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Selfhost your Forem Community on your own infrastructure ?

Project README

Forem Self-Host

This is a repo for setting up a free, self-managed install of Forem on a Fedora CoreOS VM running on one of a few popular cloud providers (current support for DigitalOcean, AWS, and Google Cloud). Local development is also supported using a VM on Linux via QEMU.

Please note that Forem is a complex piece of software, and hosting and managing it in a cloud environment is non-trivial. While the recipes and scripts here are expected to work for the limited scenarios we tested against, use and modification of the recipes, or altering the deployed environment, may require familiarity with the following layers of the tech stack we built with, and ongoing maintenance of the deployed system may require interacting with any of these technologies:

If a Self-Hosted Forem is not right for you, we offer a fully-managed, enterprise solution called Forem Cloud; no technical setup required. For more information, please contact us via this form.

For those that want to DIY beyond the scope of this repo, you can use the systemd units in the Butane template as an example of how to run Forem without Fedora CoreOS on a Linux distribution that supports systemd, or customize that template to fit your needs or create a bootable Ignition configuration to consume on bare metal or in a custom VM.

The goal of this project is to provide you with the choice, freedom, and cost-effectiveness to host your own Forem community as you see fit.

We can't wait to see the community you selfhost with Forem!

Table of Contents


  • Git
  • Python 3.x and pip3
    • macOS: brew install python3

    Note: This will likely use Python 3 at /usr/local/bin/python3, not /usr/bin/python3, requiring that you set ansible_python_interpreter to /usr/local/bin/python in inventory or via extra vars (eg -e ansible_python_interpreter=/usr/local/bin/python)

  • Ansible: ansible-core 2.11 or greater (provided by Ansible 4.0.0)
  • Butane
    • Mac OS: brew install butane
  • pwgen
    • Mac OS: brew install pwgen
  • Fedora CoreOS, running on the Stable stream
  • A supported cloud provider, bare metal server, or a VM in QEMU.

Note: Some provisioning targets have additional requirements that are detailed out in each respective section.

Quick Start

Note: Following this quick start guide with the cloud provider of your choice will cost you money! Please consult with each cloud provider to figure out how much your Forem will cost you per month.

Start by cloning the forem/selfhost repository to your local computer and change into the newly created directory:

git clone
cd selfhost

After this step you have two choices: a semi-automated setup via a script or a completely manual installation.

Semi-automated setup

We have a script in place that will perform several of the necessary setup tasks for you. It will take care of the first 3 steps of the manual installation process (installing Python dependencies, generating an Ansible Vault password and copying the inventory definition for you). It will also generate the secrets needed for step 4.


Verifying that pip is available

Installing Python dependencies
[output omitted]

Generating Ansible Vault secret

Copying example inventory
'inventory/example/setup.yml' -> 'inventory/forem/setup.yml'

Generating Vault secrets
[output omitted]

Use these secrets to replace the placeholders in inventory/forem/setup.yml

Once the script finished running, continue from step 4. of the manual installation process described below.

Manual installation

  1. Install Python dependencies:
    • System-wide:
      • pip3 install -r requirements.txt
    • In a virtual environment: create a virtual env first, then enter it before installing the dependencies. Then remain in the virtual env unless you're done with the setup process. Example with Python 3's native venv module:
      • python3 -m venv /path/to/new/virtual/environment
      • source <venv>/bin/activate
      • pip3 install -r requirements.txt
      • perform rest of setup
      • deactivate (leaves the virtual env)
  2. Generate an Ansible Vault password
    • mkdir -p ~/.config/forem
    • pwgen -1 24|tee ~/.config/forem/selfhost_ansible_vault_password
  3. Copy example Ansible Inventory from inventory/example/setup.yml to inventory/forem/setup.yml
  4. Edit inventory/forem/setup.yml Ansible Inventory with your Forem settings
    • Edit the following Ansible inventory variables:
      • default_email (Admin Email for system to use)
      • forem_domain_name (A domain name that you own and set A records on at your DNS provider)
      • forem_subdomain_name (defaults to www)
      • forem_server_hostname (defaults to host)
    • If you used the setup script you can use the previously generated inventory secrets here. Otherwise, you have to use ansible-vault encrypt_string to create the secrets listed below. See "Required Ansible Vault secret variables" in the example setup.yml, which contains the required commands to generate each variable's value:
      • vault_secret_key_base
      • vault_imgproxy_key
      • vault_imgproxy_salt
      • vault_forem_postgres_password
  5. Setup SSH access for your cloud provider
    • If you choose to use DigitalOcean or Google Cloud as your cloud provider, you will need to generate a SSH key and save it to ${HOME}/.ssh/forem. Use ls -lh ~/.ssh/forem* to ensure you have both a ${HOME}/.ssh/forem private key, and a corresponding ${HOME}/.ssh/ public key.
    • If you use AWS as your cloud provider, you will need to generate an RSA-based SSH key and save it to the file path ~/.ssh/ Please visit the AWS RSA based SSH key section in our Self Host: Quick Start in Depth guide for instructions on creating an RSA-based key.
  6. Pick a supported cloud provider and set it up on your workstation
  7. Run the Ansible Playbook for your chosen cloud provider
  8. Once your Forem VM is set up with your chosen cloud provider, you will need to point DNS at the IP address that is output at the end of the provider playbook.
  9. Once DNS is pointed at your Forem VM, you will need to restart the Forem Traefik service (sudo systemctl restart forem-traefik.service) via SSH on your Forem server to generate a TLS cert.
  10. Go to your Forem domain name and create your first account. Please see the Forem Admin documentation located here for more information on setting up your Forem.

Provisioning Targets

Note about recommended instance types and cost: for each hosted provisioning target below, we attempted to recommend an instance type with 2 CPUs, 2GB of RAM, and a monthly cost of around $15 USD. Please note that providers may charge additionally for disk space, network usage, etc, so your price per month may vary based on your Forem's usage and needs. For exact and specific pricing information, please see each provider directly.


The AWS provisioning target has a few preset variables that can be either edited in the playbook or passed along as Ansible extra vars on the CLI.

fcos_aws_region: us-east-1
fcos_aws_size: t3a.small
fcos_aws_ebs_size: 100
ssh_key: "{{ lookup('file', '~/.ssh/') }}"
  • fcos_aws_region: the AWS region that is used to setup your Forem server. The default region is in us-east-1 which is in North Virginia, USA
  • fcos_aws_size: the AWS EC2 instance type. A recommended type is a t3a.small EC2 instance, with 2 VCPUs and 2GB of RAM
  • fcos_aws_ebs_size: the amount of EBS disk space (in GB)
  • ssh_key: the path to a public SSH key. Note that AWS's EC2 service can only use RSA based SSH keys. If you get an error that your SSH key is not the right type, please generate an RSA based SSH key and set ssh_key with a lookup path to that key


  1. Install the Ansible Amazon AWS collections ansible-galaxy collection install or install them via ansible-galaxy collection install -r requirements.yml
  2. Download and install the AWS CLI version 2 tool
  3. Install boto, boto3, and botocore pip3 modules pip3 install boto boto3 botocore or run pip3 install -r requirements.txt
  4. Create an AWS IAM user with Programmatic access called forem-selfhost with the following AmazonEC2FullAccess, AmazonS3FullAccess, AmazonVPCFullAccess AWS managed policies attached. Be sure to save the Access key ID and Secret access key to use in step 5.
  5. Run aws configure --profile forem-selfhost and input the access key ID and secret key when prompted. We use us-east-1 for default region name but you can choose a different one if you wish. Set default output format to json


  1. Run the AWS provider playbook to setup your Forem
    • ansible-playbook -i inventory/forem/setup.yml playbooks/providers/aws.yml


The DigitalOcean provisioning target has a few preset variables that can be either edited in the playbook or pass along as Ansible extra vars on the CLI.

forem_do_region: nyc3
forem_do_size: s-2vcpu-2gb
  • forem_do_region: the DigitalOcean region that is used to setup your Forem server. The default region is nyc3 which is in New York City, New York, USA
  • forem_do_size: the Droplet size. The recommended size is s-2vcpu-2gb, with 2 Shared CPUs, 2GB of RAM, a 60GB SSD disk, and 3TB of outbound transfer.


  1. Install the DigitalOcean Ansible collection ansible-galaxy collection install community.digitalocean or install it via ansible-galaxy collection install -r requirements.yml
  2. Download and install doctl
  3. Create DigitalOcean Auth Token
  4. Run doctl auth init and pass the API token created from step 3 and verify that you can authenticate to the DigitalOcean API with doctl account get. If you used a context here, you'll need to also doctl auth switch.


  1. Run the DigitalOcean provider playbook to set up your Forem
    • ansible-playbook -i inventory/forem/setup.yml playbooks/providers/digitalocean.yml

Note: DigitalOcean does not have support for Fedora CoreOS. We have to upload a custom image to your account via Ansible. If the "Wait for fcos-{{ fcos_download_release }} to be created" task times out. please check the Custom Images section on your DigitalOcean account to see if your image is still in a pending state. Wait for it to finish processing and re-run the DigitalOcean provider playbook.

Google Cloud

The Google Cloud provisioning target has a few preset variables that can be either edited in the playbook or pass along as Ansible extra vars on the CLI.

forem_gcp_region: us-central1
forem_gcp_zone: a
forem_gcp_machine_type: e2-small
forem_gcp_disk_size: 100
forem_gcp_project_id: forem-selfhost-12345
  • forem_gcp_region + forem_gcp_zone: the Google Cloud region and zone that is used to setup your Forem server. The default region is us-central1 in zone a which is in Council Bluffs, Iowa, USA
  • forem_gcp_machine_type: the GCP machine type. A recommended type is e2-small, with 2 shared CPUs and 2GB of RAM
  • forem_gcp_disk_size: the amount of disk space (in GB)
  • forem_gcp_project_id: your GCP project ID


  1. Install the Google Cloud collection ansible-galaxy collection install or install it via ansible-galaxy collection install -r requirements.yml
  2. Install requests and google-auth pip3 modules pip3 install requests google-auth or run pip3 install -r requirements.txt
  3. Create a Google Cloud Service Account called forem-selfhost with Compute Instance Admin (v1) privileges and download a JSON credentials file and place it in ~/.gcp/forem.json


  1. Run the Google Cloud provider playbook to setup your Forem
    • ansible-playbook -i inventory/forem/setup.yml playbooks/providers/gcp.yml

Ansible Dynamic Inventories

We provide some example Dynamic Inventories for you to use on your self-hosted Forem. You can use them to run Ansible Adhoc Commands or write your own Ansible playbooks to manage your Forem.

See the SSH Examples for some commands that you can run with an Ansible Adhoc command.


Show all Forems on AWS

ansible-inventory -i inventory/providers/aws/ --graph forem

Run an Ansible Adhoc command on all Forems on AWS

ansible -i inventory/providers/aws/ -m command -a "hostname" forem


Note: You need to run export DO_API_TOKEN=your_digitalocean_api_token before running the ansible-inventory or ansible commands!

Show all Forems on DigitalOcean

ansible-inventory -i inventory/providers/digitalocean/ --graph forem

Run an Ansible Adhoc command on all Forems on DigitalOcean

ansible -i inventory/providers/digitalocean/ -m command -a "hostname" forem

Google Compute

Note: You need to edit the project list in inventory/providers/gcp/gcp.yml with your GCP project for this Ansible Inventory Dynamic to work correctly!

Show all Forems on Google Compute

ansible-inventory -i inventory/providers/gcp/ --graph forem

Run an Ansible Adhoc command on all Forems on Google Compute

ansible -i inventory/providers/gcp/ -m command -a "hostname" forem

Configuration Internals

This section covers how Forem is configured and run on Fedora CoreOS.


Forem is run with a stack of containers that are powered via Podman and systemd. The systemd unit files are located in /etc/systemd/system:

$ cd /etc/systemd/system
$ ls -lah forem*
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root  243 Jun 29 17:16 forem-container.service
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root  833 Jun 29 17:16 forem-imgproxy.service
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root 1.1K Jun 29 17:16 forem-openresty.service
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root  787 Jun 29 17:16 forem-pod.service
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root  904 Jun 29 17:16 forem-postgresql.service
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root 1.4K Jun 29 17:16 forem-rails.service
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root  941 Jun 29 17:16 forem-redis.service
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root  951 Jun 29 17:16 forem-traefik.service
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root 1006 Jun 29 17:16 forem-worker.service
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root  691 Jun 29 17:16 forem.service

We use systemd unit dependencies heavily to correctly configure the start of service required to power your Forem.

The first systemd unit that runs on boot is forem-container.service. This service interfaces with foremimg to pull down the Forem container image and ensure that the localhost/forem/forem:current container tag is present.

We then create a Podman pod with the forem-pod.service to run all of the Forem services within it. Pods are a group of one or more containers that share the same network, pid and ipc namespaces. This means that localhost is isolated inside the pod and shared across all of the containers within the pod. The pod also binds ports 80 and 443 on the Fedora CoreOS server.

We then launch all of the required services within this Podman pod: forem-imgproxy.service, forem-postgresql.service, forem-redis.service. All of these services use the systemd BindsTo directive which configures a strong dependency on forem-pod.service. This means if forem-pod.service is stopped or it enters an inactive state, all of these services will stop too. Also, all of these services have to be up before our next unit, forem.service can start successfully.

The forem.service unit uses the BindsTo directive to bind forem-rails.service, forem-worker.service, and forem-openresty together as they are tightly dependent on each other to run Forem. This means you can stop and start the forem.service unit via systemctl and it will stop the three main Forem units, too. This service also ensures that forem-pod.service, forem-postgresql.service, forem-imgproxy.service, and forem-redis.service units are active and that the local container localhost/forem/forem:current exists before starting.

The main Forem systemd units are forem-rails.service, forem-worker.service, and forem-openresty. The forem-rails.service creates container volume mount /opt/forem/data/uploads on the Fedora CoreOS host and mounts it inside the container at /opt/apps/forem/public/uploads. The Forem Containerfile uses a VOLUME directive to create a container volume /opt/apps/forem/public and it puts all of the Forem public assets (CSS and JS) inside. These volumes are shared between the other main Forem containers: forem-worker.service, and forem-openresty.

The forem-rails.service is the main Ruby on Rails application that is running Puma which is a very fast and concurrent HTTP 1.1 application server.

The forem-worker.service is the background worker container that runs Sidekiq.

The forem-openresty.service runs OpenResty which is a dynamic web platform based on NGINX and LuaJIT. We use OpenResty to proxy connections to Puma in the forem-rails.service unit. We also use OpenResty to send proxy requests to forem-imgproxy.service for image resizing, which are then cached in OpenResty.

The last service we use in the configuration phase is forem-traefik.service. It is responsible for handling traffic from the Internet and passing it into the Forem Pod to forem-openresty.service, which then manages the traffic to forem-rails.service. It also manages the TLS certificate from Let's Encrypt and handles the redirection from HTTP to HTTPS.

Forem configs

All of your Forem's data and configuration resides in /opt/forem. This is the most important directory on your Forem. You should backup this directory regularly.

# ll /opt/forem/
total 4
drwxr-x---. 3 root root 39 Jun 29 17:16 configs
drwxr-x---. 5 root root 52 Jun 29 17:16 data
drwxr-x---. 2 root root 82 Jun 29 17:16 envs
drwxr-xr-x. 2 root root  6 Jun 29 17:16 tmp
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root 37 Jun 29 17:16 version

The configs directory contains the OpenResty (Nginx) configuration file and the Traefik configuration TOML files, along with the acme.json, which holds the TLS certificate from Let's Encrypt.

# ll
total 4
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root 2375 Jun 29 17:16 nginx.conf
drwxr-x---. 2 root root   63 Jun 29 17:16 traefik
# ll traefik/
total 12
-rw-------. 1 root root 3524 Jun 29 17:20 acme.json
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root 1928 Jun 29 17:16 dynamic.toml
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root  740 Jun 29 17:16 traefik.toml

The data directory contains your postgresql, redis, and upload directories. This directory contains all of your Forem content including your members.

# ll data/
total 4
drwx------. 19 polkitd root 4096 Jun 29 17:19 postgresql
drwxr-x---.  2 polkitd root   28 Jun 29 17:19 redis
drwxr-x---.  2 core    core    6 Jun 29 17:16 uploads

The envs directory contains all of the environment variable files that configure the following Forem services:

  • forem-imgproxy.service with imgproxy.env
  • forem-postgresql.service with postgresql.env
  • forem-rails.service, forem-worker.service with rails.env
  • forem-redis.service with redis.env
# ll envs/
total 12
-rw-r-----. 1 root root  319 Jun 29 17:16 imgproxy.env
-rw-r-----. 1 root root   85 Jun 29 17:16 postgresql.env
-rw-r-----. 1 root root 1483 Jun 29 17:16 rails.env
-rw-r-----. 1 root root    0 Jun 29 17:16 redis.env

If you have to make a configuration to a service, you can edit the respective ENV file and restart the service via systemd. For example, systemctl restart forem.service after editing the rails.env file.

The version file is written out by the forem-container.service systemd unit and foremimg script.

Note: Making changes to these files can prevent your Forem from starting and cause downtime. Make changes with care and create backups!

SSH Examples

All of these examples need to be run via SSH on the Fedora CoreOS server as the core or root user. You can access your Forem server via SSH:

ssh [email protected]<SERVER IP ADDRESS>

If your key doesn't have a default name like id_dsa, id_ecdsa, id_rsa, etc. you must specify it with the -i identity_file option. For example, this is the command you need to run for a key named forem:

ssh -i ~/.ssh/forem [email protected]<SERVER IP ADDRESS>


We have a helper script (Forem Control) called foremctl. It is used to control your Forem via CLI.

$ foremctl help

Usage: foremctl {console|deploy|help|rake|restart|start|stat|status|stop|update|version}

console         Open a Rails console
deploy          Updates and deploy the most current version of Forem
help            Show this message
rake            Run a rake task
restart         Restart Forem
start           Start Forem
stats           Show CPU, RAM, Disk IO usage of the Forem containers
status          Show the current running Forem containers
stop            Stop Forem
update          Updates Forem to the lastest container
version         Shows information on the current running version of Forem

Update Forem to the latest version and restart

sudo foremctl deploy

Note: The deploy process causes a small amount of downtime while the Forem code restarts.


We have a helper script (Forem Image) called foremimg. It is used to control your Forem's version and apply updates. It has to be run as the root user.

# foremimg help

Usage: foremimg {help|rollback|show}

help            Show this message
rollback        Issue a rollback

show            Show tags: current|rollback
  current       Show what image is tagged with current
  rollback      Show what image is tagged with rollback

Running foremimg with no flags will read /opt/forem/version if present for the
container tag or write /opt/forem/version with the default tag

Running foremimg will write
to /opt/forem/version and pull this container and point the local container
image tag 'localhost/forem/forem:current' to ''
and point the previous image to 'localhost/forem/forem:rollback'

Running 'foremimg rollback' will swap 'localhost/forem/forem:rollback' with 'localhost/forem/forem:current'

Set the Forem container repository and tag

sudo foremimg

Update Forem to the latest version with no restart

sudo foremimg update

Rollback Forem to the last running version and restart

sudo foremimg rollback
sudo foremctl restart

Update Fedora CoreOS to the latest stable version

Check for updates:

$ sudo rpm-ostree upgrade --check
2 metadata, 0 content objects fetched; 16 KiB transferred in 1 seconds; 0 bytes content written
        Version: 34.20210529.1.0 (2021-06-01T19:22:39Z)
         Commit: 936a0a142a09ebf8fa25d50a93377d8822c4ab3bfcf477a73781823569dbd33f
   GPGSignature: Valid signature by 8C5BA6990BDB26E19F2A1A801161AE6945719A39
           Diff: 380 upgraded, 22 removed, 17 added

Preview the package updates:

$ sudo rpm-ostree upgrade --preview

Download the packages without deploying them:

$ sudo rpm-ostree upgrade --download-only

To apply the updates and reboot:

$ sudo rpm-ostree upgrade
$ systemctl reboot

Note: Fedora CoreOS is an immutable Linux distribution. You will have to reboot to have the updates take effect. This will cause downtime for your Forem.

If the update causes issues with your Forem, you can issue a rollback with:

sudo rpm-ostree rollback --reboot

Backup your Forem data

You can make a backup of your Forem data by creating gzipped tarball of /opt/forem. You will want to download this file to your local computer via SCP.

foremctl stop
sudo tar czpf ~core/"$(date '+%Y-%m-%d')-forem-data.tar.gz" /opt/forem
foremctl start

Note: Running foremctl stop will cause downtime for your Forem!


To support local development, you will need a Linux workstation with virtualization enabled in the BIOS and KVM installed. You can check your workstation to see if it has support for Intel VT/AMD-V Virtualization with this command:

grep --color "svm\|vmx" /proc/cpuinfo

If that doesn't return anything, you might need to enable virtualization support in your BIOS.

Install Dependencies

In order to set up your development VM, you'll need a Linux workstation or server with the following packages:


$ sudo dnf install -y @virtualization butane podman


$ sudo yum install -y qemu-kvm virt-install virt-manager podman


$ sudo apt install virt-manager


$ sudo apt install qemu-kvm libvirt-bin


Before creating your development VM, you must supply an SSH key. SSH is the primary method you'll use to interact with the development VM. Ansible will look for a public key at the following path /${HOME}/.ssh/ Creating a symbolic link to your SSH key is a good way to handle this:

ln -s <path_to_your_private_ssh_key> ${HOME}/.ssh/

SSH Config

Add this to your ~/.ssh/config file:

  ForwardAgent yes
  StrictHostKeyChecking no

Ansible Vault

In order to encrypt your variables, you need an Ansible Vault password. This password needs to be set once and never changed. If you lose this password or change this password you will need to reset all of your encrypted variables.

mkdir -p ~/.config/forem/
pwgen -1 35 | tee ~/.config/forem/selfhost_ansible_vault_password

Create Forem Ansible Inventory

  1. Copy example Ansible Inventory from inventory/example/setup.yml to inventory/forem/setup.yml
  2. Edit inventory/forem/setup.yml Ansible Inventory with your Forem settings
    • Edit the following Ansible Inventory variables:
      • default_email
      • forem_domain_name
      • forem_subdomain_name
      • forem_server_hostname
    • Generate and save Ansible Inventory secrets:
      • vault_secret_key_base
      • vault_imgproxy_key
      • vault_imgproxy_salt
      • vault_forem_postgres_password

Launch Forem Locally

ansible-playbook -i inventory/forem/setup.yml playbooks/providers/qemu.yml

Local SSH Access

ssh [email protected] -p 2222
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