Vagrant, Docker & VMWare Fusion: Oh my!

Today we figure out how to run Docker containers on Mac OS X with a little help from VMWare Fusion, and Vagrant.

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I’m a bit behind the times when it comes to containerised deployments. I’ve been quite happily using Vagrant and Puppet to model production environments on my laptop before orchestrating their release into a real production environment. It’s delightful to be able to use Vagrant to recreate entire production-like environments, complete with a local puppet master, on my own computer, to test my Puppet changes before they go live.

With Vagrant at my back, and with all the experience I’ve picked up from deploying Puppet I’ve largely ignored the new hotness that is Docker – after all, it’s just Solaris Zones, right? ;)

I have to admit, I did have a wee poke around with Docker on my laptop a few months back, but quickly gave up. The trouble is that I’m obstinate: I’ve paid for a VMWare Fusion license, and I’m insisting on using it. The Vagrant support for Docker uses boot2docker, which only supports VirtualBox, so I’m left high and dry. I figured it was time to get around that and figure out a reliable way to run docker containers on my Mac OS X laptop.

The trouble, of course, is that Docker is a Linux technology, so it doesn’t run natively on Mac OS X. So we need a Linux VM to run the containers. Let’s just get this absolutely clear: we’re trying to run containers within a Linux virtual machine, which is running on VMWare Fusion, which is managed through Vagrant which, in turn, is running on our Mac OS X laptop. (Yes, it’s virtualisation technology all the way down!)

So, what do we want from this Linux VM?

  • Ideally, it should be accessible by some well-known name – let’s call it docker.local – so that we can connect to services running on it without worrying about hard coding IP addresses, or forwarding ports back to the host machine.

  • Most importantly, it should be running a recent stable version of Docker.

  • It has (a portion of) the Mac OS X host file system shared with it, so that we can, in turn, share portions of that filesystem with docker containers.

You can find the full configuration up on GitHub: Vagrantfile. Let’s step through it. All the configuration is wrapped in a standard vagrant configuration block:


Vagrant.configure(VAGRANTFILE_API_VERSION) do |config|
  # Configuration goes here.

First of all, we configure a base box. I’m using the base image of Ubuntu 14.04 provided by the folks at Phusion (purveyors of Passenger and other high quality things for a production environment): phusion/ubuntu-14.04-amd64. Mostly, I’m using this base box because it’s correctly configured for VMWare Fusion, so things like shared folders keep working, even across updated kernel packages. I’m also tweaking the number of CPUs available to the box, and the memory, just to give us plenty of headroom for running containers: = "phusion/ubuntu-14.04-amd64"

config.vm.provider "vmware_fusion" do |provider|
  provider.vmx['memsize'] = 2048
  provider.vmx['numvcpus'] = 4

We’ll give the box a well-known hostname because, along with installing avahi-daemon shortly, that will allow us to refer to the vm by name, instead of having to discover its IP address manually:

config.vm.hostname = 'docker.local'

Finally, configuration-wise, let’s mount the host’s home directory somewhere convenient, so that we can share folders with docker containers later on:

config.vm.synced_folder ENV['HOME'], '/mnt'

This way, our entire home directory on Mac OS X will be available in /mnt on the Linux VM. Handy. (I did initially muck around with mounting it on /home/vagrant, but that turned out to create problems with SSH keys, so I punted and mounted it somewhere neutral.)

Now all we need is a bit of shell magic to provision the machine. Specify a shell script provisioner with:

config.vm.provision :shell, inline: <<-SHELL
  # Provisioning script goes in here.

The rest of the code is inside the provisioning script. All we’re doing is installing the latest stable version of Docker, direct from Docker’s own apt repository, configuring it to listen for both TCP and socket connections, updating the rest of the system, and installing avahi for multicast DNS resolution. Simples:

sudo apt-key adv --keyserver hkp:// --recv-keys 36A1D7869245C8950F966E92D8576A8BA88D21E9
echo 'deb docker main' > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/docker.list

apt-get update
apt-get dist-upgrade -u -y -qq
apt-get install -qq -y lxc-docker avahi-daemon
apt-get autoremove --purge -y

adduser vagrant docker

echo 'DOCKER_OPTS="-H tcp:// -H unix:///var/run/docker.sock"' >> /etc/default/docker
restart docker

Let’s provision the box to make sure it’s working, and run our first docker container:

$ vagrant up
# [ ... ]
$ vagrant ssh
$ docker run ubuntu echo hello world
# [ ... ]
hello world

Winning. But, even better still, we can run the Docker client on Mac OS X, connecting to the Docker daemon running inside the VM. I’ve got docker installed on my Mac through homebrew:

$ brew install docker

Now we can tell the Docker client where to connect (this is where setting the hostname on our VM, and installing avahi, comes in handy). The DOCKER_HOST environment variable can be used to say where our Docker host is. I’ve added the following to my shell startup (~/.zshenv in my case):

export DOCKER_HOST="tcp://docker.local:2375"

Restart your shell and let’s see if we can run a docker container directly from Mac OS X:

$ docker run ubuntu echo hello world
hello world

Awesome. Finally, just to check we’ve got all the moving parts working as desired, let’s try to serve up this blog’s generated content (built with Jekyll) using an nginx container. This will check that we can run daemon containers, connect to their advertised ports, and share the local filesystem content with a container. Start the container, on your Mac OS X host’s command line, with:

$ BLOG=Development/Personal/
$ docker run -d \
    -p 80:80 \
    --name wossname-nginx \
    -v /mnt/${BLOG}:/usr/share/nginx/html:ro \

It’s a bit of a mouthful. We’re:

  • running a docker container as a daemon, detaching it from the tty with the -d flag;

  • forwarding port 80 on the docker host to port 80 of the container;

  • giving the container a name (wossname-nginx) so that we can refer to it later;

  • mounting a shared volume from this web site’s output directory on the host (though note the path is based on where it’s mounted inside the Linux VM) to the preconfigured HTML root for the nginx container; and

  • finally, specifying the name of the image we want to run, which happens to be the most recent official nginx image.

With all that done, we can visit http://docker.local/ and be served with the most recently generated version of this web site. And it’s coming from a docker container inside a Linux VM running in VMWare Fusion, which is managed by Vagrant, which is running on our Mac OS X host. It’s amazing it looks so fresh after travelling all that distance, eh?

The next step will be to try and serve up something a little more complex – say, a simple Rails app – with multiple containers. But that’s for another day.

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