Mastodon account migration (Apr 2022)

My old Mastodon instance stopped working. I want to migrate to nelson@tech.lgbt. Unfortunately migration is pretty limited in Mastodon. There is no simple way to move your actual content, your toots. You can move your list of who you follow though, and in some circumstances get your followers to follow your new account. There’s three ways to migrate:

  • Just redirect the old account. This doesn’t actually move any data or set up the new account at all, but it does tell any new visitors you’ve moved.
  • Use the “account migration” tool. This basically does a redirect, but then also “irreversibly force everyone to unfollow your current account and follow your new account”.
  • Migrate manually with data exports and imports.

The first two methods require the server you’re moving from be online and federated. My old server is dead. But I do have a data export archive so I can use that to set up the new account.

What’s in a Mastodon export? It’s a bit messy, there are several files.

  • Who you follow, block, mute. Also lists and bookmarks. These are in separate CSV files you have to download individually. These are the stuff you can usefully import elsewhere.
  • All your toots in an archive, along with a bunch of images. The toots are in a big JSON blob. There’s also some other data like your avatar image. These cannot be imported.

Bottom line, the only thing I can really import usefully is who I follow. And doing that won’t get them to follow me. Mastodon’s blog post says “moving instances is painless and straightforward with Mastodon” but that’s really not true. Not surprised, doing this in a federated system with user security as a top priority is hard.

The import seemed to go smoothly. It’s not instance, the import page says “we’ll get to it eventually”. It seemed to take a few minutes.

The import was not complete, but maybe it takes awhile. My export had 275 accounts I was following. First time I looked after 15 minutes I had about 114 people I was following (according to the new server’s export tool). The second time after 45 minutes it was 177. I don’t expect all 275 of the accounts will ever import, some are from servers that are gone.

I’m starting to get followers again, I suspect because they saw the “nelson followed you” notification. It will be impossible to get most of them over without the old server coming back up.

The nicest thing about my new instance is the skin is now some clean, single column layout of toots. I really hated that old darkmode multicolumn thing!