Introduction to Mastodon

F.A.Q: How does it work?

The following is meant as a quick guide. Focused on a heavy use of visuals. Should take no more than 10 minutes to read. Useful as a reference too.

Targeted at my own instance, but should be applicable to anyone's roughly.

FYI: you can log into any Mastodon server with an app. Check out this list for one that suits you. Apps can add features that Mastodon itself is lacking while making the experience more cohesive.

Share how you will! Any questions not answered by this post can probably be found on

P.S: This document has been revised since it was created on the date above. Added links to apps, new sections covering more and fixed errors.

Once you feel comfortable with the technical details, then read here on how to make friends!

Table of Contents


Mastodon specific words that you may encounter:

  • Toot: post (if birds tweet then mastodons toot).
  • Boost, retoot: a shared post or the act of sharing.
  • Instance: a Mastodon server.
  • Favorite: a like that notifies the poster and saves to a list of favorites.
  • Content Warning, cw: a content warning lets you know what's coming before you read it. Can be a way to prepare people for sensitive conversations or long-winded ones.
  • Federation: how posts reach your account since there's no singular central server. It's like a big game of telephone to get posts to you.
  • The Fedi, The Fediverse: The web of applications that federate. i.e: Mastodon, Pixelfed, Pleroma, etc are all social media platforms that share posts and users with one another.


There are types of feeds: Personal, Local and Federated.


The Personal timeline shows you the posts & boosts from people you follow. When you first join you'll only see posts from the administrator.

As you make friends and follow people, this will fill up (hopefully).

Personal feed


The Local timeline is the place where everyone who is on the same server can talk to each other, like a town plaza. Here's a picture of how mine looks now. Depending on how many people are active this is usually a slower moving feed.

local timeline


The Federated timeline is a feed of:

  • everyone who is posting public messages on the Local timeline.
  • people who who are followed by any user on the server.
  • boosted posts of the people those users follow.
  • If connected to a relay, everyone on the fediverse.

In my case, we're connected to a relay with certain instances being blacklisted from mine for different reasons. However a relay is not necessary, in which case the community will probably be smaller.

federated timeline


Notifications are given in a timeline as well. They update you with any mentions, follows, boosts of posts, favorites. You can use the configuration button to the right of the Notifications heading to filter what is shown too.

notification timeline


Finding stuff on Mastodon is fairly easy. The feeds automatically refresh if you scroll to the top. Hashtags are clickable to search for more posts. The search bar also lets you find things.

You can search for users, hashtags and on some servers even post contents.

search bar


Let's look at the hashtags for example. All posts with #music will be displayed:

hashtag search


Users are searchable as well. You can either use just the username or the username and the domain name if you know it.

hashtag search

Profile preferences

To access click the preferences tab either at the end of navigation bar or the arrows next to your username.


Public profile

Here you can edit your avatar, profile page image header, set a description and change your display name as well.

You can choose to make your account private so that only approved people can follow you. Note: This defaults your posts to private, so you'll have to manually set them to public to be visible on the local and federated timelines. By default it's the opposite if you're not set as private. More on that here.

profile preferences

The profile also includes a table that you can use to set labels and contents for things like indicating which website people can find your music at or even labeling your gender pronouns. It's customizable based on your own interests.

profile preferences


Mastodon is about putting control of the feed back into not only community hands, but also into your hands.

Post Filters

One option for this is in the preferences menu under filters. Here you can set posts with keywords to be automatically filtered and from whichever timeline for however long.



On the timeline if you find someone annoying, just block them, mute them, or even report them. Especially if anyone from the federated timeline is harassing other users. To filter posts directly, click the elipses in the post to either report, block or silence a user.

filtering content


To specifically follow different sets of users you can use lists. To access your lists use the menu at the end of the navigation bar or just navigate to Lists if already visible. Useful for following a certain group of friends, people who post about a particular topic or whatever's important to you.

Type in the textbox to create a new list. Click on the list then click on edit list in the configuration dropdown box pictured below to add or remove people you want to follow.

Note: you must be following them to add them. The list only populates after creation too (old posts won't show up).


Following feeds

In order to follow users click on their name and it will take you to their page. You'll see their landing page and toots. From here you can click follow in the upper right corner if you want to follow them or you can click the 3 dots to choose a different action.

This is what the public sees when they click on your page.

profile page


To post click the compose button in the bottom right corner or the reply arrow on a toot. If you're on desktop it could be visible on the left-hand side already.

Privacy settings

Mastodon allows you to set 4 different privacy settings:

  • Public: everyone can see it (federated)
  • Unlisted: everyone can see it, but it's not on the public timelines
  • Private: only followers can see (not the public)
  • Direct message: only addressed users get the message

post privacy settings

Content Warnings

If you click on CW it will label the post behind a content warning that will hide your post until it's clicked. This is useful for sensitive subjects or really long posts so that they don't clog up the feed.

Popular content warnings include but are not limited to:

  • NSFW or lewd
  • pol (politics)
  • selfie (eye contenat/no eye contact)
  • long
  • meta (regarding mastodon)
  • abuse (thoughts or stories relating to abuse)
  • mh (mental health)

posting comments


You can start a poll that will notify users of results after expiration.


Account Migration

Given the federated nature of the platform, you may decide to change servers some day but still want to keep the list of people you're following, people you've blocked and more. Not everything can be exported, but it can make transitioning to a new account much smoother.

You can also choose to delete your account as well, but that's permanent.