Dedicated Server HOWTO

This is a step-by-step instruction guide to setting up your own Drawpile server on a cheap cloud Linux server.

The following knowledge is assumed:

  • Basic Linux command line
  • How to connect to a server using SSH
  • How to use a text editor in Linux

Step 1. Get a (virtual) server

First, you will need an actual server to run the server software on. Drawpile-srv is not very demanding, so a tiny $5/month server from Linode or Digital Ocean or any other cloud VPS provider will do just fine. You can also use a physical machine at home (even a Raspberry Pi!) but in this case you will need to ensure your Internet connection is up to the task.

When creating the server, you must choose which Linux distribution to use. In this tutorial, I will use Debian 9 (Stretch).

Tip: before renting a real server, you can practice by downloading Debian and installing it on virtual machine like VirtualBox. Set your VirtualBox machine's network mode to Bridged Adapter so it will get an IP address on your network for easy access.

There is one thing I strongly recommend you to do first before anything else, and that is disable password based SSH logins. Instead, set up and use SSH-keys. Your cloud service provider likely has good tutorials you can follow.

If there is just one thing you do to secure your server, do this. There are bots constantly scanning the Internet for servers with weak passwords. If you don't secure your server, you will get hacked.

Step 2. Install Docker

Docker is the easiest way to run the latest version of drawpile-srv.

First, log in as root and run the following commands to install Docker:

apt install apt-transport-https ca-certificates curl gnupg2 software-properties-common
curl -fsSL | apt-key add -
add-apt-repository "deb [arch=amd64] $(lsb_release -cs) stable"
apt update
apt install docker-ce

Step 3. Start the server

Now that you have Docker installed, let's try running drawpile-srv. Try this first:

docker run --rm -it -p 27750:27750 callaa/drawpile-srv:2.1

If everything works, it should download the latest 2.1 series server and run it. It should print out something like this:

Started listening on port 27750 at address

Give it a try! Start drawpile and try hosting a session. Select the remote server option and enter your server's IP address. Tada! You have your very own Drawpile server on the Internet!

Now, this is not the way you probably want to run the server, because right now it's using the default settings and the server will shut down when you close your terminal. Instead, let's have Docker manage the server for us.

The command to start the server with all the bells and whistles is pretty long, so it's a good idea to put it in a script. Open a text editor and copy & paste the following there:

docker run -dt --name drawpile-server \
    -p 27750:27750 -p 27780:27780 \
    -v dpsessions:/home/drawpile \
    --restart always \
    callaa/drawpile-srv:2.1.4 \
    --sessions /home/drawpile/sessions \
    --database /home/drawpile/config.db \
    --web-admin-port 27780 \
    --web-admin-access all

A line by line explanation of the above:

docker run -dt --name drawpile-server

This line creates and runs a docker container, giving it the name drawpile-server

-p 27750:27750 -p 27780:27780

These two arguments publish the ports 27750 (Drawpile's default port) and 27780 (the port we select as the web-admin port,) allowing connections from outside the container.

-v dpsessions:/home/drawpile

This creates (if it doesn't exist already) a volume named dpsessions and mounts it at the path /home/drawpile inside the container. Without this, all settings and saved sessions would disappear when you delete the container.

--restart always

This instructs the Docker daemon to restart the drawpile-server container if it stops.


Use drawpile-srv version 2.1.4 from Docker Hub as the base image for the container. Until now, all parameters were instructions to Docker. From here on, the rest of the parameters will be passed to drawpile-srv.

--sessions /home/drawpile/sessions

Use file backed sessions and store them in /home/drawpile/sessions folder. This folder is in the dpsessions volume we just mounted.

--database /home/drawpile/config.db

Use a configuration database and store it in this path. This will also be stored in the volume. Another option is to use a configuration file, but you will have to write it yourself. Using the configuration database allows you to change your server settings using the remote admin tool.

--web-admin-port 27780

This enables the web admin API and exposes it on port 27780. (Notice that we published this port earlier to give outside access to it.

--web-admin-access all

Allow access to the web admin from all addresses. This is required when running the server with Docker.
Note: with these settings, everyone on the Internet has full access to your web admin! We'll see how we can limit access next.

Save this file as and run it by typing:


You should now be able to connect to your server using Drawpile. Give it a try! Try the admin GUI too. Open drawpile-srv, right click on the tray icon and select "Remote". Enter your server's address like and click Ok. You should now be able to change your server settings and monitor the active sessions.

However, we're not done yet! Next, we need to secure our server!

Step 2.1. Extra features

There are a few extra features you might want to enable while you're at it.


If you have a domain name for your server, you can use this parameter to use it for session announcements. Do note that the list server will not accept announcements whose domain name does not match the IP address of the server making the announcement.

--ssl-cert certfile
--ssl-key keyfile

You can generate a self signed certificate to enable secure connections to your server.


Setting this allows you to accept user accounts on your server. If you're a web developer, you can even make your own user account registration system.

Step 3. Securing the server

First, let's stop the server for now:

docker stop drawpile-server

There are two problems with the server configuration: The web admin port is open to the whole world and there is no password!

There are two ways of fixing it.

The easy way

Simply add --web-admin-auth admin:password123 (but don't use this easy to guess username/password pair!) to the end of your container startup script, then restart your container:

docker rm drawpile-server

Now, when you connect with the admin GUI, it asks for the username and password.

The better way

We shouldn't expose the web admin port directly to the Internet. Instead, change the -p 27780 to -p

What this does is that it only allows access to the web admin port from the local host. But how will I access it now? you might wonder. Well, you have two choices.

One is to forward the connection using SSH. This is bit of an advanced use case, so I will not cover it here. (Although this is the most secure way to do it.)

The other is to install a web server and use that to forward the connection. We'll see how we can do that below.

Step 4. Updating your server

Remember to keep your your server up to date. In Debian, this is done with the following pair of commands:

apt update
apt upgrade

However, this will not update drawpile-srv. When a new version is released, check the release notes and the changelog to see if you need to update. Not all new Drawpile releases contain updates to the server.

If you ran drawpile-srv with the name callaa/drawpile-srv:2.1, the latest 2.1 series version at the time was downloaded. To get the latest version, run:

docker pull callaa/drawpile-srv:2.1

You will then need to restart the server:

docker stop drawpile-server
docker rm drawpile-server

Alternatively, you can specify the exact version (e.g. callaa/drawpile-srv:2.1.4) in your startup script. In that case, you don't need to call docker pull explicitly, docker will do it for you. Specifying the full version also allows you easily downgrade your server if the new version is buggy.

Extra 1. Installing nginx

So, you now have a server of your own, so why not run a website on it while you're at it? First, we need to install a web server. The popular ones are Apache and nginx. We'll use nginx in this tutorial.

Install it with the command:

apt install nginx

Try visiting your server's IP address (or domain, if you have one) with a web browser now. You should see the default "Welcome to nginx!" page. Cool, you now have a website!

Try putting an index.html file in the folder /var/www/html.

Now, we can use nginx to add password protection to our server's remote admin interface. Make sure the port is published like this in your startup script:


Then, go to /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/. There should be a file named default there. That's the default nginx site configuration. Open it and add the following to the end of the first server { ... } block:

    location /dpserver/ {
        proxy_redirect default;
        auth_basic "Server admin";
        auth_basic_user_file /etc/nginx/passwords;

This makes it so that when you access your web site at the path /dpserver/, the request is passed to the internal server listening at port 27780, which is drawpile-srv. The auth_basic line sets the the text that is shown in the username/password dialog.

The auth_basic_user_file sets the location of the user/password file. That file is created and modified using a tool named htpasswd. We'll need to install another package to get it, though.

apt install apache2-utils
htpasswd -c /etc/nginx/passwords admin

Restart nginx to make sure the configuration changes take effect:

systemctl restart nginx

Now, if you try accessing the /dpserver/ path on your website, it should ask for a password. So, why do it this way instead of the easy way as shown above? There's a number of advantages:

  • You can have more than one username/password to access the server
  • You can change the username or password without having to restart the server
  • More secure: you need to authenticate before your request even touches drawpile-srv
  • Now that you've gone through the trouble of setting up nginx, you can host a website too!

Extra 2. Installing pubsrvproxy

If you have web server, you can then install pubsrvproxy to show a list of sessions running on your server.

(This section to be expanded in the future)