Documenting VVV’s governance model

Earlier tonight I submitted a first draft of VVV’s governance model¬†for comment by the community. This is one of those times as an open source software maintainer where you realize you’re doing something that should have been done a long time ago.

See also the time we added a license 1.5 years in ūüėÖ

As I started researching how one goes about documenting a governance model, I ran into “Planning for Sustainability“, from OSS Watch. At the bottom of that document are a few time estimates to help you project the level of effort in doing this all. They’ve marked¬†30 hours¬†to “understand the different governance models” and create the document (from a template).

I kind of laughed at first, especially because VVV is not¬†that big of a project. But here I am after 2 days of on and off research and documentation, probably somewhere about 6 hours in, thinking that they aren’t so far off.

It’s easier for VVV because it is (IMO) a fairly clear benevolent dictator¬†model. I’ve led the project for 5 years and have relied on active members of the community for input throughout. I can imagine this being near impossible for larger projects where the project structure is less clear.

Of course, the benefit of spending so much time researching is parsing the great information that’s available thanks to years of others’ successful and failed attempts.

Here’s a walkthrough of some material I’ve found useful, along with commentary.

First, I’m happy to have run into the “Open-source governance” Wikipedia article early in the process. This does not directly describe governance for open source software, but instead the political philosophy of a community editable legislation. This helped set the tone in my head that my intent should be to document a clear explanation of how the project is managed rather than just a brief overview of my assumptions.

Next, all of the OSS Watch documentation was very useful. I spent some quality time with¬†“Governance Models“, “Roles in Open Source Projects“, “Meritocratic Governance Model“, and “Benevolent Dictator Governance Model“. I almost used one of the provided templates, because it’s nicely open sourced as CC BY-SA 4.0, but decided to go completely custom.

I explored the models used by other other open source projects. In the process, I studied those from NodeJS, WP-CLI, ¬†and¬†Ubuntu¬†among other random finds I stumbled on through GitHub’s search. This process taught me that not nearly enough open source projects provide a statement on governance.¬†WP-CLI in particular inspired the inclusion of the project administration section so that clear documentation existed on server and domain management.

I also spent some time with some hard copies. The “Project Structures and Ownership” page from Homesteading the Noosphere was useful in wrapping my head around the word “benevolent dictator”, a term that I still don’t really like. And¬†Producing Open Source Software¬†is always so valuable. I went back again and again to “Benevolent Dictators“, “Social and Political Infrastructure“, “Choosing Committers“, and “Writing It All Down“.

My favorite phrase of the process comes from that last section:

living reflection of the group’s intentions, not a source of frustration and blockage

This sums the process up. A documented governance model is a document of intent, one that can be changed as the project matures, and it’s meant to provide a clear way for work to happen rather than a roadblock.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the community thinks!

Running PHPUnit on VVV from PHPStorm 9

I spent so much time trying to get this working last November and kept running into brick walls. Today, I finally revisited a comment on that same issue by Rouven Hurling that pointed out two excellent notes from Andrea Ercolino.

  1. How to run WordPress tests in VVV using PHPStorm 8
  2. How to run WordPress tests in VVV using WP-CLI and PHPStorm 8

These are both great examples of showing your work. Andrea walks through the issue and shows things that didn’t work in addition to things that did. I was able to use the first to quickly solve an issue that I’ve been so close to figuring out, but have missed every time.

And! I haven’t gone through the second article yet, but the hidden gem there is that he has remote debugging with Xdebug working while running tests with PHPUnit. I’ve wanted this so much before.

All that aside (go read those articles!), I stumbled a bit following the instructions and wanted to log some of the settings I had to configure in order for PHPUnit to work properly with PHPStorm 9 and my local configuration.

For this all to work, I had to configure 4 things. The first three are accessed via PHPStorm -> Preferences in OSX. The fourth is accessed via the Run -> Edit Configurations menu in OSX.

A remote PHP interpreter

Choosing “Vagrant” in the Interpreters configuration didn’t work for me. I got an error that VBoxManage wasn’t found in my path when I selected my Vagrant instance and it tried to auto-detect things. I’m not sure if this is a bug or a misconfiguration. I almost wonder if it’s related to my recent upgrade today to Vagrant 1.7.4 and VirtualBox 5.0.

Instead I tried going forward with “SSH Credentials” to see what would happen. I put in the IP of the VVV box,, and the vagrant/vagrant username and password combination for SSH. I left the interpreter path alone and when I clicked OK, everything was verified. I was hesitant, because in the first step I had already deviated from the plan.

PHPUnit configuration

This one was easier and didn’t require any altered steps. I added a remote PHPUnit configuration, chose the already configured remote interpreter and was good to close out.

SFTP deployment configuration

Because I was not able to get Vagrant configured properly in the first step, I am dealing with an entirely different path. PHPStorm wants to have a deployment configured over SFTP so that it can be aware of the path structure inside the virtual machine that leads to the tests.

Luckily nothing special needs to happen in the VM to support SFTP, so I was able to add as the server and vagrant/vagrant as the username and password combination.

I originally tried putting the full path to WordPress here as the root directory, but that caused PHPStorm to prepend that on any automatic path building it did. I tried Autodetect as well, but that detected /home/vagrant, which did not work with the WordPress files. Through the power of deduction, I set the actual root / as the root. ūüėú

I also used the Mappings tab on this screen to match up my local wordpress-develop directory with the one I’m interacting with remotely.

Run/debug configurations

This one ends up being very straight forward now that everything else is configured. All I needed to do is select the phpunit.xml.dist file via its local path on my machine.

And then I was good! I can now run the single site unit tests  for WordPress core just by using the Run command via green arrows everywhere in PHPStorm.

The tests took 3.14 minutes to run through the interface versus 2.45 minutes through the command line, but I was given a bunch of information on skipped tests throughout. I’ll likely stick to the command line interface for normal testing, though I’m looking forward to getting Xdebug configured along side this as it will make troubleshooting individual tests for issues a lot easier.

Big thanks again to Andrea Ercolina for the great material that brought me to a working config!

Various Networking Configurations in VVV

I dug in to some different configurations in VVV today and decided to write them up as I went. This will be posted in some form to the VVV wiki as well. There are other networking configurations available in Vagrant, though I’m not sure that any would be useful in development with VVV.

I would recommend using default settings for initial provisioning as things can get quirky inside the VM when trying to access outside sources. Run vagrant reload to process any network configuration changes.

Private Network (default) :private_network, ip: ‚Äú192.168.50.4‚ÄĚ

This is the default configuration provided in VVV. A private network is created by VirtualBox between your host machine and the guest machine. The guest is assigned an IP address of and your host machine is able to access it on that IP. VVV is configured to provide access to several default domains on this IP address so that browser requests from your host machine just work.

Outside access from other devices to this IP address is not available as the network interface is private to your machine.

Port Forwarding ‚Äúforwarded_port‚ÄĚ, guest: 80, host: 8080

One option to provide other devices access to your guest machine is port forwarding. Uncommenting or adding this line in VVV’s Vagrantfile and then running vagrant reload will cause any traffic on port 8080 directed at your host machine to instead communicate with port 80 on the guest machine.

This configuration will work with private or public IP configurations as it deals with port forwarding rather than the IP of the virtual machine itself.

An immediate way to test this once configured would be to type your host machine’s IP address into a browser followed by :8080. With port forwarding enabled, something like would bring up the default VVV dashboard.

Of course, this doesn’t do you much good with the default WordPress sites, as you’ll be stuck adding port 8080 to every request you make.

The easiest hack around this is to setup port forwarding on your router. Point incoming requests for port 80 to port 8080 on the IP address of your host machine. Requests through the router will then traverse ports 80 (public IP) -> 8080 (host) -> 80 (guest) and your development work can be shared with devices inside and outside of your network.

Say my router’s public IP is and my computer’s local IP is

  • Enable port forwarding in Vagrantfile.
  • Configure router to forward incoming port 80 to port 8080 on
  • Visit on my phone, connected through LTE.

There are other things you can do on your local machine to reroute traffic from 80 to 8080 so that it forwards properly without the use of a router. Sal Ferrallelo has posted steps to take advantage of port forwarding directly in OSX using pfctl.

Public Network ‚Äúpublic_network‚ÄĚ

Replacing our default private network configuration with a public network configuration immediately provides access to other devices on your local network. Using this configuration without specifying an IP address causes the guest machine to request an address dynamically from an available DHCP server‚ÄĒlikely your router. During vagrant up, an option may be presented to choose which interface should be bridged. I chose my AirPort interface as that is what my local machine is using.

==> default: Available bridged network interfaces:
1) en0: Wi-Fi (AirPort)
2) en1: Thunderbolt 1
3) p2p0
4) bridge0
5) vnic0
6) vnic1
    default: What interface should the network bridge to? 1

Once the guest machine receives an IP address, access is immediately available to other devices on the network.

  • vagrant ssh and type ifconfig to determine the IP address of the guest – mine was
  • Visit on my phone, connected to the wireless network.

To me this is most desirable as it provides access to devices on the local network, not to the outside. If you are using public wifi or another insecure network, be aware‚Äďthis does open your machine up to other devices on that network. ‚Äúpublic_network‚ÄĚ, ip: ‚Äú192.168.1.141‚ÄĚ

The same configuration would be available without DHCP by specifying the IP address to use. If you know what subnet your network is on, this may be a shortcut for providing access without having to use ifconfig inside the guest machine.

An old answer to the Vagrant vs MAMP question on Reddit

I’m about to delete my Reddit account because it’s weird to have these passwords around for accounts that I really have no intent of using. I did find one answer I left to a question about my “Evolving WordPress Development with Vagrant” post that I feel like saving for posterity.

Is there an advantage for a single designer/developer who uses MAMP to set up and develop WordPress sites? I read their docs but I couldn’t discern a real advantage if it’s just a single user configuration? – grafxbill

While there probably isn’t an immediate advantage, I would argue that if you can see yourself ever working with more than one site or a host that does not use a LAMP stack, then the long term benefits are worth it. Though one of my next goals is to setup a basic LAMP stack via Vagrant and at that point I’ll come back and tell you to ditch MAMP completely. ūüôā

Caching alone is probably the most important reason for having a matching environment. These issues are so hard to troubleshoot locally if you don’t have the same setup. APC via MAMP can be helpful at first, but really duplicating the environment takes away a lot of assumption.

My other favorite thing is the quality of the sandbox. I can play around with server settings, screw everything up, and then ‘vagrant destroy’ to be back at square one without my personal computer feeling any of the side effects.

v1.1 of Varying Vagrant Vagrants has been pushed

This is a smaller release in the grand scheme of things, though the first (!) as a new organization. The milestone has been ready for several weeks now. Thanks goes to Aaron Jorbin for prodding it along. ūüôā

Quite a bit has been stable since v1.0, so we’re in a good spot to make a couple big changes in the next release including PHP 5.5.

From the changelog:

  • Transition to¬†Varying Vagrant Vagrants organization.
  • Add a CONTRIBUTING document.
  • Add¬†--allow-root¬†to all¬†wp-cli¬†calls in VVV core.
  • Use a new global composer configuration.
  • Add¬†zip¬†as a package during provisioning.
  • Introduce a helpful caveats section.
  • Remove¬†tcp_nodelay¬†config in Nginx. Reasoning in 0cce79501.

As always, feel free to stop by and open an issue if there’s something you’d like to see!

A Varying Vagrant Vagrants Organization

This is a very transformative moment for the Varying Vagrant Vagrants project.

About a week ago, I reached out to Jake with a proposal to move VVV from under the wing of 10up to an organization of its own. We’ve been cruising along for just over a year, have around 125 unique visitors on the repository a day, and have a nice regular community of contributors. We have received pull requests from just around¬†40 contributors (!!!) and the issues are constantly a lively place of discussion.

Jake immediately agreed and we were able to talk through the process and the future very¬†quickly. 10up has been a gracious and excellent host for VVV this entire time‚ÄĒthe farewell post¬†is great‚ÄĒand I’m looking forward to future steps we can take as a community now that we’re on our own.

I’d like to think that the goal to bring Vagrant to the forefront of WordPress developers’ minds has been accomplished. Through VVV and other related projects, the use of a development environment that closely matches production has come a long way.

I do think that VVV is the best tool out there for contributing to WordPress core. We provide stable, trunk, and develop versions of WordPress and everything needed to run the Grunt build tools and PHPUnit unit tests.

With that in mind, I think we should be able to line up a few goals.

  1. Continue being the place for a WordPress core development environment. This primarily means that we stay on top of the tools that core introduces into the development flow. Providing an approachable way to use these tools and documentation will go a long way.
  2. Directly related to goal one, some of the advancements we make should be around testing multiple versions of everything. If we can make it easy to fire up a PHP 5.x environment and test Nginx or Apache with WordPress 3.x or 4.x, that would be amazing.
  3. VVV has an excellent method for auto site setups. Over time we’ve had some nice demand for a few that could help quite a bit. It would be great to see a couple that provide basic setups for WordPress multisite and WordPress under Apache rather than our default of Nginx.
  4. Bring other tools to the forefront of WordPress developers’ minds. It may be great to see versions of VVV that harness Salt, Puppet, or Chef rather than the bash scripting that we’ve forced upon the project so far. VVV has an opportunity to be a learning tool for all of us in exploring methods of testing, provisioning, and deployment.


So please chime in with any suggestions that you may have. I’d love to toss the keys to a few new repositories over to anybody that’s interested in building out new tools. Feel free to use the main VVV repository under the Varying Vagrant Vagrants organization to open an issue and discuss your thoughts. We can split things off as needed.

Over time we’ll get more organized and setup a more official forum for discussions as well as some contributing guidelines. I’m going to reach out to a few regular contributors and get them added as committers. We also need to spend some time with licensing to see if we can get away with GPL for everything or if another would be more applicable to the work that we’re doing.

That’s that. Thank you all for being so great. Here’s to the next year of VVV. ūüôā

VVV Turns One

A year ago yesterday, I decided I wanted to break up with MAMP.

A year ago today, the Varying Vagrant Vagrants repository was created after an exciting couple nights pounding away at a server config that allowed me to troubleshoot WordPress in Nginx on a local virtual machine.

Since then, VVV has had almost 750 commits from 36 contributors (!!!) on 121 pull requests. The project has been forked 135 times, has 61 watchers and 440 stars.

What a pretty cool year it has been.

Did I mention 36 contributors? On an average of about once every 10 days, somebody decides that VVV is interesting enough to stop what they are doing and submit a pull request containing an improvement.

This blows my mind. Thank you all.

Version 1.0

And now we’ve reached our 1.0 release, which brings us one of the coolest features yet thanks to a wonderful effort from Weston Ruter and Simon Wheatley.

Auto Site Setup

Auto Site Setup allows for projects to be picked up automatically by VVV with custom web structures, host names, Nginx configurations, and provisioning scripts. If you dig into the wiki page explaining how to get started, you’ll get an idea of how powerful it can be.

From a project version control standpoint, it’s fun to geek out about how this came together through a pull request of a pull request of a pull request.

Vagrant Up Just Works

For quite a while, if you ran `vagrant up` on a machine that had been halted, you would also have to run `vagrant provision` in order for all of the services to start up properly.

Version 1.0 is so much happier.

At this point `vagrant up` just works and your workflow can start to match exactly what is expected of a machine that is powered off rather than actually destroyed.

As a side effect of this change, we now copy our config files to the virtual machine from mapped drives on the local machine rather than symlinking them. This may cause some confusion at first if you’re used to changing the configs and having them immediately reflected, but it makes a lot more sense from a provisioning and state management standpoint. This is where `vagrant provision` can be used liberally to reapply any changed config. Commit¬†1fbf329¬†contains a more detailed description of the decision and the implementation.

Other Changes

  • Begin implementing best practices from Google’s¬†shell style guide¬†in our provisioning scripts.
  • Databases can now be dropped in phpMyAdmin. Pro-tip,¬†drop database wordpress_develop¬†in phpMyAdmin followed byvagrant provision¬†clears your for reinstall.
  • Allow for¬†dashboard-custom.php¬†to override the default dashboard provided by VVV


We’re still moving forward. Check out the 1.1 milestone report on GitHub¬†to see what’s in store for the next version and feel free to jump in with pull requests or questions. As part of a greater community of Vagrant users in WordPress, there is also a newer WordPress and Vagrant mailing list that has had some activity. Feel free to stop by and ask any questions there as well.

v0.9 of Varying Vagrant Vagrants has been pushed

And it has one heck of a changelog.

Go get it!

It took us 105 or so days, we added about 200 commits, went through somewhere around 10 Vagrant releases, and things are looking sweet. The last few months have been great preparation toward a couple bigger features that are slated to be part of version 1.0 in the coming months.

What’s the best part?

We crossed 30 contributors and 100 forks. The community around VVV has been fantastic to work with.

So yeah, here’s the awfully long changelog of great things that made it into the v0.9 release. Keep your eyes open for v1.0!

  • Possible Annoying:¬†Use¬†precise32¬†for the Vagrant box name for better cross project box caching.
    • Note:¬†This will probably cause a new Vagrant box to download. Use¬†vagrant box remove std-precise32¬†after avagrant destroy¬†to remove the old one and start with this.
  • Possible Breaking:¬†Change VM hostname to¬†
    • Note:¬†If you had anything setup to rely on the hostname of precise32-dev, this may break.
  • Possible Breaking:¬†Change MySQL root password to¬†root
    • Note:¬†If anything is setup to rely on the previous password of¬†blank, this may break.
    • You can also now access¬†mysql -u root¬†without a password.
  • Introduce¬†support for the WordPress develop.svn
    • This was added pretty much the day it was available. Such a pleasure to work with!
    • Allowed us to remove the old¬†wordpress-unit-tests¬†in favor of the new¬†wordpress-develop/tests
  • Introduce¬†support for the Vagrant hostsupdater plugin
    • Use¬†vagrant plugin install vagrant-hostsupdater¬†to install.
    • Very, very much recommended for an easier and happier life.
  • Introduce¬†Postfix with a default config. Mail works! (But check your spam)
  • Introduce¬†the WordPress i18n Tools, including¬†config/homebin/makepot
  • Introduce¬†PHP_CodeSniffer, WordPress-Coding-Standards, and Webgrind
  • Remove¬†entire well intended but not so useful flags system
  • Rather than include PHPMemcachedadmin in the VVV repository, download it on initial provision
  • Verify support for Vagrant 1.3.5 (as well as 1.2.x) and Virtualbox 4.3 (as well as 4.2.x)
  • Move¬†xdebug_on¬†and¬†xdebug_off¬†controls to executable files in¬†config/homebin
  • Generate¬†vagrant_dir¬†in¬†Vagrantfile¬†for accessing relative file locations
  • Add a basic network connectivity check by pinging Google DNS servers
  • Update stable version of WordPress automatically on provision
  • General cleanup to screen output during provisioning
  • Many updates to the default nginx configuration
  • Remove poor, unused implementation of Watchr
  • Provide default certs for SSL in Nginx

WordCamp Yes, Vagrant Rocks #wcyvr

This is a companion blog post to my presentation at WordCamp Vancouver on August 17th, 2013. You can download the PDF of the slides or read through the following for the context that is often missing when reading a presentation at a later time. also has a video of the talk posted.

Hi WordPress, Meet Vagrant



Story Time

It was December 10th, 2012, the night of our WordPress developer meetup in Portland, that I decided I wanted to break up with MAMP.

Strangely enough for me at the time, I got a couple replies.

I’m not sure if I saw this tweet from Micah right away, as my reply didn’t come for a couple hours.

Another, an hour later, was from Tom Willmot, the founder of Humanmade, telling me that Homebrew was where it was at.

He then pointed me to a guide on GitHub that Humanmade uses for all new recruits, this guide being a great compilation of procedures to follow to get Nginx and the like up and running in your local (OSX) environment.

I immediately fell in love with this idea and started soaking up info. Screw MAMP, I was going to have an Nginx setup on my Mac.

About an hour after this, I finally replied to Micah, telling him that I hadn’t looked at it, but that it looked cool.


Fast forward a couple hours, I had to put most of this aside as I had a day job to concentrate on and breaking up with MAMP needed to wait until after hours. My tweets got more excited and I made my way to the developer meetup in a really good mood.

Justin Sainton, who is actually speaking next in this room, gave a great talk that night with an excellent title, “WP E-Commerce, I Hate You with the Fire of a Thousand Suns“, about the progress that’s been made toward refining the code base and improving the feature set. After Justin’s talk I continued my ranting to a few others about breaking up with MAMP and installing Nginx with homebrew instead. Daniel Bachhuber made a comment along the lines of – “why would you want to install all that junk on your computer?”



This is a good point.

Why would I want to install all that junk on my computer. I turned back to Micah’s first tweet suggesting that I check out Vagrant, determined to give it another chance.

And that’s when it clicked.

And at 11:44pm on December 11th, 2012, 24 hours after my initial amazement, Varying Vagrant Vagrants is launched into the world.

And so an obsession began. Developer lives changed. A super long name was shortened to VVV (sometimes I even call it V-trip). And within the next few months I was able to uninstall MAMP completely and convince others at 10up and in the community that Vagrant was the way to go.

My Goals

Which is why I’m here at WordCamp Vancouver. To introduce you¬†to Vagrant and get you obsessed. I want each of you to leave this talk amped up to use Vagrant for WordPress development. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to work. After all, you are at…..


And we all know that this acronym was chosen because…


I should admit that I have some hidden agendas.


While this talk is going to go a long way in showing you a superior development environment that will change your life, there’s much more at stake. This is why you should keep my goals in your head while we go through this. ūüôā


  • L(inux) – don’t need it. Love it, yes. Don’t need it.
  • A(pache) – Nginx is better. We can debate, but it is. Or what about lighttpd?
  • M(ySQL) – is great! But for how long? What about MariaDB or Percona? Well, I guess MariaDB fails to make my point, but Percona would leave us with LAPP.
  • P(HP) – Ok, that’s sticking around.


You’ve hopefully seen the new develop repository from a couple weeks ago at the beginning of the 3.7 cycles that starts to make use of Grunt for core development. Having a Vagrantfile to provide an agreed upon development environment for testing between versions of WordPress and PHP and MySQL and Apache and Nginx and… would be pretty slick.


We contribute in so many ways as a community to the WordPress project and there is a need for sysadmin contributions. It would be great to have a clear way for those who have sys admin experience to contribute to the WordPress project.

Anyhow, my goals aside.

As we’re covering the ins and outs of Vagrant, I’d like you to also tune in to ways Vagrant can fit into your development work flow, how it may have helped you solve problems faster in the past, and how it’s going to make you solve problems faster in the future.


Before we get into it, I want to exercise some hand raising powers.

  • Who here is a developer?
  • Who here is a sys admin, or manages servers in some way?
  • Who here is a developer and uses MAMP or XAMPP or WAMP?
  • Who here is a sys admin, or manages servers in some way, and thinks Apache is better than Nginx?
  • Who in the room has installed Vagrant on their machine before?
  • Who has used it more than once after installing it?
  • Who is using it day to day for their development environment?
  • What’s Vagrant?

How Did We Get Here?

I’ll get to what Vagrant is in a bit, but first I’m going to cover what we’ve been working with until now.


Has anyone ever used the term cowboy coding to describe the editing, obviously by others, of code on a live server?

Well, for a long while, cowboy coding didn’t seem so bad.

In fact, the beginning of WordPress development was very much all about it. Quite a few members in the WordPress community learned to code by sharing snippets with each other. If you visit the archives of Matt’s blog, there are code snippets to be found, ready to be hacked into your templates at will.

It was the wild west in the era of open source blogging and white screens were a great way of telling when something bad happened.


Luckily, this didn’t last forever. As familiarity with WordPress, PHP and MySQL progressed, local LAMP environments arrived. Apache, PHP and MySQL all had binaries that could be installed in Windows or Mac and a minimum environment could be setup with relative ease. White screens now had the opportunity to happen locally first and therefore more rarely in production.


Even better, MAMP, XAMPP and WAMP came along and provided a method of creating a stable LAMP sandbox for us to play in with just a few clicks. With the minimum requirements for WordPress development met, things got stable and stale. Having this stable sandbox environment goes a long way when building basic WordPress themes or plugins for customers.

Over the last several years, things have changed quite a bit in the landscape of the web, as they always do.


Nginx became a web server to be reckoned with and is now considered by many to be more powerful and performant than Apache.

Linux, MySQL, and PHP remain for the most part, but other additions like Memcached or Varnish are becoming more useful to WordPress developers to maintain object and page caches as sites are required to scale larger and larger while handling an assortment of traffic patterns.


Now, because of the way technology changes on us, when you sit down at your local machine and develop in a friendly familiar LAMP stack, there’s no guarantee that you’ll end up publishing your code to the same environment.

At the most extreme, it can be like only training in a swimming pool before jumping in to swim across the Pacific Ocean.

Personally, I can go back and find so many hours that were spent troubleshooting things that I could not reproduce locally because my environment did not match some unexpected thing on production.

Now. If you have the right OS, you may have filtered through a barrage of various tutorials online to piece together a sloppy system of manually installed packages that come close to matching your production environment, but good luck when you need to change something or develop a product that needs to exist in a different (or even multiple) environment.

Vagrant is the Magic You’ve Been Looking For


The last of Arthur C Clark’s three rules described in “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination” states that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

When I sat down and used Vagrant for the first time, it was magic. I had no idea what was going on, but it was going on and I liked it. And it makes sense that it seem like magic at first because really cool things happen without much effort.

Over the last 8 months I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into what Vagrant is and what it means for development and I can now appreciate it as a piece of advanced technology with many possibilities for expansion and use rather than the magic it started as.

Even so, it still feels like magic.

30000 Feet


Before we get into any detail, let’s back up and cover this from 30k feet with one of my favorite things in the world. An analogy.

Your Computer is a Beautiful Lawn


It starts off well manicured, with nicely defined paths around kept gardens that have some wrought iron fencing around them, helping to keep clean. There may even be a couple police officers hanging out to make sure that nothing bad is going on.


A server is a large, beautiful beach connected to the ocean. So many possibilities for digging holes and building sand castles and creating complex moats for waves to come through to visualize how well your sand castle was constructed.


XAMPP/MAMP is a small sandbox in your yard. You have an old tire, maybe a pail. Some shovels and a few rocks that you can play with. You can test out some structures in the sand if you’d like in preparation for the big beach day. If you get real fancy, you might even drag over a hose to spray down the sand castle just to see what happens.


Installing server software directly on your computer is like having a load of sand delivered to your house and dumped on your front lawn. You can probably do a bunch with it, lay out as if it was a beach and build a sand castle or two, but that well manicured look you started with will go away and over time it’s going to become harder and harder to keep track of where all that sand went.


Vagrant is an extreme sandbox. You can do whatever the heck you want with a beach worth of sand, moving it around and building and getting in trouble. If you flip a front loader or a bulldozer goes crazy and starts running things over, no big deal. Hit the reset button and you get to start over.


And when you’re done for the day, only one command stands between you and the personal computer that remains a beautiful garden.

Ground Level

Photo by Steve Snodgrass

Now that we have a picture of what we’re shooting for, let’s back up again and start over on the ground.

What is Vagrant?


Well, soon.

First, let’s start with virtual machines.

Virtual machines are fictional computers.


Completely made up stories that have no true hardware, but exist as long as they are described.


Through something known as “platform virtualization”, these fictional computers, or guests are able to use the hardware resources provided to them on a host machine without actually controlling those resources themselves. This allows the fictional computers to have, among other things, a processor, memory, hard drives, and network access. In fact, multiple virtual machines (or guests) can be running on the same host at once, all sharing the host’s hardware in a safe way through virtualization.


Virtualbox is GPL licensed platform virtualization software that provides an interface for managing and using these virtual machines. It takes care of figuring out exactly how all of the hardware on your host machine is made available to any guest machine in a safe way.


Vagrant is MIT licensed open source software for “creating and configuring lightweight, reproducible, and portable development environments.”

Vagrant gives you a method to write the story that describes each fictional computer to be virtualized on your host machine so that you can share the story with others, passing around development environments as if it was code.


Probably the greatest part about all of this is that both Vagrant and Virtualbox have installers available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. This means that as a Mac user, I can pass the description of a fictional computer to a Windows user and we can both be confident that we’re looking at the exact same thing when we boot it up. And while the most popular operating system used inside the virtual machine itself is certainly some flavor of Linux, it’s entirely possible that a Windows or OSX machine can be described and passed around as well.

That’s pretty amazing.

Anatomy of a Virtual Machine Built With Vagrant


Let’s talk about the anatomy of a virtual machine built with Vagrant.

  • Host
    • Your local machine is the host. It has Vagrant and Virtualbox installed and a copy of the fictional machine story that’s ready to boot up at any time. The hard drives and network devices belong to it at all times.
  • Guest
    • Any virtual machine created through virtualization on your host computer is the guest. It is temporarily using the resources of the host, until you tell it to shut down and disappear.
  • Box
    • Vagrant provides a way to package boxes. These boxes contain at least an installation of an operating system as well as some guest additions that help any platform virtualization software communicate between host and guest. This base box can be as heavy or as light as you want. It can be a bare bones Ubuntu or CentOS installation with no server software other than that required by Vagrant to do its job. It could also contain all of the various server packages that you need, Nginx, MySQL, etc..
  • Provisioning
    • Provisioning makes having a bare bones box most ideal. This is what helps make Vagrant lightweight and reproducible. I can pass a base box around or share it among several different projects and then pass along unique provisioning scripts that explain and automate how the box should be configured as it boots.


Let’s walk through the step by step of getting a base.

  1. Download and install [Virtualbox](
  2. Download and install [Vagrant](
  3. Type `vagrant init`
  4. Create and then navigate to an empty directory on your computer via the command line and type `vagrant init`
    • This creates a Vagrantfile file in this empty directory that describes the virtual machine you are looking to start.
  5. edit Vagrantfile
  6. Type `vagrant up`

This is the magic part.

Through no additional interaction an empty Ubuntu box is available for my use on my computer. All I need to do is go to a command prompt, type `vagrant ssh` and I’m in. From there I can do anything that I would normally do with a fresh server instance.


Here is where provisioning comes in. While a base server is pretty awesome on its own, it doesn’t do too much for us if we have to install all of the server software every time that we boot the machine.


There are a few provisioners enabled with Vagrant by default – Ansible, Chef, Puppet, and Shell, with another one, Salt, almost officially in.

These provisioners help describe the story of the virtual machine that you are building every time you start a new instance. Each offers a similar feature set and mostly differs on syntax and organization. I’ll leave a few links in the slides so that you can familiarize yourself with them later.

Great power lies in the use of these provisioners, especially when pushing server configurations to production. I do suggest sticking with shell provisioning at first unless you are already familiar with something else or using it to configure production servers already.

I should mention that again. Ansible, Puppet, Chef, and Salt are already popular tools for server provisioning. There is a chance that you are or an amazing server admin in your life already has some sort of provisioning script setup that you can use to immediately duplicate production in your development environment. And if this happens, and the configuration is for WordPress, you should totally open source it so that we can all share in the love.


So I’m a bit biased as I’ve been working on this for the last 8 months, but I do think it’s a good and approachable example. Let’s walk through the shell provisioning taken from the open sourced Varying Vagrant Vagrants.

This Vagrant configuration is an opinionated attempt to mimic a fairly common server configuration used for performant WordPress projects. We’ve put quite a bit of work into this and have had an amazing number of contributions from the community already. I really would recommend grabbing this and using it to get your feet wet if not as your daily development environment for WordPress projects. Do note that the Internet today will probably not support the sudden `vagrant ups` of 100 developers, so you may need to wait until you get home.



And now, only a couple minutes stand between my beautiful lawn and having an extreme sandbox up and running. In fact, if I power off the virtual machine without destroying it completely, we’re looking at an extremely short start up time whenever I want to dive in.

And with Varying Vagrant Vagrants, once `vagrant up` is complete, I have everything I need.

An environment with Nginx, PHP 5.4, MySQL, both APC and memcached, the latest stable WordPress, trunk WordPress, WordPress unit tests, WP-cli, not to mention a whole range of smaller tools that make development easier.

I uninstalled MAMP shortly after creating this and haven’t looked back.

I know this might seem a little crazy on the outside for some of you. Who wants to spend all that time in the command line, right? You should know that once everything is configured in the provisioning script, there’s little chance that you’ll ever need to go into the command line via `vagrant ssh` if you don’t feel like it. Just develop as normal on your local ‘host’ machine and view the changes in the browser. The only commands you’ll need to issue are those to start and stop the Vagrant. And rumor has it that a GUI is possible for these in the future.


Why should you develop in an environment that matches production?


Vagrant allows you to version control your environment. In fact, the project I’m working on now started with a Vagrantfile.

At Washington State University, we’re in the beginning stages of a project that intends to provide a central publishing platform based on WordPress for any college or department inside the University to use.

I started the repo with a Vagrantfile.

Once I had that, I was able to add WordPress in and then start making the customizations we’re looking for through various plugins and configuration changes.

Now, as we work toward a place where the server architecture is finalized, we can adjust the development environment in the project repository as needed to see if any new problems arise while we continue to build out and use existing code. With the development environment under version control, we can document reasons for software changes or revert to something earlier if an issue does come up.


Vagrant allows you to share your environment. The ramp up time for developers on the project is almost nothing. Just a git clone separates them from having a full, matching development environment on their local machine. No risk to the server. No worry about the developer being on Windows or Mac or Linux.

Imagine working for a customer that is going to host their site on WPEngine and knowing with absolute confidence that the theme you created locally will work without issue.

Or knowing that customers using default WordPress installations on Dreamhost or Bluehost will have not troubles using the plugin that your about to publish to the WordPress plugin repository.


I should stress that while Vagrant is very much going to replace MAMP for you, it is not a MAMP replacement.

Because that’s not what you should want. Instead of one environment restricted to technology that the community needed years ago, you should want a flexible environment that can adapt seamlessly to the technologies that the community must work with today.


Rather than meeting the WordPress minimum requirements we talked about earlier, Vagrant provides a flexible way for a developer to meet their project’s environment requirements.

Wrap Up

  • Magic?
  • Advanced technology?
  • Ready to start using Vagrant on a day to day basis?

I really hope you go home and go through your first vagrant up and then tell me about it later, because it’s a wonderful experience to see how quickly your development can change with a new, more carefree environment.