20 KiB

GNU social

GNU social is a federated social network.


  • Installation with docker

    • Prerequisites
    • With TLS/SSL
    • Without TLS/SSL
    • Configuration
    • Installing/running
  • Installation without docker

    • Prerequisites
      • PHP modules
      • Better performance
    • Installation
      • Getting it up and running
      • Fancy URLs
      • Themes
      • Private
    • Extra features
      • Sphinx
      • SMS
      • Translation
      • Queues and daemons
    • After installation
      • Backups
      • Upgrading
    • Additional configuration

Installation with docker

Installation can be done in multiple ways, but the simplest is using docker and docker-compose. The compose file currently includes all the necessary services for running the app. Running the database and webserver outside of docker containers is currently not supported, unless the app is installed without docker.


In order to host your GNU social instance, you'll need a domain, a server with a constant IP and both docker and docker-compose installed on your system.

Alternatively, for local hosting or development, behind a NAT, use a dynamic DNS solutions. I recommend you go to or another GnuDIP host and register. Then clone, inspect and run the ./ script. This allows you to have a domain that dynamically points to your IP address.


Next, if you want to setup SSL (which you should in most cases, exceptions being wanting to use the Tor network), you'll need a certificate. There are multiple approaches to achieve this, among which are using a proxy server capable of either proxying an HTTP connection to HTTPS or an HTTPS connection to HTTPS, or creating a certificate signed by Let's Encrypt. For the former, follow the instructions of your proxy provider.

If you're not using a proxy, you can use the bin/bootstrap_certificates script to generate and install certificates signed by Let's Encrypt. To do this, you should add the server's IP, if it's static, as an A DNS record with your DNS provider (normally, your domain registrar); the A record doesn't need to be at the root of your domain, meaning it's name can be a subdomain. For dynamic IPs, create a CNAME record pointing to the hostname you created with the GnuDIP host, above. A CNAME cannot be created for a domain root, so you must use a subdomain. Then, run the aforementioned script and fill in the details.

Without TLS/SSL

Edit the docker-compose.yaml file and comment the certbot service to disable it. In the future, this will be handled by the bin/configure script.


Run the bin/configure script and enter the information as asked. This will generate all the required .env files used by docker-compose to configure the application.


Simply run docker-compose up from the root of the project (the folder where the .git folder is). In this form, the application can be stopped by pressing C-c (CTRL + C); pressing it again will force the containers to stop immediately. However, this form will show you all logs, but in most cases, you won't want to see those all the time. For that, run docker-compose up -d from the same directory; The application can then be stopped with docker-compose down.

Installation without docker


PHP modules

The following software packages are required for this software to run correctly.

  • PHP 7.3+
  • MariaDB 10.3+
  • Web server Apache, lighttpd and nginx will all work. CGI mode is recommended and also some variant of 'suexec' (or a proper setup php-fpm pool) NOTE: mod_rewrite or its equivalent is extremely useful.

Your PHP installation must include the following PHP extensions for a functional setup of GNU social:

  • openssl (compiled in for Debian, enabled manually in Arch Linux)
  • php-curl Fetching files by HTTP.
  • php-exif Exchangeable image information.
  • php-gd Image manipulation (scaling).
  • php-intl Internationalization support (transliteration et al).
  • php-json For WebFinger lookups and more.
  • php-mbstring String manipulation
  • php-mysql The native driver for MariaDB connections.
  • php-gmp For Salmon signatures (part of OStatus)
  • php-bcmath Arbitrary Precision Mathematics
  • php-opcache Improved PHP performance by precompilation
  • php-readline For interactive scripts
  • php-xml XML parser

NOTE: Some distros require manual enabling in the relevant php.ini for some modules.

Better performance

For some functionality, you will also need the following extensions:

  • opcache Improves performance a lot. Included in PHP, must be enabled manually in php.ini for most distributions. Find and set at least: opcache.enable=1
  • mailparse Efficient parsing of email requires this extension. Submission by email or SMS-over-email uses this.
  • sphinx A client for the sphinx server, an alternative to MySQL or Postgresql fulltext search. You will also need a Sphinx server to serve the search queries.
  • gettext For multiple languages. Default on many PHP installs; will be emulated if not present.
  • exif For thumbnails to be properly oriented.

You may also experience better performance from your site if you configure a PHP cache/accelerator. Most distributions come with "opcache" support. Enable it in your php.ini where it is documented together with its settings.


Getting it up and running

Installing the basic GNU Social web component is relatively easy, especially if you've previously installed PHP/MariaDB packages.

  1. Unpack the tarball you downloaded on your Web server. Usually a command like this will work:

    tar zxf gnusocial-*.tar.gz

    ...which will make a gnusocial-x.y.z subdirectory in your current directory. (If you don't have shell access on your Web server, you may have to unpack the tarball on your local computer and FTP the files to the server.)

  2. Move the tarball to a directory of your choosing in your Web root directory. Usually something like this will work:

    mv gnusocial-x.y.z /var/www/gnusocial

    This will often make your GNU Social instance available in the gnusocial path of your server, like "". "social" or "blog" might also be good path names. If you know how to configure virtual hosts on your web server, you can try setting up "" or the like.

    If you have "rewrite" support on your webserver, and you should, then please enable this in order to make full use of your site. This will enable "Fancy URL" support, which you can read more about if you scroll down a bit in this document.

  3. Make your target directory writeable by the Web server, please note however that 'a+w' will give all users write access and securing the webserver is not within the scope of this document.

    chmod a+w /var/www/gnusocial/

    On some systems, this will work as a more secure alternative:

    chgrp www-data /var/www/gnusocial/
    chmod g+w /var/www/gnusocial/

    If your Web server runs as another user besides "www-data", try that user's default group instead. As a last resort, you can create a new group like "gnusocial" and add the Web server's user to the group.

  4. Create a database to hold your site data. Something like this should work (you will be prompted for your database password):

    mysqladmin -u "root" -p create social

    Note that GNU Social should have its own database; you should not share the database with another program. You can name it whatever you want, though.

    (If you don't have shell access to your server, you may need to use a tool like phpMyAdmin to create a database. Check your hosting service's documentation for how to create a new MariaDB database.)

  5. Create a new database account that GNU Social will use to access the database. If you have shell access, this will probably work from the MariaDB shell:

    GRANT ALL on social.*
    TO 'social'@'localhost'
    IDENTIFIED BY 'agoodpassword';

    You should change the user identifier 'social' and 'agoodpassword' to your preferred new database username and password. You may want to test logging in to MariaDB as this new user.

  6. In a browser, navigate to the GNU Social install script; something like:

    Enter the database connection information and your site name. The install program will configure your site and install the initial, almost-empty database.

  7. You should now be able to navigate to your social site's main directory and see the "Public Timeline", which will probably be empty. You can now register new user, post some notices, edit your profile, etc.

Fancy URLs

By default, GNU Social will use URLs that include the main PHP program's name in them. For example, a user's home profile might be found at either of these URLS depending on the webserver's configuration and capabilities:

It's possible to configure the software to use fancy URLs so it looks like this instead:

These "fancy URLs" are more readable and memorable for users. To use fancy URLs, you must either have Apache 2.x with .htaccess enabled and mod_rewrite enabled, -OR- know how to configure "url redirection" in your server (like lighttpd or nginx).

  1. See the instructions for each respective webserver software:

    • For Apache, inspect the "htaccess.sample" file and save it as ".htaccess" after making any necessary modifications. Our sample file is well commented.
    • For lighttpd, inspect the lighttpd.conf.example file and apply the appropriate changes in your virtualhost configuration for lighttpd.
    • For nginx, inspect the nginx.conf.sample file and apply the appropriate changes.
    • For other webservers, we gladly accept contributions of server configuration examples.
  2. Assuming your webserver is properly configured and have its settings applied (remember to reload/restart it), you can add this to your GNU social's config.php file: $config['site']['fancy'] = true;

You should now be able to navigate to a "fancy" URL on your server, like:


As of right now, your ability change the theme is limited to CSS stylesheets and some image files; you can't change the HTML output, like adding or removing menu items, without the help of a plugin.

You can choose a theme using the $config['site']['theme'] element in the config.php file. See below for details.

You can add your own theme by making a sub-directory of the 'theme' subdirectory with the name of your theme. Each theme can have the following files:

display.css: a CSS2 file for "default" styling for all browsers. logo.png: a logo image for the site. default-avatar-profile.png: a 96x96 pixel image to use as the avatar for users who don't upload their own. default-avatar-stream.png: Ditto, but 48x48. For streams of notices. default-avatar-mini.png: Ditto ditto, but 24x24. For subscriptions listing on profile pages.

You may want to start by copying the files from the default theme to your own directory.


A GNU social node can be configured as "private", which means it will not federate with other nodes in the network. It is not a recommended method of using GNU social and we cannot at the current state of development guarantee that there are no leaks (what a public network sees as features, private sites will likely see as bugs).

Private nodes are however an easy way to easily setup collaboration and image sharing within a workgroup or a smaller community where federation is not a desired feature. Also, it is possible to change this setting and instantly gain full federation features.

Access to file attachments can also be restricted to logged-in users only:

  1. Add a directory outside the web root where your file uploads will be stored. Use this command as an initial guideline to create it:

    mkdir /var/www/gnusocial-files
  2. Make the file uploads directory writeable by the web server. An insecure way to do this is (to do it properly, read up on UNIX file permissions and configure your webserver accordingly):

    chmod a+x /var/www/gnusocial-files
  3. Tell GNU social to use this directory for file uploads. Add a line like this to your config.php:

    $config['attachments']['dir'] = '/var/www/gnusocial-files';

Extra features


To use a Sphinx server to search users and notices, you'll need to enable the SphinxSearch plugin. Add to your config.php:

$config['sphinx']['server'] = 'searchhost.local';

You also need to install, compile and enable the sphinx pecl extension for php on the client side, which itself depends on the sphinx development files.

See plugins/SphinxSearch/README for more details and server setup.


StatusNet supports a cheap-and-dirty system for sending update messages to mobile phones and for receiving updates from the mobile. Instead of sending through the SMS network itself, which is costly and requires buy-in from the wireless carriers, it simply piggybacks on the email gateways that many carriers provide to their customers. So, SMS configuration is essentially email configuration.

Each user sends to a made-up email address, which they keep a secret. Incoming email that is "From" the user's SMS email address, and "To" the users' secret email address on the site's domain, will be converted to a notice and stored in the DB.

For this to work, there must be a domain or sub-domain for which all (or most) incoming email can pass through the incoming mail filter.

  1. Run the SQL script carrier.sql in your StatusNet database. This will usually work:

    mysql -u "statusnetuser" --password="statusnetpassword" statusnet < db/carrier.sql

    This will populate your database with a list of wireless carriers that support email SMS gateways.

  2. Make sure the maildaemon.php file is executable:

    chmod +x scripts/maildaemon.php

    Note that "daemon" is kind of a misnomer here; the script is more of a filter than a daemon.

  3. Edit /etc/aliases on your mail server and add the following line:

    *: /path/to/statusnet/scripts/maildaemon.php
  4. Run whatever code you need to to update your aliases database. For many mail servers (Postfix, Exim, Sendmail), this should work:


    You may need to restart your mail server for the new database to take effect.

  5. Set the following in your config.php file:

    $config['mail']['domain'] = '';


For info on helping with translations, see the platform currently in use for translations:

Translations use the gettext system If you for some reason do not wish to sign up to the Transifex service, you can review the files in the "locale/" sub-directory of GNU social. Each plugin also has its own translation files.

To get your own site to use all the translated languages, and you are tracking the git repo, you will need to install at least 'gettext' on your system and then run: $ make translations

Queues and daemons

Some activities that StatusNet needs to do, like broadcast OStatus, SMS, XMPP messages and TwitterBridge operations, can be 'queued' and done by off-line bots instead.

Two mechanisms are available to achieve offline operations:

  • New embedded OpportunisticQM plugin, which is enabled by default
  • Legacy queuedaemon script, which can be enabled via config file.

OpportunisticQM plugin

This plugin is enabled by default. It tries its best to do background jobs during regular HTTP requests, like API or HTML pages calls.

Since queueing system is enabled by default, notices to be broadcasted will be stored, by default, into DB (table queue_item).

Whenever it has time, OpportunisticQM will try to handle some of them.

This is a good solution whether you:

  • have no access to command line (shared hosting)
  • do not want to deal with long-running PHP processes
  • run a low traffic GNU social instance

In other case, you really should consider enabling the queuedaemon for performance reasons. Background daemons are necessary anyway if you wish to use the Instant Messaging features such as communicating via XMPP.


If you want to use legacy queuedaemon, you must be able to run long-running offline processes, either on your main Web server or on another server you control. (Your other server will still need all the above prerequisites, with the exception of Apache.) Installing on a separate server is probably a good idea for high-volume sites.

  1. You'll need the "CLI" (command-line interface) version of PHP installed on whatever server you use.

    Modern PHP versions in some operating systems have disabled functions related to forking, which is required for daemons to operate. To make this work, make sure that your php-cli config (/etc/php5/cli/php.ini) does NOT have these functions listed under 'disable_functions':

    * pcntl_fork, pcntl_wait, pcntl_wifexited, pcntl_wexitstatus,
      pcntl_wifsignaled, pcntl_wtermsig

    Other recommended settings for optimal performance are: * mysqli.allow_persistent = On * mysqli.reconnect = On

  2. If you're using a separate server for queues, install StatusNet somewhere on the server. You don't need to worry about the .htaccess file, but make sure that your config.php file is close to, or identical to, your Web server's version.

  3. In your config.php files (on the server where you run the queue daemon), set the following variable:

    $config['queue']['daemon'] = true;

    You may also want to look at the 'Queues and Daemons' section in this file for more background processing options.

  4. On the queues server, run the command scripts/

This will run the queue handlers:

  • queuedaemon.php - polls for queued items for inbox processing and pushing out to OStatus, SMS, XMPP, etc.
  • imdaemon.php - if an IM plugin is enabled (like XMPP)
  • other daemons, like TwitterBridge ones, that you may have enabled

These daemons will automatically restart in most cases of failure including memory leaks (if a memory_limit is set), but may still die or behave oddly if they lose connections to the XMPP or queue servers.

It may be a good idea to use a daemon-monitoring service, like 'monit', to check their status and keep them running.

All the daemons write their process IDs (pids) to /var/run/ by default. This can be useful for starting, stopping, and monitoring the daemons. If you are running multiple sites on the same machine, it will be necessary to avoid collisions of these PID files by setting a site- specific directory in config.php:

   $config['daemon']['piddir'] = __DIR__ . '/../run/';

It is also possible to use a STOMP server instead of our kind of hacky home-grown DB-based queue solution. This is strongly recommended for best response time, especially when using XMPP.

After installation


There is no built-in system for doing backups in GNU social. You can make backups of a working StatusNet system by backing up the database and the Web directory. To backup the database use mysqldump and to backup the Web directory, try tar.


Upgrading is strongly recommended to stay up to date with security fixes and new features. For instructions on how to upgrade GNU social code, please see the UPGRADE file.

Additional configuration