Devops with Vagrant and Chef

Just over a year ago, my good friend Mike Rumble received a job offer to join Facebook's User Interface team. After some deliberation (only joking) he accepted the offer. Unluckily he missed out on the year's H-1B visa allocation, being forced to wait until September '12 to move across the pond. This wasn't such a bad thing of course. It meant he got to have a proper send off, including a memorable trip to New York and some great nights down the pub.

We ended up talking for a while about what it was going to be like working at Facebook HQ, and in particular what the technology stack & development work flow might look like. How the hell do you hack code for the world's most visited site? We assumed there would be some clever sandboxing going on. This got us thinking about setting up virtual machines on our dev boxes that would mirror or closely resemble our production environment. I think Mike managed to move his code to a VM running Ubuntu. I, on the other hand, never got round to it until just recently.

This is an overview of my set up and how I got it running.

Vagrant & VirtualBox

Vagrant is a bad ass tool written in Ruby that uses VirutualBox to create Virtual Machines. Predictably, VirtualBox needs to be installed then.

Install VirtualBox

Update: March 2014 - The latest version of Vagrant is no longer available as a RubyGem. Read why here. Use the package installer from

Vagrant is available as a RubyGem. Their site recommends using their own package installer but since I got my Ruby & Gems installed with rbenv, I'll go the gem route.

$ gem install vagrant
$ rbenv rehash

Writing out rbenv rehash just reminded me that Sam Stephenson released a rbenv plugin that removes the need to to use rehash after every gem install.

Creating a VM the Quick Way

This uses a base CentOs 6.3 box listed on CentOS 6.3 box I created myself. It's the standard CentOS 6.3 minimal install with the addition of Git & rbenv, ruby-build & rbenv-gem-rehash.

$ vagrant box add centos63
$ mkdir centos63 && cd centos63
$ vagrant init centos63
$ vagrant up

What's happening here? The box image is downloaded, a Vagrantfile is created and the VM is started. The Vagrantfile is the VM's configuration file. It's written in Ruby making it possible to programmatically configure the VM.

Using some random box from the internet my built box seems a little risky I know, but just go with it for now. I'll write up another post showing how to create a box from scratch.


Now SSH into the box:

$ vagrant ssh
$ cat /etc/issue
CentOS release 6.3 (Final)

Seriously, how easy was that? Vagrant generates a shared folder to the host OS at /vagrant

$ cd /vagrant
$ ls -a
.vagrant  Vagrantfile
$ exit

Notice it's the same directory where the Vagrantfile lives on the host.

Setting up Apache & Passenger with Chef

Vagrant supports a bunch of different provisioners. Wait, what's a provisioner? A provisioner installs all the software on the VM using a set of instructions known as a recipe. Multiple recipes often come in the form of a cookbook which for example, might configure the VM as a web server. Sounds good huh? This example uses Chef to install Apache and the Passenger Apache module.

$ vagrant destroy
$ mkdir cookbooks
$ git clone cookbooks/apache2
$ git clone cookbooks/passenger_apache2

Edit the Vagrantfile to include: do |config| = "CentOS63"

config.vm.provision :chef_solo do |chef| chef.cookbooks_path = "cookbooks" chef.add_recipe "passenger_apache2"

<span class="c1"># all gem_package calls should use the rbenv installed gem binary</span>
<span class="n">chef</span><span class="p">.</span><span class="nf">json</span> <span class="o">=</span> <span class="p">{</span> <span class="ss">:dependencies</span> <span class="o">=&gt;</span> <span class="p">{</span> <span class="ss">:gem_binary</span> <span class="o">=&gt;</span> <span class="s2">"/usr/local/rbenv/shims/gem"</span> <span class="p">}}</span>

end end

$ vagrant up
$ vagrant ssh

Running a Sinatra App

Just for a quick demo, I'm creating a hello world Sinatra app. In this instance, I've put the app in the /vagrant directory so that it's possible to access the code from the host machine.

$ cd /vagrant
$ mkdir app && cd app
$ touch app.rb
$ mkdir public

# app.rb
require 'sinatra'

get '/' do 'Hello world!' end

require './app'
run Sinatra::Application

Create a virtual host entry in Apache:

# /etc/httpd/sites-enabled/hello-world.conf
<VirtualHost *:80>
    ServerName hello-world.localhost
    DocumentRoot /vagrant/app/public
    <Directory /vagrant/app/public>
        Allow from all
        Options -MultiViews

Add the hello-world.localhost hostname to the hosts file, restart apache and check to see if the app's running.

$ echo 'echo "   hello-world.localhost" >> /etc/hosts' | sudo sh
$ sudo apachectl restart
$ curl hello-world.localhost
Hello world!

Phew, Made It

I've been using the VM to serve the apps that I frequently work on. This only involves a couple of steps as I'm keeping the code base on the host. Firstly, symlinking the code so that it's accessible by the VM. Secondly, setting up the corresponding Apache config. I'm still running databases on the host machine but I should look to offload these to a VM at some point.

In summary, Vagrant is awesome. And so is Chef. I'm recommending them, to myself.

Moz Morris

Moz Morris

Freelance Web Developer