"Family" by "Ivan" on Flickr

Debian on Docker using Vagrant

I want to use Vagrant-Docker to try standing up some environments. There’s no reasonable justification, it’s just a thing I wanted to do. Normally, I’d go into this long and rambling story about why… but on this occasion, the reason was “Because it’s possible”…

TL;DR?: Get the code from the repo and enjoy 😁

Installing Docker

On Ubuntu you can install Docker following the instructions on the Docker Install Page, which includes a convenience script (that runs all the commands you need), if you want to use it. Similar instructions for Debian, CentOS and Fedora exist.

On Windows or Mac there are downloads you can get from the Docker Hub. The Windows Version requires WSL2. I don’t have a Mac, so I don’t know what the requirements are there! Installing WSL2 has a whole host of extra steps that I can’t really do justice to. See this Microsoft article for details.

Installing Vagrant

On Debian and Ubuntu you can add the HashiCorp Apt Repo and then install Vagrant, using these commands:

curl -fsSL https://apt.releases.hashicorp.com/gpg | sudo apt-key add -
sudo apt-add-repository "deb [arch=amd64] https://apt.releases.hashicorp.com $(lsb_release -cs) main"
sudo apt install vagrant

There are similar instructions for RHEL, CentOS and Fedora users there too.

Windows and Mac users will have to get the application from the download page.

Creating your Dockerfile

A Dockerfile is a simple text file which has a series of line prefixes which instruct the Docker image processor to add certain instructions to the Docker Image. I found two pages which helped me with what to add for this; “Ansible. Docker. Vagrant. Bringing together” and the git repo “AkihiroSuda/containerized-systemd“.

You see, while a Dockerfile is great at starting single binary files or scripts, it’s not very good at running SystemD… and I needed SystemD to be able to run the SSH service that Vagrant requires, and to also run the scripts and commands I needed for the image I wanted to build…

Sooooo…. here’s the Dockerfile I created:

# Based on https://vtorosyan.github.io/ansible-docker-vagrant/
# and https://github.com/AkihiroSuda/containerized-systemd/

FROM debian:buster AS debian_with_systemd

# This stuff enables SystemD on Debian based systems
RUN DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive apt update && DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive apt install -y --no-install-recommends systemd systemd-sysv dbus dbus-user-session
COPY docker-entrypoint.sh /
RUN chmod 755 /docker-entrypoint.sh
ENTRYPOINT [ "/docker-entrypoint.sh" ]
CMD [ "/bin/bash" ]

# This part installs an SSH Server (required for Vagrant)
RUN DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive apt install -y sudo openssh-server
RUN mkdir /var/run/sshd
#    We enable SSH here, but don't start it with "now" as the build stage doesn't run anything long-lived.
RUN systemctl enable ssh

# This part creates the vagrant user, sets the password to "vagrant", adds the insecure key and sets up password-less sudo.
RUN useradd -G sudo -m -U -s /bin/bash vagrant
#    chpasswd takes a colon delimited list of username/password pairs.
RUN echo 'vagrant:vagrant' | chpasswd
RUN mkdir -m 700 /home/vagrant/.ssh
# This key from https://github.com/hashicorp/vagrant/tree/main/keys. It will be replaced on first run.
RUN echo 'ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAABIwAAAQEA6NF8iallvQVp22WDkTkyrtvp9eWW6A8YVr+kz4TjGYe7gHzIw+niNltGEFHzD8+v1I2YJ6oXevct1YeS0o9HZyN1Q9qgCgzUFtdOKLv6IedplqoPkcmF0aYet2PkEDo3MlTBckFXPITAMzF8dJSIFo9D8HfdOV0IAdx4O7PtixWKn5y2hMNG0zQPyUecp4pzC6kivAIhyfHilFR61RGL+GPXQ2MWZWFYbAGjyiYJnAmCP3NOTd0jMZEnDkbUvxhMmBYSdETk1rRgm+R4LOzFUGaHqHDLKLX+FIPKcF96hrucXzcWyLbIbEgE98OHlnVYCzRdK8jlqm8tehUc9c9WhQ== vagrant insecure public key' > /home/vagrant/.ssh/authorized_keys
RUN chmod 600 /home/vagrant/.ssh/authorized_keys
RUN chown -R vagrant:vagrant /home/vagrant
RUN echo 'vagrant ALL=(ALL:ALL) NOPASSWD:ALL' >> /etc/sudoers

This Dockerfile calls out to a separate script, called docker-entrypoint.sh, taken verbatim from AkihiroSuda’s repo, so here’s that file:

set -ex
export container

if [ $# -eq 0 ]; then
	echo >&2 'ERROR: No command specified. You probably want to run `journalctl -f`, or maybe `bash`?'
	exit 1

if [ ! -t 0 ]; then
	echo >&2 'ERROR: TTY needs to be enabled (`docker run -t ...`).'
	exit 1

env >/etc/docker-entrypoint-env

cat >/etc/systemd/system/docker-entrypoint.target <<EOF
Description=the target for docker-entrypoint.service
Requires=docker-entrypoint.service systemd-logind.service systemd-user-sessions.service
cat /etc/systemd/system/docker-entrypoint.target

quoted_args="$(printf " %q" "${@}")"
echo "${quoted_args}" >/etc/docker-entrypoint-cmd
cat /etc/docker-entrypoint-cmd

cat >/etc/systemd/system/docker-entrypoint.service <<EOF

ExecStart=/bin/bash -exc "source /etc/docker-entrypoint-cmd"
# EXIT_STATUS is either an exit code integer or a signal name string, see systemd.exec(5)
ExecStopPost=/bin/bash -ec "if echo \${EXIT_STATUS} | grep [A-Z] > /dev/null; then echo >&2 \"got signal \${EXIT_STATUS}\"; systemctl exit \$(( 128 + \$( kill -l \${EXIT_STATUS} ) )); else systemctl exit \${EXIT_STATUS}; fi"

cat /etc/systemd/system/docker-entrypoint.service

systemctl mask systemd-firstboot.service systemd-udevd.service
systemctl unmask systemd-logind
systemctl enable docker-entrypoint.service

if [ -x /lib/systemd/systemd ]; then
elif [ -x /usr/lib/systemd/systemd ]; then
elif [ -x /sbin/init ]; then
	echo >&2 'ERROR: systemd is not installed'
	exit 1
systemd_args="--show-status=false --unit=multi-user.target"
echo "$0: starting $systemd $systemd_args"
exec $systemd $systemd_args

Now, if you were to run this straight in Docker, it will fail, because you must pass certain flags to Docker to get this to run. These flags are:

  • -t : pass a “TTY” to the shell
  • --tmpfs /tmp : Create a temporary filesystem in /tmp
  • --tmpfs /run : Create another temporary filesystem in /run
  • --tmpfs /run/lock : Apparently having a tmpfs in /run isn’t enough – you ALSO need one in /run/lock
  • -v /sys/fs/cgroup:/sys/fs/cgroup:ro : Mount the CGroup kernel configuration values into the container

(I found these flags via a RedHat blog post, and a Podman issue on Github.)

So, how would this look, if you were to try and run it?

docker exec -t --tmpfs /tmp --tmpfs /run --tmpfs /run/lock -v /sys/fs/cgroup:/sys/fs/cgroup:ro YourImage

Blimey, what a long set of text! Perhaps we could hide that behind something a bit more legible? Enter Vagrant.

Creating your Vagrantfile

Vagrant is an abstraction tool, designed to hide complicated virtualisation scripts into a simple command. In this case, we’re hiding a containerisation script into a simple command.

Like with the Dockerfile, I made extensive use of the two pages I mentioned before, as well as the two pages to get the flags to run this.

# Based on https://vtorosyan.github.io/ansible-docker-vagrant/
# and https://github.com/AkihiroSuda/containerized-systemd/
# and https://developers.redhat.com/blog/2016/09/13/running-systemd-in-a-non-privileged-container/
# with tweaks indicated by https://github.com/containers/podman/issues/3295
Vagrant.configure("2") do |config|
  config.vm.provider "docker" do |d|
    d.build_dir       = "."
    d.has_ssh         = true
    d.remains_running = false
    d.create_args     = ['--tmpfs', '/tmp', '--tmpfs', '/run', '--tmpfs', '/run/lock', '-v', '/sys/fs/cgroup:/sys/fs/cgroup:ro', '-t']

If you create that file, and run vagrant up you’ll get a working Vagrant boot… But if you try and execute any shell scripts, they’ll fail to run, as the they aren’t passed in with execute permissions… so I want to use Ansible to execute things, as these don’t require execute permissions on the /vagrant directory (also, as the thing I’m building in there requires Ansible… so it’s helpful either way 😁)

Executing Ansible scripts

Ansible still expects to find python in /usr/bin/python but current systems don’t make the symlink to /usr/bin/python3, as python was typically a symlink to /usr/bin/python2… and also I wanted to put the PPA for Ansible in the sources, which is what the Ansible team recommend in their documentation. I’ve done this as part of the Dockerfile, as again, I can’t run scripts from Vagrant. So, here’s the addition I made to the Dockerfile.

FROM debian_with_systemd AS debian_with_systemd_and_ansible
RUN apt install -y gnupg2 lsb-release software-properties-common
RUN apt-key adv --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com --recv-keys 93C4A3FD7BB9C367
RUN add-apt-repository "deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/ansible/ansible/ubuntu trusty main"
RUN apt install -y ansible
# Yes, I know. Trusty? On Debian Buster?? But, that's what the Ansible Docs say!

In the Vagrantfile, I’ve added this block:

config.vm.provision "ansible_local" do |ansible|
  ansible.playbook = "test.yml"

And I created a test.yml, which looks like this:

- hosts: all
  - debug:
      msg: "Hello from Docker"

Running it

So how does this look on Windows when I run it?

PS C:\Dev\VagrantDockerBuster> vagrant up
==> default: Creating and configuring docker networks...
==> default: Building the container from a Dockerfile...
    default: #20 DONE 0.1s
    default: Image: 190ffdeaeed0b7ed206097e6c1d4b5cc796a428700c9bd3e27eedacce47fb63b
==> default: Creating the container...
    default:   Name: 2021-02-13DockerBusterWithSSH_default_1613469604
    default:  Image: 190ffdeaeed0b7ed206097e6c1d4b5cc796a428700c9bd3e27eedacce47fb63b
    default: Volume: C:/Users/SPRIGGSJ/OneDrive - FUJITSU/Documents/95 My Projects/2021-02-13 Docker Buster With SSH:/vagrant
    default:   Port:
    default: Container created: b64ed264d8949b12
==> default: Enabling network interfaces...
==> default: Starting container...
==> default: Waiting for machine to boot. This may take a few minutes...
    default: SSH address:
    default: SSH username: vagrant
    default: SSH auth method: private key
    default: Vagrant insecure key detected. Vagrant will automatically replace
    default: this with a newly generated keypair for better security.
    default: Inserting generated public key within guest...
==> default: Machine booted and ready!
==> default: Running provisioner: ansible_local...
    default: Running ansible-playbook...

PLAY [all] *********************************************************************

TASK [Gathering Facts] *********************************************************
[WARNING]: Platform linux on host default is using the discovered Python
interpreter at /usr/bin/python, but future installation of another Python
interpreter could change this. See https://docs.ansible.com/ansible/2.9/referen
ce_appendices/interpreter_discovery.html for more information.
ok: [default]

TASK [debug] *******************************************************************
ok: [default] => {
    "msg": "Hello from Docker"

PLAY RECAP *********************************************************************
default                    : ok=2    changed=0    unreachable=0    failed=0    skipped=0    rescued=0    ignored=0   

PS C:\Dev\VagrantDockerBuster>

And on Linux?

Bringing machine 'default' up with 'docker' provider...
==> default: Creating and configuring docker networks...
==> default: Building the container from a Dockerfile...
    default: Removing intermediate container e56bed4f7be9
    default:  ---> cef749c205bf
    default: Successfully built cef749c205bf
    default: Image: cef749c205bf
==> default: Creating the container...
    default:   Name: 2021-02-13DockerBusterWithSSH_default_1613470091
    default:  Image: cef749c205bf
    default: Volume: /home/spriggsj/Projects/2021-02-13 Docker Buster With SSH:/vagrant
    default:   Port:
    default: Container created: 3fe46b02d7ad10ab
==> default: Enabling network interfaces...
==> default: Starting container...
==> default: Waiting for machine to boot. This may take a few minutes...
    default: SSH address:
    default: SSH username: vagrant
    default: SSH auth method: private key
    default: Vagrant insecure key detected. Vagrant will automatically replace
    default: this with a newly generated keypair for better security.
    default: Inserting generated public key within guest...
    default: Removing insecure key from the guest if it's present...
    default: Key inserted! Disconnecting and reconnecting using new SSH key...
==> default: Machine booted and ready!
==> default: Running provisioner: ansible_local...
    default: Running ansible-playbook...

PLAY [all] *********************************************************************

TASK [Gathering Facts] *********************************************************
[WARNING]: Platform linux on host default is using the discovered Python
interpreter at /usr/bin/python, but future installation of another Python
interpreter could change this. See https://docs.ansible.com/ansible/2.9/referen
ce_appendices/interpreter_discovery.html for more information.
ok: [default]

TASK [debug] *******************************************************************
ok: [default] => {
    "msg": "Hello from Docker"

PLAY RECAP *********************************************************************
default                    : ok=2    changed=0    unreachable=0    failed=0    skipped=0    rescued=0    ignored=0

So, if you’re crazy and want to do Vagrant using Docker with Debian Buster and Ansible, this is how to do it. I don’t know how much I’m likely to be using this in the future, but if you use it, let me know what you’re doing with it! 😀

Featured image is “Family” by “Ivan” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

"pharmacy" by "Tim Evanson" on Flickr

AWX – The Gateway Drug to Ansible Tower

A love letter to Ansible Tower

I love Ansible… I mean, I really love Ansible. You can ask anyone, and they’ll tell you my first love is my wife, then my children… and then it’s Ansible.

OK, maybe it’s Open Source and then Ansible, but either way, Ansible is REALLY high up there.

But, while I love Ansible, I love what Ansible Tower brings to an environment. See, while you get to easily and quickly manage a fleet of machines with Ansible, Ansible Tower gives you the fine grained control over what you need to expose to your developers, your ops team, or even, in a fit of “what-did-you-just-do”-ness, your manager. (I should probably mention that Ansible Tower is actually part of a much larger portfolio of products, called Ansible Automation Platform, and there’s some hosted SaaS stuff that goes with it… but the bit I really want to talk about is Tower, so I’ll be talking about Tower and not Ansible Automation Platform. Sorry!)

Ansible Tower has a scheduling engine, so you can have a “Go” button, for deploying the latest software to your fleet, or just for the 11PM patching cycle. It has a credential store, so your teams can’t just quickly go and perform an undocumented quick fix on that “flaky” box – they need to do their changes via Ansible. And lastly, it has an inventory, so you can see that the last 5 jobs failed to deploy on that host, so maybe you’ve got a problem with it.

One thing that people don’t so much love to do, is to get a license to deploy Tower, particularly if they just want to quickly spin up a demonstration for some colleagues to show how much THEY love Ansible. And for those people, I present AWX.

The first hit is free

One of the glorious and beautiful things that RedHat did, when they bought Ansible, was to make the same assertion about the Ansible products that they make to the rest of their product line, which is… while they may sell a commercial product, underneath it will be an Open Source version of that product, and you can be part of developing and improving that version, to help improve the commercial product. Thus was released AWX.

Now, I hear the nay-sayers commenting, “but what if you have an issue with AWX at 2AM, how do you get support on that”… and to those people, I reply: “If you need support at 2AM for your box, AWX is not the tool for you – what you need is Tower.”… Um, I mean Ansible Automation Platform. However, Tower takes a bit more setting up than what I’d want to do for a quick demo, and it has a few more pre-requisites. ANYWAY, enough about dealing with the nay-sayers.

AWX is an application inside Docker containers. It’s split into three parts, the AWX Web container, which has the REST API. There’s also a PostgreSQL database inside there too, and one “Engine”, which is the separate container which gets playbooks from your version control system, asks for any dynamic inventories, and then runs those playbooks on your inventories.

I like running demos of Tower, using AWX, because it’s reasonably easy to get stood up, and it’s reasonably close to what Tower looks and behaves like (except for the logos)… and, well, it’s a good gateway to getting people interested in what Tower can do for them, without them having to pay (or spend time signing up for evaluation licenses) for the environment in the first place.

And what’s more, it can all be automated

Yes, folks, because AWX is just a set of docker containers (and an install script), and Ansible knows how to start Docker containers (and run an install script), I can add an Ansible playbook to my cloud-init script, Vagrantfile or, let’s face it, when things go really wrong, put it in a bash script for some poor keyboard jockey to install for you.

If you’re running a demo, and you don’t want to get a POC (proof of concept) or evaluation license for Ansible Tower, then the chances are you’re probably not running this on RedHat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) either. That’s OK, once you’ve sold the room on using Tower (by using AWX), you can sell them on using RHEL too. So, I’ll be focusing on using CentOS 8 instead. Partially because there’s a Vagrant box for CentOS 8, but also because I can also use CentOS 8 on AWS, where I can prove that the Ansible Script I’m putting into my Vagrantfile will also deploy nicely via Cloud-Init too. With a very small number of changes, this is likely to work on anything that runs Docker, so everything from Arch to Ubuntu… probably 😁

“OK then. How can you work this magic, eh?” I hear from the back of the room. OK, pipe down, nay-sayers.

First, install Ansible on your host. You just need to run dnf install -y ansible.

Next, you need to install Docker. This is a marked difference between AWX and Ansible Tower, as AWX is based on Docker, but Ansible Tower uses other magic to make it work. When you’re selling the benefits of Tower, note that it’s not a 1-for-1 match at this point, but it’s not a big issue. Fortunately, CentOS can install Docker Community edition quite easily. At this point, I’m swapping to using Ansible playbooks. At the end, I’ll drop a link to where you can get all this in one big blob… In fact, we’re likely to use it with our Cloud-Init deployment.

Aw yehr, here’s the good stuff

- name: Update all packages
    name: "*"
    state: latest

- name: Add dependency for "yum config-manager"
    name: yum-utils
    state: present

- name: Add the Docker Repo
  shell: yum config-manager --add-repo https://download.docker.com/linux/centos/docker-ce.repo
    creates: /etc/yum.repos.d/docker-ce.repo
    warn: false

- name: Install Docker
    - docker-ce
    - docker-ce-cli
    - containerd.io
    state: present
  notify: Start Docker

That first stanza – update all packages? Well, that’s because containerd.io relies on a newer version of libseccomp, which hasn’t been built in the CentOS 8 Vagrantbox I’m using.

The next one? That ensures I can run yum config-manager to add a repo. I could use the copy module in Ansible to create the repo files so yum and/or dnf could use that instead, but… meh, this is a single line shell command.

And then we install the repo, and the docker-ce packages we require. We use the “notify” statement to trigger a handler call to start Docker, like this:

- name: Start Docker
    name: docker
    state: started

Fab. We’ve got Docker. Now, let’s clone the AWX repo to our machine. Again, we’re doing this with Ansible, naturally :)

- name: Clone AWX repo to local path
    repo: https://github.com/ansible/awx.git
    dest: /opt/awx

- name: Get latest AWX tag
  shell: |
    if [ $(git status -s | wc -l) -gt 0 ]
      git stash >/dev/null 2>&1
    git fetch --tags && git describe --tags $(git rev-list --tags --max-count=1)
    if [ $(git stash list | wc -l) -gt 0 ]
      git stash pop >/dev/null 2>&1
    chdir: /opt/awx
  register: latest_tag
  changed_when: false

- name: Use latest released version of AWX
    repo: https://github.com/ansible/awx.git
    dest: /opt/awx
    version: "{{ latest_tag.stdout }}"

OK, there’s a fair bit to get from this, but essentially, we clone the repo from Github, then ask (using a collection of git commands) for the latest released version (yes, I’ve been bitten by just using the head of “devel” before), and then we check out that released version.

Fab, now we can configure it.

- name: Set or Read admin password
    admin_password_was_generated: "{{ (admin_password is defined or lookup('env', 'admin_password') != '') | ternary(false, true) }}"
    admin_password: "{{ admin_password | default (lookup('env', 'admin_password') | default(lookup('password', 'pw.admin_password chars=ascii_letters,digits length=20'), true) ) }}"

- name: Configure AWX installer
    path: /opt/awx/installer/inventory
    regexp: "^#?{{ item.key }}="
    line: "{{ item.key }}={{ item.value }}"
  - key: "awx_web_hostname"
    value: "{{ ansible_fqdn }}"
  - key: "pg_password"
    value: "{{ lookup('password', 'pw.pg_password chars=ascii_letters,digits length=20') }}"
  - key: "rabbitmq_password"
    value: "{{ lookup('password', 'pw.rabbitmq_password chars=ascii_letters,digits length=20') }}"
  - key: "rabbitmq_erlang_cookie"
    value: "{{ lookup('password', 'pw.rabbitmq_erlang_cookie chars=ascii_letters,digits length=20') }}"
  - key: "admin_password"
    value: "{{ admin_password }}"
  - key: "secret_key"
    value: "{{ lookup('password', 'pw.secret_key chars=ascii_letters,digits length=64') }}"
  - key: "create_preload_data"
    value: "False"
    label: "{{ item.key }}"

If we don’t already have a password defined, then create one. We register the fact we’ve had to create one, as we’ll need to tell ourselves it once the build is finished.

After that, we set a collection of values into the installer – the hostname, passwords, secret keys and so on. It loops over a key/value pair, and passes these to a regular expression rewrite command, so at the end, we have the settings we want, without having to change this script between releases.

When this is all done, we execute the installer. I’ve seen this done two ways. In an ideal world, you’d throw this into an Ansible shell module, and get it to execute the install, but the problem with that is that the AWX install takes quite a while, so I’d much rather actually be able to see what’s going on… and so, instead, we exit our prepare script at this point, and drop back to the shell to run the installer. Let’s look at both options, and you can decide which one you want to do. In my script, I’m doing the first, but just because it’s a bit neater to have everything in one place.

- name: Run the AWX install.
  shell: ansible-playbook -i inventory install.yml
    chdir: /opt/awx/installer
cd /opt/awx/installer
ansible-playbook -i inventory install.yml

When this is done, you get a prepared environment, ready to access using the username admin and the password of … well, whatever you set admin_password to.

AWX takes a little while to stand up, so you might want to run this next Ansible stanza to see when it’s ready to go.

- name: Test access to AWX
    tower_host: "http://{{ ansible_fqdn }}"
    tower_username: admin
    tower_password: "{{ admin_password }}"
    email: "admin@{{ ansible_fqdn }}"
    first_name: "admin"
    last_name: ""
    password: "{{ admin_password }}"
    username: admin
    superuser: yes
    auditor: no
  register: _result
  until: _result.failed == false
  retries: 240 # retry 240 times
  delay: 5 # pause for 5 sec between each try

The upshot to using that command there is that it sets the email address of the admin account to “admin@your.awx.example.org“, if the fully qualified domain name (FQDN) of your machine is your.awx.example.org.

Moving from the Theoretical to the Practical

Now we’ve got our playbook, let’s wrap this up in both a Vagrant Vagrantfile and a Terraform script, this means you can deploy it locally, to test something internally, and in “the cloud”.

To simplify things, and because the version of Ansible deployed on the Vagrant box isn’t the one I want to use, I am using a single “user-data.sh” script for both Vagrant and Terraform. Here that is:

if [ -e "$(which yum)" ]
  yum install git python3-pip -y
  pip3 install ansible docker docker-compose
  echo "This script only supports CentOS right now."
  exit 1

git clone https://gist.github.com/JonTheNiceGuy/024d72f970d6a1c6160a6e9c3e642e07 /tmp/Install_AWX
cd /tmp/Install_AWX
/usr/local/bin/ansible-playbook Install_AWX.yml

While they both have their differences, they both can execute a script once the machine has finished booting. Let’s start with Vagrant.

Vagrant.configure("2") do |config|
  config.vm.box = "centos/8"

  config.vm.provider :virtualbox do |v|
    v.memory = 4096

  config.vm.provision "shell", path: "user-data.sh"

  config.vm.network "forwarded_port", guest: 80, host: 8080, auto_correct: true

To boot this up, once you’ve got Vagrant and Virtualbox installed, run vagrant up and it’ll tell you that it’s set up a port forward from the HTTP port (TCP/80) to a “high” port – TCP/8080. If there’s a collision (because you’re running something else on TCP/8080), it’ll tell you what port it’s forwarded the HTTP port to instead. Once you’ve finished, run vagrant destroy to shut it down. There are lots more tricks you can play with Vagrant, but this is a relatively quick and easy one. Be aware that you’re not using HTTPS, so traffic to the AWX instance can be inspected, but if you’re running this on your local machine, it’s probably not a big issue.

How about running this on a cloud provider, like AWS? We can use the exact same scripts – both the Ansible script, and the user-data.sh script, using Terraform, however, this is a little more complex, as we need to create a VPC, Internet Gateway, Subnet, Security Group and Elastic IP before we can create the virtual machine. What’s more, the Free Tier (that “first hit is free” thing that Amazon Web Services provide to you) does not have enough horsepower to run AWX, so, if you want to look at how to run up AWX in EC2 (or to tweak it to run on Azure, GCP, Digital Ocean or one of the fine offerings from IBM or RedHat), then click through to the gist I’ve put all my code from this post into. The critical lines in there are to select a “CentOS 8” image, open HTTP and SSH into the machine, and to specify the user-data.sh file to provision the machine. Everything else is cruft to make the virtual machine talk to, and be seen by, hosts on the Internet.

To run this one, you need to run terraform init to load the AWS plugin, then terraform apply. Note that this relies on having an AWS access token defined, so if you don’t have them set up, you’ll need to get that sorted out first. Once you’ve finished with your demo, you should run terraform destroy to remove all the assets created by this terraform script. Again, when you’re running that demo, note that you ONLY have HTTP access set up, not HTTPS, so don’t use important credentials on there!

Once you’ve got your AWX environment running, you’ve got just enough AWX there to demo what Ansible Tower looks like, what it can bring to your organisation… and maybe even convince them that it’s worth investing in a license, rather than running AWX in production. Just in case you have that 2AM call-out that we all dread.

Featured image is “pharmacy” by “Tim Evanson” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY-SA license.

Opening to my video: Screencast 001 - Ansible and Inspec using Vagrant

Screencast 001: Ansible and Inspec with Vagrant and Git (a mentoring style video)

If you’ve ever wondered how I use Ansible and Inspec, or wondered why some of my Vagrant files look like they do, well, I want to start recording some “mentor” style videos… You know how, if you were sitting next to someone who’s a mentor to you, and you watch how they build a solution.

The first one was released last night!

Screencast 001:Ansible and Inspec using Vagrant

I recently saw a video by Chris Hartjes on how he creates his TDD (Test driven development) based PHP projects, and I really wanted to emulate that style, but talking about the things I use.

This was my second attempt at recording a mentoring style video yesterday, the first was shown to the Admin Admin Podcast listeners group on Telegram, and then sacrificed to the demo gods (there were lots of issues in that first video) never to be seen again.

From a tooling perspective, I’m using a remote virtual machine running Ubuntu Mate 18.04 over RDP (to improve performance) with xrdp and Remmina, OBS is running locally to record the content, and I’m using Visual Studio Code, git, Vagrant and Virtualbox, as well as Ansible and Inspec.

Late edit 2020-02-29: Like videos like this, hate YouTube? It’s also on archive.org: https://archive.org/details/JonTheNiceGuyScreencast001

Late edit 2020-03-01: Popey told me about LBRY.tv when I announced this on the Admin Admin Podcast telegram channel, and so I’ve also copied the video to there: https://lbry.tv/@JonTheNiceGuy:b/Screencast001-Ansible-and-Inspec-with-Vagrant:8

"Captain" by "The Laddie" on Flickr

Trying out Kubernetes (K8S) with MicroK8S in Vagrant

I’m going on a bit of a containers kick at the moment, and just recently I wanted to give Kubernetes (sometimes abbreviated to “K8S”) a try.

Kubernetes is an orchestration engine for Containers, like Docker. It’s designed to take the images that Docker (and other similar tools) produce, and run them across multiple nodes. You need to have a handle on how Docker works before giving K8S a try, but once you do, it’s well worth a shot to understand K8S.

Unlike Docker, K8S is a bit more in-depth on it’s requirements, and often people are pointed at Minikube as their introduction to K8S, however, my colleague and friend Nick suggested I might be better off with MicroK8S.

MicroK8S is an application released by Canonical as a Snap. A Snap is a Linux packaging format, similar to FlatPak and AppImage. It’s mostly used on Ubuntu based operating systems, but can also work on other Linux distributions.

I had an initial, failed, punt with the recommended advice for using MicroK8S on Windows (short story, Hyper-V did not work for me, and the VirtualBox back-end doesn’t expose any network ports, or at least, if it does, I couldn’t see how to make it work), and as I’m reasonably confident in using Vagrant work in Windows, I built a Vagrantfile to deliver MicroK8S.

To use this, you need Vagrant and VirtualBox, and then get the Vagrantfile from repo… then run vagrant up (it will ask you what interface you want to “bridge” to – this will be how you access the Kubernetes pods and Docker containers). Once the machine has finished building, you can run vagrant ssh to connect into it. From here, you can run your kubectl commands, as well as docker commands.

If you want to experiment with a multi-node environment, then I also built a Vagrantfile to deliver two virtual machines, both running MicroK8S, and used the shared storage element of Vagrant to transfer the “join” instruction from the first node to the second.

Of course, now I just need to work out how the hell I do Kubernetes 🤣

Featured image is “Captain” by “The Laddie” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY-ND license.

Development Environment Replication with Vagrant and Puppet

This week, I was fortunate enough to meet up with the Cheadle Geeks group. I got talking to a couple of people about Vagrant and Puppet, and explaining how it works, and I thought the best thing to do would be to also write that down here, so that I can point anyone who missed any of what I was saying to it.

Essentially, Vagrant is program to read a config file which defines how to initialize a pre-built virtual machine. It has several virtual machine engines which it can invoke (see [1] for more details on that), but the default virtual machine to use is VirtualBox.

To actually find a virtual box to load, there’s a big list over at vagrantbox.es which have most standard cloud servers available to you. Personally I use the Ubuntu Precise 32bit image from VagrantUp.com for my open source projects (which means more developers can get involved). Once you’ve picked an image, use the following command to get it installed on your development machine (you only need to do this step once per box!):

vagrant box add {YourBoxName} {BoxURL}

After you’ve done that, you need to set up the Vagrant configuration file.

cd /path/to/your/dev/environment
mkdir Vagrant
cd Vagrant
vagrant init {YourBoxName}

This will create a file called Vagrantfile in /path/to/your/dev/environment/Vagrant. It looks overwhelming at first, but if you trim out some of the notes (and tweak one or two of the lines), you’ll end up with a file which looks a bit like this:

Vagrant.configure("2") do |config|
  config.vm.box = "{YourBoxName}"
  config.vm.hostname = "{fqdn.of.your.host}"
  config.vm.box_url = "{BoxURL}"
  config.vm.network :forwarded_port, guest: 80, host: 8080
  # config.vm.network :public_network
  config.vm.synced_folder "../web", "/var/www"
  config.vm.provision :puppet do |puppet|
    puppet.manifests_path = "manifests"
    puppet.manifest_file  = "site.pp"

This assumes you’ve replaced anything with {}’s in it with a real value, and that you want to forward TCP/8080 on your machine to TCP/80 on that box (there are other work arounds, using more Vagrant plugins, different network types, or other services such as pagekite, but this will do for now).

Once you’ve got this file, you could start up your machine and get a bare box, but that’s not much use to you, as you’d have to tell people how to configure your development environment every time they started up a new box. Instead, we’ll be using a Provisioning service, and we’re going to use Puppet for that.

Puppet was originally designed as a way of defining configuration across all an estate’s servers, and a lot of tutorials I’ve found online explain how to use it for that, but when we’re setting up Puppet for a development environment, we just need a simple file. This is the site.pp manifest, and in here we define the extra files and packages we need, plus any commands we need to run. So, let’s start with a basic manifest file:

node default {


Wow, isn’t that easy? :) We need some more detail than that though. First, let’s make sure the timezone is set. I live in the UK, so my timezone is “Europe/London”. Let’s put that in. We also need to make sure that any commands we run have the right path in them. So here’s our revised, debian based, manifest file.

node default {
    Exec {
        path => '/usr/local/bin:/bin:/usr/bin:/usr/local/sbin:/sbin:/usr/sbin'

    package { "tzdata":
        ensure => "installed"

    file { "/etc/timezone":
        content => "Europe/London\n",
        require => Package["tzdata"]

    exec { "Set Timezone":
        unless => "diff /etc/localtime /usr/share/zoneinfo/`cat /etc/timezone`",
        command => "dpkg-reconfigure -f noninteractive tzdata",
        require => File["/etc/timezone"]

OK, so we’ve got some pretty clear examples of code to run here. The first Exec statement must always be in there, otherwise it gets a bit confused, but after that, we’re making sure the package tzdata is installed, we then make sure that, once the tzdata package is installed, we create or update the /etc/timezone file with the value we want, and then we use the dpkg-reconfigure command to set the timezone, but only if the timezone isn’t already set to that.

Just to be clear, this file describes what the system should look like at the end of it running, not a step-by-step guide to getting it running, so you might find that some of these packages install out of sequence, or something else might run before or after when you were expecting it to run. As a result, you should make good use of the “require” and “unless” statements if you want a proper sequence of events to occur.

Now, so far, all this does is set the timezone for us, it doesn’t set up anything like Apache or MySQL… perhaps you want to install something like WordPress here? Well, let’s see how we get other packages installed.

In the following lines of code, we’ll assume you’re just adding this text above the last curled bracket (the “}” at the end).

First, we need to ensure our packages are up to date:

exec { "Update packages":
    command => "sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade -y",

Here’s Apache getting installed:

package { "apache2":
    ensure => "installed",
    require => Exec['Update packages']

And, maybe you’ll want to set up something that needs mod_rewrite and a custom site? Add this to your Vagrantfile

config.vm.synced_folder "../Apache_Site", "/etc/apache2/shared_config"

Create a directory called /path/to/your/dev/environment/Apache_Site which should contain your apache site configuration file called “default”. Then add this to your site.pp

exec { "Enable rewrite":
    command => 'a2enmod rewrite',
    onlyif => 'test ! -e /etc/apache2/mods-enabled/rewrite.load',
    require => Package['apache2']

file { "/etc/apache2/sites-enabled/default":
  ensure => link,
  target => "/etc/apache2/shared_config/default",

So, at the end of all this, we have the following file structure:

+ -- /Apache_Site
|    + -- default
+ -- /web
|    + -- index.html
+ -- /Vagrant
     + -- /manifests
     |    + -- site.pp
     + -- Vagrantfile

And now, you can add all of this to your Git repository [2], and off you go! To bring up your Vagrant machine, type (from the Vagrant directory):

vagrant up

And then to connect into it:

vagrant ssh

And finally to halt it:

vagrant halt

Or if you just want to kill it off…

vagrant destroy

If you’re tweaking the provisioning code, you can run this instead of destroying it and bringing it back up again:

vagrant provision

You can do some funky stuff with running several machines, and using the same puppet file for all of those, but frankly, that’s a topic for another day.

[1] Vagrant is extended using plugins. There is a list of plugins on this Github Wiki Page. The plugins here can include additional virtual machine back ends (called Providers in Vagrant terminology), and methods of configuring the OS after bootup (called Provisioners), but also anything around defining where to find resources, to define network addresses, even to handle caches and proxies.

[2] If you’re not using Git, you should be! However, you might want to add some stuff to your .gitignore – in particular, Vagrant adds a directory called /path/to/your/dev/environment/Vagrant/.vagrant where it puts the VMs it creates.