Yunohost & Freedombox, Self-hosting Made Easy(er)

You may have heard of the projects, Yunohost and Freedombox. They both aim to make it easier for regular humans to self-host services on their own computers or SBC (Single Board Computers) for themselves, their friends or family.

I was motivated to write this post because of all the reviews of Freedombox I've seen on the web lately. I haven't seen even one review of Yunohost out there, and I think that's tragic because it is a great self-hosting alternative as well.

Why self-host?

That's a big question and outside the scope of this comparison of Yunohost and Freedombox, but remember “There is no cloud, only someone else's computer.”

If you truly want to take control of your own data and minimize being tracked by large corporations (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft), then self-hosting might be something you might want to consider.

My Experience and Current Setup with Yunohost & Freedombox

I've been running Yunohost for about 6 months in my home. I am running it on regular desktop computer.

Services/Apps I use on my Yunohost: ad blocking (Pi-Hole), storing files and syncing them to my computers (Nextcloud), calendar & contacts (Nextcloud), blogging (WriteFreely), downloading Bittorrent files (Transmission), RSS reader (TinyTiny RSS Reader), and search engine (Searx). I've tried some other apps on Yunohost but these are the ones I use on a daily basis. I have gone through the installation more than once because of a lost password (doh!), and trying it out on other computers.

At my workplace, I don't have access to an external IP or the router, so I run Freedombox. I use a Tor Onion service on it so I can access it. I haven't done too much with it so far. This is my 2nd install of Freedombox in the process of testing it.

Installation

Yunohost: download ISO > install ISO > configure in Admin panel. During the setup process you will be asked to make a NAME.nohost.me dynamic domain. It will configure auto updating your IP address to this domain name too. This is great for those who haven't bought a domain name!

Freedombox: install Debian > install Freedombox package > configure in Admin panel

Both are very easy to install. After installing them, then you need to configure your router to open ports so you can access your server from outside your local network.

User Interface (UI) / Admin Control

Yunohost is a beautiful interface. The user sees boxes setup like a periodic table when logged in. Each box is has a 2 character designation for the app. For Pihole it says Pi and pihole in small font below the box. The admin interface is well organized and easy for newbies to navigate. It tries not to use technical jargon when it's not needed.

Freedombox seems to be designed for a system admin. The organization of menus is strange. When I click a menu item, I have to scroll down a few pages to get to the page I clicked on. Menu titles are program name, or sysadmin terms for example Monkeysphere(?), and Page Kite.

Available Apps

Yunohost has 24 'official apps' and 90+ other apps. Yunohost has it's own packaging format, so somebody has to 'package' an existing app to integrate into the UI. Here's the list of available apps that Yunohost has right now.

Freedombox has 22 apps. That's it. Also a lot of the 'apps' they have are more like services like Tor. These are things that are great for a sysadmin but they don't have many apps that can be used for regular users to stop using other Big Tech services.

Yunohost has a clear advantage in app selection. Freedombox seems to be focused on being like a router on your network for security and privacy. Of course, both of these are running on Debian so you can add any apps you want but the advantage of having the app available through the UI is that it's easier for newbies to install and also then keep all the settings for installed apps in one easy to find place, the admin UI.

Use Cases

Yunohost can be used at the family and friends level. Want to stop using Google Drive? Install Nextcloud. Want to use XMPP? It's built in! Want to block ads on your network? Install Pi-hole. It's very easy to replace proprietary tech with self-hosted options on Yunohost due to the wide range of apps available.

Freedombox seems to for a few specialized use cases. Is internet censored in your country? Install Tor, make a relay, and make an onion service. This is very easy to do in Freedombox. It is the one feature I am envious of. Want to block ads? You could install Privoxy but it is a proxy, not DNS level blocker like Pi-hole. Is the internet censored in your country? You could use a ShadowSocks server that another Freedombox user has setup in another country.

As you can see the types of users both these systems are targeting is way different. Yunohost is targeted towards individuals with some computer knowledge, while Freedombox seems targeted towards people with lots of sysadmin experience and the desire to run privacy tools such as Tor, ShadowSocks or OpenVPN.

Support / Community

Yunohost has a very active forum. Posts can be made in English or French. https://forum.yunohost.org/

Freedombox also has a forum but it looks deserted. Maybe discussion is happening on IRC? or in GitHub? I'm not sure but many bloggers are writing blog posts about Freedombox at least. https://discuss.freedombox.org/

Which one should I use – Yunohost or Freedombox?

If you want to replace Big Tech services – use Yunohost!

If you want to run privacy services like Tor, Tor relay or bridge, and onion services – use Freedombox!

Personally though, I think if you're really interested in Tor and other such services, you could just install Yunohost, and install Tor manually “apt install tor”, and then learn how to configure it yourself. Yunohost has a quick guide on how to setup hidden services using Tor.

If you have any questions or suggestions to add to this post, please message me on Mastodon: @tootbrute@scholar.social

Update: Feedback from FreedomBox

The team at Freedombox has reached out to thank me for this feedback. They have started a discussion on their forum to discuss the points I brought up here to see how they can improve Freedombox.

Good on them for being open to criticism and striving to improve! Hope both products continue to improve and making self-hosting easier for everybody!

#Freedombox #Yunohost #tech #SelfHosting #Longread