. Self hosting is not for everyone, and there are many good reasons not to do it yourself.
If you don’t want to be the administrator of your own server and treat it like a kind of learning hobby where you learn a lot about all sorts of technical topics, that’s fine.
There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing it and paying for a third party solution that suits your needs. But if you’re generally inclined toward a more hands-on, personal, and privacy-focused approach to your needs, it’s well worth the effort.
Self hosting is the most powerful step in privacy
When you use a third party service for your needs, whatever they may be, you always take on some privacy risk.
When you upload files to a cloud provider, you don’t really know how secure those files are or what the provider can or can’t do with them. Will they scan them somehow? Will they remove files that match the hash of a copyrighted file, even if you have the right to use and store that file? Who has access to your files? How many people can access your photos, documents, and other files in a company with hundreds or even thousands of employees?
You will never know. You just have to take the word of the respective company that no one is looking at your belongings and everyone is safe.
We all agree on this to a greater or lesser extent, because in today’s world it is almost impossible to live without some kind of digital footprint and various connections to various social networks, webmail providers and data storage companies, but it is worth taking a step back and asking . yourself whether the convenience of a given service is worth giving that service access to part or all of your digital life.
In addition, the legal processes for gaining access to your data are very different when you personally control that data on the equipment you own, and effectively rent space from a third party to use their services.
If you frequent internet forums where people discuss digital privacy issues and self-hosting tips and tricks, they may seem like a bunch of paranoids, but in the end, they’re right. We all sacrifice our privacy for the convenience provided by web services.
You have full control over the user experience
Of course, self-catering is no walk in the park. You will never set up a standalone alternative to a service as easily as you could simply visit a third party version of the service and register with your email address and/or pay for a subscription.
But you have full control over self hosting. What hardware do you run it on, what software do you choose, when do you update (or don’t update) that software, and so on. How many times have you used a third party service and they changed the layout, look or even the business model and you are left with a product you didn’t really like or at a price you didn’t want to pay? Or, in the worst case, the parent company will close the project or even go bankrupt. Then you won’t be able to use the service or access your data (and who knows where your data ended up after the company broke up).
If you host guests yourself, you can control these things. You can use a fork of an open source project if you don’t like the changes in the main version. You can take your data and easily switch to a new service. You may choose not to update something if a big change in the project breaks an important feature you like.
You’re not just stuck at the mercy of what a huge company decides to do or not do, and if you run software on your own home server, then the lights go out only if you decide to abandon the project, not because Google or some other company decides that the service is no longer worth maintaining.
Security is easier than you think
When it comes to self-hosting, security is a concern for many. There is no doubt about this; this is a very good thing to think about (and worry about).
If you’re trying to host a service for your extended family, effectively replacing Google in their lives, you’ve got a little problem. At this point, you are your own small supplier, and you have all the headaches that come with it.
But self-hosting just for yourself or your next of kin in your home is much easier, and the security concerns are much lower.
For example, for my own self-hosted services, my network is set up so that the only Internet access is the Wireguard VPN server. All my devices – phones, tablets, laptops, etc. – connect through this VPN server when I’m away from home so they work as if they’re on the local network.
There are various ways to provide secure connections to your do-it-yourself projects, but it’s hard to beat just using a VPN to create a secure tunnel back to your home, especially for basic personal use. If you choose to host services that you want others to use (like a Minecraft server), many people choose to set up a reverse proxy.
Both slow and fast Internet pay off in self-hosting
Perhaps you tend to think that your home internet is too slow for self-hosting, or conversely, that it’s so fast that self-hosting is great.
Paradoxically, both are true. If you have a very slow home internet, especially slow download speeds, trying to host a large media server yourself using, say, Plex to stream movies on the go isn’t much fun.
However, since most self-hosting activity happens at home, if you self-host something like photo backups or the like, you get broadband-like speeds when using a self-hosted LAN service. You can’t say the same if you’re trying to use a remote host like Google Photos over a very slow home internet connection. But a local file sync like Nextcloud will work just fine.
And, on the other hand, if you have a very fast home internet connection, such as a synchronous gigabit fiber connection, you can (and should!) take advantage of that. Your upload may not be fast enough to host all the services you want to host for 500 people, but you are not hosting for 500. You are hosting for yourself and possibly a few family members.
When I use do-it-yourself solutions on my personal connection, even those that are bandwidth intensive like HD movie streaming, I can never tell that I’m not streaming directly from Netflix or one of the big services.
It pays off
I don’t know about you, but over the years, it seems like all the subscription fees slowly add up. Even putting things like streaming services aside, when you start counting all the “little things” like cloud storage, cloud security camera accounts, password managers, to-do list apps, both, you’ll easily find that you spend hundreds of dollars a year on the various services you use.
Whether you’re looking to repurpose an old PC, or even build a low-powered home server (which can be done quite inexpensively given you’re skipping expensive components like a cutting-edge CPU and not even installing a GPU), your setup could easily pay for itself within a year.
After that, you can take the money you would have spent on all those cloud services and either use it elsewhere in your budget or save it for future home server upgrades and additional storage as needed.
You don’t have to go all out and build some powerful machine. Many self-hosting options that don’t require a lot of memory or processing power, such as hosting your own VPN, password manager, or a host of other lightweight processes, can be run on a Raspberry Pi. For the cost of a Raspberry Pi and a few dollars in electricity a year, you can host the services you need.
Also, you may find yourself providing hosting services that you find useful but don’t want to pay for. Perhaps you need an uptime monitor but don’t want to pay an annual fee for it. Or maybe you need something that couldn’t be easily bought, like a tool to automatically archive web content, videos, or podcasts. Need some inspiration? Check out this list of cool projects, big and small, that you can host yourself .
Once you’ve set up a home server and can add it easily, especially if you’re using a container system like Docker, you’ll probably find yourself looking for fun things to add to it. Speaking from personal experience, I know that half the fun of solo adventures is discovering all the cool stuff you can host on your own.