To Self Host or Not?

17 May, 2021

It’s been fascinating, and at times scary, to watch how much of our computing has moved into the so-called cloud. Everything from spreadsheets to word processors, note taking tools and todo list managers, even our music now lives on someone else’s computer.

What’s so scary about all that? It can be a privacy nightmare, and we don’t know what the people behind those online apps are doing with our personal information.

Open source makes it possible to find alternatives to many of those applications, to gain more control of your data, of what you use and how you use it. All that’s possible through the miracle and magic of self hosting

Notice that I used the word possible a pair of times in the last paragraph. Not easy or even easier, but possible. Despite what what some people say, and more than a few have said it to me, self hosting open source web apps isn’t all that easy.

Let me qualify that: it isn’t all that easy for everyone. Not every person who uses open source has the finely-honed technical chops of a developer, a system administrator, or a DevOps person. Some people use open source software to get things done. Nothing more, nothing less.

If that’s you, then should you self host your open source web applications? If you’re considering going that route, here are two questions you should ask yourself:

Do I really need to self host? If you’re only using a couple or three open source web applications, I’m not sure self hosting is worth it. If more, then perhaps you should consider it. Why? To centralize all of the apps you use under the umbrella of one domain.

I regularly use four or five — one of them encompasses several functions, include file syncing, bookmark management, a calendar, tasks, and more so I’m able to use fewer apps. I happily pay an annual subscription for each to use them and to help keep the lights on.

There are a few other apps that I use every so often. And, in case you’re wondering, I try to send the folks behind those apps some money to help defray their costs and to show my appreciation for their efforts.

Which leads us to the second question:

Do I have time, inclination, knowledge, and skills to set up and maintain my own self-hosted infrastructure? Remember what I said earlier about some people using open source to get things done? And what I said about not everyone having much, if any, technical nous? Those people aren’t mythical beasts.

In my case, I don’t have that time, that inclination, that knowledge, and those skills. I’m not a techie and don’t have the time master or become proficient in the arcana of managing web servers and databases, in doing updates and applying patches, in worrying about security and troubleshooting, and alla that stuff.

And, to be honest, I don’t want to develop and nurture the required knowledge and skills. Remember those annual subscriptions I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago? They’re worth what I spend, if only in the time that those fees free up. Time that I can spend with my family and friends. Time to work on my own projects. Time to read. Time to do nothing.

I can’t say that I’ll never host my own open source applications. I might have a change of heart and mind one day. That time may come, it may not.

Regardless, the choice to host my applications is mine. It’s yours, too. If you decided to do so, more power (literally and figuratively) to you. If you don’t, that’s fine too. Not self hosting doesn’t make you less of a user and supporter of open source software than someone who does.

Scott Nesbitt