MonthFebruary 2016

WebHostScene is live!

WebHostScene is live! It’s a website I started recently when I found myself needing to write a tutorial and to write about web hosting. There’s not too many content on it yet but that will definitely change over time.

Having WebHostScene means I’ll obviously spend less time blogging here. No worries though for those few of you that do like to read my occasional ramblings. They will still appear ever now and then!

For now, please enjoy WebHostScene and I’d love to get your feedback on it!

Getting started with LowEndSpirit

A couple of years ago we saw an interesting new concept pop up: LowEndSpirit! An IPv6-only VPS (with 20 IPv4 NAT ports) for just €3/year! That’s cheap beyond anything anybody had ever seen at that time and it did actually change the market (for the good and for the bad).

The idea for LowEndSpirit came from Anthony from Inception Hosting. He wanted to revive the original LowEnd spirit which was the reason for LowEndBox (and later LowEndTalk) to start. While these sites still exist, there is hardly anything left of the original spirit: doing as much as you can with very little. At that time the price limit was set at $7 and the VPS you could get for that had about 64MB RAM, some disk space, and some bandwidth. Not much, but enough to run WordPress on if you tried hard enough.

With these small LowEndSpirit boxes (priced very competitively) the intention was to bring back that spirit. LowEndSpirit grew from one location with one provider to 17 locations world-wide with 5 different providers. LowEndSpirit has become more than a label or a product: it’s a movement.

So what can and can’t I do with a LowEndSpirit VPS? Well, a LowEndSpirit VPS is perfect for a number of things. First and foremost they are great VPN boxes. There’s even an automatic installation and configuration script for it. Other than that there’s a great number of other things you can do with them: run a small web server, create a cluster of servers for different tasks, run TeamSpeak or Mumble, or even build a round-robin or HA cluster. Basically anything that fits the RAM and disk space but doesn’t hammer the CPU.

Things that you are not allowed to do with these is use them for torrents, CPU-intensive applications, tor, a proxy for downloading torrents, sending bulk email, and things like port scanning, (D)DoS, etc.

With that out of the way, let’s get on to this tutorial. This tutorial is here to help you get started with your LowEndSpirit VPS. I hope you have fun!

Before you start (and order)

LowEndSpirit VPS do not come with direct support other than in situations of host node issues and/or billing issues. These VPS require you to be able to diagnose and/or resolve problems yourself, with or without the help of the community and/or Google. There are no backups in place and sometimes not even RAID, meaning that if a host node (or drive) crashes you will have your container re-created and will have to restore data yourself.

If the above puts you off, reconsider buying a LowEndSpirit VPS. These are great machines at great prices, but you have to realize that you get what you pay for and they are not suitable for all uses.

IPv4 & IPv6 connectivity

A LowEndSpirit VPS does not come with a dedicated external IPv4 address. This means you will have to share one with other people, which is similar to what you have to do with some domestic ISPs. This means you can still access your VPS over IPv4, like a VPS with a dedicated external IPv4 address, though it doesn’t work out of the box.

A LowEndSpirit VPS does come with a dedicated IPv6 subnet (which is, ironically, more than most other providers will give you) meaning you don’t have to worry about IPv6 connectivity. In certain locations you even get a /64 subnet, which is the size of the minimum required assignment according to IPv6’s design.

You also get 20 NAT (Network Address Translation) ports, which means that for 20 port numbers the shared external IPv4 address is translated to your internal IPv4 address. The 20 port numbers you have are based on your dedicated internal IPv4 address, according to this schema: the last octet of your internal IPv4 address with 01 to 20 added to the end of it. Here are some examples:

  • 192.168.0.3 has the following port range forwarded: 301 – 320
  • 192.168.0.13 has the following port range forwarded: 1301 – 1320
  • 10.10.10.33 has the following port range forwarded: 3301 – 3320
  • 192.168.0.133 has the following port range forwarded: 13301 – 13320
  • 10.10.10.7 has the following port range forwarded: 701 – 720
  • 192.168.0.17 has the following port range forwarded: 1701 – 1720
  • 10.10.10.221 has the following port range forwarded: 22101 – 22120

There’s one additional “special” port that you can use, which is number 21. This is set up (by default) to be the SSH port so you can log in via IPv4 right away. The schema is the same as the above. So if you internal IPv4 address is 10.10.10.33, your SSH port will be 3321.

You can use these ports freely, meaning you can configure any application to use them and then access that application over IPv4 using the shared external IPv4 address. Be careful with changing ports though, because if you change a port number it may be changed for IPv4 and IPv6, where your intention may only be to have an additional port number available for IPv4 access!

Great Firewall of China

A common occurrence is that people from China cannot connect to a Japan-based LowEndSpirit VPS because of the Great Firewall of China blocking your requests. This may apply to other locations as well. So if you live in China, be sure to check whether you are able to access a certain location before you order (or be aware of the fact that you may need another server to be able to connect to your LES VPS).

If you have issues connecting to your VPS it’s a good option to ask on the forums or in the LowEndSpirit IRC channel on FreeNode. There are always people around that are willing to help out and diagnose the issue.

Logging in for the first time

In the welcome email for your LowEndSpirit VPS there are several important things to remember, but only after having read the welcome email in full. Failing to do so may cost you money or may result in you ending up in an undesired situation due to different expectations.

So, after having read the welcome email in full, here’s some of the important information in there:

  • The login information to the control panel (usually SolusVM)
  • The list of external IPv4 addresses mapped to internal IPv4 ranges
  • IPv4 login information (in case you want to get started right away)

Logging in straight away

If you selected the right Operating System (OS) during ordering and remember the root password you entered there, you can log in straight away using IPv4. In this example I will use the external IPv4 address 192.0.2.1 and assume my forwarded port range is 3301 to 3320 (meaning I can connect via SSH using port 3321):

ssh [email protected] -p 3321

This will ask you to accept the server’s SSH fingerprint (type ‘yes’) there and then ask you for your root password. Fill that one out and you should be logged in! Welcome to your LowEndSpirit VPS!

You can now skip to ‘Configuring IPv6’.

Setting up an OS using SolusVM

If you haven’t selected the right OS during ordering or want to change it, you’ll have to log in to SolusVM to reinstall your OS. The login information should be in your welcome email. Open the URL mentioned in there and log in with the username and password provided. You should now get an overview of your servers:

Click on the server you just ordered, which will get you an overview of the server’s details including all available options:

To reinstall the OS, click the ‘Reinstall OS’ button which should give you a list of available OS:

Select one and click ‘Reinstall’. Now’s the time to grab some coffee, as it may take up to 10 minutes for the OS to be reinstalled. Once done, you can log in to your VPS as described above in ‘Logging in straight away’ and then move on to the next section.

Getting to know your IPv6 address

By default you get a randomly selected IPv6 address, so there’s really not any setting up to do here other than grabbing the address from SolusVM. You may also customize it, but that’s no requirement.

To find out your pre-configured IPv6 via SolusVM (you may also do it from the CLI, but that commands for that may vary between Linux distributions) you can click on the ‘Networking’ tab on the VPS detail page in SolusVM, which will show you the following:

Click on the blue ‘Manage’ button behind the IPv6 subnet to go to the detail page for that subnet:

This is where your pre-configured IPv6 address is listed. You can use that to log in to your VPS as well, if you have IPv6. There’s no need to customize the port for that one. So, say your IPv6 address is …, you can use the following command to SSH into your VPS (using 2001:db8::ed4c as an example address):

ssh [email protected]:db8::ed4c

Things to do first

Once you have logged in to your LowEndSpirit VPS for the first time, there’s two things you should (or need) to do first:

  1. Change your root password (or set up sudo)
  2. Update your server

How to update your server depends on which Linux distribution you used. I’m going to give an example for Debian-based distributions and CentOS-based distributions.

Debian-based distributions

To update your Debian-based distribution (including Debian, Ubuntu), run the following commands:

apt-get update
apt-get dist-upgrade

The first command updates the package index. The second command actually performs the update. You will be asked to confirm after running the second command. Press enter to confirm the update.

After this update it is recommended to reboot your VPS by running:

reboot

That’s it, you server should now be up-to-date!

CentOS-based distributions

To update your CentOS-based distribution (including CentOS, Fedora), run the following command:

yum update

You will be asked to confirm the update. Press ‘Y’ and then press enter to confirm the update.

After this update it is recommended to reboot your VPS by running:

reboot

That’s it, you server should now be up-to-date!

In the above examples I’m assuming a certain level of knowledge. If you are completely new to this it is best to look up how updating your distribution works in your distribution’s documentation.

Setting up a domain name

This part only works on LowEndSpirit VPS from Inception Hosting. For other LowEndSpirit VPS providers, please see this thread.

Because your VPS does not have a dedicated external IPv4 address, your server is not (automatically) getting requests on all ports over IPv4. It only receives requests on those ports you have been assigned. This means that if you want to set up a web server and point a domain name to it, it will not (automatically) end up on your server given that port 80 (for HTTP) is not forwarded to your internal IPv4 address.

Luckily, there’s a solution for this. LowEndSpirit providers deploy HAproxy to forward requests based on a domain name to the right port on the right VPS. You can configure domain names you would like to have tied to your VPS in SolusVM.

On the VPS detail page there’s a tab labeled ‘Proxy Domains’. This is there you can add domain named you would like to have “linked” to your VPS. Once a domain name is set up here, you can use it on your web server on LowEndSpirit VPS like on any other server.

Here’s a screenshot of how this works:

You can add and remove domains here easily. It could take a couple of minutes for a domain to become functional.

Support for SSL is yet to be set up, so for now (if you want to use SSL) it cannot be done using port 443.

A note on the chosen OS

When you pick an OS for your LowEndSpirit VPS you are likely going to end up with either a Debian-based or CentOS-based Linux distribution. Some only offer the choice of three: CentOS, Debian, and Ubuntu (Debian-based). Others may also offer OpenSUSE or other distributions.

A good thing to know about Debian and CentOS-based distributions is that they come with their own package manager. As can be seen above, the update commands for both were different.

Debian uses the APT package manager which uses .deb files. CentOS uses the YUM package manager which uses .rpm files. You’ll likely not notice the difference of these file types when using the package managers, but they may behave quite differently. So be aware that when you run a CentOS-based distribution you will have to use yum and if you run an Debian-based distribution you will have to use apt (or apt-get).

It is good to know that between Debian 7 and Debian 8 and between CentOS 6 and CentOS 7, a major change was made on how the OS works. Whereas Debian 7 and CentOS 6 uses the init system to start the OS and manage processes, in Debian 8 and CentOS 7 both distributions use systemd. While this shouldn’t change much performance-wise (if any, it could be a little bit quicker), the commands used to restart processes is different.

Whereas before (on Debian 7 and CentOS 6) you would run the following command to restart NGINX (for example):

/etc/init.d/nginx restart

or

service nginx restart

On Debian 8 and CentOS 7 you would run the following command:

systemctl restart nginx

Please take the above into account when using your LowEndSpirit VPS and especially when looking for help (be it on Google or the LowEndSpirit forums).

Need help?

If you run into any issues with your LowEndSpirit VPS do not file a ticket! Tickets are only a last resort since LowEndSpirit is an extremely-low-support product.

First thing you could do is perform a search on the LowEndSpirit forums regarding your issue. The solution is not always in the first result, so take your time for this. If that doesn’t get you a solution, try Google. Again, it’s not always right there. It doesn’t hurt to peek around a bit.

If searching doesn’t get you a solution, considering posting on the LowEndSpirit forums. Be as descriptive as you can so people don’t have to ask questions as a first response but may come up with possible solutions. Always be kind on these forums as people volunteer their time.

If that fails, consider asking around on the LowEndSpirit IRC channel on FreeNode or other internet fora. Sites like vpsBoard, LowEndTalk, and WebHostingTalk have a lot of users that may be able to help you out.

If you are absolutely 100% certain there is a host node issue that cannot be resolved by yourself you could file a ticket with the LowEndSpirit provider you are a customer with.

The above may sound a bit harsh to those new to LowEndSpirit, but this service may sometimes be ran at a loss or break-even. This means that any time spend on support is very costly and you should only ask that from your provider if there’s no other way to resolve it.

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