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A personal home server: How to build and maintain your own

Written By | Apr 24, 2018

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., April 24, 2018: A server is a computer running software that can host one or more websites. Websites, in turn, are collections of pages that are publically available online. For example, CommDigiNews (CDN) is our website and its URL (uniform resource locator) is www.commdiginews.com. You can see this URL as our “address” on the streets of the World Wide Web. Together they create our place in the internet.

Website creation was once the domain of companies that could, and would, regularly charge from $25,000 to $250,000, depending on the size of the site and the plug-ins. Added attractions and special features like shopping carts, chat windows, and quizzes can all add costs to your website development.

But that was then. Today, a simple website, whether it is set up to sell your home, create a special interest blog or even a general newspaper like CommDigiNews, begins with a theme. Better yet, such themes are readily available to you simply by searching on “website themes.” A group like  Website Builder Master can take you through all the steps you need to create your own website. These range from obtaining your domain to actually choosing the look of your new website.

“Hosting”: Two options

There are two options when it comes to hosting your website. Hosting can refer to working through an external hosting service, like WP-Engine that CommDigiNews uses. This allows you to move your website from idea to being a findable presence on the web with minimal muss and fuss.




Your other option is to develop your own home server. This gives you total control over your website and who has access to your site.

Hosting your own Website

The idea behind this article is to help you build, and then host, a simple home website with a few pages. You can create your pages with a word processor that can save pages as HTML code, which is the magic behind every web page that you see.

You can also store and access your documents, photos, videos and music. For example, you can store your movie collection and view these movies from other computers, at home or away. Some research is necessary to be able to save the movies in a format that can be streamed using a web browser.

You can host a website on your everyday computer. But this may not be the best solution. It could allow unscrupulous individuals (or worse) to hack and/or steal your personal and business information. It is always best to keep your personal, secure computer for your personal business.

But a better solution, assuming you don’t use a hosting service, is to install a server onto an old computer or on an inexpensive computer to host your own website.

What you need to host your website on a home server
  1. An old computer. Even a single board computer like a Raspberry Pi ($35) can host a web site/server.
  2. Enough storage in the computer or in external drives to store your stuff. You can do it with as little as 16 gigabytes.
  3. A computer with an optical (DVD), USB or Micro SD drive, that is about any computer today.
  4. Ability to download and burn the operating system you want to use. You use these media to install the operating system in your server.
  5. A word processor that can save documents in HTML format. Most have this ability. If you don’t have one try OpenOffice, LibreOffice, NotePad++ or any of the many open source options. They are free and easily installable in Windows.
  6. Desire to learn and ability to synthesize information.
Linux or Windows as the operating system

This article will only expand on a Linux installation. (You can learn about installation on Windows here.) Wikipedia defines Linux as follows.

Linux is a family of free and open-source software operating systems built around the Linux kernel.  Typically, Linux is packaged in a form known as a Linux distribution (or distro for short) for both desktop and server use.

In this article, I will explain how to install Ubuntu or other Linux-based operating system for older computers. I will then show you how to use this platform to install the Apache server. While it is possible to install Ubuntu server directly, it doesn’t have a Graphics User Interface (GUI). That makes it more difficult for those not familiar with command line computing in Linux.

The easiest way to get going is to download a Linux distribution package like Ubuntu, install it and then install Apache 2 and other required add ons. Here is one way to do that, assuming that you are currently using Windows.

A. If you intend to install the server on at least a dual core processor computer with two gigs of memory or more:



  1. Go to http://releases.ubuntu.com/16.04/ on your Windows 10 computer and download the .iso version of Ubuntu LTS (Long Term Support) for the computer where you want to set up the server. Select between the 32 and 64-bit version.
  2. Right click the downloaded file, select burn to disk and chose whether you want to use either a DVD or a USB flash drive as your installation media. If you are using an older version of Windows, you have to look up instructions on how to burn an .iso file to installation media.

B. If you want to use a Raspberry Pi (RPi):

  1. Go to https://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads/ and download either Rasbian or Noobs. The former is an operating system. The latter is a pre-installation program that lets you pick how to use the RPi. For this exercise you want to select the Raspbian option.
  2. Download it and follow the installation instructions at the site or do as A.2. above. Since the RPi uses a micro SD card you want to make sure that you have that capability in the computer that you are using to burn files to it. Rufus is a good program for that if you need one.

C. If you want to use a single core Pentium or Pentium M:

  1. You probably can’t run Ubuntu well on these machines. Use one of the many plain vanilla Linux distributions like ChaletOS;
  2. Instructions are like the ones for the other computer types. Follow A.2. to install it to the computer.

You have a computer with an operating system. Now you need server software

To install Apache in your server computer, go to this site and download or view the instructions in PDF format on how to install and configure the Apache 2 server. Apache is by far the most popular server worldwide. It is free and highly configurable. Most modern browsers can read PDF files. If yours can’t, download and use a free PDF reader. The site where these instructions reside was created by the author. It resides in his basement in a 15-year-old dual core computer that he rescued from the metal recyclers.

The server you build will have great utility. If you’re intellectually curious, it will also give you a platform to continue learning. Later, you can learn a script language to create a comments page or an upload page. You can also install a music server like Ampache or a photo server.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist is an avid technology fanatic. He is mostly self-taught and learns something new every day by making mistakes. He is in Twitter (@chibchaurs), Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook (Mario Salazar).

 

Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering. Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change. He will also try to convey his joy of being old.