Build your own private cloud with Nextcloud

Recently I’ve been trying to reduce my dependence on proprietary apps and services. At first I just wanted a self-hosted alternative to Dropbox, but I quickly found I could build an entire private cloud using Nextcloud, and replace a lot of the services I used to rely on Google for.

Nextcloud is free, open source software that you install on your own server, and the process isn’t much more complicated than installing a CMS like WordPress. Once you’ve installed it and created an account, you install client applications on your computers and mobile devices, and any files you drop in to the Nextcloud folder will be synced across all of them, just like Dropbox.

File syncing is just the beginning of what you can do with Nextcloud. You can extend its functionality in all sorts of ways using plugins installed from the app store, and support for standards like CalDAV and CardDAV means you can have your Nextcloud instance sync contacts and calendars between your devices as well as files. With a few apps installed and configured, I’ve been using Nextcloud for:

  • 👥 Contacts backup and syncing
  • 📆 Calendar syncing
  • 📝 Note taking
  • 📋 Task list management
  • 📷 Automatic upload of photos and videos from my phone
  • 🔄 File storage and syncing

If you want to go further, you can have your Nextcloud instance handle browser-based document editing like Google Docs, video calling, email, and even music streaming. You can set up your own alternative to pretty much any Google service with Nextcloud, with the added benefit of keeping full control of your personal data because all these cloud services are running on your own server rather than Google’s.

If you don’t have your own server, or it’s not practical to maintain one, you can rent a VPS from a hosting provider and install Nextcloud there, encrypting Nextcloud’s storage to maintain privacy.

What I still use Google for

Maps and Photos are great services that I’m yet to come across better alternatives to, and I’m happy to keep using them at the moment. I have my own backup solution in place for photos and videos so I’m not solely reliant on Google Photos any more, but it’s still my go-to for easy media backup and sharing.

Mobile apps

To make full use of some of the functionality I’ve added to Nextcloud, I’m using the following Android apps in addition to the Nextcloud app itself:

  • DAVx⁵ - Utility app that enables CalDAV and CardDAV syncing with your Android device. Needed for contacts, calendar, and task list syncing
  • ICSx⁵ - Another utility app, allowing syncing of external calendars, or downloaded .ics files
  • Simple Calendar - A customisable, open source calendar app with a clean design that supports CalDAV calendar syncing
  • Nextcloud Notes - A note-taking app with markdown editing
  • OpenTasks - Task management app. Tasks can have checklists for sub-tasks, due dates and times for reminders, and can be “pinned” to the notification area for a persistent reminder

Own your data

If you like the idea of having a little more control of your personal data without sacrificing the convenience of having it synced across all your devices, I recommend checking out Nextcloud. Getting started doesn’t take long, and your private cloud is as flexible and powerful as you choose to make it with the enormous selection of plugins available.