Migrating to a new Mastodon home

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18 min read

Update November 3, 2022
This blog post was originally published on May 5, 2022 and the bug I describe below has been fixed. If the instance of Mastodon you are using is recent then you shouldn’t run into the account alias bug like I did back in May when I wrote this post.  

TL;DR Mastodon account migration has potential, but I wouldn’t recommend it just yet until a major bug fix is rolled out  Limitations of the migration include being unable to migrate your posts and the known (but fixed) bug in the process to update your followers. However, migrating the people you follow works smoothly. My migration from mastodon.social to mastodon.oeru.org is complete and you can now follow me on the OERu Mastodon instance.

Some bg

Mastodon is a federated service, meaning that it isn’t one centralized site like Twitter, but instead a series of smaller Mastodon sites (called instances) connected to each other. Each of those smaller Mastodon instances is run by its own community & administrators and comes with their own unique set of guidelines and community protocols for people who choose to make that site their Mastodon home base. Those smaller instances are connected to each other so that you can communicate with others who are on other instances. Right now there are well over 100 of these Mastodon instances listed in the Join Mastodon directory.

An advantage of this connected, or federated, system of instances is that it means you can, theoretically, move from one instance to another fairly easily. Should something happen to the Mastodon instance you are on, or if you start at one instance only to realize the community isn’t a great fit for you, you can move to another instance ideally taking all your data with you.

Even though it doesn’t seem like it should make a big difference what local Mastodon instance you join (after all, through the magic of federation you can still connect with people at those other communities/instances), it does make a difference in at least 2 ways.

  1. You are bound by the rules of your local instance. You are using their servers, you agree to play by their rules. Which is completely fair. As well, administrators of local servers have the ability to ban other instances completely so there may be parts of the Mastodon fediverse that you can not connect to.
  2. What you see on the Local timeline is what the local instance community is posting. The local timeline does not refer to your geographical location, but instead what is being posted by others who are on your local instance of Mastodon. The more specialized and niche the community is, the more likely the local timeline will be focused on that specialized niche which might be important for you as it increases your chance of finding new people interested in the same things you are on that local timeline. But if you are on a large and general server with tens of thousands of users, like I am on mastodon.social, I don’t find the local timeline particularily useful and, as a result, rarely visit it. this might not be the case for you – you may find it fits your liking to have a busy and widely varied local timeline that you get from a large instance like mastodon.social.

From Mastodon.social to mastodon.oeru.org

When I started exploring Mastodon back in 2016 (back when that other Internet troll was trying to bring democracy to its knees using Twitter to dish out a daily dose of red meat) I didn’t really know there were many smaller Mastodon sites out there to join, so I did what most did and joined the main mastodon.social site run by the main Mastodon developer. That has been my home space for the past 5 or so years and it has been fine. I’ve even been supporting the developer & administrator of the site with a monthly Patreon donation​*​ .

Since I first joined, many new Mastodon sites & communities have launched, including the academic-oriented scholar.social that I see many educators and academics joining. But nothing really dedicated to open education or education technology, except for an instance run out of the OERu based in New Zealand by Wayne Mackintosh and Dave Lane. They run an OERu instance of Mastodon and use it in their LiDA 101 digital literacy course. So I reached out to Wayne and Dave and asked about the possibility of other open educators joining their instance, which they (being open educators) are perfectly agreeable to. In exchange, I have offered to help them out through moderation and any other way they might need some help.

I am quite fired up about being on a local instance that could be specific to both open education & digital literacy and that helps acclimatize students to networked social learning. And I am loving the chance to be a bit closer to both Wayne and Dave, open educators who live and breath open education right down to the technology stack ​†​.

The migration process

To migrate my mastodon.social account to the OERu instance, I am following these June 2019 instructions from the Mastodon blog. I also referred to a Mastodon thread from the developer @Gargron and the RTFM page from the Mastodon documentation.

As migrating is a multistage process that involves going back and forth between the old and new instances, I am using dark and light screens in the screen shots below to differentiate between my mastodon.social and my new account at mastodon.oeru.org. The light screenshots are my mastodon.social account (where I want to move from) and the dark shots are the oeru mastodon server (where I want to move to)

Account migration is a multi-stage process and, while I appreciate that you can migrate, in reality the process is not as seamless as I had originally hoped it would be.

For one, there is no way to move your posts from your old account to your new account. Yes, you can download an archive of your posts, but you cannot import your posts to your new account. So anything you have posted on your old account on your old instance stays with your old account.

Second, while it is not difficult to import who you follow into your new account, who follows you is a bit of a different matter. It is a completely different process than importing who you follow. It is also permanent and irreversible in the sense that once you do it your old account is locked and you can no longer access it. Which, to be honest, is a bit nerve-wracking when it comes time to actually do the migration, but something I want to do as I don’t want to have people who follow me have to find me all over again. Unfortunately, as you will see below, it didn’t work due to a known software bug.

So, here is the process I went through.

First, sign-up for a new account at your new instance. In my case oeru.mastodon.org. I verify my email and my account is created.

Next I create a backup archive of my data (posts & media) from my old instance mastodon.social. To create the backup go to Preferences > Data export and click on the request your archive. This can take some time (mine took about 10 minutes) and, because of the extra overhead it puts on the server, can only be done every 7 days. This export file only captures your posts and media and these cannot be imported into your new account. Really, this archive is just that – an archive that could be imported into another ActivityPub compliant application, but that is beyond the scope of what I want to do.

The useful stuff that you can import into your new account are the people you follow. In order to migrate those people to your new account you need to manually download a CSV file. In fact, you have to manually download a number of CSV files – one for people you follow, one for any lists you have created (although this cannot be imported into your new account), one for accounts you have muted or domains you have blocked, and one for any bookmarks you have created. Which is a bit of a pain to do these one at a time but important as these are the files that you will import into your new account to rebuild who you follow, block and mute.

Screenshot of Mastodon data export screen showing the data that will be exported into an ActivityPub format The export captures a lot of information including all your posts, any media (ie images), follows and followers, lists, accounts you have muted or blocked, bookmarks, and any domains you may have blocked.

Once the archive is ready to go, you can download it from this same page.

Screenshot of Mastodon data download page that has a red box to hilight the Download your archive link

Remember this archive is only your posts and media, not your follow/followers, lists, bookmarks, blocked accounts or muted domains which need to be downloaded separately as CSV files.

Once you have downloaded all the archive files, log in to your new account and upload the CSV files you downloaded from your old instance. Again, this is done one by one which does give you some control over what you want to import. But a bulk import of everything would be a bit of a time saver and make the process more convenient.

In your new instance, go to Preferences > Import and choose the type of file you want to import under the Import type dropdown. You can import the people who you follow, and the accounts and domains you block or mute. During the import you have the option to overwrite any data or merge the new data with your old data. Here I am importing the people I follow.

Animated gif that demonstrates how to import a following list into Mastodon.

Wait a few minutes and voila….all the people I follow on my old account I am now following on my new one.

Mastodon screenshot showing a list of people I follow successfully migrated to a new instance. The names and faces are blurred for privacy.

And when I compare my Home timeline on my new account with the Home timeline on my old account I can see they are identical. I am seeing the same posts on both, which makes sense as I am following the same people on both.

Excellent. So far so good. Network portability!

When you do this, the people who you import will receive a standard new follower notification, which does give some an indication that you have moved.

Now, to do the scary part – update the people who follow me.

As I said before, this is a different process and one that means I will lose access to my old mastodon.social account permanently. But this process is supposed to automatically & silently update my old handle to my new handle for people who follow me so they do not have to manually follow me. More technically it isn’t an update, but rather the process actually unfollows my old account and refollows my new one for anyone who follows me.

To do this I first need to tell my new account what my old account is. So I log into my new account and go to Account > Account Settings. I scroll down and see 3 options: Move to a different account, Move from a different account, or delete account. I choose Moving to a different account to create an account alias. I am not exactly sure what an account alias is or why it is needed. I was just hoping to follow instructions at this point and not ask too many questions. So, I click create an account alias.

Screenshot of the Mastodon redirect page with a red hilight box around the Move to a different account option and annotation text that reads in my new OERU account I first need to set up an account alias so I choose this option.

I am taken to a page where I enter my old account handle.

It’s getting real now folks.

I enter my old account name….

The Mastodon account alias text entry page. In the text field it reads clintlalonde@mastodon.social, my old Mastodon account.

Hit Create Alias and….

Mastodon error message that shows an elephant sitting in front of a computer with the word error on the screen. The text says we're sorry but something has gone wrong on our end.

Well, that is not good. Here is the bug I mentioned earlier.

A bit of Google research and I find this is a recent known bug so for now I won’t get to do the final stage that automagically unfollows and refollows my account for my followers until the bug fix rolls out with the next stable release and our instance gets updated.

Ok, not great and the top reason why I say this migration tool may not be ready for prime time yet for those with a large established network of followers. Living in a new instance with no posts is one thing, but not being able to easily bring the people who follow you is another. Yes, the people whom you follow will get a standard @clintlalonde follow request and those who pay attention to their followers might see this and take it as a prompt to follow me back. But this does rely on the people whom I follow to notice the new account and manually follow me back. There is no guarantee that the people who follow me will even notice that a new Clint Lalonde is following them. Or worse, this new Clint Lalonde might be a spam or phishing account. If you have ever used Facebook and have received a follow request from someone whom you are sure you already follow, you know how that game works. Additionally, those whom I do not follow but who follow me will never know I have moved. I will have just disappeared from their feed. Once the bug is rolled out widely and the process doesn’t throw an error message, then this won’t be an issue as the change will happen for my followers automatically and silently.

For now, there is another process I can use to at least redirect people who go to my old mastodon.social account to my new mastodon.oeru.org account. It is called a profile redirect and while it doesn’t update my handle for the people who follow me, it does redirect anyone who goes to my old profile page and prevents people from tagging me in my old account. Once you set up a redirect, your old account is limited – you can’t post from it for example – but you can still log in and download your archive and, if you want, reactivate the old account.

This part was slightly frustrating for me, likely because I was a) just coming off a major error message at a time in the migration that I was already nervous about and b) I couldn’t actually find the redirect feature in the Mastodon interface.

When I look at my account options, there are only three options: Move to a different account, Moving from a different account, and Delete. There is no redirect option. I only know about the redirect option because Redirecting is mentioned in the official Mastodon help docs as an option.

It turns out, the redirect option is buried in the Move to a different account page. I only found it by clicking through to that page searching the UI. Yeesh.

Mastodon account migration page with a red text box around a very small line of text that says Alternatively, you can only put a redirect on your profile.

When I click that link I am finally taken to the page to set up the redirect message. which says that my account will not be fully usable after I make the change, but I can always reactivate it and export data from it at any time.

Mastodon account migration screen shot

So my plan is to set up the redirect and then once the bug for migration is fixed, complete the migration process which should then automatically update my address for anyone who follows me. I enter my new account clintlalonde@mastodon.oeru.org and my password for my current mastodon.social site and the redirect message goes up. Now when people come to my page on mastodon.social they see the profile is grayed out and a message is posted on the page that I have moved to a new instance. It’s not super prominent, but it is there.

Screenshot of my old Mastodon profile. The images are grayed out indicating the profile has been migrated to a different server. to the right of the screen is a red text box. Inside the red text box it says Clint lalonde (he/him) has moved to @clintlalonde@mastodon.oeru.org

And when I log into my old mastodon.social account I only have the option to export my data or cancel the redirect and reactivate my account. I cannot post or view the Home timeline. I have limited options, but do have the option to fire it up and remove the redirect at any time.

Account setting on old mastodon account with green text box that reads Your account is now redirecting to clintlalonde@mastodon.oeru.org and a link that says Cancel Redirect.

So, here I am, 3 hours​‡​ and one fatal error message caused by a known bug later and here we are. I am living between 2 spaces for the time being, which isn’t ideal but ok.

I am a bit concerned that when I did the follow import a whole bunch of people I follow got the notification that this new @clintlalonde account started following them, which prompted them to follow my new account manually. It’s fine, but I am not sure what is going to happen when I do that final step and automatically update my address in their accounts. I suspect they will end up following 2 me’s that both point back to the OERu account. Will they start seeing my posts twice in their home feed? I don’t know, but could be a possibility.

It is disappointing that you cannot import your own posts. The official documentation does mention this as a limitation of the process so I was aware of that limitation going into the migration. Still, I hope that could be a future enhancement that would make this process nicer. Full data portability between instances. And some of the UI decisions are awkward, like hiding the redirect link.

As a positive, the process of importing the people I followed was pretty slick. All the people I follow are there in my new account and my Home timeline is identical on both sites so I don’t feel like I am missing anything from the people I follow. And if I want to really fix things the project is open source and, well, I can always post or vote for feature requests and suggestions as a way to get involved.

I had started this blog post full of optimism that this would have been an easier process that I could recommend to others as I am seeing some “instance hesitancy” or “FOPTWO” (Fear Of Picking The Wrong Instance) that is keeping some from stepping into the Mastodon waters. I wish I could say “hey, it doesn’t matter, just pick one and you can easily move later”, but that “easily move later” bit isn’t quite as easy as I hoped. I suspect it will improve over time, as the software has improved over the past 5 years that I have used it. But right now the account migration process still feels rough around the edges at least until the bug fix is rolled out and the migration works as expected.


  1. ​*​
    I urge you to do the same at whatever instance you decide to use as it takes real $$$$ to run these services and most Mastodon servers are done by a handful of committed people who are not making money off advertising or the selling of your user data. Support them.
  2. ​†​
    If you have not seen the open edtech stack that Dave has assembled take a minute as it is impressive work.
  3. ​‡​
    3 hours is much longer than the actual process would likely be as I am composing this post as I go which is taking time.


Christina Hendricks May 5, 2022

Thank you so much for posting this, Clint! What I have done over the past few years is just join several instances and never try to migrate. So I currently have three different accounts, only one of which I use. That worked okay when I didn’t follow too many people (or vice versa), but with the new wave of folks joining I now have many more of both. Manually following all the same people as I did before would be a major hurdle.

I really appreciate you laying out the process, and the issues, so clearly!

Clint Lalonde May 6, 2022

Thank you for having the perseverance to make your way through it! It came out longer than I expected when i started.

The people you follow process works smoothly and as you would expect – export the CSV list from your old and import it into the new and your new account is now following the same group. So that part is pretty slick. But it is going the other way (the people who follow you) where the process is borked right now. Once that bug gets fixed then i think it makes it a much more attractive proposition to migrate as you can bring both the people you follow and the people who follow you over to your new account.

Steve Foerster May 7, 2022

Thank you, this is really interesting, and also makes me glad I have no intention to move instances, unless Wayne and Dave kick me out.

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