Home Server Setup

A home server is a useful piece of equipment to have so you can have more control over your data and an easy way to share information in your household

Having a home server setup can make several of these projects a lot easier. Both from the perspective of having a single place where everything is stored for communication, but also as a way to make sure that everything is gathered so that you can find it again easily. For example, you can use your home server as a way of hosting a web page so that you can access all of your smart home devices and all of their information in one spot, either accessible only from the home or authenticated so that only you can access it securely online.

Setting up a server can be easier than you think, it's usually troubleshooting that tends to be more difficult than the setup. It's also something that you can learn as you go, if you are the one doing the setup then you know what you've done. It is of course helpful to do Documentation of what you've done so that you can share with others in your household, but it is a way for you to get some low stakes practice working on a server.


  • Difficulty of Project: Intermediate
  • Cost: Depending on the machine used, Free or
  • Recommendation skill level: Intermediate
  • Time commitment: 2-4 hours depending on download speed, familiarity with the command prompt and speed of computer used

NOTE: Need a refresh? Check out my YouTube playlist on how to use the Command Prompt

Skills and assumed supplies

If you are interested in a class to help with this, I recommend Linux Administration you can see the materials I use here. You don't need to have taken that course to complete this project, but I would recommend the skills from Introduction to Linux so you can be more comfortable on the command prompt.

You are going to need:

This is a more complex project then some of the others, and will therefore need more skills, so I would consider this an intermediate to advanced project. The actual install of the server isn't difficult if everything goes correctly, the problem is that if it doesn't go correctly you are going to need a little bit of practice, familiarity and patience to be able to fix the problems.

Supplies and costs

Where to start

What I would recommend for your server setup is to pick an old computer that you aren't using anymore, a desktop rather than a laptop style machine is probably going to work better for this. If you pick something that you aren't using anymore, you would be able to just start this for free and all you need to spend is some time. A server is something that is usually left on at all times, so it is better if you have a desktop as it is designed to be powered on at all times. An older machine should be fine for this, if you do not have an old desktop you usually can pick one up relatively inexpensively.

In my particular case we've set up a full server, it is actually surprisingly inexpensive to put together a very high powered server, the components tend to be less expensive because a lot of the cost that you find in computers is making it smaller and servers tend to be a lot larger. For example, a server with the amount of power that is in your phone would be significantly cheaper. Your phone might cost $1,000, you might be able to get a laptop with the same amount of power as your phone for $700, but if you were willing to have the components be bigger you could get that same amount of power in a desktop for maybe $100 to $200. Getting an older desktop from a refurbish place such as Newegg or TigerDirect, or even from a big box retailer like Walmart or Amazon, should be absolutely fine. If you are in an apartment and know you will be moving, moving a server is going to be an unpleasant and heavy experience, but if you know you can just leave it there for a while it's not that big of a deal. Server hardware is usually put together by you, so expect to take a day or two to put it together, whereas if you just buy a desktop you don't have to worry about that.

Make sure that your computer, whichever one or type you're using, is completely clear of anything you want to save. We are going to completely wipe the whole thing, so make sure to backup anything on there that you want. We are going to put a completely different operating system on this computer, this will be a server operating system rather than the regular consumer operating system that you are used to. This won't cost anything for the OS, we will be running a Linux server which has quite a few very nice free options, such as either Ubuntu server or Centos server (link here). You will need a thumb drive to put the image of the server on, so that you can copy it over, but 8 GB should be more than enough. For the server hardware, make sure that you have at least 40 GB of hard drive space, 6 GB of RAM and four cores in your processor. While that might seem like a lot, your smartphone probably has twice that, you should be able to get that minimal amount of power for $100-$200. It would be very reasonable to go up quite a bit to allow for growth, however if you wanted to you could even run this off of a raspberry pi, or pi cluster.

Begin the Setup

First you will need to pick your operating system. Any server Operating System should be fine.

New to Linux and nervous?

If you're not sure which one you want to try first, I recommend starting with Ubuntu Server because the documentation is usually pretty good, it's very popular so it's easier to find help, if you're really nervous you can use Ubuntu Desktop and you can use a Graphic User Interface (GUI)if you want to. You'll be able to do almost everything you need on the Desktop and it's a great place to start working with Linux. There is a really nice thorough set of documentation on The Ubuntu Docs that will take you through how to do the install on your computer step by step. The first time you're doing this I would budget 2 hours of time. The actual install is likely to take less then 30 minutes of mostly waiting, but if it's your first time installing an operating system that can be scary and you want plenty of time. If you would like to see a video of someone talking you through the install you can Go Here and watch a full walkthrough of the whole process before you start, the video is about 15 minutes.

Used Linux Before?

Download an ISO file from one of the following places Ubuntu Server Download or CentOS or Rocky Linux or Debian.

On to the Install!

First we have to create a bootable USB and install on your machine. If you are using a virtual machine for this, which would be perfectly reasonable, create a new virtual machine and point to the iso as it does the install. However, if you are going to be doing this without the virtual machine, which is also perfectly reasonable, take that ISO you just downloaded, and create a bootable USB following these instructions, Boot into the USB and then install on your machine following the instructions on your computer.

Now that we have our server installed, what we're going to want to do is make sure that we have the root user locked down, make sure that we have a user that can log into the server, and make sure that we have some security settings set up. If you have never done any Linux administration before, I have a course that I created on how to administer a Linux server, all of the materials are freely available if you would like to go through them. This includes videos where I talk about some of the general concepts and link to some reputable tutorials.

How it went

The install of a server on a new computer can be straightforward, or it can be a huge challenge, and there are so many variables it can be hard to guess which experience you're going to have. Because I teach the Linux Administration class I have already made A LOT of the beginner mistakes, seen a lot of the mistakes and have A LOT of practice fixing them. However, if this wasn't smooth sailing for you please do not be discouraged. This can be a challenging topic, what to do isn't always obvious, and it can be frustrating when things do not work and you don't know why, I understand and I promise I have been there too. But don't give up, it does get easier

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