Installing Alaveteli using Vagrant

Vagrant provides an easy method to set up virtual development environments. We bundle an example Vagrantfile in the repository, which runs the install script for you.

Although this is just one of several ways to install Alaveteli, it’s the best and easiest way to install it for development.

Remember that you must customise Alaveteli before it’s ready for the public to use, so installing a development site is a necessary part of installing Alaveteli.

The included steps will use Vagrant to create a development environment where you can run the test suite and the development server, make changes to the codebase and — significantly for customising Alaveteli — create your own theme.

What’s Vagrant? Vagrant is software that runs a simulation of another computer on your machine (or, more generally, any "host machine"). This is useful because although your machine might not be running Ubuntu, the simulation — called a virtual machine (VM) — can do. When you use Vagrant to install Alaveteli, it creates a VM that contains all the dependencies Alaveteli needs (which are defined in the VagrantFile). Because everything is in the VM, it doesn’t need to find or change anything on your own machine. This means you can work on any operating system that runs Vagrant, instead of needing to match what Alaveteli expects.

You can edit the files just like any other files on your machine (because the folder is "shared" between your machine and the VM), and the VM uses port-forwarding so you can access its Alaveteli server through your browser.

See the Vagrant documentation for more information.

The basic process is to create a base virtual machine (VM), and then provision it with the software packages and setup needed. The supplied scripts will create you a Vagrant VM based on the server edition of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS that contains everything you need to work on Alaveteli.

  1. Get a copy of Alaveteli from GitHub:

        # on your machine
        $ git clone git@github.com:mysociety/alaveteli.git
        $ cd alaveteli
        $ git submodule update --init
    
  2. Create the Vagrant VM. This will provision the system and can take some time — sometimes as long as 20 minutes. Vagrant will download the files it needs, so the first time you do this, you must be online for this to work.

        $ vagrant --no-color up
    

    When the VM is ready, you’ll see a message like Machine booted and ready, and control will be back at your command prompt.

  3. Once the machine is up, you can log in to it by doing vagrant up (from the same directory that contains the VagrantFile, so if you’ve just run up you’re already in the right place). This will log you into the VM as the vagrant user. Immediately change to the alaveteli directory, because you need to be there when issuing any of the admin or rake tasks:

        $ vagrant ssh
    
        # You are now in a terminal on the virtual machine
        $ cd alaveteli
    
  4. To start Alaveteli, run the rails server:

         # in the virtual machine terminal
         bundle exec rails server
    

You can now visit the application in your browser (on the same machine that is running Vagrant) at http://10.10.10.30:3000.

How to stop the server

You don’t need to stop Alaveteli right away, but when you do here are three ways:

  • If you’ve still got a login in the Vagrant shell in which you ran the rails server command, simply press Ctrl-C to interrupt it.

  • It’s also possible to stop the server from a different terminal shell in the Vagrant VM. Log in, find the process ID for the Alaveteli server (in the example below, this is 1234), and issue the kill command:

          $ vagrant ssh
    
          # now in a terminal on the virtual machine
          $ cat /home/vagrant/alaveteli/tmp/pids/server.pid
          1234
          $ kill -2 1234
    
  • Alternatively, you can shut down the whole VM (without deleting it) with the command vagrant halt (from outside Vagrant, that is, on the host machine’s command line). To start it up again, go to step 2, above — it won’t take so long this time, because the files are already in place.

What next?

The Vagrant installation you’ve just done has loaded test data, which includes an administrator account (Joe Admin). If you just want to dive straight into customisation, every new Alaveteli site needs its own theme.

Customizing the Vagrant instance

The Vagrantfile allows customisation of some aspects of the virtual machine. See the customization options in the file Vagrantfile at the top level of the Alaveteli repository.

The options can be set either by prefixing the vagrant command, or by exporting to the environment.

 # Prefixing the command
 $ ALAVETELI_VAGRANT_MEMORY=2048 vagrant up

 # Exporting to the environment
 $ export ALAVETELI_VAGRANT_MEMORY=2048
 $ vagrant up

Both have the same effect, but exporting will retain the variable for the duration of your shell session.