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Personal cloud

   Nextcloud provides tools for sharing, version control of changes, support for playing media content and viewing documents directly from the web interface, the ability to synchronize data between different machines, the ability to view and edit data from any device anywhere in the network.

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  Nextcloud is software that allows you to create cloud storage and send files there from anywhere. Imagine using Dropbox, Google Drive or iCloud, but now you still have full control over where and how your files are stored.


Nextcloud essentially has two parts:

  • Server software that provides the infrastructure you need to store your files in the cloud. It can be installed on your own computer (self-hosted) or on a remote server managed and maintained by someone else (hosted).

  • Client software that is used to download and access files on a daily basis. Client apps are available for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android.


  Nextcloud is a fork of Owncloud, but it has grown so much over the past year that many consider it to be Owncloud's successor, even though the latter is still active.


Possibilities

  If you have set up your own Nextcloud instance, either on your own computer or in your personal web space, then you will have full access to all Nextcloud features. Below I will list some of its main features, but keep in mind that there are over a hundred applications that greatly extend the functionality of Nextcloud.


  If you take the easy route and let your Nextcloud partner set up a fully-hosted cloud for you, then they will have control over which features are available for your account.


  Free, fully-hosted accounts tend to have limited access to features such as file versioning and end-to-end encryption, while a premium account grants administrative privileges, which allows you to install apps and tinker with them as you please.

  • Free and open source software (although hosting on a server can cost money)

  • Self-hosted or hosted

  • End-to-end encryption (in testing phase)

  • File version control

  • Sharing files with other users

  • Collaborate on files

  • Streaming media files

  • Calendar, contacts, notes and tasks

  • Automatic download of photos from mobile devices

  • Two-factor authentication (with backup codes, TOTP authentication app, Yubikey, etc.)

  • Hundreds of applications to expand functionality

  • Cross-platform

  • GDPR and HIPPA compliant

  As noted, the actual feature set is very customizable.


File version control

  This feature provides Nextcloud users with the ability to control file versions. In the Files window, click on Last Modified Date> Versions and you will see previous versions of the file. How regularly they are saved is determined by the Nextcloud administrator.

  For many free, fully-hosted accounts, file versioning is not available.


File sharing

  You can share individual files or folders with a limited number of people through your Nextcloud account, or for all users through a simple URL link. With this, you, as the sender, will have more control over the process. You can, for example, set an expiration date for a link, request a password to open an uploaded file, attach a note, etc.

  The Circles application allows detailed configuration of data exchange between user groups.


Calendars, Contacts, Notes and Tasks

  Nextcloud's web interface offers apps for calendar, contacts, notes and tasks. Calendars can be easily synchronized with calendars on all mobile devices using the WebCAL platform.

  Tasks, calendars, and contacts can be synchronized with those hosted on Android devices using the DAVdroid app, and notes using the Nextcloud Notes app.


  In theory, iOS could use WebDAV to sync calendars and tasks, and CardDAV to sync contacts, but in practice this is frustrating. However, notes are saved as .txt files by default, so they are easily accessible from all devices.


Sharing files

  Nextcloud users have the opportunity not only to provide other people with access to their files, as mentioned above, but also to work with files together. Collabora Online, a LibreOffice-based online office suite that supports all major document, spreadsheet and presentation file formats, will help them with this.


Streaming media files

  Nextcloud works very well as an online media streaming server. It comes with a built-in music player, and the web interface and iOS apps play every video uploaded to them with ease.


  Videos play fine on Android too, but I had problems playing in full screen mode. Curiously, in the case of Android, I also ran into problems sometimes even when streaming content and playing with an external player like VLC.


Automatic download of photos from mobile devices

  This very handy feature automatically downloads photos taken on your Android or iPhone. Unlike other storage apps I've used, Nextcloud lets you track folders, which means it won't try to upload your entire collection of photos and videos to the cloud! In addition, you can control a number of other parameters, for example, specify that downloads should only be performed over Wi-Fi, etc.

Cross-platform

  Nextcloud client apps are available for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS and virtually all Linux distributions.


  All Nextcloud functions can be accessed and managed through its web interface through any modern browser on any platform.


Hosting options

Self-hosted

  If you want to deploy Nextcloud yourself, you can install it on any Linux computer. Using a virtual machine, it can be installed on both Windows and macOS systems.


  A popular option is to use the Raspberry Pi as a low-cost Nextcloud server. I have doubts about whether these machines have enough power to do the job, although the problem could be solved by using the more powerful newer Raspberry Pi 4s (especially models with 4GB of RAM).


  Given the low cost of physical storage these days, and the fact that you don't have to pay a monthly fee, Nextcloud self-hosting is a very cost-effective approach to building cloud storage. In addition, this option is safer, since you will have complete physical control over the server.


  Specialized Nextcloud devices


  Setting up Nextcloud on a local Linux box isn't a job for the average user, so why not let the professionals do it for you? Various devices are available today at a very reasonable price that come with Nextcloud pre-installed.


Hosted

  To get external cloud storage, you will need to rent server space from a third-party provider. Here you have two options: you can install the server software on the rented server space yourself (hosted server space) or let the Nextcloud partner set up and manage the account for you (fully-hosted).


Hosted server space

  Installing Nextcloud on a rented server space gives you complete control over your cloud server as if you were working with a standalone server. The main advantages of this option over self-hosting are that your data is safe in the event of a fire or device theft. Plus, there is no need to keep your home computer running all the time.


  Installing Nextcloud on a rented web space is quite simple. Of course, it is not as easy as using a fully-hosted solution (see below), but much easier than installing the program on a standalone Linux box.


  The main problem is that files will not be encrypted by default when stored on the server. The ISP can encrypt their drives, but they will have the encryption keys, so they can access the data stored on them themselves.


  However, you can implement additional encryption measures, more on that later.


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Fully-hosted

  Letting a cloud provider set up and manage your Nextcloud account is the easiest option as it becomes almost completely automated.


  Fully-hosted Nextcloud accounts come in at least two types: "personal" with a limited set of functions and "advanced", which gives you full access, including the ability to add functions through Nextcloud applications. Free accounts are always of the first type. Some providers also offer different "enterprise" tiers, but these are not the subject of this review.


  For a fee, storage for both types of accounts can usually be expanded.


  Providers offering fully-hosted Nextcloud accounts generally have better privacy than Google or Dropbox. However, it is important to understand that the provider has full access to your account and therefore can access your files and other data (such as calendars or notes).


  Advanced accounts may include end-to-end file encryption, which mitigates this issue, but overall you don't have full control over your account.


Privacy and security

Jurisdiction

  Nextcloud is developed by the German company Nextcloud GmbH, founded by the creator of ownCloud - Frank Karlicek. However, since Nextcloud is open source software that can be self-hosted or remotely hosted, the location of Nextcloud GmbH does not really matter.


  What really matters is jurisdictional issues. In most countries, the police have the power to confiscate personal computer equipment if there is a suspicion of involvement in a crime, and data centers will always operate in accordance with local data retention and surveillance laws.


  If you intend to use Nextcloud to store sensitive data, we recommend that you familiarize yourself with the privacy and supervision terms of the different countries. Using your own encryption (see below) can significantly reduce jurisdictional risks.


Privacy Policy

  Nextcloud GmbH collects some anonymous website usage statistics, but its applications do not send any information to the company.


  Third party applications follow their own privacy policies for which Nextcloud GmbH is not responsible.


  When you download Nextcloud from the Play Store, a push notification is sent to Google with a title and subject. If you don't like it, you can download the apk directly or get the app via F-Droid.


  Data centers and hosted solution providers will have their own privacy policies, although using end-to-end encryption ensures that they cannot access your data.


Encryption

  Nextcloud offers various levels of encryption to keep your data safe.


Encryption in transit

  Nextcloud protects transmitted data using TLS, the encryption protocol used by HTTPS. This is configured on the web server, but Nextcloud will warn administrators if TLS is not enabled for some reason. Hosted solutions using HTTPS for domain protection should automatically enable this feature.


Rest encryption

  Stored data can be protected with AES-256 - server side encryption. The main problem here is that the encryption key is stored along with the data in the Nextcloud instance. Moreover, when used, it is stored in the server's RAM, where it can be accessed by hackers or server operators.


  The Nextcloud desktop sync schedule is very predictable and therefore provides an easy attack surface for attackers. As such, Nextcloud server-side encryption is best used to protect external accounts associated with your Nextcloud instance (such as Google Drive and Dropbox accounts).


  An additional problem is that only the contents of the files are encrypted, not their name or folder structure.


  If you do not store data in remote storage services, then it is better to encrypt each file manually before uploading to Nextcloud and / or use full disk encryption on the server (for example, using dm-crypt or EncFS).


  Full disk encryption is fairly easy to implement with standalone cloud or self-managed cloud instances. If you are using a fully-hosted account, then this is all out of your control, although your ISP can do it (so ask).


End-to-end encryption

  For maximum privacy and security, Nextcloud offers end-to-end encryption (e2ee). This means that you encrypt your own files locally before uploading them to the cloud. They can only be decrypted inside applications for which you have a key.


  End-to-end encryption can be enabled for each folder. In addition to the actual content of the files, the file names and folder structure are hidden from the server.


  Nextcloud uses X.509 certificates to validate public keys, AES-128-GCM (NoPadding) cipher to encrypt private keys, PBKDF2 with HMAC SHA1 authentication to retrieve keys, and BIP39 mnemonic as a password. Full details can be found in the official documentation.


  What Nextcloud doesn't offer is e2ee browser-based cryptography. This is good from a security point of view, because despite the development of various mitigation measures over the past few years, browser cryptography remains vulnerable to malicious code.


  Please note that you cannot share e2ee-encrypted files or folders with non-Nextcloud users, and you cannot access e2ee files and folders through the web interface. However, for most people, the fact that you can easily move files between e2ee and regular folders should minimize any inconvenience.


  The main problem is that the Nextcloud implementation of e2ee is still in testing. There is a clear warning in this regard, which reads: “Do not use in a production environment! Only with test data! "

  However, given that recommendations to use e2ee on the site are encountered almost all the time, I suspect that the e2ee implementation is more reliable than this warning suggests.


Ease of use

  How complex Nextcloud setup is going to be depends a lot on where you want to host it. However, it will be really easy to use the already configured Nextcloud.


Desktop application

  The desktop app for Windows, macOS, and Linux creates a Nextcloud folder that syncs all files in it on all devices configured to use your Nextcloud account. You can choose which folders to sync and ask for confirmation before uploading files larger than the specified size.

  On Windows (but not macOS and Linux), you can right-click on files in the Nextcloud folder to share them with others.

  Otherwise, the desktop app is very similar across all platforms.


Web interface

  More advanced Nextcloud features are available through the web interface. The list of functions that will be available to you depends very much on what applications you (or whoever has administrator access for your account) have installed.

  If you have administrator rights, you can choose from a huge list of applications to install.

Mobile applications

  Mobile apps work for Android and iOS. As noted, the Android app is available outside the Play Store for those who don't like Google.

  Unlike the desktop app, mobile does not sync files to local storage by default. But you can choose to download files, download files (assuming the usual built-in iOS restrictions for that matter), or sync any folders.

 

  Setting up a standalone Nextcloud Linux box is too complicated for the average user, although it shouldn't be difficult for experts, especially given the many tutorials available.


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