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How to set up a Signal TLS proxy server

ยท 7 min read
Josh Wong
Content Strategist & Technical Writer

This post describes how to set up a Signal TLS proxy server on a Linux-based operating system (OS). I was able to set up this proxy server on both Debian and Ubuntu.

I wrote this post because the official Signal TLS proxy server repository lacks instructions for setting up a domain, which is necessary to run a proxy server. However, keep in mind that the steps to set up a proxy server may vary depending on your OS environment and domain name service provider.

warning

For security reasons, you should avoid running a server of any type on your home network. If you decide to run a server on your home network, please understand that you're putting your network and at significant risk of being compromised.

Why run a proxy server?โ€‹

Government officials are known to occasionally block access to apps in their countries, especially during times of social unrest and when they don't want information widely shared.

By running a Signal proxy server, you can enable people in other countries to connect to Signal and stay in contact with friends and family.

For reference, you can see which countries have temporarily or permanently blocked connections to Signal in 2023, courtesy of the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI): OONI Explorer

Set up your domainโ€‹

Before setting up your proxy server, you'll need to have a domain name so that others can connect to your proxy server from that domain name and modify the hostname of your OS.

Configure a domain name in your domain name service provider account by setting up a DNS record (A record) to point the domain to your public IP address. For details on how to set up an A record, please check your domain name service provider's documentation.

note

When setting up an A record, you should also be able to specify a subdomain. Specifying a subdomain will allow you to use your domain name for other purposes.

After you've set up an A record in your domain name service provider account, you'll need to change the hostname of your OS. To do this, open Terminal and then open /etc/hosts by running the following command:

sudo nano /etc/hosts

Below the default hostname, add the following line, replacing <SUBDOMAIN>.<DOMAIN_NAME>.<TOP_LEVEL_DOMAIN> with the address that you'll be using as your proxy server:

192.168.1.101 <SUBDOMAIN>.<DOMAIN_NAME>.<TOP_LEVEL_DOMAIN>
note

The local IP address shown above depends on your environment. Be sure to confirm what your local IP address is if you encounter issues.

Save your changes, and close the file.

Set up DDNS and ddclientโ€‹

Next, you'll need to set up dynamic DNS (DDNS) to make sure that the IP address of your OS changes automatically. Without DDNS, you'd need to manually update the IP address in your domain name service provider account, which would require constant oversight.

Most domain name service providers offer a DDNS service, which periodically checks for changes to an IP address and then automatically updates the DDNS database when a new IP address is discovered. For details on how to enable DDNS for your domain name, please check your domain name service provider's documentation.

note

After enabling DDNS in your domain name service account, you should receive a password. You'll need to enter that password later, so make note of it.

After enabling DDNS for your domain name, you need to set up a DDNS client in your OS environment. In this tutorial, you will be installing ddclient. This client will automatically send updates to your domain name service provider when your IP address changes.

To install ddclient, open Terminal and run the following command:

sudo apt-get install ddclient

During setup, a wizard will be displayed. When prompted, enter the following configurations:

  • Dynamic DNS service provider: Select other and enter dynamicdns.park-your-domain.com.
  • Dynamic DNS update protocol: Press Enter. You'll need to manually change this later.
  • Username for dynamic DNS service: Enter your domain name.
  • Password for dynamic DNS service: Enter the password you received after enabling DDNS in your domain name service provider account.
  • Network interface used for dynamic DNS service: Enter dynamicdns.park-your-domain.com/getip. You'll need to modify the network interface later.
  • DyDNS fully qualified domain names: Enter the subdomain that you specified when setting up. If you'll be running your proxy server without using subdomain, enter @.

Now, you'll need to further modify the DDNS configuration file. In Terminal, open the ddclient configuration file by running the following command:

sudo nano /etc/ddclient.conf

To configure how often ddclient will update the DNS, add the following line to the top of the configurations in the file:

...
daemon=3600
...
note

3600 means that ddclient will check for changes to the public IP address every 3,600 seconds, which equals once an hour. You can adjust this value to be longer or shorter.

Then, set protocol to your domain name service provider (as specified in your domain name service provider's documentation) and set use to web. The configuration file should then look as follows:

# Configuration file for ddclient generated by debconf
#
# /etc/ddclient.conf
daemon=3600
protocol=<DOMAIN_NAME_SERVICE_PROVIDER>
use=web, web=dynamicdns.park-your-domain.com/getip
server=dynamicdns.park-your-domain.com
login=<DOMAIN_NAME>.<TOP_LEVEL_DOMAIN>
password=<DDNS_PASSWORD>
<SUBDOMAIN>

Save your changes, and close the file. You can check if the configuration is working by running the following command:

sudo ddclient -daemon=0 -debug -verbose -noquiet
note

If you see any invalid or error outputs after running the above command, check the settings in your ddclient configuration file.

To confirm that ddclient is running in daemon mode, run the following command to open the ddclient system file:

sudo nano /etc/default/ddclient

Confirm that run_daemon is set to true, then close the file.

To start the ddclient daemon, run the following command:

sudo service ddclient start

To check the status of ddclient, run the following command:

sudo service ddclient status

Set up and connect to your Signal TLS proxy serverโ€‹

After setting up the DNS record for your domain name in your domain name service provider account, changing the hostname of your OS, and configuring ddclient on your OS, you can set up the Signal TLS proxy server.

Set up the Signal TLS proxy serverโ€‹

In Terminal, clone Signal-TLS-Proxy by running the following command and go to that folder:

git clone https://github.com/signalapp/Signal-TLS-Proxy
cd Signal-TLS-Proxy

Run init-certificate.sh by running the following command:

./init-certificate.sh

After running the bash script, follow the certificate setup instructions shown in Terminal.

After setting up the certificate, start the Docker container to run your proxy server by running the following command:

docker-compose up
note

To start your proxy server in the background without showing an output in Terminal, run the following command:

docker-compose up --detach

Your Signal TLS proxy server should now be running. If you encounter issues, see Troubleshooting

Connect to your proxy serverโ€‹

To connect to your proxy server, open a web browser on your mobile device and enter https://signal.tube/#<SUBDOMAIN>.<DOMAIN_NAME>.<TOP_LEVEL_DOMAIN> into a mobile web browser, replacing <SUBDOMAIN>.<DOMAIN_NAME>.<TOP_LEVEL_DOMAIN> with the details of the domain name you previously set up.

note

You can also connect directly to the proxy server by adding the <SUBDOMAIN>.<DOMAIN_NAME>.<TOP_LEVEL_DOMAIN> (without https://) in the settings in the Signal app.

Keep in mind that the Signal desktop app currently does not support proxy connections.

The following are the different shield statuses in the Signal app:

  • Green shield: Indicates that you're connected to the Signal TLS proxy server.
  • Gray shield: Indicates that you're trying to connect to the proxy server.
  • Red shield: Indicates that you're no longer connected, which could mean the proxy server is down or otherwise no longer available.

After confirming that your proxy server is working, be sure to monitor your setup periodically.

Shut down your proxy serverโ€‹

To stop the Docker container that your proxy server is running on, run the following command:

docker-compose down

Troubleshootingโ€‹

If you're unable to start your Signal TLS proxy server after shutting it down, open Terminal and run the following group of commands:

cd Signal-TLS-Proxy # Goes to the Signal-TLS-Proxy folder.
./init-certificate.sh # Runs the certificate script.
git pull # Pings the Signal-TLS-Proxy repository for any changes.
docker-compose down # Stops the Docker container.
docker-compose up # Starts the Docker container.