Coding on iPad using VSCode, Caddy, and code-server

Visual Studio Code has quickly become the text editor many people use for their day-to-day work. Its cross-platform compatibility, speed, and plethora of extensions make it an easy choice.

Coder.com’s code-server lets you run VSCode on a server and access it on any device, including an iPad. This is a natural pairing for Tailscale, which lets you secure a server, and easily access it from anywhere.

However, code-server isn’t safe to expose over the public internet, which usually leads to installing a public-facing ssh proxy or an http reverse proxy like nginx in front of it. Tailscale eliminates all that, giving you a fast, private connection no matter where you are.

Prerequisites

Before you begin this guide, you’ll need a few things:

  • An iPad or similar tablet, or a laptop to access your VSCode server remotely. An external keyboard and mouse input will make writing code easier.

  • A server to host code-server. This guide assumes you’re using an Ubuntu 20.04 server, but the steps should be similar for most hosting providers and Ubuntu versions. You can also install code-server on a desktop computer or server at home.

  • Lastly, you’ll need a Tailscale account. You can create a free solo account in a few seconds.

Step 1: Install Tailscale on an Ubuntu server

After spinning up a new server, ssh into it with your account details.

ssh <username>@<server host ip>

From here, we’ll install Tailscale. First, add Tailscale’s package signing key and repository. (If you’re not using Ubuntu, skip these steps and follow our install instructions for your platform).

curl -fsSL https://pkgs.tailscale.com/stable/ubuntu/focal.gpg | sudo apt-key add -
curl -fsSL https://pkgs.tailscale.com/stable/ubuntu/focal.list | sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/tailscale.list

Then install Tailscale:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install tailscale

And finally, authenticate and connect this server to your Tailscale network.

sudo tailscale up

Now, let’s confirm everything is working by ssh-ing into the server over Tailscale. We’ll exit the machine and re-ssh with our Tailscale IP.

First, find and copy your machine’s Tailscale IP. The easiest way to do this is to run

ip addr show tailscale0

And copy the 100.x.y.z address. Once you’ve found it, exit your ssh session, and start a new one with your newly copied Tailscale IP.

ssh <username>@<copied 100.x.y.z address>

If you’ve enabled MagicDNS on your network, you can use your server’s MagicDNS hostname instead of the IP address.

Step 2: Install code-server

On your server, run the following one-line command to install code-server.

curl -fsSL https://code-server.dev/install.sh | sh

You can also download pre-built binaries from their GitHub releases page.

Once the installation is complete, configure code-server to start on boot by running the following command:

sudo systemctl enable --now code-server@$USER

code-server is now running on your local machine, on port 8080. Now, we’ll expose this server over Tailscale.

Step 3: Make code-server available on the Tailscale interface

By default, code-server only allows access from the local device (127.0.0.1), and restricts access with a password.

Since we’ll only be accessing code-server over Tailscale, and Tailscale already uses your existing Single Sign-On (SSO) identity provider, there’s no need for password-based auth — we can already trust that you’re authorized if you can even access the server!

To do this, we’ll update code-server’s configuration. First, we’ll open up the config file at ~/.config/code-server/config.yaml

The default config file looks something like this:

bind-addr: 127.0.0.1:8080
auth: password
password: <random-password>
cert: false

We’ll update the auth field to none and remove the password field, and make the service available only on your Tailscale IP address.

After these changes, your config file should look like this (don’t forget to replace <copied 100.x.y.z address> with your Tailscale IP address!):

bind-addr: <copied 100.x.y.z address>:8080
auth: none
cert: false

Apply these changes by restarting code server:

sudo systemctl restart code-server@$USER

Step 4: Install Tailscale on your iPad

The last step is to install and sign in to Tailscale on your iPad. You can find Tailscale in the App Store. Make sure you log in with the same account as on your server, so the two devices can see each other.

Once you’re authenticated, you should be able to access your server from the iPad by visiting http://100.x.y.z:8080/. (Make sure to fill in the right IP address or MagicDNS hostname!)

Step 5: Write code!

You’re done! Access your VSCode instance from anywhere. You can code from a café near your home or from the other side of the world. It’s all the same. And it’s only accessible over Tailscale.

There are a few caveats to coding on an iPad.

For more configuration options, explore the code-server repository’s FAQ documentation.

Bonus: use https with Let’s Encrypt

code-server works fine over plain http (over an encrypted+authenticated Tailscale link) but some features will be unavailable. To make it fully functional, you’ll need to set up https.

  1. First, get an automated Tailscale LetsEncrypt certificate.

  2. Then, use that cert by setting up a Caddy- or nginx-based web proxy.

Bonus: additional firewall settings

Since we’ll be developing on this device, chances are it’ll have access to sensitive information: private code, private data, etc. To keep things safe, you may want to restrict all access to the server to only be over Tailscale.

For more details on how to further lock down a server, read our guide on Ubuntu and ufw.

Many thanks to Tailscale user Sam Linville, whose original guide inspired this article.

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