Computers for cross-platform development
lassi at lassi.io
Sat May 25 01:28:07 PDT 2019
>> Get a single large machine and virtualize each one of the
> I double the sentiment for virtualization
Tripled :) Spending the same amount of money on a fast/spacious amd64
system will probably give you more development speed and convenience and
maybe even more stability than buying exotic hardware. (Unless you
specifically love owning exotic hardware as a hobby in its own right.)
I run all of the following on VirtualBox on an Intel Mac:
* Solaris (OmniOS)
* Debian Linux
* Alpine Linux
* Haiku (BeOS clone)
Everything is very fast and convenient and surprisingly easy to set up
nowadays. VirtualBox doesn't have as good a reputation as VMWare in the
stability department but I've had very few crashes; it's perfectly
usable for ordinary programming. It can use grow-on-demand virtual disks
so if you make a 10 GiB disk it doesn't instantly use up 10 GiB of real
space. Probably all virtualizers can do that nowadays.
For non-x86 platforms, QEmu on Linux may be your only reasonable option
(I've successfully run Linux on VirtualBox and then QEmu inside the
virtualized Linux box). QEmu is generally less stable than VirtualBox
but the range of virtualized hardware is amazing. This would be the
first approach I'd try to cover big-endian systems.
VirtualBox and QEmu can do TCP port forwarding, so you can make an
extremely nice setup to ssh into your boxes by putting things like this
in your ~/.ssh/config file:
Then whenever you need to test things on a particular VM, just start it
up, wait 30 seconds, and `ssh dragonfly` from your shell. All the usual
things like scp/sftp, tmux and git pulls from the network run fine.
Emacs will even let you remote-edit files inside VMs from your main
editor session via ssh (Vim probably has something similar). ssh-copy-id
your key into the VM for passwordless logins, install your favorite
software and clone all your dotfiles, and you have an almost seamless
cross-platforms development experience.
VirtualBox can also easily juggle like 5 different VMs at once if you
have the RAM. Set up ssh port forwarding so each VM exposes a different
port to your native OS, and you can have tmux and editor files open on
all of them at once. Really great for cross-checking things quickly.
With not-all-that-much practice it's basically as easy as developing on
a single platform. Except the portability concerns will make you write
better software by avoiding over-complicated approaches and sticking to
data structure / OS fundamentals ;) And it helps add inspiration and
relieve some of the boredom of development when you visit different OSes
> As Justin mentioned, the frequency of the runs adjusts the value of VM vs physical.
With a reasonably beefy Intel machine (which will likely be more
reliable and not more expensive than having separate computers), you can
run a whole lot of things before a separate physical machine becomes
easier/faster. Not sure is this applies to really CPU/RAM heavy
workloads (if you can stomach closed-source software I'd evaluate VMWare
> I don’t know if Travis CI supports every OS on your list, but it might and you could set up a testing framework with it.
When I started out I used to think that cross-platform CI is enough. But
it turns out it's painfully slow to check your work using only a CI
server since you have to push a new commit to try the simplest of
things. I wish Travis provided an ordinary login shell running the same
environment as their CI, would have already saved hours of my time. This
is true in general, and doubly true for unfamiliar environments
(different OSes than what you are used to). I gradually found out that
instant ssh access from my main text editor and terminal is mandatory
for programming sanity. The more slow/complex/annoying it is to access
the boxes the less often you check stuff. I can't speak highly enough of
the SSH-into-VirtualBox setup for getting real work done.
Nevertheless CI is great! Travis only has Linux/MacOS/Windows natively.
Somebody managed to run FreeBSD in a Travis job by installing QEmu,
downloading a BSD image, virtualizing BSD inside Travis's virtualized
Linux and then making Travis ssh into the BSD to run the actual build
script. Here are the gory details:
Genius or madness?
Cirrus CI apparently has native FreeBSD:
SourceHut too but I can't find the details now: <https://meta.sr.ht/>.
Not sure if any CI services offer other BSDs but it seems to be a
fast-moving field so there is hope.
Another possibility would be to rent some virtual servers running
different operating systems as a group and pool money for the running
bills. Vultr.com has a very good reputation and offers cheap servers
with ready-made installations of many popular systems (including BSDs).
They also have custom ISO image support.
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