My home server “cabinet”.
My home server.
While in an airport some time ago, I realized it would be nice to have my own VPN running at home I could tunnel through. Plus, it would be nice to have access to my home applications.
I’ll describe how I set that up.
FYI: If you buy something through an Amazon link, I may earn a commission.
PS - I had cooling issues from the start with this cabinet when I realized I was comically duped by the fake slats on the doors 🤦. I resolved this entirely by drilling an air inlet and outlet in the back and installing USB fans to create an air flow in, through the server, and out again. The router and switch are on a cheap battery backup so they stay on for a short period of time if the power blips or goes out.
0. Prerequisite Docker Host
My server (a ThinkStation I picked up on Craigslist) runs Ubuntu 18.04 LTS (I’ll upgrade it to 20.04 LTS sometime in the near future). My server has a CAT6 line to a switch, then a CAT6 line from the switch to the router. The server’s speed depends on the CATegory of ethernet is uses.
PS - 1ft patch cables are pretty short. I’d get a longer cables in retrospect.
It runs Docker 19.03.5 (after installing, I had to follow these steps to run
docker without sudo). I recommend portainer for a GUI to managing your Docker containers. I prefer using it for managing my Docker containers over the CLI through SSH.
I run all of my containers with the flag
--restart=always to make sure they come back up if my server is rebooted.
1. Dynamic DNS
I needed a static way to access your server remotely, which is harder when you don’t have a dedicated IP. To solve this problem I use dynamic DNS. I created a CNAME on a domain I own and run joshuaavalon/cloudflare-ddns (as a daemon) to update that CNAME with the current external IP address of my home server when it changes.
I use hwdsl2/ipsec-vpn-server for my VPN. I specify
VPN_PASSWORD so they persist.
3. Port Forwarding
Once Dynamic DNS is set up and our VPN is running, the UDP ports
4500 need to be forwarded. In my particular case, I have an fiber AT&T modem/router in IP Passthrough mode and then my router, and I had to forward those ports through both.
PS - my router is a TP-Link AC2600. I did a lot of research before purchasing - it’s the best router I found with great coverage of my small home, yard, and detached workshop out back, and also has a mobile app for management.
At this point - you should be able to configure your phone or computer with an IPsec client connecting through your dynamic DNS to your home VPN server.
- Are the ports forwarded?
- Are the ports blocked by your ISP?
- Are the ports blocked by your firewall?
- Is the dynamic DNS resolving?
5. Bonus: Custom Domains
I wanted to be able to resolve my home server and its various applications via domain names, so to do that I set a reverse proxy and home DNS. I only set up custom domains over port 80 since we’re connected through the VPN.
To do this, I set up an isolated bridge network in Docker. I started by moving hwdsl2/ipsec-vpn-server to that bridge network.
I first deployed jpillora/docker-dnsmasq to my new network with a static IP address and mounted a
dnsmasq.conf file. In that file, I added my upstream DNS servers and my custom domains, all pointing to the server’s local IP address:
no-resolv server=188.8.131.52 server=184.108.40.206 strict-order address=/example.com/192.168.86.2 address=/example2.com/192.168.86.2
I also exposed port 53 on the server’s firewall, but didn’t forward the port since we’re connecting to it through the VPN.
Next, I deployed haproxy in the same network. I mounted a
haproxy.cfg file setting up my defaults, frontend, and backends:
global daemon # Default SSL material locations ca-base /etc/ssl/certs crt-base /etc/ssl/private # Default ciphers to use on SSL-enabled listening sockets. # For more information, see ciphers(1SSL). ssl-default-bind-ciphers kEECDH+aRSA+AES:kRSA+AES:+AES256:RC4-SHA:!kEDH:!LOW:!EXP:!MD5:!aNULL:!eNULL defaults log global mode http option httplog option dontlognull timeout connect 5000 timeout client 50000 timeout server 50000 frontend fe bind *:80 acl example hdr(host) -i example.com acl example2 hdr(host) -i example2.com mode http default_backend example_be use_backend example_be if example use_backend example2_be if example2 backend example_be mode http server example 192.168.86.2:9001 backend example2_be mode http server example2 192.168.86.2:9002
I exposed it on port 80 (again, I didn’t forward the port).
8. Wiring Up DNS
VPN_DNS_SRV1 = 172.20.0.3 VPN_DNS_SRV2 = 220.127.116.11
VPN_DNS_SRV1 is pointing to the local static IP address of the jpillora/docker-dnsmasq container that resides in the same bridge network.
At this point, if you restart all your containers, you should be able to access your local DNS through your VPN.
- Are you on the same network? You can’t VPN in while already inside the network, even on a guest network.
- Is DNS resolving on your test device? You can test using
pingwith a shell on your test device (I found myself troubleshooting with a shell on my phone VPN’d in over mobile data).
- Is DNS resolving from inside your VPN container?
- Do you see any errors if you enable verbose logging in either jpillora/docker-dnsmasq or haproxy?