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So, I have configured a PC with no monitor, keyboard, or mouse running Ubuntu. I use it as an ssh server, file backup, web server, etc.

Though, it seems as if I could use it for so much more, the problem is I can't think of many more uses.

What interesting uses of a headless host are there?

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It would probably be best to make this question community wiki since there is no single best answer and require that each answer is only one solution to get better results. –  Evan Plaice Jul 29 '10 at 7:26

11 Answers 11

The appeal of a headless machine is that you can keep it always on, reasonably locked down, and reachable from the internet. You can put up a personal wiki, a sup MUA, a project tracker.

Taking advantage of the fact that the machine is local, you can use it as a file server (NFSv4 is nice) and a media center.

And you can move the computation towards the data and set up rtorrent or deluged.

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+1 for "personal wiki" - great way to store thoughts, notes, stories, schemes... –  bedwyr Jul 25 '10 at 4:49

Host a Version Control Server to track software development

If you have ever done any serious software development, you have probably used a version control system. The benefit of version control systems is, they allow multiple users to access/modify files concurrently.

To host a software repository you'll usually need a server daemon. Here's a list of common server daemons for specific revision control platforms:

  • git-daemon (git)
  • svnserve (subversion)
  • hgserve (mercurial)
  • cvsd (CVS)

Alternatively, repositories can also usually be served up through a http webserver like Apache with the proper configuration.

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Install a HTTP server and host your own websites and webapplications

This is probably the obvious answer since that's how every webserver on the internet works.

Install Apache and/or similar LAMP stack and you'll be able to host your own:

  • Website
  • Wiki
  • Blog
  • Forum

I usually use my personal webserver to host a testing server to write and test my own websites/webapps before publishing them to the web. A testing server is usually comprised of a webserver, database back-end, phpmyadmin to give the database a GUI front-end, etc...

There are probably a lot more types of web applications installable on a webserver. This answer is a community wiki so feel free to add your own.

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Maybe give yourself your own domain for e-mail addresses? You could also try setting yourself up with your own proxy. You could even have some fun with that and prank some wifi theives.

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Running your own mail server is a great idea if you know how it works. It allows nice things like generating per contact mail addresses (thus knowing who leaked your email if you get spam). However an email server is something which should be configured correctly and kept up to date. Else you first become a source of spam and then you get blacklisted. –  Hennes Sep 30 at 13:02

Download torrents remotely using the torrent client's built-in web interface

Many popular torrent clients have built-in web interfaces that can be enabled in the application preferences.

With the web client you can remotely load .torrent files and manage your torrent client across the web.

Here is a list of torrent clients that include a web interface:

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IIRC, jdownloader.org also has a web interface. –  foraidt Jul 29 '10 at 8:02
    
@mxp I've re-formatted the answer to make it easier to expand. Feel free to add your own input to the answer since it's community wiki. –  Evan Plaice Jul 29 '10 at 8:06
    
Thanks, I overlooked that this is a wiki answer. –  foraidt Jul 29 '10 at 8:13

I have mine with uShare running to stream video to my Xbox. If you have an original xbox you can put xbox media center on it. Works fantastic. Install transmisison-daemon to download torrents easily with a web interface (sudo apt-get install transmission-daemon and then browse to http://yourserver:9091/transmission/web.

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How about a VPN server so you can access your network externally? Or a VM server so you can host/play with multiple operating systems?

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Load PS3 Media Server to host a media server

PS3 Media Server is a DLNA compliant Upnp Media Server for the PS3, written in Java, with the purpose of streaming or transcoding any kind of media files, with minimum configuration. It's backed up with the powerful Mplayer/FFmpeg packages.

Despite the name, PS3 Media Server can serve media files (images, music, videos) to both PS3 and XBox 360.

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If that PC is powerful enough, you might want to let it to take care of more cpu intensive tasks instead of your workstation. Some examples:

  • 3D rendering (A Blender render node)
  • Video conversion (mencoder)
  • Image conversion (say, resizing many images with ImageMagick's convert)
  • Compiling code
  • Running some game server
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For further inspirations you can have a look at what other NAS systems can do.
For example, here's a feature list of QNAP systems: http://www.qnap.com/pro_features.asp

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Host an FTP server so you can access your file system remotely

Download a FTP server and you'll be able to access your files anywhere through a FTP client or web browser (which, depending on the browser, may require a plug-in).

For a list of FTP servers see this link.

FTP servers can be a little tricky to setup at first because you'll need to set up the correct user privileges but they can be real handy to use a headless unit to use as a remote storage/backup point.

Note: From personal experience, be sure to make sure that IP addresses are automatically banned after a certain number of failed attempts. From checking my FTP logs I found out that numerous locations in China had been attempting to hack my FTP server on numerous occasions.

Back in the day, it was common for piracy organizations to hack public FTP servers to provide free space/bandwidth to share their files across the net. With the advent of torrents it's not as common these days but it still happens. Be sure to limit the security of your server to prevent this from happening if you share it publicly.

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If you use FTP, disable anonymous FTP (esp writing!). Better yet, do not use truly ancient FTP (which has plain text passwords). sFTP is fine though. (The name is mostly similar, but under the hood it is quite different). –  Hennes Sep 30 at 12:59

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