Vagrant for Development in a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)
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Vagrant for Development in a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)

Vagrant is an amazing tool for developing throw-away dev environment that closely resembles production. It greatly reduces turn around…

Vagrant is an amazing tool for developing throw-away dev environment that closely resembles production. It greatly reduces turn around times and effort on setting up your development environment. It gives you the flexibility to experiment around, play with new experimental stuff and if you mess it up, then you can easily destroy and quickly re-create another one.

You may find a ton of projects on Github that make use of Vagrant for development. However, they use Vagrant for development of the project alone. That may work fine with one off projects or open-source projects. In a real world scenario where you have more than one projects working together, setting them up locally may be difficult. This post presents a way you can use Vagrant in an Service Oriented Architecture where it may be possible for you to use the same Vagrant setup with multiple projects.

Our Requirements

This is something that I spent a considerable amount of time while working with my previous employer — Wingify. At Wingify, one of my responsibilities was how can I improve developer productivity and ensure that the software that gets pushed to production actually works after deployment. The things that I considered were essential for a good development environment are:

Developer Productivity — make sure that developers’ productivity and ease-of-development is not compromised. Vagrant uses virtualized environments for setting up dev environments. It works with Virtualbox out-of-the-box. We had to make sure that developers don’t have to use different tools (like IDE) even if their code is running in virtualized environments.

Configuration Management — configuration and system orchestration has to be managed through code. Infrastructure must be codified so that both Ops and Devs can read it, understand it, modify it as needed and eventually everyone contributes to it. We were already using Puppet for this. The best thing is that Vagrant works with Puppet. And not just with Puppet, it works with a ton of other configuration management tools. So you can use your favorite tool.

Dev/Prod Parity — One of the first things to do in this case was make sure that the developers are at least using the same set of tools and setting up their development environments exactly the same way as we will setup the production servers. If you are using configuration management tools, it should be fairly simple to put together a development environment provisioned using them. But its not just that. Even minute things like lack of a proxy in development environment for connect to another TCP service can lead to a failure in production. To avoid such things, well… provision all intermediate layers as well. For example, we use mysql-proxy in production to connect to our MySQL servers. We made sure that in our development environment, our apps also make use of mysql-proxy to connect to MySQL instead of working with it directly.

All essential services must be provisioned — the stage at which I had made it a priority to make dev environments productive was the stage where we already had tons of services (written by us) that together made our product work. Not all of them were essential for day-to-day development of our product, but at least a few were. So the most important problem to solve for us was how to make the dev environment have the critical services automatically set up, leaving enough room to add new services later. This was also important, especially with respect to how people use Vagrant essentially i.e. using it to work on one independent project.

Customizing Vagrant, just a little bit

Vagrant’s getting started docs are pretty good with getting you to have your first development environment set up really quickly. But if you don’t pay attention to the campabilities of what Vagrant can do, you may end up not using Vagrant to the best of its abilities.

Dedicate a repositorty for your Vagrant setup

One of our needs was to have multiple projects available in our development environment. You can achieve this with Vagrant using Synced Folders. Synced Folders share a folder on your machine at a specified location on your guest machine. This makes it easy for developers to keep using the tools they love on their host machine (things like IDEs, other CLI tools, etc.).

Usually how different projects use Vagrant and Synced Folders is they drop Vagrantfile in the root of the project and share the current directory "." with the guest machine using Synced Folders.

webapplication/  models/  views/  controllers/  Vagrantfile # Vagrant configuration  vagrant/ # Provisioning scripts, bash, Puppet, ansible, etc.

The Vagrantfile in this above typical project will use the Synced Folder feature to share the code like so:

config.vm.synced_folder ".", "/var/www/webapplication"

So when you run vagrant up, the above directory is shared and made available in the virtual machine. The scripts in the vagrant/ directory are used for setting up the rest of the things required to run the webapplication.

As this may work wonderfully with an independent project, this organization of Vagrant configuration and projects fails in the case when you want multiple projects provisioned in the same environment because its hard to decide where to put all the configuration.

So we decided to go ahead and make a seperate project for all Vagrant related stuff. Our Vagrant setup looks like this:

dev-environment/  hiera/  lib/  scripts/  Vagrantfile  nodes.pp  hiera.yaml  config.default.yml  ...    # Some other stuff

Let me explain what are these things for:

  1. hiera/, hiera.yaml, nodes.pp: this is all Puppet specific stuff that we will see later.
  2. lib/: Ruby code that is used for doing some custom stuff with Vagrant. We will see this shortly.
  3. scripts/: a few Bash scripts for doing some very basic setups like installing some extra dependencies for Puppet.
  4. config.default.yml: A reference configuration file, which is more developer friendly. It is used by the Vagrantfile.
  5. Vagranfile: the standard Vagrantfile with some modifications.

Flexibile configuration in Vagrantfile

Vagrant environments are configured using something called a Vagrantfile. All the configuration related to your Vagrant environment resides here. It describes the type of machine required for your project and how to provision this machine.

The syntax of Vagrantfile is Ruby. You don’t have to know the language for working with Vagrantfile. The syntax is pretty simple. But if you do know the language, you can do a lot with Vagrantfile(s). Since a Vagrantfile just has Ruby code, you can do a lot of fancy things in there to make Vagrant work according to your needs.

The config.default.yml file in the previous section is just a reference configuration file. It needs to be copied. Our setup requires a config.yml file instead of the default file but in the same format. The config.yml file looks something like this:---
   enabled: true
   api_token: null       # set your API token here
   enabled: true
   api_token: null       # set your API token here

The config file is in YAML format. At the beginning of the Vagrantfile, we parse the contents which are available through out the file. This file lists down multiple things. We will see each one of them one-by-one.

Using Synced Folders to sync multiple projects

projects: This key in config.yml is the list of projects that we would like to be set up in our Vagrant environment. In our Vagrantfile, we just use Synced Folders to make these projects available at the locations they should be made available at.

app.vm.synced_folder vagrant_config["projects"]["website"],    "/var/www/website",    owner: 'www-data',    group: 'www-data',    mount_options: ["dmode=775,fmode=664"]
app.vm.synced_folder vagrant_config["projects"]["webapplication"],    "/var/www/webapplication",    owner: 'www-data',    group: 'www-data',    mount_options: ["dmode=775,fmode=664"]
app.vm.synced_folder vagrant_config["projects"]["queue-workers"],    "/opt/queue-workers",    owner: 'queue_workers',    group: 'queue_workers',    mount_options: ["dmode=775,fmode=664"]
app.vm.synced_folder vagrant_config["projects"]["analytics-service"],    "/opt/analytics-service",    owner: 'analytics',    group: 'analytics',    mount_options: ["dmode=775,fmode=664"]

This does a few things that are important for our environment:

  1. Developers organize their projects differently. Every project may lie at a different location from host to host. This way, developers can put their projects anywhere on their machine and then configure our Vagrant set up to sync the code in the guest machine from the locations specified in config.yml.
  2. If a new project needs to be provisioned, then you can just add the project in config.yml, add it in Vagrantfile like above and have Puppet do the set up. This way adding new projects does not require a lot of work.

Puppet for provisioning

puppet — this key creates a space for customizing the Puppet setup we use for setting up Vagrant. How we use Puppet at Wingify is that there is one repository where all the Puppet modules, manifests and Hiera data lies. When setting up the development environment using this project, one of the first steps to use Vagrant is clone this Puppet code-base somewhere on your host machine. Then add the Path to the project in your Vagrantfile.

This is what we do in our Vagrantfile:

config.vm.provision "puppet" do |puppet|    modulepath = File.join(vagrant_config["puppet"]["path"], "modules")
    config.vm.synced_folder vagrant_config["puppet"]["path"], "/etc/puppet"    puppet.manifests_path = "."    puppet.module_path = modulepath    puppet.manifest_file = "nodes.pp"    puppet.hiera_config_path = "hiera.yaml"    puppet.facter = {        "in_vagrant" => true,    }    puppet.options = "--parser future"end

Using this, we configure Vagrant to use Puppet in a slightly different way. This tells Vagrant to load the Puppet modules from the Puppet repository, use the site manifest which is seperate for Vagrant machines which is lying in this repository i.e. vagrant repository — nodes.pp.

Configuration data

The last thing that is important is where to load the actual configuration from. In Puppet world, Hiera is very commonly used for this. Our Puppet repository comes with some sane defaults for every module. These configurations’ default values are overridden depending upon which environment is that module used for provisioning. Such is the case with Vagrant as well. The values that override the defaults are checked in the vagrant repository. The hierarchy for Hiera is defined in hiera.yaml and the configuration values that override the defaults are available in hiera/ directory.

Vagrant-aware Puppet modules

Usually, the Puppet module for setting up your project will also clone your project to the target machine. In case of Vagrant with your project already synced to the guest machine, this may fail. You might want to avoid the cloning step in your Puppet module. In our Vagrant file, we added a pre-defined custom fact (called in_vagrant) that can be used in your modules to be aware if you are in Vagrant or not.

Consider this example:

if $::in_vagrant != true {    vcsrepo { '/var/www/webapplication':        ensure => latest,        owner => 'www-data',        group => 'www-data',        provider => git,        require => [ Package['git'] ],        source => '

In the above Puppet code snippet, we are making sure that we don’t checkout our repository when we are in Vagrant.

Stay secure — use proper SSH keys

As you may be sharing some projects from host to guest, there may be some projects where you don’t need to share them from guest to host but still want to set them up. You can just go ahead and use your Puppet modules for doing that, but you need to set up proper accesses to clone these projects in your virtualized environment.

scm: this key requires you to tell us which SCM providers are your projects using and share the access credentials so that we can generate a new set of SSH keys inside the virtual machine and use the API of these providers to directly add your newly generated SSH key so that the process of setting up is fully automated.

Other than automating the complete set up, it also adds a level of security. If a breach happens, you have finer level of control over which set of keys to revoke.

Multi-Machine Setup

All this will work absolutely fine for your multiple project requirement where you have more than one services running and working with each other.

There can be a couple of things that still can be improved:

  1. Multiple projects on one machine requiring the same package but with a different version may lead to a situation difficult to handle.
  2. Multiple services running on the same port may become difficult to deal with. You can solve this using another proxy in between but this may not be ideal as this is not the way you may be doing this in production.
  3. If you have services that are accessed using proxy and the upstream service lives on another machine, well it may be better if it was actually running on a different machine.

You can achieve all this using Vagrant’s Multi-Machine, perhaps more than this.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, we use mysql-proxy to connect to the main MySQL server, we can leverage Vagrant’s multi machine feature to have two virtual machines on the same private network and make sure that MySQL is actually running on a different machine.

For our example, we can arrange our services like so:

VM1:  - webapplication  - analytics-service  - mysql-proxyVM2:  - website  - mysql

In the above set up, we have two virtual machines. VM1 has webapplication and analytics-service running, both of which depend on MySQL. So they make use of mysql-proxy to connect to MySQL.

On VM2, we run MySQL. So the mysql-proxy on VM1 proxies to VM2. We also decided to put the website on VM2 for two reasons - one that this VM will probably be under-provisioned with just MySQL running on it and two that the webapplication runs behind Apache on port 80 but the website is served using Nginx on port 80 and both cannot run on the same machine without putting another proxy in front of them.

This way we have managed to make all services come as close to production set up as possible.


  1. Using Vagrant and changing it a bit to our needs really helped us have the most critical services set up with ease. Having most of the services set up locally also makes it possible for end-to-end testing.
  2. Packaging the VMs into Vagrant boxes helps reduce set up time a lot. Otherwise, first run may take really long to complete.
  3. Development environment is much closer to production environments. We see relatively lesser environment specific bugs.
  4. Developers have a better understanding of production systems. May be some day the will be able to contribute to Puppet code base as well.

Do you think these wins are worth the effort? Do share your thoughts.

I presented a talk at FUDCon Pune 2015 on the same topic. You might find the contents of that useful as well.

Vagrant for Effective DevOps Culture from Vaidik Kapoor

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