Serving shiny apps in the internet with your own server

In this post I’ll share my experience in setting up my own virtual server for hosting shiny applications in Digital Ocean. First, context. I’m working in a academic project where we build a package for accessing financial data and corporate events directly from B3, the Brazilian financial exchange. The objective is to set a reproducible standard and facilite data acquisition of a large, and very interesting, dataset. The result is GetDFPData. Since many researchers and students in Brazil are not knowledgeable in R, we needed to make it easier for people to use the software. A shiny app hosted in the internet is perfect for that. The app is available at http://www.msperlin.com/shiny/GetDFPData/.

You can host your own shiny app for free in www.shiny.io, but that comes with some usage limitations. While searching for alternatives, I’ve found this great post by Dean Attali that clearly explains the steps for setting up a web server in a virtual machine from Digital Ocean. Despite being a 2015 post, it works perfectly. The best thing is that a server only costs $5 per month, with the first two months for free.

Once the server is up and running, I can control it using ssh (terminal), send/retrieve files with github/dropbox or rsync, and run code with Rstudio server, which is basically a Rstudio session in a browser. Now I have my own corner in the internet, where I can host all my shiny apps with full control. I’m not only using the server for hosting web applications, but also running CRON jobs for periodically gather data for another project, which has to run a R script every day. No longer I have to worry or remember to turn on my computer every day. I’m sure I’ll find many more uses to it in the future.

I’m very happy in choosing the longer, more difficult path in publishing a shiny app in the internet. I learned a lot along the way. At first it felt overwhelming to configure every aspect of the server. But, if you know a bit of Linux, setting up your own webserver is not that difficult. I recommend everyone to give it a try.

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Marcelo S. Perlin
Associate Professor of Finance

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