The image was generated by putting the blog post title into DALL-E 2. Quite fitting!

I have a side project called bostadsbussen. It scrapes property listings for the Swedish real estate market. The site needs to persist data in the form of user accounts, property data and images.

At the time of writing this post I am currently on a sabbatical. With my income at 0, I want to keep the cost of hosting my side project as low as possible. We will be traveling a few months in Asia, so hosting the site on the home servers is also out of the question.

That leaves us with the cloud ☁️

There are cloud offerings like Firebase which are a great place to host a side project. But I want to avoid the vendor lock-in and have the option to move the entire application to my own server in the future. So this post will skip examining Firebase et al.

Renting a VPS (Virtual Private Server), is a good and cheap option with no lock-in. They usually cost around $5/month for a 1GB RAM and a shared CPU. But what if we want to do it even cheaper?

What if we could do it for free?

Enter They provide a free 256MB instance that you can spin up with a valid Dockerfile and fly deploy. Great developer experience!

❯ fly deploy
==> Verifying app config
--> Verified app config
==> Building image
Remote builder fly-builder-spring-snow-7814 ready
==> Creating build context
--> Creating build context done
==> Building image with Docker
--> Building image done
==> Pushing image to fly
==> Creating release
--> release v8 created

And we have released our application on!

All right, we got our free server, what should we do about persisting data? If we store data on the instance and if it crashes we lose everything! The common choice would be to spin up a separate database server and use that for storing our data.

But with the introduction of Litestream, we don’t need to! Litestream will replicate the changes to an SQLite database to an object storage. Litestream will also restore the database when the server restarts. No dedicated database service needed! Michael Lynch has written a great blog post on this.

When it comes to cloud storage all providers are very cheap for running Litestream. So it comes down to developer preference. I chose Cloudflare R2 because of their free tier.


Getting Litestream to communicate with R2 is quite simple:

# The litestream config

  - path: /pb_data/data.db
      - type: s3
        endpoint: ${R2_URL}
        path: ${R2_DATA_PATH}
        bucket: ${R2_BUCKET}
        access-key-id: ${R2_ACCESS_KEY}
        secret-access-key: ${R2_SECRET_KEY}
# The script that restores and then continously replicates the data

echo "Restore db if exists"
litestream restore -if-replica-exists /pb_data/data.db
echo "Restored successfully"

echo "replicate!"
exec litestream replicate -exec "/pocketbase serve --http"

Now we need a backend to host on the server. I have been very productive with PocketBase. It is a go framework with several great features. Like user authentication, an admin panel, an extendable API and a JS SDK for connecting it to the frontend. Best part it uses SQLite as the database, so we can use Litestream for our replication 🎉!

We also need a frontend. I’ll admit I’m not very good at the frontend stuff, I built one with React! It was quite enjoyable. For hosting a React app there are several free options. Like Vercel, Netlify and Render. But I chose Cloudflare Pages. I don’t see much difference between the mentioned alternatives. Since I’m already using Cloudflare’s other services (DNS, R2) the choice was easy. (And I’m lazy).

The last thing I have in my application is the scraping part. Loading 100s of images concurrently and moving them to an object storage is quite memory intensive. At least a 256MB instance can’t handle it! I offloaded the scraping part to Google Cloud Run. It scales to zero, and will only run when it gets a scraping request. It stores images in a bucket and returns the scraped data to the PocketBase backend. It of course also has a free tier that I use! 🤓

And here is a diagram of the architecture. Generated with Diagrams as Code.


That’s it! Hope you enjoyed the post.

Check out for a lab for setting up this architecture

Disclaimer: I paid $10/year for the domain.