Multi Machine Setup in Vagrant

Vagrant is tools to automate development and testing environment. It helps to setup virtual machines from declarative configuration file. Sometime ago I wrote a very quick introduction about vagrant. This post will go further by explaining how to setup multiple VMs.

What is The Problem?

Why we need to bother setting up multiple VMs? In today software development world, most system is deployed as part of distributed systems. The simplest form is two tier monolith service and data store. However, nowadays people have been breaking down the monolith into multiple microservices. Put also into the equation that some integration point is being setup asynchronously using various kind of messaging or log system. Also since data is so ubiquitous, we have big data processing infrastructures either using batch or streaming. I always excited of how the things work in that distributed systems setup. We can learn and investigate the characteristic of those distributed systems in our local computer. It is cheaper than if spawn the same instance in the cloud provider.

We will do step by step process of having the multi machine setup. The complete Vagrantfile configuration can be downloaded in my github.

Step 0: Setup

We only need two applications in setting up multiple VMs in local guest operating system:

  • VM provider such as VirtualBox
  • Vagrant to automate the provisioning of the VMs

Step 1: Create Vagrantfile

We can use vagrant init command that will generate default file with many configuration example. Or we can just create a new empty Vagrantfile. Let's add this first content:

Vagrant.configure("2") do |config|
  # setup and provisioning will be added here

Vagrantfile is written in Ruby. Underestanding Ruby will help but not mandatory, unless we want to make complex customisation or provisioning. Vagrantfile will start with the configure method. "2" in the configure argument is the vagrant configuration version. I don't see any reason why we want to use version other than 2. The configuration will pass the config object in the lambda argument.

Step 2: Configure provider setting

config.vm.provider "virtualbox" do |v|
  v.memory = 256

We might want to limit the VMs hardware resource just to make sure it doesn't overwhelme the host operating system. In the configuration above, we limit the VM RAM to 256MB.

Step 3: Create a single machine

config.vm define "box_1 do |box| = "ubuntu/bionic64" "private_network", ip: ""
  box.vm.provision "shell", inline: "echo 'hello world'"

We are creating one VM box with that given IP and box type passed to variable. We are setting the network to private and pass the static ip address in the ip argument. In the provision part we are passing a simple shell inline script that just echoing "hello world".

Step 4: Create multiple machines

box_name = "ubuntu/bionic64"

base_ip = 100
base_ip_addresses = "192.168.51"

ip_addresses = (1..number_of_machines).map{ |i| "#{base_ip_addresses}.#{base_ip + i}" }

script = <<-SCRIPT
  echo "hello world"

config.vm.provider "virtualbox" do |v|
  v.memory = 256

(1..number_of_machines).each do |i|
  config.vm.define "box_#{i}" do |box| = box_name "private_network", ip: "#{ip_addresses[i-1]}"

    box.vm.provision "shell", inline: "#{script}"

The configuration of multiple machine is just the extension from the single machine setup. Fundamentally we are just looping the configuration to the number of machine that we want to create.

In the Vagrantfile fragment above, the only dynamic configuration for each machine is we want to make sure no machine has the same IP address conflict. The easy way we can just use dhcp. But we want to know the IP for each machine in a static way, hence we generate the IP address by enumerating it based on how many devices we want to create. In this example we will start with starting address of Since we want to make two boxes, therefore we assign to the first box and to the second box.

Step 5: Customize the provisioning

When provisioning the box for the first time, there might be a need to configure some initial setup. Such as installing apps or copying files. Vagrant provide different provisioners such as shell as the simplest to using Ansible. In this example we are just echoing "hello world" when the box is provisioned.

Once more, the complete of Vagrantscript from this post is available here.

Then the last step concludes this post. I am pretty sure will use this post when exploring clustering configuration for some distributed system out there.