Building a Linux home server from the ground up and without any previous experience is not nearly as complicated as it may seem. All you need to do is pick the right hardware, install a suitable operating system, and configure the server based on your needs. You can build a Linux server for your home on a very tight budget, but you can also spend a lot of money on premium server hardware and turn your home into a small datacenter.
What Is a Home Server and What Can I Do with It?
A server is any computer that processes requests from clients and delivers data to them over the internet or a different network, such as a local area network.
Most servers are located in dedicated buildings with redundant or backup components and infrastructure for power supply, extra-fast internet connection, and precise environmental control, but there’s nothing preventing you from having a server at home.
Here’s a list of services commonly provided by home servers:
- Centralized storage: You can use a home server to store all your files in a single place that’s accessible from the internet. Such home servers are known as network-attached storage (NAS), and they typically contain several storage devices arranged into a logical, redundant storage container. NAS provides a cost-effective alternative to cloud storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive, allowing you to maintain total control over your data while still enjoying the convenience of remote access.
- Media server: Instead of having to painstakingly transfer media files from your computer to your smart TV using a USB flash drive or a portable hard drive, you can turn your Linux home server into a media server and access your movies, music, photos, and other content directly from any device. Distributions such as LibreELEC or OSMC provide a free and open source media center that you can install just like any Linux distribution.
- Web server: If you have a public IP address, you can host a website on your own server and avoid paying hosting fees. By hosting a website on your own hardware, you get to learn what goes on behind the scenes, and you can then use this knowledge to pursue a career as a server administrator for a hosting company.
Now that you know why it makes sense to build a Linux home server even in the era of cloud computing, it’s time to get started, and the first step is choosing the right hardware.
Virtually any computer with a network card can act as a server, so you have many options when it comes to choosing hardware for your Linux home server.
Repurpose Old Hardware
If you’re like most Linux users, you most likely have at least a couple of old hardware computers just lying around the house. You may even have an entire computer that you don’t use anymore sitting in your closet and collecting dust. Unless the hardware is really ancient, you can repurpose it and use it to build a Linux home server.
Use a Single-Board Computer
Who doesn’t like single-board computers? They’re tiny, inexpensive, and can be easily transformed into versatile servers. Our favorite is the 4 GB model of the Raspberry Pi 4, but there’s also the Banana Pi, BeagleBone Black, ODROID XU4, or ASUS SBC Tinker Board, just to name a few. The reason why we recommend the Raspberry Pi 4 is simple: it’s the most popular single-board computer at the moment, so there are many tutorials and resources online.
Purchase a Prebuilt Server
If you would like to avoid assembling a server from individual hardware components, you can purchase a prebuilt server like the Dell PowerEdge T30, which is perfect for home users and small businesses. This affordable mini tower server offers the Intel Xeon E3-1225 v5 quad-core processor, 8 GB of RAM, 1 TB HDD, and slots for additional memory and storage.
Build Your Own Server
Building your own server is just as easy as building a desktop computer. You just need to select the necessary hardware components and assemble them. Here’s our recommended custom server build:
- Processor: Intel Core i3-8100
- Motherboard: Gigabyte Z390 UD
- Memory: Crucial 32 GB Kit
- Storage: Samsung 860 QVO 1 TB
- Graphics card: Intel UHD Graphics 630
- Case: Cooler Master HAF XB EVO
- Power supply: EVGA 650 GQ
To understand how to select the right hardware components for a Linux home server, read our server hardware selection guide.
Choosing an Operating System
Not all Linux distributions are equally suitable for a home server. You should choose a distribution that’s reliable, stable, easy to configure, and compatible with the hardware you’ve selected. Some of the best distributions for a Linux home server include:
- Ubuntu: An easy-to-use Linux distribution with a huge community of dedicated users and great hardware compatibility. It has AppArmor, which is a Linux Security Module that’s similar to SELinux, allowing the system administrator to restrict programs’ capabilities with per-program profiles.
- Debian: The parent distribution of Ubuntu, Debian offers multiple branches, each offering a different balance of stability and features. Debian has fairly modest hardware requirements, and it supports just about every architecture you will ever come across.
- Arch Linux: This lightweight and flexible Linux distribution is perfect for those who want to build a Linux home server to learn as much as possible. Arch Linux is considerably more difficult to install than Debian-based distributions, but overcoming the steep learning curve can be extremely rewarding.
- CentOS: Functionally compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS is a community-driven server distribution that provides a consistent, manageable platform that suits a wide variety of server deployments.
- OpenSUSE Leap: What sets OpenSUSE Leap apart from many other Linux distributions are its admin software tools, which include YaST, a comprehensive Linux system configuration & installation tool with an easy-to-use interface and powerful configuration capabilities.
To give you a small taste of what you can do with your new Linux home server, here’s a short list of some of the most popular software you can install on it:
- Plex: A media server that can organize your entire media collection and stream favorite movies, TV, music, web shows, podcasts, and more to all devices you have at home.
- Nextcloud: Offering functionality similar to Dropbox and other cloud file-sharing services, Nextcloud lets you collaborate and access your data from anywhere while keeping you in control.
- HomeAssistant: This open source home automation solution can become the nerve center of your smart home and automate your life. It runs on the Raspberry Pi or any Linux home server.
- Diaspora: Empowering its users to liberate themselves from the shackles of large corporations, Diaspora is a nonprofit, user-owned, distributed social network that you can set up on your Linux home server in just a few minutes.
- SiCKRAGE: With this video library manager, you can download your favorite TV shows from torrent sites or Usenet automatically on your home media server.
If you’re still hungry for more great applications, we recommend you visit AlternativeTo and browse its large collection of self-hosted software.
As you can see, building a Linux home server from scratch is just as easy as building a desktop computer. All you need to do is select suitable hardware, install a reliable Linux distribution, and put your server to good use with some self-hosted applications or services.