Thoughts on web programming and the world of technology

April 19, 2011, reading time: 2 minutes

Virtual machines for Django developers

Vagrant is a tool for building and distributing virtualized development environments. It’s based on VirtualBox VMs. This article describes how this Ruby tool can be useful to Django developers.

Why vagrant?

The modern web developer works on many different projects. Each project has a unique set of requirements, dependencies and package versions needed for that project to succeed. Keeping all of these libraries in check is difficult. virtualenv is a tool that creates isolated environments for Python packages. Vagrant takes this approach a step further. You can virtualize the entire server.

Just as each Django project will have a requirements.txt file which lists the project’s pip dependencies, your project will now have a Vagrantfile and a cookbooks directory. The Vagrantfile describes how the VM should be created and the cookbooks directory contains instructions on what packages to install. For example, in the Vagrantfile you will specify a VM which runs an Ubuntu server with 256MB of RAM and your cookbooks directory will tell vagrant to install apache2, git, postgresql and memcached.

Getting started with vagrant is simple.

Getting started

vagrant is distributed as a Ruby gem and you can install it like so:

gem install vagrant

Next, you will download a base box that I made for you. It’s an Ubuntu 10.10 server with minimal configuration.

vagrant box add vagrant-ubuntu

This will take a while so you may want to get a beverage.

Next, you will create a directory that will hold your project and initialize it for vagrant.

cd ~/Code
mkdir webapp
cd webapp
vagrant init vagrant-ubuntu

This will create a Vagrantfile in that directory.

And then run

vagrant up

to actually build and boot the environment. This might take a few minutes.

After this, your environment is running. Your environment is a headless virtualbox instance. You can ssh into the box by running:

vagrant ssh

You will notice that your project directory (webapp) is mounted inside the environment under /vagrant. Any changes to either directory will affect the other.

You can shutdown your environment with

vagrant halt

Destroy it with:

vagrant destroy


Next, you will install some packages into the VM. You will install some common Django packages: PostreSQL, Apache, WSGI, memcached and git.

cd ~/Code/webapp
git clone [email protected]:honza/cookbooks.git

This downloads all kinds of cookbooks ready for our use. We will create a custom cookbook inside that directory where we will define what packages we want:

cd cookbooks
mkdir webapp
cd webapp
mkdir recipes
touch recipes/default.rb

Now open up the default.rb file and enter the following:

require_recipe "postgresql::server"
require_recipe "apache2"
include_recipe "apache2::#{node[:django][:web_server]}"
require_recipe "git"
require_recipe "memcached"

And modify your Vagrantfile to use the cookbooks: do |config| = "vagrant-ubuntu"
    config.vm.provision :chef_solo do |chef|
      chef.cookbooks_path = "cookbooks"
      chef.add_recipe "webapp"

For the configuration changes to take effect, you need to run:

vagrant reload

OK, that concludes our quick introduction to Vagrant. I hope you see how this can be beneficial and how simple it is to get started.