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How To Setup VS Code-Server on Ubuntu 18.04


The following is a cut/paste from a well-written DigitalOcean post on how to install VS Code-Server on Ubuntu 18.04. It should be noted though that although the install goes as written, there are a few features within VS Code-Server related to Git that caused numerous errors. I have not yet investigated the cause of these errors, but wanted to make note of it.


With developer tools moving to the cloud, creation and adoption of cloud IDE (Integrated Development Environment) platforms is growing. Cloud IDEs allow for real-time collaboration between developer teams to work in a unified development environment that minimizes incompatibilities and enhances productivity. Accessible through web browsers, cloud IDEs are available from every type of modern device.

code-server is Microsoft Visual Studio Code running on a remote server and accessible directly from your browser. Visual Studio Code is a modern code editor with integrated Git support, a code debugger, smart autocompletion, and customizable and extensible features. This means that you can use various devices running different operating systems, and always have a consistent development environment on hand.

In this tutorial, you will set up the code-server cloud IDE platform on your Ubuntu 18.04 machine and expose it at your domain, secured with free Let’s Encrypt TLS certificates. In the end, you’ll have Microsoft Visual Studio Code running on your Ubuntu 18.04 server, available at your domain and protected with a password.


  • A server running Ubuntu 18.04 with at least 2GB RAM, root access, and a sudo, non-root account. You can set this up by following this initial server setup guide.
  • Nginx installed on your server. For a guide on how to do this, complete Steps 1 to 4 of How To Install Nginx on Ubuntu 18.04.
  • A fully registered domain name to host code-server, pointed to your server. This tutorial will use code-server.your-domain throughout. You can purchase a domain name on Namecheap, get one for free on Freenom, or use the domain registrar of your choice. For DigitalOcean, you can follow this introduction to DigitalOcean DNS for details on how to add them.

Step 1 — Installing code-server

In this section, you will set up code-server on your server. This entails downloading the latest version and creating a systemd service that will keep code-server always running in the background. You’ll also specify a restart policy for the service, so that code-server stays available after possible crashes or reboots.

You’ll store all data pertaining to code-server in a folder named ~/code-server. Create it by running the following command:

mkdir ~/code-server

Navigate to it:

cd ~/code-server

You’ll need to head over to the Github releases page of code-server and pick the latest Linux build (the file will contain ‘linux’ in its name). At the time of writing, the latest version was 3.2.0. Download it using wget by running the following command:


Then, unpack the archive by running:

tar -xzvf code-server-3.2.0-linux-x86_64.tar.gz

You’ll get a folder named exactly as the original file you downloaded, which contains the code-server source code. Copy it to /usr/lib/code-server so you’ll be able to access it system wide by running the following command:

sudo cp -r code-server-3.2.0-linux-x86_64 /usr/lib/code-server

Then, create a symbolic link at /usr/bin/code-server, pointing to the code-server executable:

sudo ln -s /usr/lib/code-server/code-server /usr/bin/code-server

Next, create a folder for code-server, where it will store user data:

sudo mkdir /var/lib/code-server

Now that you’ve downloaded code-server and made it available system-wide, you will create a systemd service to keep code-server running in the background at all times.

You’ll store the service configuration in a file named code-server.service, in the /lib/systemd/system directory, where systemd stores its services. Create it using your text editor:

sudo nano /lib/systemd/system/code-server.service

Add the following lines:


ExecStart=/usr/bin/code-server --bind-addr --user-data-dir /var/lib/code-server --auth password


Here you first specify the description of the service. Then, you state that the nginx service must be started before this one. After the [Unit] section, you define the type of the service (simple means that the process should be simply run) and provide the command that will be executed.

You also specify that the global code-server executable should be started with a few arguments specific to code-server. --bind-addr binds it to localhost at port 8080, so it’s only directly accessible from inside of your server. --user-data-dir /var/lib/code-server sets its user data directory, and --auth password specifies that it should authenticate visitors with a password, specified in the PASSWORD environment variable declared on the line above it.

Remember to replace your_password with your desired password, then save and close the file.

The next line tells systemd to restart code-server in all malfunction events (for example, when it crashes or the process is killed). The [Install] section orders systemd to start this service when it becomes possible to log in to your server.

Start the code-server service by running the following command:

sudo systemctl start code-server

Check that it’s started correctly by observing its status:

sudo systemctl status code-server

You’ll see output similar to:

 code-server.service - code-server
   Loaded: loaded (/lib/systemd/system/code-server.service; disabled; vendor preset: enabled)
   Active: active (running) since Tue 2020-05-12 20:53:29 UTC; 11s ago
 Main PID: 3236 (node)
    Tasks: 14 (limit: 2362)
   CGroup: /system.slice/code-server.service
           ├─3236 /usr/lib/code-server/node /usr/lib/code-server/out/node/entry.js --bind-addr --user-data-dir /var/lib/code-server --auth pas
           └─3258 /usr/lib/code-server/node /usr/lib/code-server/out/node/entry.js --bind-addr --user-data-dir /var/lib/code-server --auth pas

May 12 20:53:29 code-server-update systemd[1]: Started code-server.
May 12 20:53:30 code-server-update code-server[3236]: info  code-server 3.2.0 fd36a99a4c78669970ebc4eb05768293b657716f
May 12 20:53:30 code-server-update code-server[3236]: info  HTTP server listening on
May 12 20:53:30 code-server-update code-server[3236]: info    - Using custom password for authentication
May 12 20:53:30 code-server-update code-server[3236]: info    - Not serving HTTPS
May 12 20:53:30 code-server-update code-server[3236]: info  Automatic updates are enabled

To make code-server start automatically after a server reboot, enable its service by running the following command:

sudo systemctl enable code-server

In this step, you’ve downloaded code-server and made it available globally. Then, you’ve created a systemd service for it and enabled it, so code-server will start at every server boot. Next, you’ll expose it at your domain by configuring Nginx to serve as a reverse proxy between the visitor and code-server.

Step 2 — Exposing code-server at Your Domain

In this section, you will configure Nginx as a reverse proxy for code-server.

As you have learned in the Nginx prerequisite step, its site configuration files are stored under /etc/nginx/sites-available and must later be symlinked to /etc/nginx/sites-enabled to become active.

You’ll store the configuration for exposing code-server at your domain in a file named code-server.conf, under /etc/nginx/sites-available. Start off by creating it using your editor:

sudo nano /etc/nginx/sites-available/code-server.conf

Add the following lines:

server {
    listen 80;
    listen [::]:80;

    server_name code-server.your-domain;

    location / {
      proxy_pass http://localhost:8080/;
      proxy_set_header Upgrade $http_upgrade;
      proxy_set_header Connection upgrade;
      proxy_set_header Accept-Encoding gzip;

Replace code-server.your-domain with your desired domain, then save and close the file.

In this file, you define that Nginx should listen to HTTP port 80. Then, you specify a server_name that tells Nginx for which domain to accept requests and apply this particular configuration. In the next block, for the root location (/), you specify that requests should be passed back and forth to code-server running at localhost:8080. The next three lines (starting with proxy_set_header) order Nginx to carry over some HTTP request headers that are needed for correct functioning of WebSockets, which code-server extensively uses.

To make this site configuration active, you will need to create a symlink of it in the /etc/nginx/sites-enabled folder by running:

sudo ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/code-server.conf /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/code-server.conf

To test the validity of the configuration, run the following command:

sudo nginx -t

You’ll see the following output:

nginx: the configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf syntax is ok
nginx: configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf test is successful

For the configuration to take effect, you’ll need to restart Nginx:

sudo systemctl restart nginx

You now have your code-server installation accessible at your domain.