Privacy with a Home Server

Doghouse – FreedomBox

Article from Issue 254/2022

FreedomBox offers a private, secure personal server that is now available on more platforms and with its own base system from Olimex.

Over two years ago, I wrote an article [1] about the FreedomBox Foundation and how the FreedomBox software [2] allows you to set up a private, secure personal server that can plug into an outlet in your home.

The project was started over 12 years ago by Dr. Eben Moglen, lawyer and law professor at Columbia University and author of the first version of GPL 3.x, among many other accomplishments. Moglen was concerned about people putting their most personal and private data on corporate clouds and sending the data over public networks.

Moglen conceived of a very small server that could be installed and used at home. He talked about it and people joined the project.

The goals were to have completely free software and open hardware – with no binary blobs that could hide trap doors and Trojan horses – which would allow long-term supportability. Another design goal was to make the software easy to install and configure with various privacy and security tools such as Tor, VNC, proxy software, and others.

Over the past two years, the FreedomBox software has been ported to many platforms, and they provide pre-compiled ISOs for many small, low-power single board computers (SBCs), as well as support various virtual machines and emulators. While installing and operating on the bare metal of an SBC would be the way I would normally run the code, installing it to an emulator or virtual machine might be an easy way to learn the system.

Also over the past two years, the software has been integrated with the Debian distribution of GNU/Linux (Debian 10 Buster) and so is now available on all of the platforms that Debian 10 supports, as well as quite a few SBCs (many of which require no binary blobs to run FreedomBox code), such as the BeagleBone Black, the Banana Pro, ROCKPro64, and more.

One company that has partnered with the FreedomBox organization is Olimex [3], who offers a relatively inexpensive base system called the Pioneer-FreedomBox-HSK.

The Pioneer comes with a suitable power supply and a choice of three different power plug types, and HDMI and USB 2.0 connectors for a display, keyboard, mouse, and other "slow" devices, as well as a 1 Gbps RJ-45 Ethernet port, 1GB of RAM, a 32-bit ARM processor, and a 32GB microSD card that holds the operating system. In addition the unit has a lithium battery that can keep the system going for up to three hours (useful for short electrical outages), as well as a very solid metal case with the FreedomBox logo.

Many of the SBCs do not have WiFi support, and many people might look at this as a deficit. But you could use a USB WiFi dongle or (more appropriately) use your WiFi router to distribute the data throughout your house.

If you want more storage for the FreedomBox server, the Pioneer comes with an eSATA connector, so you can hook up an external eSATA device, whether a docking station or a single storage device.

Relatively new is an Olimex metal storage bay that can hold a 2.5-inch SATA storage device. Your Pioneer slips right onto the top and connects directly to an eSATA connector on the bay. You can order the bay with several different storage sizes up to 2TB of HDD or 512GB of SSD, or you can order it with NO storage and use a 2.5-inch SATA storage device that you may have left over from some other laptop or project.

Olimex hardware is open hardware. They publish circuit diagrams and all the information necessary to maintain the system far into the future.

Some people might look at the specifications for this SBC and think that it is underpowered, or its memory is too small, but remember that it is a server, and for the most part it will be I/O bound, picking up blocks of data and pushing them out through the Ethernet port and out over the Internet, whether WAN or LAN. It needs no fan, makes no noise, and draws less power than an incandescent light bulb.

Once you have installed the microSD card that holds the system code and boot, you find that you access the FreedomBox through a web interface, and you really do not need any keyboard, mouse, or monitor connected directly to the FreedomBox itself.

FreedomBox documentation has become fairly complete and translated into many languages. The documentation is not only for its original direction as a personal server (for you or your family) but also for community use, especially if you combine some of the federated social media from, such as Mastodon, GNU social, diaspora*, and others.


  1. "maddog's Doghouse – Freedom Box" by Jon "maddog" Hall, Linux Magazine, issue 226, September 2019, p. 68
  2. FreedomBox:
  3. Olimex:

The Author

Jon "maddog" Hall is an author, educator, computer scientist, and free software pioneer who has been a passionate advocate for Linux since 1994 when he first met Linus Torvalds and facilitated the port of Linux to a 64-bit system. He serves as president of Linux International®.

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