ActivityPub Server in a Single PHP File

Any computer program can be designed to run from a single file if you architect it wrong enough!

I wanted to create the simplest possible Fediverse server which can be used as an educational tool to show how ActivityPub / Mastodon works.

The design goals were:

  • Upload a single PHP file to the server.
  • No databases or separate config files.
  • Single Actor (i.e. not multi-user).
  • Allow the Actor to be followed.
  • Post plain-text messages to followers.
  • Be roughly standards compliant.

And those goals have all been met! Check it out on GitLab. I warn you though, it is the nadir of bad coding. There are no tests, bugger-all security, scalability isn't considered, and it is a mess. But it works.

You can follow the test user


Firstly, I've slightly cheated on my "single file" stipulation. There's an .htaccess file which turns into

The index.php file then takes that path and does stuff. It also contains all the configuration variables which is very bad practice.

Rather than using a database, it saves files to disk.

Again, this is not suitable for any real world use. This is an educational tool to help explain the basics of posting messages to the Fediverse. It requires absolutely no dependencies. You do not need to spin up a dockerised hypervisor to manage your node bundles and re-compile everything to WASM. Just FTP the file up to prod and you're done.


This is a quick ramble through the code. It is reasonably well documented, I hope.


This is where you set up your account's name and bio. You also need to provide a public/private keypair. The posting page is protected with a password that also needs to be set here.

    //  Set up the Actor's information
    $username = rawurlencode("example");    //  Encoded as it is often used as part of a URl
    $realName = "E. Xample. Jr.";
    $summary  = "Some text about the user.";
    $server   = $_SERVER["SERVER_NAME"];    //  Domain name this is hosted on

    //  Generate locally or from
    //  Newlines must be replaced with "\n"
    $key_private = "-----BEGIN RSA PRIVATE KEY-----\n...\n-----END RSA PRIVATE KEY-----";
    $key_public  = "-----BEGIN PUBLIC KEY-----\n...\n-----END PUBLIC KEY-----";

    //  Password for sending messages
    $password = "P4ssW0rd";


ActivityPub is a "chatty" protocol. This takes all the requests your server receives and saves them in /logs/ as a datestamped text file.

    // Get all headers and requests sent to this server
    $headers     = print_r( getallheaders(), true );
    $postData    = print_r( $_POST,    true );
    $getData     = print_r( $_GET,     true );
    $filesData   = print_r( $_FILES,   true );
    $body        = json_decode( file_get_contents( "php://input" ), true );
    $bodyData    = print_r( $body,    true );
    $requestData = print_r( $_REQUEST, true );
    $serverData  = print_r( $_SERVER,  true );

    //  Get the type of request - used in the log filename
    if ( isset( $body["type"] ) ) {
        $type = " " . $body["type"];
    } else {
        $type = "";

    //  Create a timestamp in ISO 8601 format for the filename
    $timestamp = date( "c" );
    //  Filename for the log
    $filename  = "{$timestamp}{$type}.txt";

    //  Save headers and request data to the timestamped file in the logs directory
    if( ! is_dir( "logs" ) ) { mkdir( "logs"); }

    file_put_contents( "logs/{$filename}",
        "Headers:     \n$headers    \n\n" .
        "Body Data:   \n$bodyData   \n\n" .
        "POST Data:   \n$postData   \n\n" .
        "GET Data:    \n$getData    \n\n" .
        "Files Data:  \n$filesData  \n\n" .
        "Request Data:\n$requestData\n\n" .
        "Server Data: \n$serverData \n\n"


The .htaccess changes /whatever to /?path=whatever
This runs the function of the path requested.

    !empty( $_GET["path"] )  ? $path = $_GET["path"] : die();
    switch ($path) {
        case ".well-known/webfinger":
        case rawurldecode( $username ):
        case "following":
        case "followers":
        case "inbox":
        case "write":
        case "send":


The WebFinger Protocol is used to identify accounts.
It is requested with
This server only has one user, so it ignores the query string and always returns the same details.

    function webfinger() {
        global $username, $server;

        $webfinger = array(
            "subject" => "acct:{$username}@{$server}",
              "links" => array(
                     "rel" => "self",
                    "type" => "application/activity+json",
                    "href" => "https://{$server}/{$username}"
        header( "Content-Type: application/json" );
        echo json_encode( $webfinger );


Requesting returns a JSON document with the user's information.

    function username() {
        global $username, $realName, $summary, $server, $key_public;

        $user = array(
            "@context" => [
                                   "id" => "https://{$server}/{$username}",
                                 "type" => "Person",
                            "following" => "https://{$server}/following",
                            "followers" => "https://{$server}/followers",
                                "inbox" => "https://{$server}/inbox",
                    "preferredUsername" =>  rawurldecode($username),
                                 "name" => "{$realName}",
                              "summary" => "{$summary}",
                                  "url" => "https://{$server}",
            "manuallyApprovesFollowers" =>  true,
                         "discoverable" =>  true,
                            "published" => "2024-02-12T11:51:00Z",
            "icon" => [
                     "type" => "Image",
                "mediaType" => "image/png",
                      "url" => "https://{$server}/icon.png"
            "publicKey" => [
                "id"           => "https://{$server}/{$username}#main-key",
                "owner"        => "https://{$server}/{$username}",
                "publicKeyPem" => $key_public
        header( "Content-Type: application/activity+json" );
        echo json_encode( $user );

Following & Followers

These JSON documents show how many users are following / followers-of this account.
The information here is self-attested. So you can lie and use any number you want.

function following() {
        global $server;

        $following = array(
              "@context" => "",
                    "id" => "https://{$server}/following",
                  "type" => "Collection",
            "totalItems" => 0,
                 "items" => []
        header( "Content-Type: application/activity+json" );
        echo json_encode( $following );
    function followers() {
        global $server;
        $followers = array(
              "@context" => "",
                    "id" => "https://{$server}/followers",
                  "type" => "Collection",
            "totalItems" => 0,
                 "items" => []
        header( "Content-Type: application/activity+json" );
        echo json_encode( $followers );


The /inbox is the main server. It receives all requests. This server only responds to "Follow" requests.
A remote server sends a follow request which is a JSON file saying who they are.
This code does not cryptographically validate the headers of the received message.
The name of the remote user's server is saved to a file so that future messages can be delivered to it.
An accept request is cryptographically signed and POST'd back to the remote server.

    function inbox() {
        global $body, $server, $username, $key_private;

        //  Get the message and type
        $inbox_message = $body;
        $inbox_type = $inbox_message["type"];

        //  This inbox only responds to follow requests
        if ( "Follow" != $inbox_type ) { die(); }

        //  Get the parameters
        $inbox_id    = $inbox_message["id"];
        $inbox_actor = $inbox_message["actor"];
        $inbox_host  = parse_url( $inbox_actor, PHP_URL_HOST );

        //  Does this account have any followers?
        if( file_exists( "followers.json" ) ) {
            $followers_file = file_get_contents( "followers.json" );
            $followers_json = json_decode( $followers_file, true );
        } else {
            $followers_json = array();

        //  Add user to list. Don't care about duplicate users, server is what's important
        $followers_json[$inbox_host]["users"][] = $inbox_actor;

        //  Save the new followers file
        file_put_contents( "followers.json", print_r( json_encode( $followers_json ), true ) );

        //  Response Message ID
        //  This isn't used for anything important so could just be a random number
        $guid = uuid();

        //  Create the Accept message
        $message = [
            "@context" => "",
            "id"       => "https://{$server}/{$guid}",
            "type"     => "Accept",
            "actor"    => "https://{$server}/{$username}",
            "object"   => [
                "@context" => "",
                "id"       =>  $inbox_id,
                "type"     =>  $inbox_type,
                "actor"    =>  $inbox_actor,
                "object"   => "https://{$server}/{$username}",

        //  The Accept is sent to the server of the user who requested the follow
        //  TODO: The path doesn't *always* end with/inbox
        $host = $inbox_host;
        $path = parse_url( $inbox_actor, PHP_URL_PATH ) . "/inbox";

        //  Get the signed headers
        $headers = generate_signed_headers( $message, $host, $path );

        //  Specify the URL of the remote server's inbox
        //  TODO: The path doesn't *always* end with /inbox
        $remoteServerUrl = $inbox_actor . "/inbox";

        //  POST the message and header to the requester's inbox
        $ch = curl_init( $remoteServerUrl );
        curl_setopt( $ch, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, true );
        curl_setopt( $ch, CURLOPT_CUSTOMREQUEST, "POST" );
        curl_setopt( $ch, CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS,     json_encode($message) );
        curl_setopt( $ch, CURLOPT_HTTPHEADER,     $headers );
        $response = curl_exec( $ch );

        //  Check for errors
        if( curl_errno( $ch ) ) {
            file_put_contents( "error.txt",  curl_error( $ch ) );


Every message sent should have a unique ID.
This can be anything you like. Some servers use a random number.
I prefer a date-sortable string.

    function uuid() {
        return sprintf( "%08x-%04x-%04x-%04x-%012x",
            mt_rand(0, 0xffff),
            mt_rand(0, 0xffff),
            mt_rand(0, 0x3fff) | 0x8000,
            mt_rand(0, 0xffffffffffff)

Signing Headers

Every message that your server sends needs to be cryptographically signed with your Private Key.
This is a complicated process. Please read "How to make friends and verify requests" for more information.

    function generate_signed_headers( $message, $host, $path ) {
        global $server, $username, $key_private;

        //  Encode the message to JSON
        $message_json = json_encode( $message );

        //  Location of the Public Key
        $keyId = "https://{$server}/{$username}#main-key";

        //  Generate signing variables
        $hash   = hash( "sha256", $message_json, true );
        $digest = base64_encode( $hash );
        $date   = date( "D, d M Y H:i:s \G\M\T" );

        //  Get the Private Key
        $signer = openssl_get_privatekey( $key_private );

        //  Sign the path, host, date, and digest
        $stringToSign = "(request-target): post $path\nhost: $host\ndate: $date\ndigest: SHA-256=$digest";

        //  The signing function returns the variable $signature
        //  Encode the signature
        $signature_b64 = base64_encode( $signature );

        //  Full signature header
        $signature_header = 'keyId="' . $keyId . '",algorithm="rsa-sha256",headers="(request-target) host date digest",signature="' . $signature_b64 . '"';

        //  Header for POST reply
        $headers = array(
                    "Host: {$host}",
                    "Date: {$date}",
                  "Digest: SHA-256={$digest}",
               "Signature: {$signature_header}",
            "Content-Type: application/activity+json",
                  "Accept: application/activity+json",

        return $headers;

User Interface for Writing

This creates a basic HTML form. Type in your message and your password. It then POSTs the data to the /send endpoint.

    function write() {
        //  Display an HTML form for the user to enter a message.
echo <<< HTML
<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en-GB">
        <meta charset="UTF-8">
        <title>Send Message</title>
        <form action="/send" method="post" enctype="multipart/form-data">
            <label   for="content">Your message:</label><br>
            <textarea id="content" name="content" rows="5" cols="32"></textarea><br>
            <label   for="password">Password</label><br>
            <input  type="password" name="password" id="password" size="32"><br>
            <input  type="submit"  value="Post Message">

Send Endpoint

This takes the submitted message and checks the password is correct.
It reads the followers.json file and sends the message to every server that is following this account.

    function send() {
        global $password, $server, $username, $key_private;

        //  Does the posted password match the stored password?
        if( $password != $_POST["password"] ) { die(); }

        //  Get the posted content
        $content = $_POST["content"];

        //  Current time - ISO8601
        $timestamp = date( "c" );

        //  Outgoing Message ID
        $guid = uuid();

        //  Construct the Note
        //  contentMap is used to prevent unnecessary "translate this post" pop ups
        // hardcoded to English
        $note = [
            "@context"     => array(
            "id"           => "https://{$server}/posts/{$guid}.json",
            "type"         => "Note",
            "published"    => $timestamp,
            "attributedTo" => "https://{$server}/{$username}",
            "content"      => $content,
            "contentMap"   => ["en" => $content],
            "to"           => [""]

        //  Construct the Message
        $message = [
            "@context" => "",
            "id"       => "https://{$server}/posts/{$guid}.json",
            "type"     => "Create",
            "actor"    => "https://{$server}/{$username}",
            "to"       => [
            "cc"       => [
            "object"   => $note

        //  Create the context for the permalink
        $note = [ "@context" => "", ...$note ];

        //  Save the permalink
        $note_json = json_encode( $note );
        //  Check for posts/ directory and create it
        if( ! is_dir( "posts" ) ) { mkdir( "posts"); }
        file_put_contents( "posts/{$guid}.json", print_r( $note_json, true ) );

        //  Read existing users and get their hosts
        $followers_file = file_get_contents( "followers.json" );
        $followers_json = json_decode( $followers_file, true );    
        $hosts = array_keys( $followers_json );

        //  Prepare to use the multiple cURL handle
        $mh = curl_multi_init();

        //  Loop through all the severs of the followers
        //  Each server needs its own cURL handle
        //  Each POST to an inbox needs to be signed separately
        foreach ( $hosts as $host ) {
            $path = "/inbox";

            //  Get the signed headers
            $headers = generate_signed_headers( $message, $host, $path );

            // Specify the URL of the remote server
            $remoteServerUrl = "https://{$host}{$path}";

            //  POST the message and header to the requester's inbox
            $ch = curl_init( $remoteServerUrl );

            curl_setopt( $ch, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, true );
            curl_setopt( $ch, CURLOPT_CUSTOMREQUEST, "POST" );
            curl_setopt( $ch, CURLOPT_POSTFIELDS,     json_encode($message) );
            curl_setopt( $ch, CURLOPT_HTTPHEADER,     $headers );

            //  Add the handle to the multi-handle
            curl_multi_add_handle( $mh, $ch );

        //  Execute the multi-handle
        do {
            $status = curl_multi_exec( $mh, $active );
            if ( $active ) {
                curl_multi_select( $mh );
        } while ( $active && $status == CURLM_OK );

        //  Close the multi-handle
        curl_multi_close( $mh );

        //  Render the JSON so the user can see the POST has worked
        header( "Location: https://{$server}/posts/{$guid}.json" );

Next Steps

This is not intended to be used in production. Ever. But if you would like to contribute more simple examples of how the protocol works, please come and play on GitLab.

You can follow the test user

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