Building your own local Oracle Linux 7 Vagrant base box

I have been talking about Vagrant for a long time and use it extensively on my Ubuntu-powered laptop. I am using Oracle Linux 7.6 for most of my lab builds, and I like to have specific tools such as collectl, perf, and many others available when the VM boots. I als like to stay in control of things, especially when it comes to downloading otherwise unknown things from the Internet I decided to learn how to create a Vagrant box myself.

Using Vagrant with my custom images, all I need to do is run a single command and it will spin up a clean VM using the VirtualBox provider with the exact software configuration I want. I can also supply so-called provisioners to further configure my environment. I found this particularly useful when writing and testing Ansible scripts. Sometimes I just wanted to go back to my starting point but that can be tricky at times: imagine you just partitioned your block devices for use with the database and discovered you wanted to change the flow. Getting back to unpartitioned, unformatted block devices is possible, but I don’t think it’s terribly elegant. Plus I have to manually do it, and I prefer the Ansible approach.

Building a base box

The Vagrant documentation is pretty good, so this is mostly pulling together information from 2 sources: The starting point I used was Creating a Base Box with specifics for the VirtualBox driver I’m using. I don’t claim I’m an expert in this field.

Running Vagrant VMs can be inherently insecure as you will see in a bit. It’s fine for me because I’m creating/trashing short-lived VMs on a regular basis and all I do is play around with them whilst they remain perfectly isolated from the rest of the world. If you are ok with this limitation feel free to read on, otherwise please refrain from following the steps in this blog post.

The overall process isn’t too hard to follow:

  • Create your gold image
    • Install the Operating System in VirtualBox
    • Install/upgrade any software you want to have available
    • Configure the system for Vagrant specifics
  • Create a base box off your gold image
  • Add the box to your environment
  • Start the VM and enjoy

Creating the VM and installing the Operating System

The first step obviously is to create the VM and install the operating system. For quite some time now I’m creating a VM with sufficient RAM and a couple of block devices: the first one is used as the root volume group, the second block device will be used for Oracle. Plenty of articles have been written about installing Oracle Linux on VirtualBox, I won’t write the 42nd variation here ;)

There are only a few things to pay attention to. These can all be found in the documentation I referenced earlier. First of all, please ensure that your network adaptor uses NAT. You can use port forwarding to access a NAT device in VirtualBox (configured later). The documentation furthermore recommends removing any necessary components such as USB and audio from the VM. I have used a strong password for “root” as I have no intention at all of sharing my VM. Apply security hardening at this stage.

A common error is not to enable the network device to start up automatically when the system boots. Vagrant uses port-forwarding to the NAT device and SSH keys to authenticate, there doesn’t appear to be a mechanism circumventing the network stack. With the network interface down it’s quite hard to connect via SSH.

Install/upgrade software

Once the operating system is installed and the VM rebooted, it’s time to configure it for your needs. I usually end up completing the pre-requisites for an Oracle database installation. This, too, has been covered so many times that I don’t feel like adding value by telling you how to complete the steps.

Configure the system for Vagrant

At this stage your VM should be properly configured for whichever purpose you have in mind. All that remains now is the addition of the specific configuration for Vagrant. There are a few steps to this, all to be completed on the guest.

Install VirtualBox Guest Additions

Vagrant offers the option of mounting a file system from your host on the guest VM. I very much like this feature, which is enabled by default. Please refer to the Vagrant documentation for security implications of sharing file systems between guest and host.

As with every VirtualBox VM, shared folders won’t work without installing the guest additions though so that’s what I do next. This is pretty straight forward and for Oracle Linux 7 generally speaking requires tar, bzip2, gcc and kernel-uek-devel matching your current kernel-uek. If you just completed a “yum upgrade” and your kernel was upgraded you need to reboot first. After VBoxLinuxAdditions.run has completed successfully (I am using VirtualBox 5.2.x) it’s time to move on to the next step.

Add a Vagrant user

Vagrant expects a user named vagrant to be present on the VM. It uses SSH-keys when connecting to the VM. The documentation mentions a so-called insecure key-pair I decided not to use. Instead, I created my own key pair for use with the machine and added it to ~/.ssh/authorized_keys in the vagrant user’s home directory. It is a new keypair I created on the host specifically for use with Vagrant. If you are on MacOS or Linux it’s convenient to add it to the SSH agent (ssh-add …). There are similar tools for Windows users.

Creating the user is easy and should be completed now unless you already created the user during the initial installation:

# useradd -c 'vagrant user' -m -s $(which bash) vagrant 

The user should have passwordless sudo enabled as well as per the documentation. It is also recommended by the Vagrant documentation to assign a weak password to the vagrant account, which I didn’t. I never ran the passwd command to set a password for the vagrant user and so far seem to be doing ok.

Create a base box

This concludes the preparations on the VM side. Next up you need to create the base box, which you can then refer to in your own Vagrantfile. The command to do so is just one line. Be careful though: it will create a compressed file named package.box in your current working directory. This file can be rather large, so make sure you have enough space to store it.

$ vagrant package --base <your newly created VM name>

Depending on how powerful your laptop is this can take a little while.

Add the box to your environment

The previous command will complete eventually. This is the moment where you add the box to Vagrant’s local inventory as shown here:

$ vagrant box add --name blogpost /home/martin/package.box 

This command shouldn’t take too long to complete. If you see a line “box: successfully added box ‘blogpost’ (v0) for ‘virtualbox’ you are good. You can assign any name to the box you add, it will alter on show up under that designation when you run “vagrant box list”

Start the VM and enjoy

The remaining tasks are identical to using Vagrant boxes off their repository. Start off by vagrant init <your box name> and make all the changes you normally do to the Vagrantfile. As I’m using my own SSH key I have to make sure that I’m telling Vagrant where to find it using a configuration option:

config.ssh.private_key_path = "/path/to/ssh/keyfile" 

Once you start the VM using “vagrant up” you are good to go!

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