Get Your Own Heroku - a Guide on How to Run a Custom 'PaaS' for deploying Apps

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Heroku is a fantastic platform for Node.js developers. It made deployment of Node.js apps super easier. But obviously. it have so many limitations on free-tier, which makes it less ideal for deploying certain kind of projects, like a telegram bot etc.

The Idea

I was having a pretty similar issue. I needed to host a bot. Initially, it was in Heroku, but due to the fact that every apps on Heroku free tier goes for sleep after inactivity of around 30 minutes. This, generally, is not a problem for websites, but bots won’t work. There is always a delay on bot response.

First, I thought I would build my own Heroku-like platform. But it’s not really easy. So, I went off with an open-source ‘Platform as a Service’ software.

Likely, there are many such open-sourced products available. One of them is CapRover.

Features

  1. Docker-based deployment. Each of the deployed app would have their own isolated space.
  2. Support for Dockerfile. A Dockerfile would maximize the possibilities of what you could do with the deployments.

Prerequisites

Nothing much required, really! All you need is:

  • A VPS to host CapRover. Preferably DigitalOcean It should also have a Linux OS installed. Ubuntu is preferred.
  • Basic Linux Shell Skills for installing required applications.
  • A Domain Name

Initial Server Setup

If you are using Digital Ocean, first you need to create a droplet. Digital Ocean have a nice guide on how-to setup a droplet.

Once you are done creating a Droplet, it’s time to update the system. To do that, you need to access your droplet using SSH. This tutorial would help you do that.

After connecting to droplet via SSH, update and upgrade the system using sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade. Note that, these commands are for Ubuntu.

We also need a couple of other software in order to get our CapRover server up and running. We will be installing them one by one.

Docker

CapRover is built on top of Docker. So, it’s an essential essential software. To install docker, checkout the official Docker documentation for Ubuntu.

You may need to add the current user to docker group. To do so, run sudo usermod -aG docker <user_name>. Otherwise, you will get a docker error.

Node.js and NPM

Yeah, these Node thing is everywhere these days :/ But anyways, it should be relatively easier to install. Note that, by default Ubuntu repository have node v8.x.x. We need at least v10.x.x. So to install node v13.x.x via NodeSource:

curl -sL https://deb.nodesource.com/setup_13.x | sudo -E bash -

Then run apt-get install command.

sudo apt-get install -y nodejs

To confirm that you have Node installed, run node -v from terminal.

NPM

It’s possible that NPM was installed along with Node.js. You can verify that using npm -v. In case it is not installed, install it from Ubuntu repository using sudo apt install npm.

By default, NPM needs sudo to install global packages, which is not recommended. To change this behavior, change prefix in NPM config. Run npm config set prefix dir_name(replace dir_name with a directory name where you want to have npm packages). You also, need to add dir_name/bin to your PATH variable.

Domain Setup

By now, you should have a static IP address assigned to your Digital Ocean droplet. If you have a domain name purchased, you need to point it to your server IP address using A record. For example: you want captain.yourdomain.com as your app host. You need to setup two different a records.

cap              A         3.23.76.12
*.captain        A         3.23.76.12

At this point, your server is ready to host CapRover. You may additionally need to allow some ports in order to make CapRover work. You can allow them using ufw command in Ubuntu.

ufw allow 80,443,3000,996,7946,4789,2377/tcp; ufw allow 7946,4789,2377/udp;

Note that, this command must run in root shell.

Install CapRover and CapRover CLI

Thanks to the devloper of CapRover, it’s super easy to install. All we need is to run one command, sit back and watch it installing.

docker run -p 80:80 -p 443:443 -p 3000:3000 -v /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock -v /captain:/captain caprover/caprover

Once the CapRover installation is done, visit cap.domainname.com:3000 to verify if CapRover is working. We also need to install CapRover CLI in order to manage deployment, sertup server etc. To install CapRover from NPM, run npm i -g caprover. Once installed, run caprover serversetup, and follow the interactive command prompt.

At this point, you have a CapRover instance running successfully. Check this guide for various deployment methods.

Before deploying a project, make sure to create an app using the Web GUI. Otherwise, you won’t be able to deploy.

For more information about CapRover and it’s configurations, check out its official docs.

Conclusions

Having a self-managed PaaS could be very handy. Following are a few reasons I choose to go with a self-managed PaaS for hosting apps.

  1. I would be saving money. Generally, if I go for Heroku non-free tier, I would be paying a lot of money compared to what I pay now.
  2. Shared Resources. Server resources won’t get wasted because each and every app would be able to access resources from the same resource pool. So, let’s say, I have 2 GB of RAM. And I need only 1 GB to host XYZ webapp. Now, I can use the remaining amount of RAM to spin-up a new instance ABC webapp.
  3. Support for [insert techstack name] Since, CapRover uses docker to deploy a new instance, I can basically run apps built using any back-end technologies. And write how to deploy it using a Dockerfile. I have so much flexibility now.

The only downside I could think of is, I have to look after the server. This is won’t be a big deal, thanks to AWS ❤️

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