Virtualized Development Environment
Virtualized Development Environment
Recently, while developing, I have had people looking over my shoulder and asking questions like; “How are you able to code and test so quickly?” and “You just wrote that, how is the person you are talking to on Skype able to view and test it already?“. When I explain to them how my development environment is set up, they usually replay, “you should really blog about that”. So here it is…
First, here is a little bit of background. I have been developing web applications for quite a few years now and I always ran into the same issues; browser compatibility, showing clients a work in progress, managing development and production environments. A couple years ago I started working for a new company and they asked me to brush up on my knowledge of virtualization techniques. While researching what was available in this space, my virtualized development environment was born.
Here is a list of tools I use:
- A Mac Laptop
- Parallels Virtuozzo Containers
- Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac
- Multiple IEs
For pretty much every site, I have a production (prod) environment and a development (dev) environment. I want my dev environment to be an exact copy of my prod environment so that when I make changes to it I know exactly how the prod system is going to deal with the changes. Managing this was a PITA until I found Parallels Virtuozzo Containers. I was then able to have one machine that had both a prod and dev environment on it in different virtual containers. There are quite a few cool features in Virtuozzo, but the main one that is relevant to this post is the ‘Clone’ feature. If you have a prod machine up and running and you want to make changes, but you don’t want to mess with the live machine, you can clone it to a new container and then develop on that new dev container. This means that if I want to test some changes to the site, I can just take 30 seconds to clone the live site, do the changes and test…
I am very comfortable with ssh and working in a terminal, but if you are developing a lot, you do not want to have to deal with working only in VI or VIM. Because of this, I use Cyberduck over SFTP to edit my code. Cyberduck is an open source FTP client that is relatively simple and lightweight, but has enough features that you will never feel handcuffed. I set my preferred editor in Cyberduck to Textmate and my development environment is set up on my Mac. I never have to copy files from the server to my machine and back because I just edit them directly on my cloned dev machine. It really is as easy as clone, edit, test…
One of the biggest annoyances in web development is having to deal with cross browser compatibility for your web apps. Developing for Internet Explorer is a nightmare and because of this some developers neglect it. Unfortunately I do not have that luxury and have to make sure that my sites work in all browsers. Since I am working on a Mac, testing IE for Windows poses a small problem. I use Parallels Desktop for Mac to solve that problem. Parallels Desktop is a virtualization platform that allows you to install Windows on your Mac in a way that allows you to run Windows programs without having to reboot your machine. Basically, you just load the Windows machine and you have access to all of your Mac and Windows applications at the same time. Since Windows does not allow you to install both IE6 and IE7 on the same machine, I use Multiple IEs as a little hack so that I can have both IE6 and IE7 on my Windows install for testing purposes.
That is basically it…
- Very fast to get development environments set up.
- Your code is not on your laptop, so if it gets stolen, you are still fine.
- You can make changes to code with the client on the phone so they can view the changes in real time (your dev machine is public).
- Your code is not actually in a code repository (I am working on setting up a version of this that is backed by Git).
- If you do not have a network connection, you can not work on the site.