How to Build a Home Server

edited December 2023 in PC Tech

In an article last week, we described what a home server is and covered all the benefits of having your very own home server on your local network. For anyone willing to learn about networking, home computing, and servers, building and maintaining a home server can be a terrific learning experience. Plus, family and friends will be amazed once they see how a home network can be transformed into a private and secure data and media hub. It’s relatively easy to get a home server set up and ready to go, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot either. Read on to learn how to set up a server at home.

What will your home server be used for?

There are many reasons you might want to consider having a home server. Before you get started building a home server, you should consider what its primary purpose will be so that you can optimize your setup for that purpose. The following are some of the main reasons people build home servers: 

  • Provide a central location to store media. A home media server is an excellent way to free up storage capacity on individual devices, and anyone on the network can access the media stored on the server. 
  • Data backup. A home backup server can be an excellent solution for keeping your information safe. 
  • Web server. Thinking of starting a blog? If you want complete control over the website’s management or if you’re not keen on paying for a hosting service, a home server can do the job. 
  • Home automation and security. A home server is the perfect centralized platform to manage your smart home from. You can manage heating, lighting, or IoT home appliances. 
  • Online gaming. Games that offer dedicated server software can be set up on a home server, enabling you to play multiplayer games with others at your home with improved performance and stability, with the added benefit of being able to customize the gameplay experience. 
  • VPN server. By routing all of your Internet traffic through a VPN, you can protect your data from snoopers.

Server system requirements

Before diving into building a server, it’s essential to evaluate the capabilities of your current computer hardware. Although any computer can technically be a server, you’ll want to ensure that your machine meets certain requirements to handle the demands you place on it. These requirements include a capable processor, adequate storage space, sufficient RAM, a fast network interface, and a reliable power supply.

  • Processor: A powerful processor is essential for handling multiple tasks and requests simultaneously. Aim for a minimum of an Intel® Core™ i5-6500T processor running at 2.5 GHz for optimal multitasking performance. 
  • RAM: Sufficient memory is crucial for running server applications and handling multiple connections. Aim for at least 8 GB of RAM, but consider 16 GB or more if you plan to host multiple websites or serve multiple devices simultaneously. 
  • Storage: SSDs are recommended for their speed and reliability. Ensure that you have enough storage space to accommodate your media files, website data, and gaming data. A household of four is likely to need at least 2 TB of storage space. 
  • Network Interface Card: A high-quality network card ensures fast and stable network connections, which is crucial for web hosting. Look for a gigabit Ethernet card for the best performance. 
  • Power Supply: A reliable power supply is essential to keep your server running smoothly. Choose a power supply with a high efficiency rating and adequate wattage to support your hardware components. 

Server operating system

The operating system is the backbone of your web server. The optimal operating system for you depends on what you are going to do with your home server. The following are some excellent operating systems for home servers:

  • TrueNAS CORE: One of the best FreeBSD-based NAS software solutions. It provides an easy to use interface and allows for the simple installation of useful server-related plugins, such as Plex Media Server, Nextcloud, Zoneminder Surveillance, and many others. 
  • Ubuntu: An open-source and free operating system based on Linux. It has a steeper learning curve than Windows but offers more customization and flexibility. 
  • StartOS: A modern, free, open source Linux distribution optimized for running a personal server. It facilitates the discovery, installation, network configuration, service configuration, data backup, dependency management, and health monitoring of self-hosted software services. 
  • Windows Server: A powerful and user-friendly operating system, but it comes with licensing costs.

Adjust network settings

To ensure your home server is accessible to both local and external devices, you’ll need to configure your router and firewall settings. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you set up your network:

Step 1: Assign a static local IP address to your server 
To avoid IP conflicts and ensure stable connections within the local network, assign a static local network IP address to your server. This can be done by accessing your router’s administration panel and reserving an IP address for your server’s MAC address. 
Step 2: Port forwarding 
Port forwarding enables external devices to access your home server through your router. Set up port forwarding through your router’s administration panel in line with the services you wish to host. For example, to host a website, you need to forward ports 80 for HTTP and 443 for HTTPS. 
Step 3: Configure your firewall 
Your server’s firewall needs to be configured to allow incoming traffic on the ports you’ve forwarded. The method will depend on your server's operating system. 
Step 4: Obtain a dynamic DNS service 
If your ISP assigns you a dynamic public IP address, it can change periodically, making it difficult for external devices to connect to your server. To overcome this issue, use a Dynamic DNS service to map your dynamic public IP address to a static domain name. Some popular DDNS providers include No-IP and DynDNS.

Install server software

Install whatever applications you want to run on your home server by following the method required by the server’s operating system. Linux-based systems will follow a package manager approach, and Windows applications need to be downloaded manually from the Internet. The following are some useful home server applications:

  • Nextcloud: a safe home for all your data. 
  • Apache: a popular web server. 
  • Vaultwarden: a secure password manager. 
  • Jellyfin: a free software media system. 
  • Pi-hole: network-wide ad blocking.

User management

Creating users and assigning them to groups allows you to efficiently tune permissions and share data for large numbers of users. You’ll want to control the content each user has access to and ensure access is only available to authorized users. You will need to follow the method required by the operating system to add users and set user permissions.

Learn to maintain and troubleshoot your servers

You should treat home servers with care. Regular maintenance helps keep your server running smoothly and reduces the risk of potential problems. To make sure all goes smoothly, you need to:

  • Update the software frequently. 
  • Clean up temporary files. 
  • Backup important data before making updates. 
  • Check the hardware’s health status using various monitoring tools. 
  • Check logs for errors or security issues. 

Ashley is a technology writer who is interested in computers and software development. He is also a fintech researcher and is fascinated with emerging trends in DeFi, blockchain, and bitcoin. He has been writing, editing, and creating content for the ESL industry in Asia for eight years, with a special focus on interactive, digital learning.


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