Automated Pre-Provisioned Development Environments

Automated Pre-Provisioned Development Environments

Jul 11, 2014 | Jack Pearkes

Note: Neither Vagrant Cloud nor Atlas are now independent products.

Vagrant was introduced in 2010 to make creating, sharing and interacting with development environments simple and reproducible.

Today, Vagrant environments provisioned from base boxes give teams a simple and cross-platform way to distribute an environment. However, even after a development environment is created, it often needs to be provisioned by Chef, Puppet or other software on each developer machine. Provisioning this many times can be fragile and slow, causing delays, frustration and bugs in an environment.

After Vagrant was first released, the community immediately began to build and share boxes with the development environment software already provisioned. Boxes enabled teams to share a whole package containing everything a developer needed. The community had made it clear that this was an important next step for Vagrant by building external tools and workflows to support it. Vagrant itself has always had a vagrant package command to turn the running development environment into a distributable box.

In 2013, we introduced Packer, a solution for automating the creation of various types of machine images, both for cloud providers like Amazon, and local hypervisors such as VirtualBox and VMware. An important distinction between Packer and vagrant package is that Packer began targeting production environments, as well.

Packer was rapidly adopted to streamline the workflow we were starting to learn – build an immutable machine image for a specific environment and distribute it a team working in development, or even to staging and production.

There was still challenges in the workflow, though. The process of getting boxes to your team and keeping them up to date was still painful, and a point of persistent feedback for us.

Vagrant 1.5 introduced an entirely redesigned box system to fix some of these problems. Namely, box versioning became a fully built-in feature, along with richer metadata and formatting to describe box providers. To take full advantage of these features, we launched Vagrant Cloud alongside Vagrant 1.5.

Vagrant Cloud gave Vagrant a connection to an external, updatable resource. Box maintainers can update a machine image, and developers are notified of the images changes and can download and update their machines at will.

For developers, maintaining an updated development environment meant running one command after receiving automatic notifications during their daily interactions with Vagrant.

But the process still wasn't perfect. Box maintainers could build machines with Packer, but they still had to interact with Vagrant Cloud web UI, and find somewhere to host the box files.

With the introduction of the Vagrant Cloud Post-Processor alongside improvements to Vagrant Cloud, Packer runs can now conclude with the update and release of your .box files to your entire team.

Example of a Vagrant Cloud Post-Processor run in Packer

We're proud to close this circle. Box maintainers can now build, upload, release and distribute development environments that are already provisioned to their entire team with a single Packer run.

Here's an example Packer template using the new post-processor.

  "variables": {
    "cloud_token": "",
    "version": ""
  "builders": [
      "type": "virtualbox-ovf",
      "source_path": "tmp/box.ovf",
      "headless": true,e
      "shutdown_command": "sudo -S shutdown -P now,
      "ssh_username": "vagrant",
      "ssh_password": "vagrant",
      "ssh_wait_timeout": "30s",
      "vm_name": "webcore"
  "provisioners": [
        "type": "puppet-masterless",
        "manifest_file": "site.pp"
  "post-processors": [
      "type": "vagrant",
      "output": "webcore-{{.Provider}}.box"
      "type": "vagrant-cloud",
      "box_tag": "pearkes/webcore",
      "access_token": "{{user `cloud_token`}}",
      "version": "{{user `version`}}"

On the developer end, you're notified of an available upgrade during your normal Vagrant workflow.

Example of an update notification in Vagrant

» Conclusion

We are very proud of how this tooling now integrates to provide continuity to the highly automated creation and distribution of developer environments.

To start building and releasing pre-provisioned development environments, see the following resources:

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