Miskatonic University Press

How I set up a virtual server at VPSVille


I need a shell server because I filter my email with Procmail and then read it with Alpine. I’ve been doing this since I got on the Internet in 1993 (though back then I used Pine) and I don’t feel any need to change. That’s the kind of fellow I am: the kind who uses a now-obscure text-only Unix email reader, and writes grumpily on his web site about it. I use Thunderbird for work email but for personal use the simplicity of Alpine is exactly what I want. I certainly don’t want Google handling my mail.

My old shell server provider wasn’t cutting it any more, so late last year I moved to VPSVille. It’s been about a month and so far everything’s fine. My shell server has been up 100% of the time and my support questions are answered promptly and helpfully. Once someone recognized my domain name and made a joke about Cthulhu, which has never happened before.

I’ve heard great things about Linode and Slicehost, but VPSVille is one thing they aren’t: Canadian. I want my email hosted here in Canada. I want all my data hosted in Canada. With VPSVille I can do that — in fact their servers are in downtown Toronto — but I also have the option to host something in the UK, which I’ve heard some people do to set up a proxy server so they can watch the BBC online.

Anyway, everything went fine getting set up at VPSVille. At first I went with some option where there’s a control panel to the site, but that turned out to be pretty useless for me, so I just ordered a minimal Debian 6 and then installed everything I need. A lot of sudo apt-get install foo later I had what I needed. (And remember that dpkg --get-selections lists all the packages you have installed, and you can use that list on a new server to install everything you had on the old one.)

I ran into two small problems with email. I’ve never hosted my own email before and I was nervous about it, but it turned out to be easy. I went with Exim, and I was glad I could stay away from configuring Sendmail. Setting up Exim was simple; Debian has a menu thing where you answer a few questions and it makes the config file, and the only thing that slowed me up for a few minutes was not leaving one field blank to make it so email was accepted from any host. The first real problem was Permission denied: creating lock file hitching post errors, but changing the perms on /var/mail fixed that. The second problem was that my .forward file, which directed all mail to procmail, was causing errors. Turns out I didn’t need it at all! Exim is smart enough on its own to see that I have a .procmailrc file and know what to do.

So now I’m using my shell server for reading email and for hosting some personal Git repositories. If all keeps going well I’ll move some of my web sites over too. Right now I use Pair Networks for hosting. They are an excellent company, extremely reliable and with great technical support, but they’re American, and I would like to host my sites in Canada. I’ll see. I don’t mind running my own server as long as I don’t have to manage the hardware.