Remote server

Some users ask us if they can run the ActivityWatch server on a separate machine and have other machines report to it, resulting in data from multiple devices on a single ActivityWatch instance.

While this is technically possible, it is not supported and strongly discouraged.

There are two common reasons why users wish to do this:

  • You are a single user with multiple devices, and they want all their data in one place, and don’t have the patience to wait for syncing to be implemented (issue #35).

    • We sympathize with these users, but we don’t think that reporting to a central server is a good approach.

  • You have employees or team members you wish to monitor.

    • We strongly wish that people don’t use a remote ActivityWatch server for this purpose (for security & privacy reasons), and as such will not help or otherwise support people doing so.

    • There are other ways to solve the same problem in a privacy-preserving manner, as you can read about in issue #233.

There are several reasons why we won’t support and strongly discourage this:

  • It is not secure.

    • There is no API security, so exposing the server on the network will let anyone on the network read, write, or delete all data.

    • There is no HTTPS support, so all data would be sent unencrypted.

  • We want ActivityWatch to be user-first: something people use of their own will, not something forced on them by others (bosses, colleagues).

  • It is not what we designed it for, future updates is likely to break whatever setup you have in unexpected ways.

  • We’re not interested in volunteering our time to support for-profit companies.

But then how do I get all my data in one place?

Your options are:

  • Manually export & import buckets (recommended)

  • Wait for syncing to get implemented

  • Find other time tracking software that’s more suitable for your usecase

  • Keep reading…

I know what I’m doing, how can I set it up anyway?

Note

This is intentionally incomplete documentation, you’re expected to figure the rest out yourself (and if you can’t, you probably shouldn’t try).

If you against these warnings decide to run a remote server that watchers report to, there is only one somewhat secure way of doing it: Use an SSH tunnel.

The benefits of using an SSH tunnel is that you don’t need to expose aw-server directly to the network, and you don’t need to change any of the default watcher configuration (although you do need to disable autostarting aw-server in aw-qt, if you use it).

You can set up an SSH tunnel to the remote machine running SSH and aw-server with: ssh -L 5600:localhost:5600 <remote server IP>

Known issues:

  • Not possible with ActivityWatch for Android, as it does not use the REST API to report events.

  • You can’t have web watchers from multiple machines stored on the same server (non-unique bucket IDs, no hostname/device ID set)

Previous discussions

Links to discussions on the topic: