September 11, 2013

Announcing Ventriloquist

Although I’ve been writing about and working on a lot of Vagrant related stuff lately, I need to say that I’m not a “DevOps guy”. My day to day job still consists of building web apps using Ruby On Rails and even though I like using Puppet (and recently Chef), my daily work does not involve any sort of machine configuration management.

Configuring a Vagrant development environment is not an easy task. As an example, the “default stack” of the Rails apps I’ve been working on consists on quite a few components and getting the provisioning scripts / manifests / recipes right is not a trivial task for many people (myself included). I know there are a lot of modules / cookbooks available out there but in my opinion having to know that they exist and learning how to wire them up together shouldn’t be a requirement for developers.

Projects like PuPHPet and Web VM Generator are available to make that initial bootstrap easier for PHP projects but at the end they both spit out a set of Puppet manifests. While I like the idea, it still “forces” users to learn Puppet to make changes to the VM or go through the process of clicking checkboxes and filling in text inputs to build a new set of manifests with the new configs.

Inspired by both Rails Wizard and GitHub’s Boxen, earlier this year I started a project called vagrant-boxen that followed the same approach as PuPHPet or Web VM Generator but without the UI. My idea was to use a set of pre-defined Puppet modules to allow users to configure the VMs from within the Vagrantfile with less pain.

Since then the idea has evolved into a new tool I have just open sourced called Ventriloquist that combines Vagrant and Docker to give developers the ability to configure portable and disposable development VMs with ease. It follows vagrant-boxen approach of configuring things from Vagrantfiles and it attempts to lower the entry barrier of building a sane working environment without having to worry about provisioning tools.

Project Goals

As stated on the README, the idea is to build a tool that supports creating multi purpose, “zero-conf” development environments that fits into a gist. It also aims to be the easiest way to build other tools development environments and to be a learning playground, making it easy to learn new programming languages / tools.

This may sound weird for some people but Ventriloquist can help you achieve “Production Parity” if you don’t have control of your production environment (like if you are deploying to Heroku or another PaaS) or have a complex setup in place (involving load balancers, multiple database servers and the like). IMHO it doesn’t make sense to replicate ALL of the aspects of your production environment during development and using the same distro / tools version as you’ll have available over there is usually enough. Not to say that if you use Docker in production, you might as well try to use the same services images during development and stay closer to your production environment.

How does it look like?

To give you an idea, this is what it takes to configure a Vagrant VM ready for development on Discourse (and probably a whole lot of other Ruby On Rails apps):

Vagrant.configure("2") do |config|
  # ... your other Vagrant configs ...
  config.vm.provision :ventriloquist do |env|  << %w( redis pg:9.1 )
    env.platforms << %w( nodejs ruby:1.9.3 )

As another example, this is what I ended up removing from my own rails-base-box Puppet manifest after introducing the plugin. Since most of the work is being handled by Ventriloquist, I’ve replaced all of the Puppet modules dependencies I needed with 4 lines of code on my Vagrantfile. I’m still dealing with some pretty basic stuff using puppet but I’m planing to swap it with a bash script that has even less lines of code to keep things simpler and leverage provisionerless base Vagrant boxes.

As with other stuff I’ve built recently, it’s just a start

There are a lot of things that needs to be improved and you can find some ideas on the project’s README.

For now I’ll continue to do some more testing and will start looking into adding support for other languages as I have the need. If you have a need for an unsupported platform or service, feel free to open up an issue or a Pull Request on GitHub.

I would also love to know any kind of feedback you might have about the tool. If you are feeling specially charitable, share this post on Twitter / star the project on GitHub or drop by a comment. Oh, and don’t hesitate to throw some tomatoes as well if you think I deserve :P

UPDATE (26 AUG 2014): I’ve stepped down as a maintainer of the plugin, feel free to reach out in case you want to take over responsibility for the project

© Fabio Rehm 2013-2022

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