Sunday, January 24, 2016

@Vagrantup from scratch - Day #1

A friend got himself a brand new Lenovo ThinkPad. He wanted to create new virtual machines to play with Puppet, Docker and other tools. Here you go buddy. We will start with some best practices.

Best practices

I recommend these best practices so that it will be easy to find all virtual machines you create, save disk space and you'll be ready to go in an instant when you want to do something new. 


Keep all your vagrant workspaces in one folder. I keep mine in c:\workspaces\vagrantWorkspaces because I have workspaces for Eclipse, Visual Studio and others. Surely do back up this folder frequently.


Maintain an excel file or Google Spreadsheet file with a list of all virtual machines you create to reuse and wish to keep.


If you wish to package any of the virtual machines as .box files, store them outside the workspace folders. Keep your workspace small so it is easy and quick to backup.

Naming convention

Choose a naming convention, so you will know which box has which operating system and primary tool etc.

For example, I have a 'JenkinsTomactTrusty64' virtual machine which tells me that this virtual machine has:
  1. Ubuntu Trusty64 operating system 
  2. With Jenkins running on a Tomcat server. 

Minimum number of apps per virtual machine

As much as possible, run the minimum number of services or applications on each virtual machine. If you have a need for more applications to be running and communicating between them, create separate virtual machines and connect them by using the port forwarding features in VirtualBox. For example, if you need a web site that connects to a database, create two separate virtual machines, one for the web server and the other for the database. 

This way, when you need to host another application that needs the same database server, you have a choice of creating a copy of the existing database virtual machine or you could choose to use the same database virtual machine to host the data for this other app. This also allows the virual machines to be small, portable and reusable. 

Create base boxes

This is a slightly advanced topic, but I will mention it here as this is about best practices. Vagrant allows you to create reusable base boxes. Basically, you can create a virtual machine, update it, add your app or service to it and then package it as a template so that you can create new virtual machines using this template as the base. This is such a great feature. It allows me to fire up instantly any new virtual machine with most of the provisioning already setup. In most cases, it takes less than 60 seconds for the virtual machine to be up and running when you have base boxes on your host.

Getting started

I am sure the above stuff was boring. Let us get into the good stuff now. We will install the tools required and fire up a new virtual machine.

Step 1

Install the following in the order listed.
  1. VirtualBox
  2. Vagrant
  3. GitBash (Optional, but good to have if your host OS is Windows)

Step 2

Start your first vagrant box.

  1. Create a new folder inside your vagrant workspace folder. For now, go with a folder named 'init'.
  2. Open cmd or git bash and change directory to this init folder.
  3. Execute the following commands.

vagrant init hashicorp/precise64 // This command creates a new Vagrantfile in the init folder. hashicorp/precise64 is a Ubuntu Precise64 VM hosted at Hashicorp (parent of Vagrant). Read through it later. Lots of interesting features are listed in the comments of this document.

vagrant up // This command downloads a basebox from, creates a Virtualbox VM and starts it up.

Step 3

When the command prompt is available, execute the following command to SSH into the new virtual machine.

vagrant ssh

You could also open the VirtualBox application and see the new virtual machine in the list.

On the next post, we will talk about downloading virtual machines with specific operating systems and creating your own base box from scratch. Have fun!