Traefik v2 and Mastodon, a wonderful couple!

A practical guide to setting up Mastodon behind Traefik v2 using docker-compose

I’ve been using Mastodon for quite a while now. And I really like the idea behind it, especially from a distributed web perspective. Taking decentralization a step further, my next step was to set up an own instance of Mastodon.

In this blog post I’d like to take you on the journey of setting up an own instance of Mastodon using Docker(-Compose) and Traefik v2.9.

Why do I think we need yet another tutorial for this? Well, at first there seem to be not so many tutorials for Traefik v2 around yet. Searching the internet mostly yields Traefik v1 related guides and tutorials. Secondly, there are two things I just couldn’t achieve using the once existing Mastodon docker guide (by the time of writing this guide, Mastodon removed its docker guide completely):

  • I wanted to have all required components managed within the docker-compose file
  • I wanted to have as few manual configuration as possible

Despite of having a good documentation, there is a design decision I dislike in the Mastodon docker guide. That is they place the nginx reverse-proxy outside of docker hence requiring the administrator to manually setup and configure a separate nginx on her box.

So, this guide goes another way :)

The new docker guide

This guide shows how you can setup your own instance of Mastodon using a single docker-compose file.

In the former Mastodon docker guide and the docker-compose.yml from Mastodons repository they place the nginx reverse-proxy outside of docker hence requiring the administrator to manually setup and configure a separate nginx on her box.

I really like keeping things as simple as possible so I tried reducing the complexity by integrating Traefik as reverse-proxy and its configuration into the docker-compose file ending up with a single file that could fire up the complete Mastodon instance :)

Additional features (over the original docker-compose from the repo):

  • Traefik v2 as reverse-proxy doing:
    • HTTPS redirection
    • TLS termination
    • automagic certificate handling with Let’s Encrypt
    • path based traffic routing to web and streaming containers of Mastodon


Before we start there are some things that we need to prepare:

  • We need a <DOMAIN> pointing to your box (like    A
  • Your box needs to be reachable from the internet on ports 80 and 443
  • We need to have Docker and docker-compose installed on our box

Before you continue, make sure these things are done.

For the impatient

If you just want to get things running, follow these steps:

  • Download my docker-compose.yml and fill in the variables to your needs
  • In the same directory run:
    • touch .env.production
    • On linux machines: sudo chown 991:991 .env.production
    • docker-compose run --rm -v $(pwd)/.env.production:/opt/mastodon/.env.production web bundle exec rake mastodon:setup
      • This will guide you through some steps setting up things like Users, Secrets, etc. don’t worry.
    • docker-compose up -d

That should be it. You now have an instance of Mastodon running behind a traefik reverse-proxy handling HTTPS redirection, TLS termination and automagic setup and renewal of Let’s Encrypt certificates. Persistence data from the containers is stored in folders located in the same directory as your docker-compose.yml.

For the curious

Well, there are a lot of things going on in the docker-compose.yml that you might want to understand. Basically, it’s the whole setup of traefik and the corresponding Mastodon related configuration.

So let’s go through the services being started in the docker-compose file and see what happens.


At first, we start traefik so we have someone answering requests from outside. More specifically, traefik’s job will be to route requests headed to your <DOMAIN> further to your Mastodon instance and back outside. While doing this, traefik handles:

  • HTTPS redirection
  • TLS termination
  • automagic certificate handling with Let’s Encrypt
  • path based traffic routing to web and streaming containers of Mastodon

Let’s have a look at the traefik part of the docker-compose.yml:

    image: traefik:2.9
    container_name: "traefik"
    restart: always
#      - "--log.level=DEBUG"
      - "--api.dashboard=true"
      - "--entrypoints.web.address=:80"
      - "--entrypoints.websecure.address=:443"
      - "--providers.docker=true"
      - "--providers.docker.exposedbydefault=false"
      - "--certificatesresolvers.letsencrypt.acme.httpchallenge=true"
      - "--certificatesresolvers.letsencrypt.acme.httpchallenge.entrypoint=web"
      - ""
      - "80:80"
      - "443:443"
      - "traefik.enable=true"
      # Dashboard
      - "traefik.http.routers.traefik.rule`(Host(`<DOMAIN>`) && (PathPrefix(`/api`) || PathPrefix(`/dashboard`)))"
      - "traefik.http.routers.traefik.service=api@internal"
      - "traefik.http.routers.traefik.tls.certresolver=letsencrypt"
      - "traefik.http.routers.traefik.entrypoints=websecure"
      - "traefik.http.routers.traefik.middlewares=dashboardauth"
      - "traefik.http.middlewares.dashboardauth.basicauth.users=admin:<TRAEFIK_DASHBOARD_ADMIN_PASSWORD>"
      # HTTPS Redirect
      - "traefik.http.routers.http-catchall.rule=hostregexp(`{host:.+}`)"
      - "traefik.http.routers.http-catchall.entrypoints=web"
      - "traefik.http.routers.http-catchall.middlewares=redirect-to-https@docker"
      - "traefik.http.middlewares.redirect-to-https.redirectscheme.scheme=https"
      - /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock
      - ./letsencrypt:/letsencrypt
      - external_network

At first glance, we see there is a lot of configuration covered by commands and labels. This is intended, as our goal is to have a docker-compose.yml that is as self-contained as possible. To understand why certain things are commands and others are labels we must know that Traefiks configuration is composed of a static part and a dynamic part. For further details, there are some great explanations in the Traefik documentation.

Static configuration

The static configuration deals with settings that are required at startup time. In this case that are all settings set as commands in our docker-compose.yml:



  • We want Traefik to listen for HTTP requests on port 80


  • We want Traefik to listen for HTTPS requests on port 443


  • providers are sources of dynamic configuration. So this command tells Treafik to accept dynamic configuration found in docker labels


  • By default, Traefik assumes that every running docker container wants to be reachable. As our scenario has some services that don’t require outside accessibility we set this setting to false.
  • We lateron explicitly set the label traefik.enable=true for every service that should be routed through Traefik.


  • We create the certificate resolver letsencrypt
  • The Let’s Encrypt certificate resolver should use a HTTP challenge to verify our server. That’s also the reason why traefik must also have an entrypoint on port 80.


  • The entrypoint for port 80 is called web (--entrypoints.WEB.address=:80, remember?) so we have to set it here for the HTTP challenge<LETSENCRYPT_MAIL_ADDRESS>

  • Just type in some mail address where Let’s Encrypt can reach you in case your certificate is about to expire and auto renewal failed

  • Path and JSON file where Keys and certificates are stored. This path must be a bind or volume otherwise your certificate and keys will be lost on each container restart.

That’s it for the static configuration. We have successfully set up the Traefik dashboard, endpoints for HTTP and HTTPS, docker as provider for dynamic configuration, and a certificate resolver handling Let’s Encrypt stuff.

Dynamic configuration

Let’s move on to the dynamic configuration found in the labels section. These configuration items are related to “How do I access Traefiks dashboard?” and “HTTPS redirection”.

We start with the relevant labels for accessing the Traefik dashboard:


  • We want the Traefik dashboard to be accessible through Traefik

traefik.http.routers.traefik.rule=(Host(<DOMAIN>) && (PathPrefix(/api) || PathPrefix(/dashboard)))

  • This creates a new router traefik handling all requests to <DOMAIN> with paths /api and /dashboard (and sub paths).


  • The service our router traefik should forward to is api@internal. That’s the internal service providing the dashboard.


  • We want to access our dashboard securely. So should there be no certificate for <DOMAIN>, use the certificate resolver letsencrypt (which we created in our static configuration) to get one


  • The router traefik should listen on our endpoint websecure (which basically means port 443)


  • Add the middleware dashboardauth to our router traefik
  • Middlewares are there to do something with a request before it is routed to the service. In this case a Basic Auth. More on this in the next line.


  • The middleware dashboardauth is created and should do basicauth with the following users
  • admin:
  • IMPORTANT: is an MD5 hash of the password as used in htpasswd files
  • Use e.g. to bring your password in the correct form

That’s all we need to have our Traefik dashboard being accessible via HTTPS.

The next labels make Traefik redirect HTTP requests on port 80 to HTTPS.


  • This creates a new router http-catchall and defines a rule that all requests should be handled by this router


  • The router http-catchall should handle requests coming from the entrypoint web (Port 80)


  • This router does not route to a service but we use a middleware that does the HTTPS redirection for us. We call the middleware redirect-to-https and define it in the next line. The @docker is optional and tells Traefik that the middleware is defined in the dynamic configuration from the provider docker, meaning here in the labels section.


  • The middleware redirect-to-https should use the pre-defined redirectscheme https

And that’s it for the HTTPS redirection. We now have completed the configuration of Traefik in our docker-compose.yml.


We wanted to do something meaningful over just firing up Traefik, remember? The rest of our docker-compose.yml is composed of services required by Mastodon. I won’t go into detail here. The part worth looking at are the services web and streaming as those must be accessible from the outside and hence need configuration for Traefik. We need web to deliver a nice UI for using Mastodon, and we need streaming to realize all the inter instance communication.

Luckily, the Traefik configuration is straight forward for both services and we know all the required parts from the labels setting up the Traefik dashboard.

      - "traefik.enable=true"
      - "traefik.http.routers.mastodon-web.rule=Host(`<DOMAIN>`)"
      - "traefik.http.routers.mastodon-web.entrypoints=websecure"
      - "traefik.http.routers.mastodon-web.tls.certresolver=letsencrypt"

You might recognize these labels, so I will just decribe in a few words what they do:

  • We want the service web to be accessible through Traefik
  • We create a router mastodon-web with a rule that lets the router react on requests coming in on your <DOMAIN>
  • The router should only listen on the entrypoint websecure (port 443)
    • Requests to http://<DOMAIN> (without s) are redirected to the websecure endpoint by our HTTPS redirection router and middleware defined in the traefik labels section, remember?
  • If not already existing, we want to use the certificate resolver letsencrypt to acquire or renew the TLS certificate
      - "traefik.enable=true"
      - "traefik.http.routers.mastodon-streaming.rule=(Host(`<DOMAIN>`) && PathPrefix(`/api/v1/streaming`))"
      - "traefik.http.routers.mastodon-streaming.entrypoints=websecure"
      - "traefik.http.routers.mastodon-streaming.tls.certresolver=letsencrypt"

For Mastodons streaming service this is very similar, let’s see:

  • We want the service streaming to be accessible through Traefik
  • We create a router mastodon-streaming with a rule that lets the router react on requests coming in on your <DOMAIN> AND have a path that starts with /api/v1/streaming
  • The router should only listen on the entrypoint websecure (port 443)
  • If not already existing, we want to use the certificate resolver letsencrypt to acquire or renew the TLS certificate


I was not quite happy with the assumptions made by Mastodon regarding instance setup. Especially, that they make instance admins go through a hell of nginx configuration. My goal was to make the process of setting up a new Mastodon instance as easy as possible. The solution is the combination of Mastodon with Traefik instead of Nginx and a self-contained docker-compose.yml that sets up everything necessary.

I sincerely hope this guide is useful for other upcoming Mastodon admins or Traefik fans :)