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Sovereign is a set of Ansible playbooks that you can use to build and maintain your own personal cloud based entirely on open source software, so you’re in control.

If you’ve never used Ansible before, you might find these playbooks useful to learn from, since they show off a fair bit of what the tool can do.

The original author's background and motivations might be of interest. tl;dr: frustrations with Google Apps and concerns about privacy and long-term support.

Sovereign offers useful cloud services while being reasonably secure and low-maintenance. Use it to set up your server, SSH in every couple weeks, but mostly forget about it.

Services Provided

What do you get if you point Sovereign at a server? All kinds of good stuff!

  • IMAP over SSL via Dovecot, complete with full text search provided by Solr.
  • POP3 over SSL, also via Dovecot
  • SMTP over SSL via Postfix, including a nice set of DNSBLs to discard spam before it ever hits your filters.
  • Virtual domains for your email, backed by PostgreSQL.
  • Spam fighting via Rspamd.
  • Mail server verification using DKIM and DMARC so the Internet knows your mailserver is legit.
  • Secure on-disk storage for email and more via EncFS.
  • Webmail via Roundcube.
  • Mobile push notifications via Z-Push.
  • Email client automatic configuration.
  • Jabber/XMPP instant messaging via Prosody.
  • An RSS Reader via Selfoss.
  • CalDAV and CardDAV to keep your calendars and contacts in sync, via ownCloud.
  • Your own private storage cloud via ownCloud.
  • Your own VPN server via OpenVPN.
  • An IRC bouncer via ZNC.
  • Monit to keep everything running smoothly (and alert you when it’s not).
  • collectd to collect system statistics.
  • Web hosting (ex: for your blog) via Apache.
  • Firewall management via Uncomplicated Firewall (ufw).
  • Intrusion prevention via fail2ban and rootkit detection via rkhunter.
  • SSH configuration preventing root login and insecure password authentication
  • RFC6238 two-factor authentication compatible with Google Authenticator and various hardware tokens
  • Nightly backups to Tarsnap.
  • Git hosting via cgit and gitolite.
  • Read-it-later via Wallabag
  • A bunch of nice-to-have tools like mosh and htop that make life with a server a little easier.

Don’t want one or more of the above services? Comment out the relevant role in site.yml. Or get more granular and comment out the associated include: directive in one of the playbooks.


What You’ll Need

  1. A VPS (or bare-metal server if you wanna ball hard). My VPS is hosted at Linode. You’ll probably want at least 512 MB of RAM between Apache, Solr, and PostgreSQL. Mine has 1024.
  2. 64-bit Debian 8.3 or an equivalent Linux distribution. (You can use whatever distro you want, but deviating from Debian will require more tweaks to the playbooks. See Ansible’s different packaging modules.)
  3. A Tarsnap account with some credit in it. You could comment this out if you want to use a different backup service. Consider paying your hosting provider for backups or using an additional backup service for redundancy.

You do not need to acquire an SSL certificate. The SSL certificates you need will be obtained from Let's Encrypt automatically when you deploy your server.


On the remote server

The following steps are done on the remote server by sshing into it and running these commands.

1. Install required packages e.g aptitude is required on Debian

apt-get install sudo python

2. Get a Tarsnap machine key

If you haven’t already, download and install Tarsnap, or use brew install tarsnap if you use Homebrew.

Create a new machine key for your server:

tarsnap-keygen --keyfile roles/tarsnap/files/decrypted_tarsnap.key --user [email protected] --machine example.com

Download a copy of this key and keep it somewhere safe! There's no point having backups if you can't retrieve them when needed.

3. Prep the server

For goodness sake, change the root password:


Create a user account for Ansible to do its thing through:

useradd --create-home deploy
passwd deploy

Authorize your ssh key if you want passwordless ssh login (optional):

mkdir /home/deploy/.ssh
chmod 700 /home/deploy/.ssh
nano /home/deploy/.ssh/authorized_keys
chmod 400 /home/deploy/.ssh/authorized_keys
chown deploy:deploy /home/deploy -R
echo 'deploy ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL' > /etc/sudoers.d/deploy

Your new account will be automatically set up for passwordless sudo. Or you can just add your deploy user to the sudo group.

adduser deploy sudo

On your local machine

Ansible (the tool setting up your server) runs locally on your computer and sends commands to the remote server. Download this repository somewhere on your machine, either through Clone or Download > Download ZIP above, wget, or git as below

git clone https://github.com/sovereign/sovereign.git

4. Configure your installation

Modify the settings in the group_vars/sovereign folder to your liking. If you want to see how they’re used in context, just search for the corresponding string. All of the variables in group_vars/sovereign must be set for sovereign to function.

For Git hosting, copy your public key into place:

cp ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub roles/git/files/gitolite.pub

Finally, replace the host.example.net in the file hosts. If your SSH daemon listens on a non-standard port, add a colon and the port number after the IP address. In that case you also need to add your custom port to the task Set firewall rules for web traffic and SSH in the file roles/common/tasks/ufw.yml.

5. Set up DNS

If you’ve just bought a new domain name, point it at Linode’s DNS Manager or similar. Most VPS services (and even some domain registrars) offer a managed DNS service that you can use for this at no charge. If you’re using an existing domain that’s already managed elsewhere, you can probably just modify a few records.

Create A or CNAME records which point to your server's IP address:

  • example.com
  • mail.example.com
  • www.example.com (for Web hosting)
  • autoconfig.example.com (for email client automatic configuration)
  • read.example.com (for Wallabag)
  • news.example.com (for Selfoss)
  • cloud.example.com (for ownCloud)
  • git.example.com (for cgit)

6. Run the Ansible Playbooks

First, make sure you’ve got Ansible 1.9.3+ installed.

To run the whole dang thing:

ansible-playbook -i ./hosts --ask-sudo-pass site.yml

If you chose to make a passwordless sudo deploy user, you can omit the --ask-sudo-pass argument.

To run just one or more piece, use tags. I try to tag all my includes for easy isolated development. For example, to focus in on your firewall setup:

ansible-playbook -i ./hosts --tags=ufw site.yml

You might find that it fails at one point or another. This is probably because something needs to be done manually, usually because there’s no good way of automating it. Fortunately, all the tasks are clearly named so you should be able to find out where it stopped. I’ve tried to add comments where manual intervention is necessary.

The dependencies tag just installs dependencies, performing no other operations. The tasks associated with the dependencies tag do not rely on the user-provided settings that live in group_vars/sovereign. Running the playbook with the dependencies tag is particularly convenient for working with Docker images.

7. Finish DNS set-up

Create an MX record for example.com which assigns mail.example.com as the domain’s mail server.

To ensure your emails pass DKIM checks you need to add a txt record. The name field will be default._domainkey.EXAMPLE.COM. The value field contains the public key used by DKIM. The exact value needed can be found in the file /var/lib/rspamd/dkim/EXAMPLE.COM.default.txt. It will look something like this:

v=DKIM1; k=rsa; p=MIGfMA0GCSqGSIb3DQEBAQUAA4GNADCBiQKBgQDKKAQfMwKVx+oJripQI+Ag4uTwYnsXKjgBGtl7Tk6UMTUwhMqnitqbR/ZQEZjcNolTkNDtyKZY2Z6LqvM4KsrITpiMbkV1eX6GKczT8Lws5KXn+6BHCKULGdireTAUr3Id7mtjLrbi/E3248Pq0Zs39hkDxsDcve12WccjafJVwIDAQAB

For DMARC you'll also need to add a txt record. The name field should be _dmarc.EXAMPLE.COM and the value should be v=DMARC1; p=none. More info on DMARC can be found here.

Set up SPF and reverse DNS as per this post. Make sure to validate that it’s all working, for example, by sending an email to [email protected] and reviewing the report that will be emailed back to you.

8. Miscellaneous Configuration

Sign in to the ZNC web interface and set things up to your liking. It isn’t exposed through the firewall, so you must first set up an SSH tunnel:

ssh [email protected] -L 6643:localhost:6643

Then proceed to http://localhost:6643 in your web browser.

Similarly, to access the server monitoring page, use another SSH tunnel:

ssh [email protected] -L 2812:localhost:2812

Again proceeding to http://localhost:2812 in your web browser.

Finally, sign into ownCloud with a new administrator account to set it up. You should select PostgreSQL as the configuration backend. Use owncloud as the database user and the database name. For the database password ansible has created a set of random passwords for each service and stores them in your local folder secret, use the one in the file owncloud_db_password.

How To Use Your New Personal Cloud

We’re collecting known-good client setups on our wiki.


If you run into an errors, please check the wiki page. If the problem you encountered, is not listed, please go ahead and create an issue. If you already have a bugfix and/or workaround, just put them in the issue and the wiki page.


You will need to manually enter the password for any encrypted volumes on reboot. This is not Sovereign-specific, but rather a function of how EncFS works. This will necessitate SSHing into your machine after reboot, or accessing it via a console interface if one is available to you. Once you're in, run this:

encfs /encrypted /decrypted --public

It is possible that some daemons may need to be restarted after you enter your password for the encrypted volume(s). Some services may stall out while looking for resources that will only be available once the /decrypted volume is available and visible to daemon user accounts.


Ask questions and provide feedback in #sovereign on Freenode.