Running Mastodon on Heroku

So I’ve been running an instance of Mastodon this week. It’s be a fun adventure! I’m still not sure where it’ll end up but I’m learning a tonne. So let’s share some of what I’ve learned by running Mastodon on Heroku.

If you’d like to help out with some of the hosting costs, please head on over to my Patreon.

Extended info

First, a few things. I love Heroku; it’s server administration that’s friendly to iOS developers like me who don’t know anything about server administration. But! Heroku support for Mastodon is e x p e r i m e n t a l . That’s fine, this whole thing is an experiment! Life is an experiment. And like life, there are some issues I’ve run into.

(Edit: These are being addressed in more long-term ways, but for now I’ve gotten them to work. Check out the issues for more details.)

Now to the good stuff: how to get Mastodon set up.

Heroku Resources

The initial deploy (use the “Deploy to Heroku” button in the readme is going to install two dynos, Redis, and Postgres. You only need the first Dyno, the web one.

I registered a domain (mastodon.technology) with Hover and used Heroku’s SSL support to serve the Mastodon instance over HTTPS. It’s 2017, after all.

On Heroku, your limiting resource is going to be RAM. I’m using one 2x Dyno for the extra RAM, and I’ve set the WEB_CONCURRENCY environmental variable to 1 to avoid scaling issues.

Papertrail is logging service. I tried their free tier but exceeded my daily log limit the second day.

Postgres

I had to upgrade my Postgres instance almost immediately. It’s not difficult to do, which was nice. Heroku makes a lot of this super easy.

Redis

I also needed to upgrade my Redis instance almost immediately, to avoid 500 errors. Redis was the first scaling problem I hit. It looks like a super-useful service, but is priced really aggressively on Heroku. I understand why – Heroku is a business trying to make money – but it’s frustrating that costs double for a few extra megabytes of RAM. Or maybe I just don’t understand how Redis works ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Scheduler for cron jobs

I added a scheduler add-on for some of the cron tasks. I’m still experimenting with the task frequency, but you can see what works for you.

Okay, so that’s the Heroku setup. I also used Mailgun for email sending (the free tier is fine) and AWS S3 for storing media that gets uploaded (dunno costs there yet). Additionally, I’m using free Cloudflare as a CDN in front of S3, and to host the S3 bucket on its own domain (static.mastodon.technology) that has a Cloudflare SSL certificate. This is important. Without HTTPS support for your media uploads, you’ll be serving mixed content (HTTP assets on an HTTPS page). This causes problems on iOS and some web browsers.

The worst part was just waiting for the DNS changes to propagate. I’m using Cloudflare for DNS, and pointed the domain name servers from Hover to use Cloudflare.


Even after all this configuration, I’m still running into performance issues. The site completely fell over this morning and I have no idea why.

Performance

It leads me to wonder how long I can keep this up, but like I said, life is an experiment and I’m just rolling with it.

Heroku support is experimental, and like Mastodon, it’s continuing to evolve. If you have small needs, I’d say go for it. If you want to be the next big instance, you’ll need to invest in a more sophisticated hosting solution. I looked at Digital Ocean for using the Docker image but quickly got in over my head; Heroku is it for me.


Posted on April 7, 2017