Privacy-focused media streaming and more - The new Halcyon 2.2.0
It’s been a long time since we published the last Halcyon update - Maybe a bit too long.
We always try to push updates as soon as possible in order to prevent people from thinking the project might be dead once again.
Anyway this time the update included some bigger changes,that’s why we call it 2.2.0 instead of 2.1.7,and so we needed more time to do everything well.
The new Halcyon version supports embeds of videos from PeerTube,YouTube and Vimeo.
Nothing special so far,the default Mastodon frontend supports that too,but like always we focus on privacy here.
That means we do not simply embed IFrames to the official players of the third party sites but use our own new player instead.
They work in the same way like Invidious,a popular website which allows watching YouTube videos without ads and with more privacy.
Unluckily there have been many missunderstandings with this update so we want to make a few things more clear here.
The first thing in fact were privacy concerns because some people thought we would really just embed the official players -> That is not true,we never even thought about that because they sell your data and that sucks.
Another thing was the possibility that it could put more load on your Mastodon instance and that’s wrong,too.
The new players put a bit more load on your Halcyon instance if you enable the players,but has no effect on the Mastodon instance.
That’s required by the way how they work.
A server side PHP script fetches the webpage of YouTube or Vimeo as if they were a browser and extract data of the video there.
Then they send the direct links to the MP4 files and the preview image to the user what eliminates the possibility of any tracking or advertisement.
If you upgrade your instance,you must add the new config params to your config file or the instance will throw errors but in the config you have options to turn the new players off if you don’t have the additionally needed power.
Another new option there is the proxy: All proxy types (socks5,socks4,https and http) are supported and if you don’t want a proxy,you can set it to none.
In our example Halcyon is configured to use a locally installed Tor client which acts as a SOCKS5 proxy.
The proxy is used to resolve the YouTube and Vimeo embeds meaning to get their real MP4 file links.
All videos of all your users are requested using one IP address normally,your server IP.
That may work well for some time but if you send too many requests from a single IP to them,they may block you.
It hasn’t been tested yet but that’s basically how every firewall works and especially the big services tend to overblocking if you don’t allow them to spy on you.
Tor gives you another public IP address for your requests every few minutes.
That will prevent the video sited from permanently blocking your Halcyon instance at least in theory.
We don’t know a reason why that may fail but again it hasn’t been tested yet as we didn’t get blocked.
You see why a proxy may make sense now?
If you login to your Mastodon server,the Halcyon instance and the Mastodon instance need to exchange some requests.
In this case the new proxy setting is not used.
As PeerTube is a privacy-friendly decentralized open source project,we do not use a similar technology to embed their videos and just embed their official player.
In older versions Halcyon threatened all videos like animated GIFs and couldn’t play audio files.
For real videos on Mastodon the same player is now used as for the new third-party embeds.
For audio we added a completely different new player which works quite well in the timeline but not in status overlays.
Sorry but we haven’t been able to locate the cause of this bug so far.
Currently Mastodon itself does not allow you to upload audio files but this feature will come soon to Mastodon and then you will already be able to make use of it in Halcyon.
Pleroma users have already been able to upload audio for a long time and for them,the new player should work,too.
If you’re a user,you have the possibility of enabling or disabling all media players in the new media settings section.
Mastodon media and PeerTube embeds are enabled by default,YouTube and Invidious are opt-in.
To video converted GIFs which were always played in the past can be disabled now,too.
We hope that we can prevent missunderstandings in future with the help of this statement but if you still have questions,feel free to ask us at Mastodon or here in the comments.
Another thing which is totally new in Halcyon 2.2.0 is support for docker.
Docker lets you easily install applications in containers where all dependencies are already included and all system settings can be customized for every single applications.
That makes the installation process much easier and faster.
Docker is now just one of many ways how you can install Halcyon.
If you already run a instance using YunoHost or a manual install,it doesn’t make any sense to switch to the Docker version now but you can make use of it when setting up a new instance.
All Docker related files are in the /docker folder in the repository.
We also added Italian translations with this update what means that you need to enable the it_IT locale on your server and some other translations have been improved.
Many new words have been added to Halcyon since version 2.1.0 which is currently available for translation what means that translations can never be complete.
We will soon make all the new words available for translating to fix that problem.
We thank you so much for going this interesting way together with us.
It all would not be possible without all contributors and bug reporters.
The amount of contributions is increasing heavily these days what makes it possible to release more features with less time between them.
Version 2.2.0 was made with the help of 4 contributors,again thank you so much.
And as always we will give you a short look into the future at this point.
Many people complained that the homepage should look more like Twitter and while we agree,we also think that there are many more important things to do.
Happily another person said that he can do the job for us for free and we will talk about the details within the next days so that wish may be one of the first to become true.
It are still the small things we focus because we can change much using few time that way and that also answers the recurring question of a mobile view.
That will be much work and it’s still far away from becoming available,sorry for that.
We are always happy about the reactions we get and when reading the reaction we see that you’re happy with the work we’re doing,that feels nice.
If you have any ideas,problems,wishes,complaints or other things you want to let us know,please do so in the comments below,on Mastodon,in the NotABug issues or privately using our contact form.
If you want to help us,you can contribute to the code,report problems to us or donate using Libravatar or Bitcoin.
Additionally we always need help with our translations to support more languages or to complete the support for existing ones.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and have a nice day.