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Starting a Tilde Community for Fun and the Learnings

Published: May 19, 2022

Like most good projects, this one started with a name: garbash.

The name was my friend Anthony's idea. It came out of a PR review as a self-deprecating take on his bash code (which actually turned out to be mine).

We laughed and I realized the domain was for sale, so I snagged it and resolved to find its purpose later.

That purpose came in the form of starting a small tilde community together: garbash.com. For those unfamiliar, a tilde is a public UNIX system, usually combining external services (web hosting) with a small internal social network (local only IRC, talk(1), etc). It's a harkening back to the days when UNIX was a multi-user system-- a fun escape from the complexities and ephemerality of modern container based infrastructure.

In this blog post, I don't want to go too much into the technical setup (I wrote detailed notes and published all the configs). Instead I want to write about the experience creating it.

I wasn't sure I'd ever write this post. Originally I thought I'd keep garbash separate from my personal portfolio. There's a certain feeling of freedom when coding, writing, or self-hosting services without association to a career or professional life (something that has touched this blog more recently). I imagine it's how writers feel when using a nom de plume.

But ultimately, I spent days on garbash, and it's a project that I'm really proud of. It's something I do want associated with me, and above all I want to broadcast it in hopes that someone finds the collective research, configs, or notes valuable.

Reflections on Success

On the outside, garbash might look like a failure or abandoned side project. A "budding tilde" with only two users--the admins. And while it's true that we never quite got around to making it a larger community, garbash was, to me, a massive success.

The simplest win was that I got to explore new technologies. Having a sandbox to set up services I've always wanted to use proved invaluable in terms of learning. The best example of this is email; almost every hackernews comment will tell you not to self host it. Don't even try! You'll forget some DNS record and big senders will mark your domain as bad. You'll never be able to reach their inboxes. Well, with garbash, I was able to say "so what" and set up email addresses with OpenSMTPD fully featured with DKIM signing and proper SPF and DMARC records.

Better yet, the act of pairing and explaining services I've set up before like git hosting via stagit(1) or a Wireguard VPN tunnel for internal services solidified my mental model of the technologies. Writing scripts together to automate things like setting up users or Wireguard key management was both fun and a chance to share coding tips and tricks.

But best of all, I came away from garbash with a stronger friendship. We set up an IRC server expecting it to be the hub of the network. Instead it became our preferred way to chat just the two of us about life and tech.

We may still find friends who want to join, but if we don't that's OK; as a project it's been one of my favorites. To Anthony--thanks for all the good times pairing and for agreeing to take on such an out-there project.


If there's one takeaway from this post, it's not just to try self-hosting your services--find a friend to set them up with you and learn from each other.

And of course feel free to use what we wrote as a starting place--it's all FOSS!