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macOS Server Will Lose Many Services this Spring: Here Are Alternatives

Last summer, the Rocket Yard ran a 7-part series on macOS Server and how it could be used to provide a variety of services — calendar, contacts, mail, messages and so on — to small businesses or individuals. Little did we know at the time that Apple was preparing to remove the majority of those services. A recent support document from Apple notes that “macOS Server is changing to focus more on management of computers, devices, and storage on your network. As a result, some changes are coming in how Server works. A number of services will be deprecated, and will be hidden on new installations of an update to macOS Server coming in spring 2018.”

The document goes on to say that if you’ve already configured one of the services, you’ll still be able to use it after the spring 2018 macOS Server update. However, it goes on to say that “These deprecated services will be removed in a future release of macOS Server, so those depending on them should consider alternatives, including hosted services.

Looking at the services that are disappearing, it’s obvious that macOS Server will no longer provide the majority of services that most administrators use it for. These services are the “meat” of macOS Server, and they’ll be gone in a future release:

  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • DHCP
  • DNS
  • Mail
  • Messages
  • NetInstall
  • VPN
  • Websites
  • Wiki

Why Is Apple Doing This?
That’s a good question! Sadly, there’s no real answer available from the company. It’s known that in many cases, the services used by Apple were “officially-supported” open source projects, and the versions found in macOS Server often lagged badly behind the open source versions. As a result, many administrators would actually replace the old Apple versions with newer open source ones.

One other reason could be the size of the market for macOS Server. Keeping the app up-to-date and supported takes significant resources, and the number of actual users of macOS Server is probably quite small. Add to this the fact that Apple doesn’t really sell server-specific hardware anymore, and it’s rather obvious that they want out of the business. The updated Mac Pro still has no firm delivery date, and the Mac mini — which has been the server hardware of choice for many small businesses — has been ignored for years.

(The Mac mini hasn’t seen an update from Apple in years.)

So What Will macOS Server Actually Do In The Future?
The comment that macOS Server is “changing to focus more on management of computers, devices, and storage on your network” seems to indicate that the company realizes that there are many hosted services that actually do a better job than macOS Server — we even alluded to that in Part 7 of the 2017 macOS Server series, when we discussed the “All-Cloud Solution.”

It could be that Apple is thinking of macOS Server becoming more like the powerful JAMF services that are used by enterprise and small businesses alike to keep track of computers and mobile devices. JAMF doesn’t provide the standard services like those in the list above, so if Apple is considering changing macOS Server to a JAMF-like server, the company will be going against a well-established and respected competitor.

What Are The Alternatives?
In the support document, Apple provides three alternatives for each service that will be deprecated. Most of those services are open source and in many cases are what savvy macOS Server admins have been using anyway. For those who are just thinking about setting up their own servers, however, the thought of downloading, configuring, and maintaining a grocery list of open source apps could be daunting.

Perhaps Apple is considering expanding the iCloud services — Mail, Contacts, Calendar, iCloud Drive, Notes, Reminders, iWork and so on — to workgroups and enterprises, with administrative tools that would make it possible for a company or workgroup to set up individual users and groups, keep track of devices through Find iPhone, and even use a custom domain name. This is pure conjecture, but it would be a logical step for Apple. When would this happen? Probably not until 2019 at the earliest if Apple is still considering future releases of macOS Server.

Our “All-Cloud Solution” from last year’s series provides some possibilities for organizations that are either thinking of setting up a “server” or that will need to move from macOS Server in the near future. That solution includes moving small workgroups to iCloud or larger organizations to Google’s G Suite, using alternative web hosting services like Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly, and taking advantage of collaboration tools like Dropbox and Slack.

My Company has a macOS Server. What Should I Do Now?
For the time being, you’re OK and things will run as they have in the past. Even when the Spring 2018 macOS Server update arrives, it appears that your services will continue running for a time. However, the writing is on the wall and it’s obvious that Apple wants you to consider alternatives to macOS Server. Now’s the time to start looking at those alternatives and developing a plan to move your organization off of macOS Server. It’s better to consider making a change while there’s still time instead of waiting until the services disappear from macOS Server.

Those who were considering adopting macOS Server would be wise to consider another solution before expending the time and resources to building and configuring a server, as you may find that the services you wished to provide are hidden from view in the next version of macOS Server.

Steve Sande
the authorSteve Sande
Contributing Author
Steve has been writing about Apple products since 1986, starting on a bulletin board system, creating the first of his many Apple-related websites in 1994, joining the staff of The Unofficial Apple Weblog in 2008, and founding Apple World Today in 2015. He’s semi-retired, loves to camp and take photos, and is an FAA-licensed drone pilot.
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  • Apple has decided to remove several services from macOS Server in future releases. The exact reasons for this change are unclear, but it may be due to outdated services and a small market for macOS Server. The focus of macOS Server is shifting towards managing computers, devices, and storage on the network. Apple suggests alternative open source options for the deprecated services. It is speculated that Apple may expand iCloud services for workgroups and enterprises in the future. If you currently use macOS Server, it will continue to work for now, but it’s recommended to explore alternative solutions. For those considering macOS Server, it’s advisable to consider other options before investing in a server setup.

  • Check out macOS Server Plus in the AppStore. DHCP, DNS and Mail server with virus checking (Clamav) and spam filtering (SpamAssassin) included.

    • HI,

      Quick Question but hard to find the answer…

      Which open sources can we select to run on older Mac server ?
      I have a couple (8) of Xserver with 64 GB of ram each and a lot of terabytes of hard drives.

      most important thing, I don’t want to crush them to an ecological center (recycling). I want to ”prolonge (French word) the lifecycle of them.

      Ubuntu and what else ?

      Small business only need file sharing, email can be hosted at a small price, same thing for web site.

      Thank’s for your answer.

      My pleasure from Canada (Valleyfield-montreal area)

  • There are now complete, working ports of all macOS services in MacPorts, including a much-improved Mail server and Apple’s Calendar and Contacts server. Both the Mail server and the Calendar and Contacts Server also have working APNS if you keep around a method to have a deprecated version reissue the APNS certificates. The mail server comes with a lot of newer improvements over the old Mail server that makes it a lot nicer and more secure to use: up-to-date versions, really fast solr mail searching, rspamd, better spam/ham training workflow, DKIM, postfix in chroot jail, and a lot more.

    To get this, install MacPorts, then run one or more of these commands:

    sudo port install calendar-contacts-server
    sudo port install mail-server
    sudo port install macos-vpn-server
    sudo port install dns-server

  • How are small businesses dealing with migration?

    We are still running Server 5.6.3 on a maxed out 2012 Pro (128 GB ram, 500+ TB fibre channel arrays, etc) but know the end is near.

    Mail, Calendar, file sharing, DHCP, DNS, VPN, Messaging… Just basic functions, but ones that are critical for day-to-day business, and ones we would rather keep in house.

    I was hoping Zentyal on OS X would pan out, not sure where that sits now.


  • Your title ends with the words “… Here Are Alternatives.” You didn’t give any except a “…grocery list of open source apps…’ Thank a lot.

  • Hi,
    I received 7 xserve + 128 TB of San disk (Promise) last week and I would like to use them for my local school.
    What OS can I use on them? I have difficulties to find out OS X version and I figure out I should go with Ubuntu or linux open source.

    Definitely I will have to create some VM’s with Windows 10 and others.

    Thank’s to help me


  • After a lot of research, I have found these Mac GUI alternatives for Server App work well:
    1.) FTP Server- “FTP Server” by via AppStore
    2.) FileSharing Permissions Management (ACLs, etc)- TinkerTool System 6
    3.) WebService- WebMon for Mojave by Cutedge Systems
    4.) MailService- MailServe by Cutedge Systems
    5.) DNS Services- DNS Enabler for Mojave by Cutedge Systems
    6.) VPN Services- VPN Enabler for Mojave by Cutedge Systems
    7.) MySQL- MySQL Community Server 5.7 for High Sierra and Mojave (adds a panel in System Preferences)

  • Now that I’ve got my own apartment and a few Macs and iDevices, I was looking into macOS Server for management, central data storage, VPN, and even some light web-hosting. I was also looking into OmniFocus which would need macOS Server’s WebDAV function. I have my own domain, so I was also hoping to put mail on my own local server so I had more control over it. Sadly, much of this functionality seems to be getting the axe in future updates (and updates that are already out as of my writing this)… I don’t want to go to a Windows server, but my Linux skills aren’t up to snuff either. Part of me wants to get an older Mac with the Server app, but that feels like a big security risk to me.

    Well, time to polish up my Linux skills and hope I can get all the services I currently have on my old MacBook running on Fedora or Ubuntu…

  • Well we use a Mac Mini server, have macbook Air’s, iPad’s and iPhone’s for running and connecting to the company.

    When the MacOS server software disappears (mail, contacts calendar and WebDav are essential to us) we will definitely switch to a Linux server.

    All other devices like MacBooks, iPads and iPhones will disappear to and other better priced alternatives will take over the Apple Tree.

    Nice job of Tim Cook to just get rid of all business users.

    Don’t think all the people left in the cold will ever buy any Apple products in future anymore.

    I won’t…

  • As the owner of a Mac based IT business who maintains over a dozen Mac servers, I feel abandoned by apple. I guess it is time to find alternatives and maybe to start moving away from apple products altogether.

  • If I hadn’t already sold my Apple stock (a couple of years ago), I’d sell it now!

  • Well for me also the whole point of server is to avoid anything involving the word ‘cloud’. It just isn’t secure if the cloud provider has the encryption keys and various governments wanting access to servers that aren’t even in their legal jurisdiction. So for me the biggest loss will the disappearance of VPN that doesn’t use someone else’s servers. Have to keep present set up going as long as possible while researching the alternatives.

    • Replace your home router with a MikroTik (or just add one at the head end) and you can create personal VPNs to your heart’s desire. Now, if only they did WebDAV…

  • It makes sense, kind of. Most small to mid size organizations would probably benefit from using cloud hosted version of most of those services.

    Dnsmasq, bind, etc are there to handle the rest.

    Happy to see icloud cacheing is not on the list of removals.

  • Don’t forget — a lot of those internet-related functions can be supplanted by MAMP Pro.

  • Only real solution to everything that is being taken away is hire an IT person to mange a Linux system or “trust some service” that they will be secure and honest.

  • This is excellent news –IF– the mean it and fix File Sharing. I have tried to upgrade our office TWICE with little success thanks to their in-house crafted SMB. Our software inside our Win7 and Win10 VMs and Boot-Camps does not like Apple’s make shift set-up. All my servers have ever done is File Sharing, and I am stuck at 10.6.8 because that was the last version which came with real SMB.

  • My Career has comprised broadcast animation (Tiny Toons & Animaniacs, Lots of TV spots), 5 decades of music performance, recording & composition, eGames industry (Primal Rage, California Speed, ClueFinders, Clifford, RugRats, CatDog) & teaching part time & full time at six colleges. I have used Mac since 1985, PC& Windows since 1989, and Unix since 1993.

    Mac has essentially abandoned its core market since introducing the iLine. Upgraded PCs and aftermarket upgrades to OLDer Macs don’t provide much revenue to Apple.

    “It’s Not our CORE BUSINESS!” was a phrase I heard from the management of several companies in Silicon Valley, throwing away amazing projects they’d started, just before those companies collapsed.

    Makes you realize that folks who end up running multimillion dollar companies aren’t always smart, nor focused on trying to keep the company thriving.

    Apple and its Mac line may soon disappear. Well, we’ve seen lots of Corporate Giants go emphatically EXTINCT. The marketing spasms of Autocratdesk and Add-O-B seem intended to extinguish customer loyalty and encourage lots of indie coders to develop faster, leaner, more intuitive products to supplant the intransigiently unresponsive design software manufacturers.

    The names that since the 80s have dominated 3D & 3D CGI design software are on the way out — largely as a result of their own delusions of adequacy.

    • When you can set up a small Mac office with mdns zero config out of the box, when everything is cloud based, when you can get a NAS from synology or RAID storage from promise when apple is backing up their trucks full of money becoming the first TRILLION dollar company in history ask how? By chasing niche? Times change. Change with them. Upgrade. Adapt. Its not comfortable to redo everything every 5 years. But thats life.

  • It seems to me that Apple is looking at this more from an Enterprise perspective. Think of this as more along the lines of a domain controller (sorry, MS haters, no better comparison). I personally would love to see Apple think more at the Enterprise level and start making better inroads to corporate server rooms. I must admit thoug that I do use many of the features leaving and will sadly miss them when gone. But, do you necessarily have to do the update (security flaws notwithstanding).

  • If I wanted to store my stuff in the cloud, I would have done that originally instead of setting up Mac OS Server in the first place, so an “all-cloud” solution is precisely the opposite direction to the solution I need to find.

  • I use it in a classroom for file sharing and LAN based testing. The mini is great for this but I never intended for it to be a full blown server. Adding better group management controls would be good as remote desktop is erratic as can be and using parental controls in a lab setting that requires one machine at a time is terrible. I was planning on expanding my use of the server but won’t now. Thanks for the update

  • Thanks for the news. Sadly, Apple has never offered the public a roadmap of their development plans. So, in this case, it would appear to be unwise to wait on Apple to provide an alternate means for providing these services. As you say, iCloud would be a logical alternative, but I wouldn’t depend on Apple to be logical.

  • Personally, I am going out and seeing what other options/products are available. The announcement also could indicate that Apple is going to offer these products as “add ons” (more $). I will be looking at LINUX as an option. I am loathed to do so, but I will be damned if I will look at *ANY* MS option.

    • Since I am affiliated with a school, I can get MS products for free. I wouldn’t consider using them otherwise. I imagine it’s only a matter of time until my 2010 and 2011 vintage mini servers lose support, so I might as well look into converting them over to Win Server. I’ve used Mac OS Server since version 10.3 and thought it was bad enough when they canned FTP in the last version. This is absolute bunk.

  • Apple is now run by people from another planet who have no clue that people actually use the creative parts of their productions. So, Aperture–gone. final Cut—-dumbed down. What else? The base does not matter anymore. I never used the Server, thankfully, but I did use aperture and final cut . . .

    • Like Smithy, I was an Aperture user when I was a pro. photographer, and am still an FCPX editor, and like many power users, have been dismayed at the moves towards making all operating systems look and feel like mobile devices. I can only hope that LINUX can step up.

    • Hi David,

      It depends on whether you already have macOS Server installed or not. If so, the path of least resistance is to keep with BIND for DNS (which is what macOS Server uses), as you should be able to migrate configuration from macOS Server with minimal intervention.

      If not using macOS Server currently (or you’re willing to go with the simplest option moving forward, rather than the one that is simplest from which to migrate) my recommendation is unbound. The OpenBSD developers recently chose to move from BIND to unbound due a couple of years back due to its simplicity and security, and I hold the OpenBSD developers in very high esteem for the choices they make.

      As for VPN: if your needs are modest (only a handful of users), go with whatever VPN your router probably implements — configuration will be easier. If you need something a little more capable, I would install pfSense on a dedicated machine (or virtualised host if you wish This is what I have implemented for my NFP. It integrates with RADIUS and ActiveDirectory well, once you sort the configuration out. I can post the most helpful help articles I found if you need — just let me know!

    • I am in the process of using DOcker and an OpenVPN Docker package to do PVN. I am surprised that more people are not suggesting Docker as an optin since it abstracts you out of the MacOS environment but leaves the hardware layer alone.

  • I’d love it if you had an article focusing on how to migrate from macOS Server’s Web Server to Apache httpd as it is delivered from !

    Thanks for all the great articles.

    • apple uses apachie under the hood. With about 6 command line commands and a config file you can a web server very easially.

      • Sorry for the late addition to this thread.

        I’m looking to replace OS X Server 10.6.8 running on colo-hosted Mac Mini, solely for websites. I need to make a decision on which direction to go.

        While I see the articles on “Turn your Mac into a web server”, there are so few of them and it seems that this alternative is being offered as a novelty, versus what the bulk of everyone else is doing….which is what, exactly?

        I REALLY don’t want to go the Windows route.

        I’m ready to take the Linux plunge, but find the CPanel implementation so foreign.

        So…were did everyone go?

        • We are still running 10.13.6 & server 5.6.3

          Migrating a decade+ of email is the biggest concern for us.