Notes On Installing and Running Diaspora

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Revision as of 06:08, 24 October 2012 by Sean Tilley (talk | contribs) (Introduction)
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Diaspora is run on a network of connected servers, or "pods." This document contains technical information for installing the necessary software to run a pod yourself, either for development, or as a new pod on the Diaspora network.

If you just want to use Diaspora, you don't need to set up your own pod -- you can join an existing pod running the Diaspora software. The pod you join could be one run by a friend, your university, or the official pod, run by the project’s founders, at All of the Diaspora pods communicate and make up the Diaspora Network.

If you still want to run your own pod... we salute you. Read on.

For OS-Specific and service-specific guides, check out this page.

Things to Know

  1. The install is a bit complex. We can help, though. If you run into problems, please visit us in How we use IRC, on Freenode.

  2. We are developing Diaspora for the latest and greatest browsers, so please update your Firefox, Opera, Chrome or Safari to the newest version. We do not currently support any version of Internet Explorer, though support is planned in the future.

  3. On, we run the application using Thin as our application server and Nginx as our web server. You can use another application server (Passenger, Mongrel…), or another web server (Apache, Unicorn…), but the core team may not have the expertise to help you set it up. Same goes for the database, currently we use MySQL but we’re close to supporting PostgreSQL as well, it might work already. There are folks in the community who do run Diaspora this way though, so ask around in the IRC and on the mailing list.

  4. Diaspora mandates HTTPS, as it uses OAuth2 flows to connect to apps. You can get a free SSL certificate from StartSSL. You’ll need to reference the certificate you get from StartSSL in your NGINX/Apache configuration file.

Note While you can certainly get up and running with your own pod by using a self-signed SSL certificate, your pod may not be able to communicate with all other pods. It is therefore recommended that you use a certificate issued from a trusted Certificate Authority. Unfortunately, this also means that CaCert certificates won’t work. They are not (yet) part of most certificate bundles.

Pointing out the obvious

We frequently see people doing everything as root. If you think that's a good idea: It's not. It's the worst thing you can do! All programs will either tell you to run them as root or ask you for the password. Do not start anything as root if it's not explicitly requested by it or this guide. Just use your normal user or create an own system user for Diaspora.

Preparing your system

In order to run Diaspora, you will need to install the following dependencies (specific instructions follow):

  • Build tools - Packages needed to compile the components that follow.
  • Ruby - The Ruby programming language. (We’re developing mostly on 1.9.2 and support for 1.8.7 will be dropped soon.)
  • RubyGems - A package manager for Ruby code that we use to download libraries (“gems”) that Diaspora uses.
  • Bundler - A gem management tool for Ruby projects.
  • MySQL - Backend storage engine.
  • Or: PostgreSQL - Backend storage engine.
  • SQLite3 - Relational database management system
  • OpenSSL - An encryption library.
  • libcurl - A library to make HTTP requests (and much more).
  • ImageMagick - An image processing library we use to resize uploaded photos.
  • Git - A version control system, which you will need to download the Diaspora source code from GitHub.
  • Redis - A persistent key-value store that we use via Resque for background job processing.

Feel free to take a look at the distributions and services listed for OS-specific/service-specific instructions to prepare your system. After you’re done following those instructions, come back here and move on to:

Getting Diaspora Source

Our code is hosted at GitHub. Our test suite is run at Travis CI, you should check build status and verify your Ruby/DB combo are green in the master branch and pass all tests before you pull code.

To get a copy of the Diaspora source from the master branch, use the following command:

git clone -b master git:// && cd diaspora

If you have never used GitHub before, their help desk has a pretty awesome guide for getting set up.

If you already cloned the repository get sure to checkout the master branch with

git checkout master

Installing Diaspora


Depending on the database you want to use, add either `DB="mysql"` for MySQL or `DB="postgres"` for PostgreSQL before each command starting with `bundle…`, or export the environment variable: `export DB="mysql"` for MySQL or `export DB="postgres"`. (If you want to have both database types available for easy switching, you can either skip this step or use `DB="all"`.)

Install Required Gems

To start the app server for the first time, you need to use Bundler to install Diaspora's gem depencencies. Run (from Diaspora's root directory):

bundle install --without development test heroku

Bundler will also warn you if there is a new dependency and you need to bundle install again.

NOTE: If you don't get a green success line at the end, double check if you've installed all dependencies. If you can't figure it out feel free to ask for help at the mailing list or the How we use IRC.

NOTE: If you want to do any development run just `bundle install`

NOTE: If you are on Ruby 1.9.2 and get an error such as "invalid byte sequence in US-ASCII (ArgumentError)" then you need to set your system locale to UTF-8. This GitHub bug report on the gem that causes the problem has steps for doing so on Ubuntu.

NOTE: If you get "Could not get Gemfile" make sure you are in the diaspora directory (`cd diaspora`) you just cloned.

NOTE: If you do any other rails development on your machine, you will probably want to either run `bundle install --path vendor` instead to install the gems in your local diaspora directory to avoid conflicts with your existing environment, or use an RVM gemset.

Configure Diaspora

Diaspora needs to know what host it's running on. Copy `config/diaspora.yml.example` to `config/diaspora.yml`, put your external url into the `environment.url` field, and make any other needed configuration changes.

To run as a rails app, copy config/script_server.yml.example to config/script_server.yml and edit it properly.


Diaspora is a Rails-app and as such it has different running modes. The default is "development mode" in which some performance features such as source code caching are disabled. The other mode is "production mode" which is best for actually running a pod. If you want just a test installation to develop for Diaspora, keep the defaults. However, if you plan to actually host a pod choose production mode.

If you want to run production mode:

  • Edit rails_env in the script_server section in config/script_server.yml
  • Change the `environment.assets.serve` setting to `true` in the `config/diaspora.yml` file. With this setting enabled Diaspora can take advantage of Rails' ability to serve static content like images and .css files from the application's /public directory. However, Rails is not a webserver, so a better option would be to leave `environment.assets.serve` set to `false` and instead install a true webserver such as Apache or Nginx alongside Diaspora and modify that webserver’s configuration to serve the static content itself:

Apache 2

<VirtualHost *:80>
  DocumentRoot /diaspora_root/public
  <Directory /diaspora_root/public>
      Allow from all
      Options -MultiViews

For a more advanced configuration have a look at this Gist.

OSX Server Note: If you wish to use Apache built into OSX Server, use Server Admin to create a site on port 443. A file should be created in the directory `/etc/apache2/sites/` with a name like "". The above proxy settings will allow you to continue to use your existing web services alongside the Diaspora installation.


Get inspired by our Nginx Configuration.


See Using lighttpd as webserver for an example configuration.

Configuring SSL

As noted previously, you will need to configure NGINX to point to your SSL certificate (procured from either StartSSL or elsewhere.

NOTE: Certificates issued from StartSSL will probably also require that the StartSSL intermediate certificate be concatenated in order for some pods to communicate properly. The following link will help you create a properly concatenated certificate for use by NGINX: StartSSL and NGINX

NOTE: If you are serving through a reverse proxy, you will need to set the `X_FORWARDED_PROTO` header to `https` on your reverse proxy server. The NGINX and Apache example configurations show how to do this. Failure to set this header will lead to a redirect loop.

Take note: We upgrade all port 80 requests to port 443. We recommend that you do the same.

OSX Server Note: If you use startssl to obtain both a private key and a certificate don't forget to decrypt the private key using the following command `openssl rsa -in ssl.key -out ssl.key`. Import the decrypted key (ssl.key) and a certificate (ssl.crt) file into Server Admin by dragging the files into the Certificate manager found here: Server Admin>Web>Site>>Security>Manage Certificates>Import Certificate Identity. If the certificate & key are valid the certificate should be 'blue'. Once imported, the certificate can then be selected as the security for the site.

Different certificates Make sure that your top level domain (e.g. if your pod is hands out the _same_ certificate as your actual pod URL. The communication with other pods (or applications, like might not work otherwise.

Load-balancing with a Thin cluster and Nginx

To improve the performance on large-scale pods, it makes sense to run many thin servers and cluster them for load-balancing. Add the parameters `--servers n -R` to the list of `default_thin_args` in `config/script_server.yml`, where *n* is the number of thin servers you like to cluster:

default_thin_args: "--servers 5 -R -p $THIN_PORT -e $RAILS_ENV"

This will instruct the script to run thin instances on $THIN_PORT and the next *n-1* ports. Make sure that your Nginx configuration knows about these servers by adding them to the list of upstream servers. E.g.: if the thin port is 3000 and you want to cluster five servers, the upstream section of your Nginx configuration should look like this:

upstream diaspora_thin_cluster {
    server localhost:3000;
    server localhost:3001;
    server localhost:3002;
    server localhost:3003;
    server localhost:3004;

Set up the database

Note for PostgreSQL users: If you are running Diaspora with PostgreSQL, beware that having the ssl setting turned on in the PostgreSQL config has been causing problems for several people. We recommend turning it off unless you know what you're doing.

You need to configure the database settings. Copy config/database.yml.example to config/database.yml and edit it properly.

After that, run `bundle exec rake db:create` for development mode or `RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rake db:create` for production mode to create the needed database (or you could instead create the database manually.) If you want to create it manually make sure you choose utf8 as charset and utf8_bin as collation.

Now you need to create the necessary tables. To do so run

bundle exec rake db:schema:load

for development mode or

RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rake db:schema:load

for production mode.

Warning: This will empty your database, on update use `db:migrate` instead of `db:schema:load`!

Set up services

If you want to connect your pod to other services like Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook read instructions how to setup services.

Running Diaspora

To turn on the server use the command `./script/server` from the working directory.

This will start Thin and a Resque worker. The application is then available at http://your_pod:3000. You can change the port by either editing thin_port in config/script_server.yml or by setting up a reverse proxy (see above) if you want to run Diaspora at a subdomain or use HTTPS more easily.

Note: Ensure your database servers (Redis and MySQL or PostgreSQL) are running before trying to start the server.

If you want to run an app server other than Thin or have more control over it, you must run the appserver, a Resque worker, and the Websocket server separately.

Here are instructions to Run Diasporas Components. Once Diaspora is running, just open it up in a web browser and sign up for an account.

Note: If you are running a 'production' installation and requests to the /assets directory return a HTTP 404 error to your client, run `RAILS_ENV=production DB="mysql" bundle exec rake assets:precompile` for MySQL or `RAILS_ENV=production DB="postgres" bundle exec rake assets:precompile` for PostgreSQL after each git pull. If you get a 500 page installation try restarting Diaspora after that.

Note: If you are running a 'production' installation and you do not see any images hosted, but the content loads fine, ensure that your reverse proxy is serving them. If you sure you don't want to setup a reverse proxy ensure that you have set your `environment.assets.serve` setting turned to `true` everywhere in your `diaspora.yml`.

Updating Diaspora

Read the Changelog!

Change into the Diaspora root folder and run

git pull origin master

If the update changes the Gemfile or Gemfile.lock files, for MySQL run

DB="mysql" bundle install --without development test heroku

or for PostgreSQL:

DB="postgres" bundle install --without development test heroku

Now kill your running Diaspora instance.

In order to apply any new schema always run

DB="mysql" bundle exec rake db:migrate

for MySQL, or

DB="postgres" bundle exec rake db:migrate

for PostgreSQL.

Or if you you run in production mode

RAILS_ENV="production" DB="mysql" bundle exec rake db:migrate

for MySQL, or

RAILS_ENV="production" DB="postgres" bundle exec rake db:migrate

for PostgreSQL.

Now start Diaspora again.

After each update run:

DB="mysql" bundle exec rake assets:precompile / DB="postgresql" bundle exec rake assets:precompile



Normally you don't need this if you aren't developing for Diaspora, just skip it :)

Diaspora’s test suite uses Rspec, a behavior driven testing framework. To run all tests execute: `rake`. Note that some of our tests require a display to be attached; if you just want to run the command-line tests, do `rake spec`.

Read-Only Installation

The directories 'tmp', 'public/uploads' and 'log' must be writable by the user running Diaspora even in a read-only installation.

Some of Diaspora's web content in the public/ folder is generated at runtime. In order to create a read-only installation, this content must be generated at install time instead.

Run sass/haml and create e. g., public/stylesheets/{application,ui,sessions}.css:

bundle exec thin -d --pid log/ start
wget http://localhost:3000; rm index.html
bundle exec thin --pid log/ stop

Precache public/assets/*gz files:

bundle exec rake assets:precompile

After these commands also the *public/* folder can be read-only (although *public/uploads* need to be writable, see above).