This site belongs to Tim Abell, a UK based software developer.

New home server with Xen and docker

No cloud mkay?

Going against the current received wisdom I personally am not keen to trade the convenience of the public cloud sync services such as dropbox, onedrive, google drive etc for the fact that this means that all my files traverse the public internet and live on someone else’s metal. Sure it might be encrypted, but what if my traffic is intercepted and stored, and then that encryption is later found to be flawed?

I’m probably just as likely to get pwned running my own setup, but hey at least I get to learn something along the way.

Another thought is that regardless of location – home, office, cloud, vps host or data centre – it’s all just (server) software. So why shouldn’t we be able to get the amazing seamless experience when self hosting? It seems to me that it comes down to economics. Cloud hosting gives an opportunity for charging directly or worse using underhand tactics like owning your data or selling you as a product to advertisers. This means there is more funding for cloud systems, and therefore more developers are working on it. Even ethically minded software developers have to eat and live somewhere. I think just like Linux vs Windows we will get a perfectly good open source solution, but it will likely lag behind.

Disk encryption

I have a new machine to use as a server so have an opportunity for a fresh approach. I want my server encrypted at rest in case the whole machine gets stolen from the house to keep the scoundrels from having easy access to all my files.

The previous machine I installed with encrypted LVM as available with Ubuntu server’s installer; but this means going to the machine to unlock it after every reboot / power failure / kernel upgrade. I did have remote unlock via dropbear ssh set up but it’s hacky to set up and non-trivial to use.

This time I’ve gone for a different approach:

  • An unencrypted install of ubuntu server (DomU) with an ssh server, so no password required to boot up, which does nothing more than give access to:
  • A Xen VM install of Ubuntu server (Dom1), this one with LVM disk encryption. This is where all my files etc will live. Installed with virt-manager, which is a very convenient UI for initial setup.

So now after a reboot I can ssh -X into the DomU server, then using virt-manager I can see the Dom1 VM waiting for the disk encryption key and provide the passphrase.


Setup instructions for xen on Ubuntu.

It wasn’t immediately obvious how to set up the networking. This was the network config that worked in the end (after ifdown/ifup, also tested with full reboot):

$ cat /etc/network/interfaces
source /etc/network/interfaces.d/*

# The loopback network interface
auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

auto xenbr0
iface xenbr0 inet dhcp
  bridge_ports enp1s0

# The primary network interface
auto enp1s0
iface enp1s0 inet manual
#iface enp1s0 inet dhcp


Seeing as docker is well and truly coming to windows it’s time I got better at this so, for this and also better isolation and security I’ll try and set up as many of the services I want to run as I can through docker.

First test case was transmission-bt which I run to be a good citizen and help seed Linux Mint ISOs using my A&A unmetered upload.

Searching for transmission on docker hub, I didn’t want the vpn one, I’m not pirating movies and my ISP doesn’t do stupid filtering/shaping tricks on torrents. I chose the next most popular:

To install and run it:

$ sudo -i
# useradd -r -s /sbin/nologin transmission
# id transmission
id=999(transmission) gid=999(transmission) groups=999(transmission)
# cd /var
# mkdir transmission
# cd transmission
# mkdir config downloads watch
# chown transmission:transmission .
# docker create --name=transmission \
  -v /var/transmission/config/:/config \
  -v /var/transmission/downloads/:/downloads \
  -v /var/transmission/watch/:/watch \
  -e PGID=999 -e PUID=999 -e TZ="Europe/London" \
  -p 9091:9091 -p 51413:51413 -p 51413:51413/udp \
# docker start transmission
# docker logs -f transmission

useradd ref:

Once that was done I could see the transmission web UI at http://dom1vm:9091/. Hurrah.


Same deal with folders and users, then:

# docker create --name=syncthing -v /var/syncthing/config/:/config -v /var/syncthing/data/:/data -e PGID=998 -e PUID=998 -p 8384:8384 -p 22000:22000 -p 21027:21027/udp linuxserver/syncthing

Start on boot

docker update --restart=unless-stopped transmission 
docker update --restart=unless-stopped syncthing


Startup competitors – Data Viewer

If you follow my ramblings you might know that I’ve revived my interest in creating a commercial tool to help devs, dbas etc browse their sql databases. I’ve done some research before and didn’t find much on a par with what I have in mind. I’ve done a bit more, and turned up a couple:

  • A feature of sql workbench – I’ve seen the product but didn’t know it could do that. Not directly competition as it’s not nearly as smooth to use as what I’m building for this particular use case.
  • SqlSmash – Something I’d not seen before, which has fk based navigation (vid) that’s basically what I’m building, albeit embedded in SSMS rather than standalone.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had the experience of getting started before discovering another product that basically solves the problem I’m gunning for. (Ready-roll was the last, since bought by red-gate).

Now it’s not that I thought my idea was magic or special or a unique little flower, but why is it after working with SQL Server databases for 15 years that I’ve only just noticed this tool (which I would have found useful and probably would have paid for).

If I created another would it be just as obscure? Should I still go ahead even though it’s a solved problem? Are there any ideas left on the earth?

Something for me to consider this week. I might update this post with further thoughts. Your thoughts are welcome.

New year new blog, happy 2017

I’ve used blogger for years, but the layout for code has not improved for a long time. I’ve also found my domain’s website stagnating because of the hassle of updating it, so I’ve moved the whole kaboodle to

Find my old blog and all its content at

I’m not migrating the content from blogger because I think google will keep it online, and cool URIs don’t change. I’ve never been convinced of the value of people lugging their blog posts from one platform to the next, it seems to break more than it fixes most of the time. Like the one where the old host didn’t need the trailing slash at the end of the URL and the new host did, breaking half the incoming links. It’s only because I’m a web dev that I guessed what the fix was.

Enough about that anyway. Happy new year 🙂

Please do add my new blog to your favourite blog reading software / rss reader etc., and do drop me a line on just so I know you’re out there!

The original of the header is a photo I took myself which you can find on flickr:

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