# Ubuntu hosting setup

# Setting up the Ubuntu VPS

We'll start off by creating an Ubuntu VPS on AWS Lightsail. There are many services to use for hosting an Ubuntu VPS and the rest of the recipe is platform-agnostic.

  1. In an AWS Lightsail account (opens new window), log in and create an Ubuntu 20.04 LTS ("OS Only") instance. You need at least 1GB of RAM. We suggest 2GB to be safe.
    • There is a step on this first page to select or add an SSH key to connect securely from your computer. Follow Lightsail's directions to do this.
  2. Completely any additional configurations you want, then create the instance. Once the instance is created, click on it to continue configuration.
  3. On the "Networking" tab, you should see that the SSH and HTTP ports are already open. In addition, open the HTTPS port by clicking "Add rule" and selecting "HTTPS." You need this for https:// connections.
    • Wait a couple minutes even after it says it's ready, to be sure it will accept your SSH connection.
  4. SSH to your server's ubuntu account, according to the Lightsail instructions. This account has sudo privileges so you can take care of tasks that require root access.
  5. Install MongoDB Community Edition. Instead follow the official instructions for installing MongoDB Community Edition on Ubuntu (opens new window).
    • Be sure not to miss the command sudo systemctl enable mongod which ensures it starts up on every reboot.
    • Don't use an Ubuntu package for this since they may be outdated.
  6. Install Node.js 16.x. Don't use an obsolete Ubuntu package. Instead follow the official instructions for installing Node.js 16.x on Ubuntu (opens new window)
    • Again, it's best to not use an Ubuntu package for this.
  7. Install nginx. This one is up to date in nginx, so it's one line:
sudo apt-get install nginx
  1. Install nano. This is a basic text editor we can use when configuring nginx.
    • If you prefer vim, or have remote editing support in your favorite visual text editor, that's fine too.
sudo apt-get install nano
  1. Install pm2. This is a tool to start and restart the site for you and keep it running:
sudo npm install -g pm2
  1. We shouldn't use an account with sudo privileges to run the site. So create a non-root user to manage your Apostrophe site:
sudo useradd nodeapps -d /home/nodeapps -m -s /bin/bash

NOTE

The Apostrophe convention is to name this user nodeapps. This name is not required, but we will continue to use it in this recipe.

We're specifying the bash shell here because the default sh shell is no one's favorite, but you can change this.

  1. We're almost ready to use the account, but first let's make sure pm2 can restart our site if the server reboots:
sudo su -c "pm2 startup ubuntu -u nodeapps --hp /home/nodeapps/var/www"
  1. If there are no errors, we're ready to continue. Now switch to that new user in your shell:
sudo su - nodeapps

From here on out we never run a command as root, except as explicitly noted. This nodeapps account doesn't have sudo privileges, and that's a good thing for security.

# Deploying a site for the first time

NOTE

You can do this series of steps each time you want to add a new site to the VPS. You can run more than one site on a server, but for security and performance you might prefer to run them on separate servers in production.

  1. If you didn't already, SSH to the ubuntu user on your server (the last step of the previous section). Then run sudo su - nodeapps to switch users.
  2. Deploy the Apostrophe site code to the VPS. We'll use the a3-boilerplate project as an example.
    • We'll git clone a project in the home directory as a simple way to deploy it. You may use a CI/CD tool or some other method for regular deployments. You will also likely want to put the code in another location (e.g., /var/www).
git clone https://github.com/apostrophecms/a3-boilerplate

cd a3-boilerplate

npm install
  1. Build production front end assets (including the Apostrophe user interface code):
npm run build
# This script in the boilerplate is an alias for the Apostrophe task
# `NODE_ENV=production node app @apostrophecms/asset:build`
  1. Now we instruct pm2 to launch the site and to keep it running. Substitute the shortname of your own project for a3-boilerplate below.
pm2 --name=a3-boilerplate start npm -- run serve
pm2 save
# The second command saves our `pm2` configuration for future reboots.

At this point Apostrophe is running on port 3000. We need to configure nginx as a proxy server to handle HTTP and HTTPS connections on port 80 and 443 and forward them.

# Adding your site to nginx

  1. SSH to the ubuntu user shell where you have sudo access. If you followed the instructions above and are on the nodeapps user, simply type exit and submit.
  2. Create the nginx configuration file, /etc/nginx/conf.d/your-project-shortname-here.conf.
    • Replace your.host.name with the DNS hostname you have pointed to your server's IP address for your site.
sudo nano /etc/nginx/conf.d/your-project-shortname-here.conf
  1. In the editor, paste the following, replacing your.host.name and a3-boilerplate as directed:
server {
  listen *:80;
  # Replace `your.host.name` with your actual hostname
  server_name your.host.name;
  location @proxy {
    proxy_pass http://localhost:3000;
    proxy_set_header Host $host;
    proxy_set_header X-Real-IP $remote_addr;
    proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
    proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-Proto $scheme;
  }
  location / {
    # Remember to replace `a3-boilerplate` with your project directory name
    root /home/nodeapps/a3-boilerplate/public;
    try_files $uri @proxy;
    expires 7d;
  }
}
# To save, press CTL+x, then follow the steps to confirm.

NOTE

The proxy_set_header statements pass information to Apostrophe so it can still see the visitor's IP address.

The root and try_files statements let nginx serve static files directly, for the best speed; if the URL isn't a static file, it is passed to Apostrophe. expires 7d allows the browser to cache the static files, for performance.

  1. You'll want to add SSL for HTTPS connections, too. For that, follow the LetsEncrypt Certbot documentation (opens new window). Certbot will make the necessary nginx configuration changes for you.

  2. Now instruct nginx to restart:

sudo systemctl reload nginx

Your site should be up! Visit http://your.host.name to see it. If you didn't add it to your DNS yet, or it hasn't propagated, you won't be able to reach it yet.

# Working on the site after deployment

# Adding a user to a brand-new site

A newly-created site won't have much in the database yet, and you need an admin user to start editing.

  1. Make sure you are on the nodeapps user (the non-sudo user). Any direct work on the Apostrophe site (as opposed to the server) should be done by nodeapps.
  2. Run the follow task to create a user with the name lucy to the "admin" group:
node app @apostrophecms/user:add lucy admin
# The command structure is:
# node app apostrophe-users:add userName groupName
  1. When prompted, enter a secure password. And be sure to record it securely as well!

After that your account will be stored in the MongoDB database. Access it on the /login page of your website.

# Updating your site code

To update your site later, follow these steps using the nodeapps (non-sudo) user:

  1. cd to the project root if you are not there already. Since we first deployed our code by cloning a git repository, we'll pull from that repo to update the code.
# Make sure we're in our project root directory.
cd && cd a3-boilerplate
# Pull our code.
git pull
  1. Now that we have the code updated, we will install any new or updated npm packages, build new production assets, and run any new database migrations:
npm install && npm run build && node app @apostrophecms/migration:migrate

TIP

In projects based on the a3-boilerplate code starter, the npm run release script takes care of all of this in one command. If your codebase does not include that script you will need to run each command directly.

  1. Instruct pm2 to restart the site:
pm2 restart a3-boilerplate

Your site will restart after a few seconds. You can check the process logs with pm2 logs a3-boilerplate to see whether it has started up yet.

# Viewing the Node.js console

Your site's console log messages are available from pm2:

pm2 logs a3-boilerplate

This recipe is a simple, unopinionated production example. There are many things you can do to improve on this recipe.

# Run on multiple processes

One important step is to run at least two Apostrophe processes, in order to guarantee a second process can respond if the first has crashed and is restarting.

One way to do that is to start two separate processes with pm2, using two --name settings and two PORT environment variable settings, and configure nginx round-robin load balancing (opens new window) to balance between them.

If you need more capacity, you can run as many processes as you have CPU cores on the server, possibly reserving one for MongoDB.

# Specify the APOS_RELEASE_ID if not deploying with git

Just a heads up: in this example, Apostrophe uses the current git commit ID to identify the current bundle of frontend assets.

If your preferred deployment process does not involve running git clone on the server, you'll need to set the APOS_RELEASE_ID environment variable to a consistent value of your own when running the asset build task and when starting up Apostrophe. Change that release ID value for both purposes with each new deployment.

APOS_RELEASE_ID=myLatestReleaseID npm run build &&
APOS_RELEASE_ID=myLatestReleaseID pm2 restart a3-boilerplate
# Remember, a3-boilerplate is the name of the pm2 process from this example.
# Replace that with the name of your pm2 process.