If I died tomorrow, how long would my webapp keep running?

March 3, 2023

A lonely robot

I am the sole developer of a webapp that has around 5,000 USD in monthly revenue.

Yesterday I was thinking about what would happen to it if I died suddenly. I really should have some kind of succession plan. But instead of diving into that, I began to wonder how long the app would keep running for if it was left completely to itself, with no further human support.

It’s interesting because my app runs as a completely self-sufficient system.

  1. The app makes monthly revenue which automatically gets deposited into a bank account.
  2. The app is hosted on a cloud provider (DigitalOcean) and the monthly bill is automatically paid from that bank account.
  3. The same is true for the domain name registrar.

In theory, the app will remain online indefinitely as long as

In practice of course, it will go offline eventually. What are the scenarios that could cause this?

“Acts of God” or infrastructure failure

This would be events that are outside the scope of the app. The more spectacular the failure, the less likely it is to happen.

Spectacular failures include: a meteor striking the infrastructure, a nuclear war, a solar flare, a super-volcano eruption, a zombie apocalypse, a global pandemic, or a global economic collapse. All of these are unlikely to happen.

Less spectacular would be the cloud provider going bankrupt, or the domain name registrar going out of business. More probable but still unlikely.

Most likely in this department would be the cloud provider having an outage or the database getting stuck after an automatic update.

App-level technical failure

This would be a failure of the app itself due to a bug or lack of maintenance. I would not make the claim that my app is bug-free, but I am pretty confident that it’s free of bugs that could cause it to go offline.

The app runs on a virtual Linux server, and these can famously run for years without any kind of human intervention.

The likeliest scenario in this department would be the database or the harddisk simply filling up. This would cause the app to go offline, but it would take a long time. Probably years.

Product failure

The app could stop generating enough revenue to cover the monthly costs. With no further development, this would eventually happen but it would take a long time. I think one of the other scenarios would strike first.

Security breach or malicious attack

The app (or the server it’s running on) could be breached by an attacker. Actually, this would probably not cause the app to go offline, because it is not in the attacker’s interest. The attacker would probably use the app to send spam, or to mine cryptocurrency, or to host malware, whilst ensuring that it remains online.

More dangerous would be an external attack such as a denial of service attack. This involves flooding the app with traffic until it buckles and fails. I’ve never tried it, so I have no idea if the app could recover by itself. Possibly.

Payment failure

Obviously the bank account and the attached credit card is a single and critical point of failure. As soon as payment stops, the app’s days are numbered. I would estimate that the cloud provider and the domain name registrar would stop providing services within three months of not being paid.

This is actually the most likely scenario. Eventually the bank would get wind of the fact that I am no longer around and would freeze the account. Or the credit card expires.


Overall, I estimate the app would continue to function for a minimum of six months. If the credit card remains active I could imagine it continuing to run for 1-2 years and with a bit of luck, maybe even 5 years. The thing is, one way or another, I will never find out!

Do you have a succession plan for your webapp?

PS. To see if I survive, follow me on Twitter.