Using your own domain as a Mastodon handle

It seems that if you have /.well-known/webfinger redirect, you become discoverable on Mastodon using your own domain. E.g. following "" will now actually follow "", I think.

But is there some way to make that address actually present itself as "" and make that be my canonical address? I would like that address to be the one that people find and see. Without running my own full Mastodon instance, I mean.

    Update: No.

My PHP redirector is here, it's pretty simple.

Some searching suggests that "host-meta" and "nodeinfo" URLs might also be involved, but I don't know what those do and it seems to be working without those.

Update: Alas, as noted above, it turns out that doing this is pointless, as you can't make "" be the thing that anyone ever actually sees, unless you run your whole own instance, which takes a colossal amount of effort and resources.


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29 Responses:

  1. jer says:

    I'm reasonably sure you'll need to publish your content as an activityPub feed to make that happen.  You don't need full mastodon, just the activityPub data on your domain.  There are plugins for various CMS options.

    • jer says:

      It might be possible to proxy the feed urls from such that they appear to live on, though...

  2. Juha Autero says:

    This looks like interesting way to find out which parts of ActivityPub don't do webfinger lookup.

  3. Anton says:

    Doesn’t seem possible at the moment, judging by Mastodon’s github

  4. Jonathan says:

    I read recently that a mastodon host can only handle one domain ( For self-hosting, there are other options than Mastodon. Pleroma looks to be a great deal less headache to install and maintain.

    • rjp says:

      gotosocial is even less headache than Pleroma but is definitely much less polished at the minute - you'll also need a frontend/app because it (sensibly) doesn't ship one.  (There's also honk if you want the ultra-minimalist, 1980s vibe.)

  5. mattl says:

    I’m doing this with but I’m also paying mastohost $6 a month to run for me because mastodon has a lot of components.

  6. Phil says:

    Can confirm worked for a follow from a private, freshly set up Mastodon server. As expected, that was not the display handle.

  7. Will says:

    I think

    $acct = $m[1];

    should be:

    $acct = $m[2];

    because when I hit that script now I get:

    no match: acct:

    (The perl script actually worked for me, once I remembered how to enable perl cgi)

  8. sleep says:

    does anyone have a handy guide for the best-easiest way to sign up for mastodon? i’m curious to try the platform but even for somebody at least 10% web savvier than the average bear it just seems like such a roadblock (even if i’m just overthinking it)

    • jwz says:

      It is not the friendliest thing in the world. It's free software, so you don't get finance bros trying to turn your rage into money, but on the other hand... you don't get great user interfaces. Here's my bullet point version from what I have learned over the last week or so when I started actually caring about it:

      • Once you've gotten over the hurdle of "I am logged in and have some people I care about whom I follow" it works pretty much just like Twitter and is easy to understand.
      • When signing up, first you have to pick an "instance", a home machine, the part to the right side of the at-sign. Think of instances like an email provider, except they're all running the same software. You can talk to anybody, doesn't matter which one you're on. List here. Just pick one.
        • Update: Well, your instance matters to the extent that the local admin can nuke your account for any reason at all including none, since each instance is its own little fiefdom. See subsequently.
      • There is no globally-unique namespace of user names to the left of the at-sign, just like in email. That's probably for the best.
      • Some servers/instances might be run better than others. You'll find that out later. (Foreshadowing!)
      • If you have chosen a host poorly, it's very easy to switch from one to another without losing data or friends or followers, so don't sweat it.
        • Update: Except that if you get banned, you can't migrate from the banned account. Fun! So try not to do that.
      • When someone posts their link to their page on some-random-mastodon-server, and you click on it, you can't just hit subscribe unless it happens to be the same server you are on, which it probably won't be. You have to: A) Copy that link; B) Paste it into the Search field on your home instance; C) Click the little "follow" icon; D) Yes this sucks.
      • If you have a Twitter account, is a thing that will scan everyone you follow on Twitter for their twits where they posted their Mastodon accounts, then export a CSV file of them, which you can then import into your home Mastodon server to follow them in bulk. Repeat every few weeks. It's moderately painless, as such things go.
      • tfb says:

        It sounds as if all it really needs for this to be as easy (but also, as awful) as twitter would be for someone to throw enough money at one of the instances that it becomes the one everyone who doesn't want to think too hard uses?

        So I suppose someone is even now planning to do that.

        • Jon says:

          I'm pretty sure is already the instance used by everybody who doesn't think too hard about it.

        • George Dorn says:

          A common discussion on the fediverse is that large instances are a problem, not a solution.  They might make it easier to on-board new users, and during normal times that often is the suggestion - land on a flagship instance and relocate later when you get it - but they often have moderation and stability issues.  Plus, they're just at odds with the ethos in general; we don't want a gmail dictating how the rest of the fediverse must be.

          • sleep says:

            that's a bit of a strawman; the tiniest bit of creativity could solve this problem. mastodon could run a 'starter' instance that lets you register and use the service frictionlessly, but softlocks and forces you to choose a new server home after 30 days (by which point most active users would have found out about a few communities cool enough to join simply by having followed some folks). because let me tell ya, what i went through the other night to get an account is something that less than 1% of twitter's userbase is going to be willing to slog through.

            then again, as i've said elsewhere in these comments, i think mastodon's real UX problems come after you've registered and start trying to follow people. it's just unbelievably cumbersome. i didn't mind plowing through dozens of eh-sounding servers (finding a "do not enter" sign on each and every door after navigating to their domains) before finally settling for a shitty-sounding one just to get it over with, because i knew that within a couple of hours it'd all be over and done with – but after finding out there's no way to follow my twitter list without going to individually ask them if they have a mastodon handle i have no plans to ever return.

            • George Dorn says:

              there's no way to follow my twitter list

              If only there were some tool that will scan everyone you follow on Twitter for their twits where they posted their Mastodon accounts, then export a CSV file of them, which you can then import into your home Mastodon server to follow them in bulk.  I bet if something like that existed, jwz would mention it, quite possibly in a thread you didn't read before replying to.

              • sleep says:

                again: less than 1% of twitter’s username (way less) is going to bother with that shit. it’s also an obviously flawed method that will generate incomplete (and still absurdly cumbersome) results. it also assumes that everyone i could conceivably want to follow on mastodon at any point in the future will have to have a recently active twitter account. public-facing social networks need to make it reasonably easy to find somebody; even far more inward-facing, personally networked services like facebook and linkedin got that right well over a decade ago.

          • tfb says:

            It Twitter dies then something is going to rise from its ashes.  It would perhaps be better if that thing was a thing which allowed federation even if in almost all cases everyone just sat in the big popular instance of it.

            Instead, of course, because the pure of heart are not willing to sacrifice even a tiny bit of their purity for things like usability, what will rise from its ashes will be another closed monopoly run by kleptocrats.  And the pure of heart will sit in their minute federated castles bickering about who is the purest, while the kleptocrats get richer.

      • sleep says:

        thanks for the kind and generous explanation! unfortunately i didn't see it until after i spent a few hours messing with it on my own, and coming to pretty much the exact same set of conclusions you detail in your comment.

        that said, i think their UX gets even worse after you're set up and good to go. you touched on it a bit, but discovery on mastodon is just so atrocious, it's basically non-existent...yes, you have to know the precise double-@ handle of the person you're trying to find (longer, clunkier and uglier than an email address), and then very often you have to manually enter your own double-@ handle to confirm you really do want to follow an account that's not on the same server you are (as if any non-theoretical person actually gives a shit).

        these are issues mastodon likes to blame on the federated network system, but...surely there's a better way? because if not, then network federation just isn't a viable option for a mainstream social network. millions of twitter evacuees are rushing to mastodon and bouncing right off it, because you're just not going to get the average politician, rapper, or k-pop fan to wade through all that cumbersome nonsense that comes both before and after registration...even ancient tech like IRC, FTP, and usenet were easier to use. and nowadays there are kids in high school who don't remember a time before ipads and youtube; this just isn't gonna fly.

        it's a huge bummer, because there is a massive and vital desire for some kind of twitter alternative right now, and there just isn't anything that fits the bill. mastodon is as close as it gets and it might as well be on the moon.

      • jon says:

        This is by far the best, most concise explanation of Mastodon I've ever seen.  This should literally be the first thing on the Mastodon home page.  This isn't intuitive to people who are used to signing up for monolithic social media services and is the largest issue with wider adoption.  

  9. There are a number of ways to use your own domain for your fediverse identity that don't involve running Mastodon itself. I've gone to the extreme and implemented ActivityPub in my website directly, which is not the path I would recommend for most people. But there are some other options that are a middle ground, I've collected some notes here:

    • jwz says:

      Thanks for that. But, as someone who only barely understands the differences between "ActivityPub", "Mastodon", and several of the other buzzwords involved, it sure would be nice to have like, a chart or something explaining what each of these solutions actually does for you. And how much work they are to install. A quick glance at each of those links makes it hard for me to answer the question, "how far beyond the WordPress-provided RSS feed is each of these, and in what way?" Or, "Is this just Trackbacks? Because Trackbacks are awful."

      • Yeah totally fair, it turns into a lot of jargon fast.

        In any case, the thing that makes Mastodon/ActivityPub works between servers is unfortunately a lot more complicated than hosting an RSS feed. There are some services that can essentially translate your RSS feed to a thing that can be followed by Mastodon, but even that is going to be a few steps to set up.

        In a way, you could think of it as Trackbacks but with a signature so the origin of them is tied to a domain. That's a bit of an oversimplification but not far from how ActivityPub works ;-)

  10. Waider says:

    Hey, thanks for this. I hacked up a half-assed equivalent with a .htaccess file and it works a treat for the use cases I have for it.

  11. Richy B says:

    On the PHP redirector script, it suggests adding a ForceType to a .htaccess file - this isn't actually necessary if you put the script into /public_html/.well-known/webfinger/ as index.php and let the web server's own PHP handler figure out the type.

    • jwz says:

      If you do it that way then then the URL "/.well-known/webfinger" does a redirect to  "/.well-known/webfinger/" and also the URL "/.well-known/webfinger/index.php" also exists for no reason and both of those are dumb.

  12. Jacob White says:

    Did you get anywhere with this? I’ve got a account and would rather have one at my domain. I tried farting around with mastodon hosting but I can’t seem to make it work with out creating a subdomain.

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