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Fábio Rehm

Software Developer and Open Source Enthusiast

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100% on Vagrant

Last year I heard a lot about Vagrant and even though I had the chance to play with it, performance was always an issue that prevented me from doing 100% of my development work from a VM. By december, when my laptop started acting weird (and eventually died) I decided that my next computer would have as much cores and RAM that I could afford. I looked at a few different options and ended up getting a Dell Inspiron 15R SE with a Core I7 that has 4 cores and 8 threads and 8 Gb RAM. Combined with some Vagrant / VirtualBox tweaks, I’m now able to use Vagrant for pretty much all of my “real” (paid) development work.

If you are thinking about doing the same or are curious about how I am doing it, here’s a list of some useful tips that might help you out as well. If you are new to Vagrant, check out the getting started guide and this overview about it.

Enable NFS

If you ever tried to run the specs for a reasonable sized Rails app from a Vagrant box without enabling NFS Shared folders, you probably noticed that it takes ages to run compared to your physical machine. If you’ve never heard of this feature, check out the link and pay attention to the benchmarks.

In my experience, even though I configured my VirtualBox machine to use 3 cores and 2 Gb of RAM the specs AND the app were performing really bad. It took me a while to figure out that at least part of the issue was this as my specs went from around 2:20 minutes down to 1:40 minute after the initial NFS warn up just by enabling this.

So try your best to use NFS Shared Folders on your projects, it will have a HUGE impact on your productivity. If you have trouble setting it up, shoot me an email or post a question to the Vagrant mailing list.

If you are an Ubuntu user like me, there is an issue that prevents it to work properly. I don’t remember exactly the error I had but my projects were stored under my /home folder that was encrypted (I think I might have checked a box while installing the OS). My workaround was to move all my code from /home/fabio/projects to /home/projects but the path you use probably doesn’t matter, as long as it is not an encrypted folder.

Custom base boxes

Rebuilding a box setting up all dependencies all the time is a PITA.

Be nice to other people on the team and make a base box with everything set up available somewhere. Put it on your public Dropbox folder and set it as the base box on the project’s Vagrantfile.

I’ve created one that I’m using for my Rails projects. Just by importing that base box, you’ll get:

  • PostgreSQL 9.1
  • memcached
  • Redis
  • rbenv
  • Ruby 1.9.3-p327 with falcon’s patch and some other some tunings
  • NodeJS (for the asset pipeline)
  • PhantomJS for using poltergeist and guard-jasmine
  • Commonly used packages (like curl, imagemagick and git)

Because it has all that set up, my Vagrantfile ends up being a dead simple inline bash script that creates the databases if they don’t exist yet and I don’t need to keep Puppet related files under source control.

Shared Vagrant box

Sometimes you just want to hack on a gem, on an old app or want to try out a new language / framework without messing up your computer installing a lot of packages and dependencies.

In that case you don’t need a specific Vagrantfile for them. You can just place one under your /home folder or the root folder of all your projects and run the machine from any project subfolder you are. Vagrant will look it up for you whenever you run vagrant up or vagrant ssh.

vagrant-notify

If you want to use something like guard or have some other script that uses notify-send that you want to run from the VM, you can make use this gem. It is not 100% done but it does suit my current needs and might suit yours as well.

With the gem, whenever a Vagrant box is provisioned, the guest notify-send executable will get replaced with a ruby script that connects to a TCP server running on the host machine that runs the command.

Drawbacks

Nothing is perfect right? There are some drawbacks of using a virtual machine wheter you are using Vagrant or not:

  • Your laptop battery won’t last that much, so keep that in mind before hacking some code on a plane.
  • A lot of vagrant machines means a lot of disk space will get eaten by the machines. In average, each of my boxes is getting 2.3 Gb of my HD.
  • If you edit project files from your host machine using your favorite IDE, chances are that a process on the guest machine won’t get notified that a file was changed. I’m thinking about a workaround for that and already have something on my mind. I’ll release it as a gem as soon as I have a chance.

Apart from the file change propagation there’s nothing much that we can do. I’m already freeing up the base box disk space when packaging my base boxes and as far as I know, at least here in Brazil there is no such thing as an airplane with power outlets ;-)


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