Bilal BudhaniBilalBudhani

How to create self hosted Heroku like server in 5 simple steps

December 04, 2015

Goal — git push and enjoy your coffee ☕️

Building a server from ground zero to host a production app could be a real pain. The whole process of installing all the dependencies one by one with their appropriate version, and keeping necessary configs in check is very tedious. There are a few tools to automate these tasks, such as, Chef, Puppet, F*cking Shell Script etc. but they come with their own DSL which requires learning curve. None of them work out of the box.

I’m a huge fan of Heroku. My mind was blown by the ease of deployment that Heroku provides when I saw it for the first time. Ever since then, I’ve become addicted to their command line tool belt. But unfortunately, this ease comes with a hefty price tag. Even a slightly dynamic project with minimal resource would cost around $50. They do offer a free plan which, according to me, is not feasible unless you’re hosting a static site. 

This pushed me to look out for a viable, cheaper, and lazy (to cater my addiction) solution, and this is how I stumbled upon Dokku-alt.

Dokku-alt is a Docker powered mini-Heroku. The smallest PaaS implementation you’ve ever seen. It’s a fork of original dokku. The idea behind this fork is to provide complete solution with plugins covering most of use-cases which are stable and well tested.

Voila! It’s exactly what I was looking for. I grabbed a $5 DigitalOcean Ubuntu droplet and made it my playground for testing this new shiny toy. Few sets of commands, domain DNS setup, and a cup of coffee is all it took to deploy an app. The whole experience was pretty sweet and painless. Life is way simpler now.

Here’s how you can make yours:

Step 1 (pre-requisites):

  • You need a fresh (recommended) Ubuntu 14.04 LTS VM from any cloud provider (seriously, it doesn’t matter).
  • A ready-to-use domain with DNS access. 
  • Your public ssh key for password-less access to execute commands on your server. 

Step 2 (Installation): 

Execute below ssh command on your VM after logging in via root.

$ sudo bash -c "$(curl -fsSL"

It will probably take less than a minute to install all the required libs. Once the installation is done, it will run a Sinatra server on port 2000. You simply need to point your browser to http://<your server ip>:2000/ add your domain and public ssh key to finish the configuration. 

Step 3 (App creation):

We will now create the app that we want to host.

dokku apps:create (your app name here)

Whatever name you give to your app, it will also become the subdomain to access it. Now let’s add environment keys to the app.

dokku config:set (your app name) KEY1=value1 KEY2=value2 …

Step 4 (Database):

Dokku-alt offers multiple databases including PostgreSQL, MySQL, MongoDB, MariaDB, Redis etc. If you don’t find yours in the list than I’m sure there must be a plugin available to install it. 

Let’s install PostgreSQL for the sake of it.

dokku postgresql:create (your database name here)

It will install and create a database with the name you provide. But we’re not done yet. There’s one more important step we need to follow before moving ahead, i.e.:

dokku postgresql:link (app name) (database name)

Only after this command that your app will be able to access the database. This will also add required database credentials as environment keys. 

Step 5:

Now, add remote git url on your development machine inside the project folder.

git remote add dokku [email protected](your domain):(your app name)
git push dokku master

Grab a cup of coffee and wait for it to finish. If everything goes as expected, you will have a working copy of your app in a matter of minutes. 

Here is the list of commands provided by dokku-alt

P.S: if you run into memory allocation issues, follow these steps for the fix. 

P.S.S: You can also execute commands from your local machine by ssh [email protected]<your domain> "your command here"

I'm a tech consultant who enjoys working on React Native, React, Javascript and Ruby. You can follow me on Twitter @BilalBudhani or can read about me.