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How to Install and Create a Chat server using Matrix Synapse and Element on Ubuntu 22.04

Matrix is an open standard for decentralized and end-to-end encrypted communication. It is a collection of servers and services that communicate with each other using a standardized API that synchronizes in real time. It uses home servers to store account information and chat history. If one home server goes down, other servers can continue communication without issues due to the nature of decentralization. You can use a Matrix home server hosted by someone else or host your own to maintain control over your data.

In this tutorial, you will learn how to install and create a chat server using Synapse, a home server implementation of Matrix. Element is a Matrix web client built using Matrix React SDK. This will allow you to offer Matrix chat on the web. You can also use the server with any other Matrix client of your choice. We will also be installing Coturn server for enabling Voice and Video calling. The Coturn service is optional if you are not interested in using it.

Prerequisites

  1. A server running Ubuntu 22.04.

  2. A non-sudo user with root privileges.

  3. The uncomplicated Firewall(UFW) is enabled and running.

  4. Fully Qualified Domain Names(FQDN) for Matrix, Element, and Coturn pointing to your server. We will be using matrix.example.com, element.example.com, and coturn.example.com respectively for the three services.

  5. Ensure that everything is updated.

    $ sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade
    

Step 1 – Configure Firewall

Before installing any packages, the first step is configuring the firewall to open ports for HTTP, HTTPS, and Synapse.

Check the status of the firewall.

$ sudo ufw status

You should see something like the following.

Status: active

To                         Action      From
--                         ------      ----
OpenSSH                    ALLOW       Anywhere
OpenSSH (v6)               ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)

Open the HTTP, HTTPS, and Synapse ports in the firewall.

$ sudo ufw allow 8448
$ sudo ufw allow http
$ sudo ufw allow https

Check the status again to confirm.

$ sudo ufw status
Status: active

To                         Action      From
--                         ------      ----
OpenSSH                    ALLOW       Anywhere                  
8448                       ALLOW       Anywhere                  
80/tcp                     ALLOW       Anywhere                  
443                        ALLOW       Anywhere                  
OpenSSH (v6)               ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)             
8448 (v6)                  ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)             
80/tcp (v6)                ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)             
443 (v6)                   ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)

Step 2 – Install Matrix Synapse

Add the Matrix GPG key.

$ sudo wget -O /usr/share/keyrings/matrix-org-archive-keyring.gpg https://packages.matrix.org/debian/matrix-org-archive-keyring.gpg

Add the Matrix APT repository.

$ echo "deb [signed-by=/usr/share/keyrings/matrix-org-archive-keyring.gpg] https://packages.matrix.org/debian/ $(lsb_release -cs) main" | sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/matrix-org.list

Update the system repository list.

$ sudo apt update

Install Matrix Synapse.

$ sudo apt install matrix-synapse-py3

During the installation, you will be asked for the server name, which forms part of your Matrix ID. Enter your Matrix domain name in place of it. This will act as your homeserver address.

You will also be asked whether or not you wish to send anonymized statistics about your homeserver back to Matrix. Type N to refuse.

You can change these settings later in the file /etc/matrix-synapse/conf.d/server_name.yaml.

Matrix Synapse’s service is enabled and started during installation. Check the status of the service.

$ sudo systemctl status matrix-synapse
? matrix-synapse.service - Synapse Matrix homeserver
     Loaded: loaded (/lib/systemd/system/matrix-synapse.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled)
     Active: active (running) since Mon 2022-09-26 09:38:38 UTC; 1min 19s ago
    Process: 12926 ExecStartPre=/opt/venvs/matrix-synapse/bin/python -m synapse.app.homeserver --config-path=/etc/matrix-synapse/homeserver.yaml --config-path=/etc/matrix-synapse/conf.d/ --generate-key>   Main PID: 12931 (python)
      Tasks: 8 (limit: 2238)
     Memory: 87.3M
        CPU: 4.180s
     CGroup: /system.slice/matrix-synapse.service
             ??12931 /opt/venvs/matrix-synapse/bin/python -m synapse.app.homeserver --config-path=/etc/matrix-synapse/homeserver.yaml --config-path=/etc/matrix-synapse/conf.d/

Sep 26 09:38:36 matrix matrix-synapse[12926]: Generating signing key file /etc/matrix-synapse/homeserver.signing.key
Sep 26 09:38:37 matrix matrix-synapse[12931]: This server is configured to use 'matrix.org' as its trusted key server via the
Sep 26 09:38:37 matrix matrix-synapse[12931]: 'trusted_key_servers' config option. 'matrix.org' is a good choice for a key
Sep 26 09:38:37 matrix matrix-synapse[12931]: server since it is long-lived, stable and trusted. However, some admins may
Sep 26 09:38:37 matrix matrix-synapse[12931]: wish to use another server for this purpose.
Sep 26 09:38:37 matrix matrix-synapse[12931]: To suppress this warning and continue using 'matrix.org', admins should set
Sep 26 09:38:37 matrix matrix-synapse[12931]: 'suppress_key_server_warning' to 'true' in homeserver.yaml.
Sep 26 09:38:37 matrix matrix-synapse[12931]: --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sep 26 09:38:38 matrix matrix-synapse[12931]: Config is missing macaroon_secret_key
Sep 26 09:38:38 matrix systemd[1]: Started Synapse Matrix homeserver.

Step 3 – Install and Configure PostgreSQL

We will use PostgreSQL’s official APT repository to install. Run the following command to add the PostgreSQL GPG key.

$ curl https://www.postgresql.org/media/keys/ACCC4CF8.asc | gpg --dearmor | sudo tee /usr/share/keyrings/postgresql-key.gpg >/dev/null

Add the APT repository to your sources list.

$ sudo sh -c 'echo "deb [signed-by=/usr/share/keyrings/postgresql-key.gpg arch=amd64] http://apt.postgresql.org/pub/repos/apt $(lsb_release -cs)-pgdg main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/pgdg.list'

Update the system repository.

$ sudo apt update

Now, you can install PostgreSQL using the following command.

$ sudo apt install postgresql postgresql-contrib

Check the status of the PostgreSQL service.

$ sudo systemctl status postgresql
? postgresql.service - PostgreSQL RDBMS
     Loaded: loaded (/lib/systemd/system/postgresql.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled)
     Active: active (exited) since Mon 2022-09-26 09:41:36 UTC; 2min 14s ago
    Process: 15586 ExecStart=/bin/true (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)
   Main PID: 15586 (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)
        CPU: 1ms

Sep 26 09:41:36 matrix systemd[1]: Starting PostgreSQL RDBMS...
Sep 26 09:41:36 matrix systemd[1]: Finished PostgreSQL RDBMS.

You can see that the service is enabled and running by default.

Log in to the postgres system account.

$ sudo -su postgres

Create a new database user and a database for PostgreSQL.

$ createuser --pwprompt synapse
$ createdb --encoding=UTF8 --locale=C --template=template0 --owner=synapse synapse

Exit the postgres account.

$ exit

Step 4 – Install Nginx

For the production environment, it is recommended to run the Synapse server using an Nginx proxy.

Ubuntu 22.04 ships with an older version of Nginx. To install the latest version, you need to download the official Nginx repository.

Import Nginx’s signing key.

$ curl https://nginx.org/keys/nginx_signing.key | gpg --dearmor \
| sudo tee /usr/share/keyrings/nginx-archive-keyring.gpg >/dev/null

Add the repository for Nginx’s stable version.

$ echo "deb [signed-by=/usr/share/keyrings/nginx-archive-keyring.gpg arch=amd64] \
http://nginx.org/packages/ubuntu `lsb_release -cs` nginx" \
| sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/nginx.list

Update the system repositories.

$ sudo apt update

Install Nginx.

$ sudo apt install nginx

Verify the installation.

$ nginx -v
nginx version: nginx/1.22.0

Start the Nginx server.

$ sudo systemctl start nginx

Step 5 – Install SSL

We need to install Certbot to generate the SSL certificate. You can either install Certbot using Ubuntu’s repository or grab the latest version using the Snapd tool. We will be using the Snapd version.

Ubuntu 22.04 comes with Snapd installed by default. Run the following commands to ensure that your version of Snapd is up to date.

$ sudo snap install core
$ sudo snap refresh core

Install Certbot.

$ sudo snap install --classic certbot

Use the following command to ensure that the Certbot command can be run by creating a symbolic link to the /usr/bin directory.

$ sudo ln -s /snap/bin/certbot /usr/bin/certbot

Run the following command to generate an SSL Certificate.

$ sudo certbot certonly --nginx --agree-tos --no-eff-email --staple-ocsp --preferred-challenges http -m [email protected] -d matrix.example.com

The above command will download a certificate to the /etc/letsencrypt/live/matrix.example.com directory on your server.

Generate a Diffie-Hellman group certificate.

$ sudo openssl dhparam -dsaparam -out /etc/ssl/certs/dhparam.pem 4096

To check whether the SSL renewal is working fine, do a dry run of the process.

$ sudo certbot renew --dry-run

If you see no errors, you are all set. Your certificate will renew automatically.

Step 6 – Configure Matrix Synapse

You can configure the Matrix server via the file /etc/matrix-synapse/homeserver.yaml but it is not recommended since it gets overwritten after every upgrade. For production use, you should place configuration files in the /etc/matrix-synapse/conf.d folder.

Synapse’s installation created two configuration files in the /etc/matrix-synapse/conf.d folder.

$ ls /etc/matrix-synapse/conf.d
report_stats.yaml  server_name.yaml

Create a new configuration file for the database and open it for editing.

$ sudo nano /etc/matrix-synapse/conf.d/database.yaml

Paste the following lines in the editor. Replace the your-password field with the PostgreSQL user password you created in step 3. Replace localhost with the IP address of your server, if you are hosting the database elsewhere.

database:
  name: psycopg2
  args:
    user: synapse
    password: 'your-password'
    database: synapsedb
    host: localhost
    cp_min: 5
    cp_max: 10

Save the file by pressing Ctrl + X and entering Y when prompted.

Create a secret registration key. The key should be secured because it will allow anyone to register a new user, even if registration is disabled.

$ echo "registration_shared_secret: '$(cat /dev/urandom | tr -cd '[:alnum:]' | fold -w 256 | head -n 1)'" | sudo tee /etc/matrix-synapse/conf.d/registration_shared_secret.yaml

By default, Synapse enables presence indicators that show if a person is online. It can cause high CPU usage, therefore you can disable it. Create a new configuration file for the same.

$ sudo nano /etc/matrix-synapse/conf.d/presence.yaml

Paste the following line in the editor.

presence:
  enabled: false

Save the file by pressing Ctrl + X and entering Y when prompted.

Restart the Synapse service to apply the changes.

Create a new matrix user. You will be asked for your username and password. Since this is the first user we are creating, type yes when asked whether to make the user an administrator.

$ register_new_matrix_user -c /etc/matrix-synapse/conf.d/registration_shared_secret.yaml http://localhost:8008
New user localpart [navjot]: navjot
Password: 
Confirm password: 
Make admin [no]: yes
Sending registration request...
Success!

If you want to open public registration, create a new configuration file.

$ sudo nano /etc/matrix-synapse/conf.d/registration.yaml

Paste the following lines in it.

enable_registration: true

By default, Synapse does not allow registrations without email verification. To enable email verification, paste the following lines.

registrations_require_3pid:
  - email

email:
  smtp_host: mail.example.com
  smtp_port: 587

  # If mail server has no authentication, skip these 2 lines
  smtp_user: '[email protected]'
  smtp_pass: 'password'

  # Optional, require encryption with STARTTLS
  require_transport_security: true

  app_name: 'HowtoForge Example Chat'  # defines value for %(app)s in notif_from and email subject
  notif_from: "%(app)s <[email protected]>"

To disable email verification, paste the following line instead.

enable_registration_without_verification: true

Save the file by pressing Ctrl + X and entering Y when prompted.

Restart Synapse to apply the configuration.

$ sudo systemctl restart matrix-synapse

Step 7 – Configure Nginx

Open the file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf for editing.

$ sudo nano /etc/nginx/nginx.conf

Add the following line before the line include /etc/nginx/conf.d/*.conf;.

server_names_hash_bucket_size  64;

Save the file by pressing Ctrl + X and entering Y when prompted.

Create and open the file /etc/nginx/conf.d/synapse.conf for editing.

$ sudo nano /etc/nginx/conf.d/synapse.conf

Paste the following code in it.

# enforce HTTPS
server {
    # Client port
    listen 80;
    listen [::]:80;
    server_name matrix.example.com;
    return 301 https://$host$request_uri;
}

server {
    server_name matrix.example.com;

    # Client port
    listen 443 ssl http2;
    listen [::]:443 ssl http2;

    # Federation port
    listen 8448 ssl http2 default_server;
    listen [::]:8448 ssl http2 default_server;

    access_log  /var/log/nginx/synapse.access.log;
    error_log   /var/log/nginx/synapse.error.log;

    # TLS configuration
    ssl_certificate /etc/letsencrypt/live/matrix.example.com/fullchain.pem;
    ssl_certificate_key /etc/letsencrypt/live/matrix.example.com/privkey.pem;
    ssl_trusted_certificate /etc/letsencrypt/live/matrix.example.com/chain.pem;
    ssl_protocols TLSv1.2 TLSv1.3;
    ssl_prefer_server_ciphers on;

    location ~ ^(/_matrix|/_synapse/client) {
            proxy_pass http://localhost:8008;
            proxy_http_version 1.1;

            proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $remote_addr;
            proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-Proto $scheme;
            proxy_set_header Host $host;

            # Nginx by default only allows file uploads up to 1M in size
            # Increase client_max_body_size to match max_upload_size defined in homeserver.yaml
            client_max_body_size 50M;
    }
}

Save the file by pressing Ctrl + X and entering Y when prompted once finished.

Verify the Nginx configuration file syntax.

$ sudo nginx -t
nginx: the configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf syntax is ok
nginx: configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf test is successful

Restart the Nginx service.

$ sudo systemctl restart nginx

Step 8 – Install Coturn

You will need to install a Traversal Using Relays around NAT (TURN) server to enable voice and video calling. For this purpose, we will install the Coturn package. If you don’t need this functionality, you can skip this step.

Ubuntu 22.04 doesn’t ship with the Coturn package because of a bug issue that has been since resolved. However, there is another way to install Coturn using an unofficial repository. Optionally you can also use Docker to install Coturn but we won’t be using that method since it is out of the scope of this tutorial.

Add the unofficial Coturn repository.

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntuhandbook1/coturn

Install Coturn.

$ sudo apt install coturn

Open the TURN and UDP ports.

$ sudo ufw allow 3478
$ sudo ufw allow 5349
$ sudo ufw allow 49152:65535/udp

Generate an SSL certificate for Turn (turn.example.com).

$ sudo certbot certonly --nginx -d turn.example.com

Generate an authentication secret and save it in the configuration file.

$ echo "static-auth-secret=$(cat /dev/urandom | tr -cd '[:alnum:]' | fold -w 256 | head -n 1)" | sudo tee /etc/turnserver.conf

Open the configuration file for editing.

$ sudo nano /etc/turnserver.conf

Paste the following lines in it below the authentication secret.

use-auth-secret
realm=turn.example.com
cert=/etc/letsencrypt/live/turn.example.com/fullchain.pem
pkey=/etc/letsencrypt/live/turn.example.com/privkey.pem

# VoIP is UDP, no need for TCP
no-tcp-relay

# Do not allow traffic to private IP ranges
no-multicast-peers
denied-peer-ip=0.0.0.0-0.255.255.255
denied-peer-ip=10.0.0.0-10.255.255.255
denied-peer-ip=100.64.0.0-100.127.255.255
denied-peer-ip=127.0.0.0-127.255.255.255
denied-peer-ip=169.254.0.0-169.254.255.255
denied-peer-ip=172.16.0.0-172.31.255.255
denied-peer-ip=192.0.0.0-192.0.0.255
denied-peer-ip=192.0.2.0-192.0.2.255
denied-peer-ip=192.88.99.0-192.88.99.255
denied-peer-ip=192.168.0.0-192.168.255.255
denied-peer-ip=198.18.0.0-198.19.255.255
denied-peer-ip=198.51.100.0-198.51.100.255
denied-peer-ip=203.0.113.0-203.0.113.255
denied-peer-ip=240.0.0.0-255.255.255.255
denied-peer-ip=::1
denied-peer-ip=64:ff9b::-64:ff9b::ffff:ffff
denied-peer-ip=::ffff:0.0.0.0-::ffff:255.255.255.255
denied-peer-ip=100::-100::ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff
denied-peer-ip=2001::-2001:1ff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff
denied-peer-ip=2002::-2002:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff
denied-peer-ip=fc00::-fdff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff
denied-peer-ip=fe80::-febf:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff

# Limit number of sessions per user
user-quota=12
# Limit total number of sessions
total-quota=1200

Save the file by pressing Ctrl + X and entering Y when prompted.

Restart Coturn to apply the configuration.

$ sudo systemctl restart coturn

Create a new Synapse configuration file for Coturn.

$ sudo nano /etc/matrix-synapse/conf.d/turn.yaml

Paste the following lines in it. Replace turn_shared_secret value with the value of static-auth-secret from the \etc\turnserver.conf file.

turn_uris: [ "turn:turn.example.com?transport=udp", "turn:turn.example.com?transport=tcp" ]
turn_shared_secret: 'static-auth-secret'
turn_user_lifetime: 86400000
turn_allow_guests: True

Save the file by pressing Ctrl + X and entering Y when prompted.

Restart Synapse to apply the changes.

$ sudo systemctl restart matrix-synapse

Step 9 – Access Matrix

You can access Matrix Chat using Element’s web client at https://app.element.io. Click the Sign in button to proceed.

Click the Edit link under Homeserver. Enter matrix.example.com as your homeserver.

If the client detects your homeserver correctly, the boundary and the text will become green colored else it will be shown in red. Click Continue to proceed.

Click the Sign in button to log in. You will be asked to create a secure and encrypted backup.

Select the Enter a Security Phrase option to create a security phrase that will be required every time you log in. Click Continue to proceed.

Enter a security phrase and click the Continue button to proceed. You will be asked to confirm it again on the next screen.

Enter the phrase again and click Continue to proceed.

You will be given a set of security keys that you can use if you forget your security phrase. Click the Download button to save them.

Click the Continue button to proceed.

You will be asked for your account password. Enter the password and click the Continue button to finish setting up the encrypted backup.

We created a group chat room named Howtoforge as shown above.

Step 10 – Install Element

Install jq package to install JSON text processor.

$ sudo apt install jq

Create a directory for Element.

$ sudo mkdir -p /var/www/element

Create a new file for grabbing the latest Element release.

$ sudo nano /var/www/element/update.sh

Add the following lines to it.

#!/bin/sh
set -e

install_location="/var/www/element"
latest="$(curl -s https://api.github.com/repos/vector-im/element-web/releases/latest | jq -r .tag_name)"

cd "$install_location"

[ ! -d "archive" ] && mkdir -p "archive"
[ -d "archive/element-${latest}" ] && rm -r "archive/element-${latest}"
[ -f "archive/element-${latest}.tar.gz" ] && rm "archive/element-${latest}.tar.gz"

wget "https://github.com/vector-im/element-web/releases/download/${latest}/element-${latest}.tar.gz" -P "archive"
tar xf "archive/element-${latest}.tar.gz" -C "archive"

[ -L "${install_location}/current" ] && rm "${install_location}/current"
ln -sf "${install_location}/archive/element-${latest}" "${install_location}/current"
ln -sf "${install_location}/config.json" "${install_location}/current/config.json"

Save the file by pressing Ctrl + X and entering Y when prompted.

Make the file executable.

$ sudo chmod +x /var/www/element/update.sh

Run the script to download Element.

$ sudo /var/www/element/update.sh

Step 11 – Configure Element

Copy the same element configuration file.

$ sudo cp /var/www/element/current/config.sample.json /var/www/element/config.json

Open the configuration file for editing.

$ sudo nano /var/www/element/config.json

Find the following lines.

"m.homeserver": {
    "base_url": "https://matrix-client.matrix.org",
    "server_name": "matrix.org"
},

Change the default Matrix homeserver address to your homeserver and remove the server_name variable.

"m.homeserver": {
    "base_url": "https://matrix.example.com",
    "server_name": "matrix.element.com"  
},

If you want to use your own name instead of Element in the website title, change the brand name.

"brand": "Howtoforge Example Chat",

Set the disable_guests variable as true to disallow Guests from using Element.

"disable_guests": true,

Save the file by pressing Ctrl + X and entering Y when prompted.

Generate an SSL certificate for the Element client.

$ sudo certbot certonly --nginx -d element.example.com

Create and open the file /etc/nginx/conf.d/element.conf for editing.

$ sudo nano /etc/nginx/conf.d/element.conf

Paste the following lines in it.

server {
    listen 80;
    listen [::]:80;
    server_name element.example.com;
    return 301 https://$host$request_uri;
}

server {
    listen 443 ssl http2;
    listen [::]:443 ssl http2;

    server_name element.example.com;

    root /var/www/element/current;
    index index.html;

    access_log  /var/log/nginx/element.access.log;
    error_log   /var/log/nginx/element.error.log;

    add_header Referrer-Policy "strict-origin" always;
    add_header X-Content-Type-Options "nosniff" always;
    add_header X-Frame-Options "SAMEORIGIN" always;

    # TLS configuration
    ssl_certificate /etc/letsencrypt/live/element.example.com/fullchain.pem;
    ssl_certificate_key /etc/letsencrypt/live/element.example.com/privkey.pem;
    ssl_trusted_certificate /etc/letsencrypt/live/element.example.com/chain.pem;
    ssl_protocols TLSv1.2 TLSv1.3;
    ssl_prefer_server_ciphers on;
}

Save the file by pressing Ctrl + X and entering Y when prompted.

Verify the Nginx configuration file syntax.

$ sudo nginx -t
nginx: the configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf syntax is ok
nginx: configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf test is successful

Restart the Nginx service.

$ sudo systemctl restart nginx

You can access the Element client via the URL https://element.example.com in your browser. Log in and you will be taken to the app dashboard.

Conclusion

This concludes our tutorial on installing Matrix Synapse Chat server along with Coturn and Element web client using Nginx as a proxy server. If you have any questions, post them in the comments below.


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