Fediverse Servers, plus mac_portacl on FreeBSD

One of my business mantras is “control your platform.” If you build your business around a site like Facebook, they can de-prioritize you and disappear you. Twitter’s implosion served as a fierce reminder of that, so I’m blogging more here.

Before Twitter’s implosion, the Fediverse (Mastodon, PixelFed, and all the other ActivityPub-powered systems) drove just as much traffic to my site as Twitter. Other social networking sites are negligible. If I want to follow my business mantra, I must run my own Fediverse server. I tested three options: Mastodon, pleroma, and GoToSocial.

Mastodon is huge, clunky, and handles like a tank made out of chicken wire, tar, and lobsters. I spoke with a few Mastodon operators, and none of them recommended it.

Pleroma? I followed the instructions. They didn’t work. I went looking into support, but I discovered that Pleroma seems to be the server of choice for TERFs, racists, and related jerks. Their recommended servers for new users are all on my personal blocklist. I don’t care to help those folks debug their instructions.

GoToSocial was a joy. Except it’s not only in development, it’s in alpha. They are very clear about this. The features that exist are beautifully done, but certain features I find critical are incomplete.

I have decided to wait to deploy a production fediverse server until GoToSocial enters beta.

For incomplete software, though, GoToSocial is surprisingly complete. It has its own web server and Let’s Encrypt implementation. If it can bind to ports 80 and 443, you don’t need a web server or ACME agent. The catch is, gotosocial(8) runs as an unprivileged user. It can’t bind to privileged ports.

Enter mac_portacl(4).

In the BSD tradition, the man page details everything you can do with this Mandatory Access Control kernel module, but in short it lets you permit particular users or group to bind to privileged network ports. I don’t care for mac_portacl in production, as the rules are hard to read when you’re debugging. If you want me to use an access control program, the output better be no harder to read than pfctl -sr. But here’s how you do it.

Enable the module in /boot/loader.conf.


You can now write port ACL rules. Each rule has four parts:

uid or group : numerical identifier : tcp or udp : port number

The gotosocial user has uid 209. I want uid 209 to be able to bind to TCP ports 80 and 443, so I need these rules.


Set the access control rules in /etc/sysctl.conf.


The first sysctl disables the traditional “reserved port” behavior and allows unprivileged programs to bind to ports below 1024.

The second sysctl installs our rules in the kernel. When you write to this sysctl you must include all rules you want active, separated by commas.

Would I use this in production? If the software has a solid security track record and is designed to be directly exposed to the Internet, sure. If you’re running a web server, some program has to listen on port 80. GoToSocial is brand new, though, and I’d like to see a bit of a track record before I completely trusted it.

When GoToSocial enters beta next year and I deploy it for real, I’ll put an nginx or httpd in front of it so I can filter when needed.

Are there other options other than Mastodon, pleroma, and GoToSocial? Sure. But I’m out of time, and really need to make some words this week.

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