Strange problems with self-hosted Mattermost? It might be your router’s fault

I spent the last few days online trying to get Mattermost working on my home server. It looks like a promising replacement for Slack, very polished and professional and the installation process is well documented. The only twist was that, since I’m already running Apache on the server, I figured I’d set it up to also function as a proxy for Mattermost. (The developers apparently favor nginx, whereas documenting usage with Apache rests on the community.)

Everything seemed to go smoothly, and the web app worked just fine when called locally. But when I tried to access it using my FQDN, it just kept failing with the “We’re having trouble connecting to Mattermost” page staring me bluntly. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve hit refresh only to see that page again and again.

Today I had a breakthrough when I realized that a statically served JavaScript file was failing to load, and bizarrelly only in Firefox: when I finally fired up Chrome out of desperation, everything was working just fine. With Firefox, or with wget for that matter, trying to load the JS file directly only resulted in loading a fraction of the file, or not at all.

This was only halfway towards the solution, I still spent hours tearing my hair out until I finally figured out the root of the problem: my home router doesn’t do NAT loopback.

After I pointed my FQDN to the home server in my desktop’s hosts file, the static JS came through in Firefox just as easily as it had in Chrome. (I shudder to think what it is that Chrome does that made it able to circumvent the problem.)

Now, I did try to access Mattermost from outside my home network previously, but being utterly disorganized in my debugging, I apparently had mangled the Apache configuration for the site each time I did those tests. With both the correct Apache configuration and the local hosts file fix in place, the FQDN works from inside the home LAN as well as from outside.