How to completely self-host Standard Notes (Updated 2021)
How to completely self-host Standard Notes (Updated 2021)

How to completely self-host Standard Notes (Updated 2021)

Introduction

This article will cover setting up your own self-hosted Standard Notes instance and routing your instance through Nginx to allow for public exposure.
We'll also go over self-hosting Standard Notes Extensions to allow you to use extensions within your instance, such as a Markdown editor or secure spreadsheets

What is Standard Notes

Standard Notes is a free, open-source, and completely encrypted notes app. Being open-source, allows anyone to self-host their own Standard Notes server. This means that you own all of your data, on your server.

Standard Notes is great for a secure, private, encrypted note-taking solution. Even without self-hosting, all notes are E2E (end-to-end) encrypted. This means that nobody, other than yourself, can view the notes that you have written.

I have written about Standard Notes in my My Self Hosted Note Syncing Journey Once Switching to iPhone blog post.

Self-hosting Standard Notes is probably for the paranoid and the curious. I was the latter!

It's relatively simple and gives you peace of mind knowing that only you own your data.

Setting up Standard Notes Syncing Server

Step 1: Setting up the syncing server

You'll need to set up a new Linux server. I use a Proxmox instance running on a server in my loft. You could also use something like Digital Ocean to host your Standard Notes Syncing server. Using the following link will give you $100 worth of credits for 60 days to play around with, just sign up using this link.

You could also use a cheap Raspberry PI to set up your own Standard Notes Syncing server.

This new server will need to have Docker and Docker Compose installed.

These can be installed by running the following commands on your server after you have ssh'd to your server

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
curl -fsSL https://get.docker.com -o get-docker.sh
sudo sh get-docker.sh
sudo curl -L "https://github.com/docker/compose/releases/download/1.28.5/docker-compose-$(uname -s)-$(uname -m)" -o /usr/local/bin/docker-compose
sudo chmod +x /usr/local/bin/docker-compose

Next, you'll need to clone the syncing-server repo down to your home directory.

git clone https://github.com/standardnotes/syncing-server.git

You can now run the server setup.

cd into the syncing-server folder and run the following command

./server.sh setup

You will see the following output

Initializing default configuration
Default configuration files created as .env and docker/*.env files. Feel free to modify values if needed.

Next, let's start the server

./server.sh start

Allow the startup script to run and the docker containers to spin up, eventually, you should have an instance running at http://localhost:3000

You can verify this with the following message.

{"message":"Hi! You're not supposed to be here."}
Your MySQL Data will be written to your local disk at /var/lib/mysql - Be sure to back this up.

Important! If this didn't work for you, follow these steps instead.

cd into your syncing-server directory.

We need to manually set up a MySQL server to run in a docker container. Firstly, make sure you don't have any of the previous docker containers running.

./server.sh stop
./server.sh cleanup

Next, let's install the MySQL docker server. Run the following command.

docker run --name=mysql1 -d -p 3306:3306 mysql/mysql-server:latest

Then run the following and wait until MySQL shows as healthy.

docker ps

Once healthy, run the following

docker logs mysql1 2>&1 | grep GENERATED

This will be the password you need to log into the root user for MySQL

Here's an example output

GENERATED ROOT PASSWORD: Axegh3kAJyDLaRuBemecis&EShOs

We now need to log into the MySQL instance.

docker exec -it mysql1 mysql -uroot -p

Once in, we need to change the default password for the root user. Or, you can save the generated one.

ALTER USER 'root'@'localhost' IDENTIFIED BY 'yournewpassword';

Now, we need to configure a new user for Standard Notes and a new Database

Create the database following the .env file in syncing-server

CREATE DATABASE standard_notes_db

Create the user, this must match the specified username and password in .env

CREATE USER 'std_notes_user'@'%' IDENTIFIED BY 'changeme123';

Grant user privileges to the database.

 GRANT ALL PRIVILEGES ON standard_notes_db.* TO 'std_notes_user'@'%';

That should be all for MySQL, you can exit now by running

exit

Now, let's run the Standard Notes docker command.

docker run -d -p 3000:3000 --net host --env-file=.env standardnotes/syncing-server

Once all spun up, you can verify the endpoint by navigating to localhost:3000

You should see the following message.

{"message":"Hi! You're not supposed to be here."}

Step 2: Setting up Nginx

Nginx is a reverse proxy that allows you to point incoming web traffic to your new Standard Notes syncing server. If you only intend on using Standard Notes locally, you can skip this section entirely.

Installation

sudo apt install nginx

If you have UFW installed, you will have to Allow Nginx through your local firewall.

I have a tutorial for setting up UFW here

sudo ufw app list
Output
---

Available applications:
  Nginx Full
  Nginx HTTP
  Nginx HTTPS
  OpenSSH

As you can see, there are three profiles available for Nginx:

  • Nginx Full: This profile opens both port 80 (normal, unencrypted web traffic) and port 443 (TLS/SSL encrypted traffic)
  • Nginx HTTP: This profile opens only port 80 (normal, unencrypted web traffic)
  • Nginx HTTPS: This profile opens only port 443 (TLS/SSL encrypted traffic)

It is recommended that you enable the most restrictive profile that will still allow the traffic you’ve configured. Since we haven’t configured SSL for our server yet in this guide, we will only need to allow traffic on port 80.

You can enable this by typing:

sudo ufw allow 'Nginx HTTP'

Checking your webserver is up and running

sudo systemctl status nginx

You should see something that looks like the following

● nginx.service - A high performance web server and a reverse proxy server
   Loaded: loaded (/lib/systemd/system/nginx.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled)
   Active: active (running)
...

Step 3: Pointing Nginx to your syncing server

The next part allows us to take incoming traffic and point it to your container instance. Allowing you to expose your syncing server to the internet.

This will allow you to hook up Standard Notes on any device and sync your notes privately.

If someone gets hold of your public endpoint, your notes will still be safe as they are encrypted with your Standard Notes username and password.

Navigate to /etc/nginx/

cd /etc/nginx/

Use your favourite text editor and open the following file with sudo

sudo vim nginx.conf

I use the following code for my syncing server

server {
    listen 80;
    listen [::]:80;
    server_name notes.theselfhostingblog.com;

    location / {
        proxy_pass http://127.0.0.1:3000; # syncing-server address
    }
}

Step 4: Port-forwarding

You will need to port forward your instance to allow public access to your instance. This will involve googling how to port forward from your router.

You'll need to point port 80 to your instance where Nginx is set up.

Step 5: Linking Standard Notes with your public domain

You will also need to set up a public domain name. This can then be used to call your new public instance with port 80 exposed.

For example, I would set up a subdomain on theselfhostingblog.com to be notes.theselfhostingblog.com. Notice this is also the domain I specified in my Nginx config above.

Here's something to search for with regards to setting up a domain name

Setting up Certbot

Certbot allows us to generate SSL certificates for free with Let's Encrypt. It's really really simple to install and use. Even hooks in with Nginx, meaning that there's no more manual configuration required.

To install Certbot, simply run the following command

sudo apt-get install certbot

Then, to set up your SSL certificate, run

sudo certbot

Follow the instructions, select your domain name from the Nginx list.
Also select redirect as this will upgrade any HTTP requests to HTTPS.


Step 6: Connecting to your Standard Notes syncing server from Standard Notes

Congratulations on making it this far, now it's time to hook up Standard Notes with your new private syncing server.

Standard Notes is available on multiple platforms. The easiest way for this tutorial is to use their web interface.

Navigate to https://app.standardnotes.org/

You'll be greeted with something that looks like the following screenshot

You will need to sign up with a new account as this will be syncing to your server.

Click Register

Before filling out your registration credentials, select Advanced Options

Now fill in your new server URL or IP address.

Then go back to the registration form and enter an Email and Password

Finally, click Register

Easy right? You now have a working self-hosted Standard Notes server.


Setting up self-hosted Standard Notes extensions

Now that you have Standard Notes working, you can add and delete notes at your heart's desire. But wouldn't it be cool to also use the Standard Notes Extensions to fully embrace the power of Standard Notes?

You can leave it here, or follow the below process to self-host your extensions too, utilising the power of Markdown editors or Secure Spreadsheets!

Firstly, by self-hosting your extensions, you're bypassing the need to purchase a license. The Standard Notes team mainly works from a 'Visionary' point of view. I heavily encourage you to purchase a license to support the great work that the team are doing. Here's a quote from the Standard Notes team themselves.

"Most of our extensions are open-source and available for self-hosting. You can also learn to develop your own extensions by following the guides on this site. However, we encourage you to support the sustainability and future development of this project by purchasing a subscription." ~ Sustainability of Standard Notes

If however, you would still like to proceed with hosting your Extensions, then please follow the steps below.

Step 1: Pulling the Standard Notes Extensions Repository

I will be using the Standard Notes Extention repository by iganeshk who has provided their own README.md for setting up Standard Notes Extensions. I'll be using their instructions in my steps below. All credit for the setup goes to iganeshk

Let's begin.

Firstly, start by ssh'ing into your new server that we set up in the previous section.

We'll need to pull down the required repository

git clone https://github.com/iganeshk/standardnotes-extensions.git
cd standardnotes-extensions

Ensure that you have Python3 and pip installed on your server as this is used to install the required dependencies for the extensions repository.

sudo apt-get install -y python3 python3-pip

Then use pip3 to install the required dependencies. You may have to reboot before this command works.

pip3 install -r requirements.txt

Step 2: Configuring the Standard Notes Extensions Repository

You'll now need to create a .env file to store your environment variables for the repository.

Ensure you're in the standardnotes-extensions directory

cd ~/standardnotes-extensions

Then create the .env file

touch .env

Then open with your favourite editor

vim .env

Paste in the following example from iganeshk
env.sample

Edit your domain value, and Github username and TOKEN

The Github integration is to allow you to clone down the Standard Notes extensions from the Standard Notes Github page.

# Github Credentials
# Generate your token here: https://github.com/settings/tokens
# No additional permission required, this is just to avoid github api rate limits
#

domain: https://domain.com/extensions

github:
  username: USERNAME
  token: TOKEN

Save and close that file. Ensuring that it is named .env

Step 3: Running Standard Notes Extensions from your server

You'll now need to execute the service.

This can be done by running the following command.

python3 build_repo.py

This will generate a /public directory, which you will serve.

Step 4: Routing with Nginx

Now, with that static folder generated, we just need to point Nginx to that /public folder to serve the extensions.

As before in the previous section, edit your Nginx config

Navigate to /etc/nginx/

cd /etc/nginx/

Use your favourite text editor and open the following file with sudo

sudo vim nginx.conf

You'll see your previously added Nginx config for serving the syncing server

server {
    listen 80;
    listen [::]:80;
    server_name notes.theselfhostingblog.com;

    location / {
        proxy_pass http://127.0.0.1:3000; # syncing-server address
    }
}

Under the server section, you will need to add the following configuration, again taken from iganeshk.

location ^~ /extensions {
		autoindex off;
		alias /path/to/standardnotes-extensions/public; #CHANGE ME
		# CORS HEADERS
		if ($request_method = 'OPTIONS') {
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Origin' '*';
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Methods' 'GET, POST, OPTIONS';
		   #
		   # Custom headers and headers various browsers *should* be OK with but aren't
		   #
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Headers' 'DNT,User-Agent,X-Requested-With,If-Modified-Since,Cache-Control,Content-Type,Range';
		   #
		   # Tell client that this pre-flight info is valid for 20 days
		   #
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Max-Age' 1728000;
		   add_header 'Content-Type' 'text/plain; charset=utf-8';
		   add_header 'Content-Length' 0;
		   return 204;
		}
		if ($request_method = 'POST') {
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Origin' '*';
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Methods' 'GET, POST, OPTIONS';
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Headers' 'DNT,User-Agent,X-Requested-With,If-Modified-Since,Cache-Control,Content-Type,Range';
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Expose-Headers' 'Content-Length,Content-Range';
		}
		if ($request_method = 'GET') {
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Origin' '*';
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Methods' 'GET, POST, OPTIONS';
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Headers' 'DNT,User-Agent,X-Requested-With,If-Modified-Since,Cache-Control,Content-Type,Range';
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Expose-Headers' 'Content-Length,Content-Range';
		}
	}

Your nginx.conf should now look like the following

server {
    listen 80;
    listen [::]:80;
    server_name notes.theselfhostingblog.com;

    location / {
        proxy_pass http://127.0.0.1:3000; # syncing-server address
    }

    location ^~ /extensions {
		autoindex off;
		alias /path/to/standardnotes-extensions/public; #CHANGE ME
		# CORS HEADERS
		if ($request_method = 'OPTIONS') {
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Origin' '*';
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Methods' 'GET, POST, OPTIONS';
		   #
		   # Custom headers and headers various browsers *should* be OK with but aren't
		   #
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Headers' 'DNT,User-Agent,X-Requested-With,If-Modified-Since,Cache-Control,Content-Type,Range';
		   #
		   # Tell client that this pre-flight info is valid for 20 days
		   #
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Max-Age' 1728000;
		   add_header 'Content-Type' 'text/plain; charset=utf-8';
		   add_header 'Content-Length' 0;
		   return 204;
		}
		if ($request_method = 'POST') {
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Origin' '*';
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Methods' 'GET, POST, OPTIONS';
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Headers' 'DNT,User-Agent,X-Requested-With,If-Modified-Since,Cache-Control,Content-Type,Range';
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Expose-Headers' 'Content-Length,Content-Range';
		}
		if ($request_method = 'GET') {
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Origin' '*';
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Methods' 'GET, POST, OPTIONS';
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Allow-Headers' 'DNT,User-Agent,X-Requested-With,If-Modified-Since,Cache-Control,Content-Type,Range';
		   add_header 'Access-Control-Expose-Headers' 'Content-Length,Content-Range';
		}
	}
}

Make sure you change the alias to point to your public folder. Remember, this is in the /home/your-user/standardnotes-extensions/public location.

For me, it would be

alias /home/ubuntu/standardnotes-extensions/public

Close and save the nginx.conf

That's it for config.

The last thing you'll need to do in terms of setup is to verify the endpoint.

Step 5: Verifying the Standard Notes Extensions endpoint

Navigate to your previous URL and add extensions/index.json to the end of the URL.

For example

http://notes.theselfhostingblog.com/extensions/index.json

You should see a list of JSON objects.

If, you don't see the endpoint correctly, ensure that the /public folder has the correct permissions from Nginx to read the files.

Step 6: Adding Extensions to Standard Notes

Nearly there. We just need to add our new endpoint to our existing Standard Notes client.

Navigate back to https://app.standardnotes.org and log in as we did before.

In the bottom corner, select Extensions

You'll see a field that reads Enter Extended Code this is where you'll usually paste your Extensions API Key. But all you need to do is paste your new extensions URL.

Then hit Submit Code

And, we're done

That's it, providing everything worked, you should now be able to add extensions to your Standard Notes instance.

Now, this process is complicated, so please don't hesitate to get in touch in the comments if you get stuck. I'd be more than happy to help out with any issues you may face.

Thanks for reading, please donate to Standard Notes as, without them, none of this would be possible.

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