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Linux distro hosts web services on Raspberry Pi

Nov 13, 2013  |  Eric Brown
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A startup called the Citizen Web Project has raised over $23,000 in crowdsourcing funds for an alpha-stage fork of Arch Linux intended for hosting easily-administered web services on low-end hardware. Initially available for the Raspberry Pi, ArkOS is designed for securely self-hosting websites, email, social networking accounts, and cloud services via an open source “Genesis” server gateway application.

In the same spirit of self-reliance behind ArkOS itself, chief developer and Citizen Web Project founder Jacob Cook is hosting his own crowdsourcing campaign. So far, the project has raised over $23,000 on the way to a goal of $45,000, with 21 days left.

According to a VentureBeat story, Cook was inspired to launch the project after Google pulled the plug on the RSS reader. Not only did this unpopular move show that big corporations could not be relied upon to maintain web software, but as Cook says on his crowdsourcing page, with ArkOS there’s “No more need to depend on external cloud services, which can be insecure “walled gardens” that require you to give up control over your data.” This year’s revelations of NSA spying was said to be another impetus.

A somewhat similar anti-cloud sentiment spurred by NSA snooping fueled another recently crowdsourced project for a device called the Lima (pictured at the right). The Lima provides a private, Linux-based USB-based storage server with web access.

ArkOS, by contrast, does not include hardware. It’s based on a prior project called Ajenti, but significantly modified and re-established on the Arch Linux ARM distribution with the help of Python extensions.

Currently targets Raspberry Pi

The distribution is currently designed for the Raspberry Pi, but as Cook explained to us in an email, ArkOS and Genesis server software that runs on it, “is easily portable between any devices that Arch might support.” If you want to port it to another device, “all the OS + packages + configurations have to be done by hand,” says Cook. “We are certainly working to expand full compatibility to other ARM boards in the near future, as well as full-size computers and VPSes.”

Genesis offers a server management GUI, enabling web server hosting and management without a command line, says the project. The software enables hosting of websites, email, social networking accounts, and cloud services using storage connected via the Raspberry Pi’s USB or Ethernet ports. The firmware offers an extensible framework designed to add and remove open source tools. ArkOS and Genesis are licensed under GNU GPLv3, with code available at Github.

The combination of ArkOS and Genesis is still in alpha stage, but is said to already enable the following:

  • Host a website using WordPress, Jekyll, or custom HTML/PHP code, and install and configure these sites automatically
  • Run an ownCloud instance for syncing files, photos, music, calendars, and contacts
  • Manage security with an integrated automatic firewall and defense system
  • Generate SSL certificates, and easily assign them to services
  • Install and remove apps or plugins with an Applications pane that tracks dependencies
  • Manage the server with tools, including Network Connections

Future plans for ArkOS and Genesis over the next year are said to include:

  • Host calendars and contacts and sync them using Radicale
  • Host a Dropbox-like service
  • Host an email server with a custom domain
  • Provide decentralized social networking services, using Diaspora, Pump.IO, StatusNet, or Tent
  • Host an XMPP chat server on a custom domain, or run a private Cryptocat server
  • Share ArkOS services as Tor Hidden Services
  • Register and launch a domain from inside Genesis
  • Integrate with RetroShare, Tahoe-LAFS, CJDNS and more

Cook is also working on a suite of tools collectively called ArkOS Connect that “will allow users to self-host their data but still rely on certain services for availability and stability concerns,” according to the project. For example, a DelugeDNS tool will provision dynamic DNS addresses and automatically set them up within Genesis, as well as enable proxy requests to different ports on the Pi. A Drydock tool will offer a simple backup sync service to protect against threats like “power outages, data corruption, and hungry pets.” Drydock encrypts data locally before storing on “central servers.”


Jacob Cook

Cook is also interested in extending support from the current ARMv6 for the Pi’s ARM11-based Broadcom processor to ARMv7, ARMv5, and even x86. “Primarily all that is involved for multi-architecture support is just getting a software repository up and running with compiled binaries,” said Cook in an email. “We just need the manpower to do it, and with the funding campaign going through I will have the ability to coordinate that and see it through.”
 

Further information

Alpha-stage ArkOS and Genesis code for the Raspberry Pi is available on GitHub. More information and funding packages ranging from $5 to $1,000 may be found on the ArkOS crowdsourcing page. Additional info is available at the ArkOS website and the Citizen Web Project site.
 

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