As I wrote on my previous post, I recently switched from Disqus to Remark42 for the comments on my blog. Here I will explain how I set it up on


The setup that I ended up with looks like the following:

Diagram of the components for the Remark42 setup

Something to note about this setup is that the “machine” (more on that later) and the storage volume are both a single instance. This is not a distributed setup. This is because Remark42 stores comments in a single file and does not make use of a distributed database. This is listed as a “feature” on the Remark42 website. How one is supposed to implement replication? I have no idea. Thankfully seems to be fast to provision machines, and the Remark42 daemon also seems fast to start, so hopefully if a problem occurs (or when updates are required), the downtime will be minimal.

It is imperative however to understand that, because of the non-distributed/non-replicated nature of this setup, backups should be made periodically to avoid the risk of losing your comments forever.


Before setting up Remark42, I had never used before. As newbie, I would describe it as a cloud provider focused on Docker containers. uses some concepts (like “apps” and “machines”) that make sense after you practice a bit with them, but as a beginner they are not the easiest to learn. Most of the complexity I think comes from the fact that the documentation is poorly written. On top of that, it appears that is migrating their offering from “V1 apps” to “V2 apps”, and today some documentation applies only to “V1 apps”, other pieces apply only to “V2 apps”, resulting in a big mess. The error messages you get are also far from clear.

But don’t get too scared: once you get to know, it can actually be fun to use.

Creating resources on requires installing their command line client: flyctl. Because I do not like to run unknown software unconfined, I packaged it as a snap that you can install using:

snap install andrea-flyctl

Another source of confusion that I had the beginning was that, by reading the documentation, it looked like a second command line tool named fly was needed in addition to flyctl. It turns out that fly and flyctl are the same thing, it’s just that they’re transitioning from a name to another. If you installed the tool through the snap, you can set up these aliases so that you can copy and paste commands without trouble:

alias fly=/snap/bin/
alias flyctl=/snap/bin/

According to the documentation (and assuming it’s up-to-date), flyctl does not support everything that supports, so sometimes curl is used to interact directly with the API. In order to use that, you’ll need to download an authentication token from the interface and store it in a file (that I’ll call ~/fly-token from now on).

I’m going to skip over the steps to create and configure a account, obtaining an authentication token, as those were easy steps in my opinion.

Creating a machine

A “machine” is a virtual machine running a single Docker container with a persistent volume attached to it. In order to create my machine to run Remark42 in it, I loosely followed this page from the documentation: Run User Code on Fly Machines . “Loosely” because it turned out that some pieces on that page are not fully correct, but anyway…

Before creating a machine, you first need to create an “app”. A app is basically an endpoint, which consists of a DNS name (in the form ${app_name}, and a set of IP addresses. Behind these IP addresses there are load balancers that will forward requests to the machines inside the app.

You can do that through the API like this:

curl -X POST \
  -H "Authorization: Bearer $(<~/fly-token)" \
  -H 'Content-Type: application/json' \
  '' \
  -d '{ "app_name": "${app_name}", "org_slug": "personal" }'

(Replace ${app_name} with some identifier of your choice; I chose remark42 without knowing that this would have removed the possibility for other people to register an app with the same name.)

IP addresses need to be manually allocated:

fly ips allocate-v4 --app=${app_name} --shared
fly ips allocate-v6 --app=${app_name}

The --shared option to allocate-v4 tells to allocate an IP address that may be shared with other apps, even outside of your account/organization. Remove --shared if you want to use a dedicated IP, but note that dedicated IPv4 addresses is a paid feature.

Allocating IPs is an important step: it can be done later, after creating the machine, but it must be done, otherwise your machine will be unreachable and it won’t be obvious why.

You should now create a persistent volume for your machine:

fly volume create remark42_db_0 --app=${app_name} --size=1

This will display a warning about replication, but you can ignore it because, sadly, Remark42 does not support replication.

Remark42 needs to be given a secret key (I guess for the purpose of signing JWT tokens). has a handy feature to manage secrets, and make them available to machines, albeit poorly documented. You can set the Remark42 secret like this:

fly secrets set --app=${app_name} SECRET='a very secret string'

(You can generate a random secret string with a command like cat /dev/urandom | tr -Cd 'a-zA-Z0-9' | head -c64, which means: get some random bytes, keep only alphanumeric characters, get the first 64 characters.)

You may be wondering: how is the container running inside the machine supposed to access this secret? The documentation doesn’t say a word about it, but after experimenting I was able to find that all the app secrets are passed as environment variables, which is great, because this is exactly what Remark42 expects.

Note: it’s important to set SECRET before creating the machine, or Remark42 will refuse to start.

Now you’re ready to spin up the machine: create a configuration file for it…

  "name": "remark42-0",
  "config": {
    "image": "umputun/remark42:latest",
    "env": {
      "SITE": "",
      "REMARK_URL": "https://${app_name}",
      "ALLOWED_HOSTS": "'self',",
      "AUTH_SAME_SITE": "none",
      "AUTH_ANON": "true",
      "AUTH_EMAIL_ENABLE": "true",
      "AUTH_EMAIL_FROM": "Andrea's Blog <>",
      "AUTH_EMAIL_SUBJ": "Andrea's Blog - Email Confirmation",
      "NOTIFY_USERS": "email",
      "NOTIFY_ADMINS": "email",
      "NOTIFY_EMAIL_FROM": "Andrea's Blog <>",
    "mounts": [
        "volume": "${volume_id}",
        "path": "/srv/var"
    "services": [
        "ports": [
            "port": 443,
            "handlers": [
            "port": 80,
            "handlers": [
        "protocol": "tcp",
        "internal_port": 8080
    "checks": {
      "httpget": {
        "type": "http",
        "port": 8080,
        "method": "GET",
        "path": "/ping"
        "interval": "15s",
        "timeout": "10s",
    "metadata": {
      "fly_platform_version": "v2",

…and give it to

curl -X POST \
  -H "Authorization: Bearer $(<~/fly-token)" \
  -H 'Content-Type: application/json' \
  -d @config.json

There’s a lot here, so let me break it down for you:

  • "image": "umputun/remark42:latest": this is the Docker image for Remark42.

  • "env": { ... }: these are all the environment variables to pass to our container. They are briefly documented on the Remark42 website, and here’s a bit more detailed explanation of some of them:

    • "SITE": "": this is the internal identifier for the site, it can be an arbitrary string, it won’t be visible, and you can omit it.

    • "REMARK_URL": "https://${app_name}": this is the URL where Remark42 will be serving requests from. I set it to the app endpoint. It’s important that you do not put a trailing slash, or Remark42 will error out later on. It’s also important that the protocol (http or https) matches your blog’s protocol, or Remark42 will refuse to display comments (this makes local testing a bit annoying).

    • "ALLOWED_HOSTS": "'self',": this is the list of sources that will be put into the Content-Security-Policy: frame-ancestors header) of HTTP responses. Essentially, this defines where the Remark42 comments can be displayed.

    • "AUTH_SAME_SITE": "none": this disable the “same site” policy for cookies. Disabling it is necessary because, in my setup, comments are served from one domain ( to another domain (

    • "AUTH_ANON": "true": allows anonymous commenters. You may or may not want it.

    • "AUTH_EMAIL_ENABLE": "true" and friends: allows email-based authentication of commenters.

    • "NOTIFY_USERS" "email": allows readers and commenters to be notified of new comments via email.

    • "NOTIFY_ADMINS" "email" and "ADMIN_SHARED_EMAIL": "": makes Remark42 send me an email every time there’s a new comment.

  • "mounts": [ ... ]: this tells to attach the volume that you created earlier to the container at the path /srv/var, which is what Remark42 uses to store its database as well as daily backups.

  • "services": [ ... ]: this tells what to expose through the load balancer. With the configuration that I provided, the endpoint (${app_name} will provide both HTTP and HTTPS to the internet. However, the load balancer will talk to the machine over plain HTTP on port 8080 (meaning that TLS is terminated at the load balancer).

    I think in the future I will setup certbot inside the container so that I can do TLS termination on the machine, but not today.

  • "checks": { ... }: this tells to check if the Remark42 daemon is healthy by using its /pingendpoint.

  • "metadata": { "fly_platform_version": "v2" }: this tells to use a “V2 machine”, or something like that. Setting this metadata is very important, or certain things won’t work later on. The documentation doesn’t tell you to do it, but this is needed if you need to update the environment variables or the secrets inside the machine.

Note that all of this configuration can be changed at any time, so if you make any mistakes or you just want to experiment, you don’t have to overly worry. You can even destroy your machine and recreate it from scratch if you want.

To view the configuration of an existing machine use the following:

curl \
  -H "Authorization: Bearer $(<~/fly-token)" \

And to update it:

curl -X POST \
  -H "Authorization: Bearer $(<~/fly-token)" \
  -H 'Content-Type: application/json' \
  "${app_name}/machines/${machine_id}" \
  -d @new-config.json

I was also successful at changing configuration using fly machines update, although it can’t be used for everything (for example: it can be used to add or change environment variables, but not to remove them).

Testing the setup

If everything went well, you should be able to interact with Remark42 at https://${app_name} This should let you read and post new comments.

Configuring Remark42 to send emails

For sending emails, I chose to use Elastic Email Mailtrap, which is an email-delivery service that supports SMTP with STARTTLS. Creating a Mailtrap account, setting up DKIM and SPF, and obtaining SMTP credentials was extremely easy, so I won’t cover it here.

UPDATE: I initially chose to go with Elastic Email, but I found it to be garbage. They force the insertion of tracking URLs every one of your emails, and they refuse to disable tracking if you ask them to.

Setting up email delivery with Remark42 is pretty easy once you have the SMTP credentials. Set the necessary (non-secret) configuration like this:

fly machines update ${machine_id} --app=${app_name} \
  -e \
  -e SMTP_PORT=587 \
  -e SMTP_STARTTLS=true \

And then set the SMTP password as a secret:

fly secrets set --app=${app_name} SMTP_PASSWD='a very secret password'

Doing both machines update and secrets set will automatically restart the machine so that Remark42 can pick up the new configuration. Pretty neat, heh?

Configuring authentication providers for Remark42

Remark42 can let your users log in from a variety of providers, including: GitHub, Google, Facebook, Telegram, and more. There are specific instructions for each provider in the Remark42 documentation. There’s really not much to add on top of what’s already written there. Just remember: set non-secret environment variables with fly machines update, and set secrets with fly secrets set.

Creating an administrator account

If you want to be able to moderate comments, you’ll need an administrator account. With Remark42, this is a 3 step process: first you create an account (like any other user would do), then you copy the ID of the user you just created, and lastly you add that user ID to the ADMIN_SHARED_ID environment variable:

fly machines update ${machine_id} --app=${app_name} -e ADMIN_SHARED_ID=...

As step-by-step guide is on the Remark42 documentation.

Importing comments from Disqus (or any other platform)

In order to import comments into Remark42, first you need to temporarily set an “admin password” for Remark42 (here the word “admin” has nothing to do with the administrator account you just created; it’s a totally separate concept):

fly secrets set --app=${app_name} ADMIN_PASSWD='this is super secret'

You can now copy your Disqus (or equivalent) backup on the machine and import it. I could not find an easy way to do it through flyctl (but I also did not spend too much time looking for an option), I did however find a way to open a console on the machine, so what I did was simply copying and pasting the base64-encoded backup:

# on my laptop
base64 < disqus-export.xml.gz  # copy the output

# attach to the machine
fly console --app=${app_name} --machine=${machine_id}

# on the machine
cd /srv/var
base64 -d > disqus-export.xml.gz  # paste the output from earlier
gunzip disqus-export.xml.gz
import --provider=disqus --file=/srv/var/disqus-export.xml --url=http://localhost:8080
rm disqus-export.xml

Note: importing comments will clear the Remark42 database. Any pre-existing comment will be deleted. See also the Remark42 documentation for more information.

Another note: for some reason, my Disqus export referenced my blog posts using http:// URLs instead of https://. Because of that, Remark42 did correctly import all the Disqus comments in its database, but would not display them under my blog posts. Remember: Remark42 is very picky when it comes to URL schemes. To fix this, I simply created a backup from Remark42, modified the backup to change all http entries to https, and then restored the backup. This was quite trivial given that the format used by the backups is extremely intuitive.

Final remarks

That was it!

Setting up Remark42 on wasn’t particularly difficult, but it took me way more time than expected due to the poor documentation of both Remark42 and I had to resort to trial-and-error multiple times to make things work.

One big drawback of Remark42 is that it does not allow replication. This means that:

  • if the machine running my instance of Remark42 goes down, or becomes unreachable for any reason, there will be downtime;
  • some people who are “far away” from the Remark42 instance may experience higher latency than others;
  • I need to periodically take backups of my Remark42 database and copy it somewhere, otherwise if my single storage volume is lost, I will lose all the comments.

Nonetheless I think both Remark42 and are very interesting products. I love Remark42’s features, and is easy enough to use once you get familiar with it. I think I’m gonna stick with them for a long time.