Developing on a remote instance
Jun 28, 2018
6 minute read

Have you ever been in a meeting that you didn’t really want to be included in? So you’re working and go to compile something and all of a sudden all 3 billion of your laptop’s fans start to fire at full speed. Everyone in the room suddenly looks at you and now they all know you weren’t paying attention

What if there was a way to run things without having your laptop sound like it just started its jet engines?

Allow me to introduce you to the cloud

the cloud

So when I started working at docker I was given access to launch instances on EC2 so decided from my first day that I would do most of my dev work on a remote instance.

A TL;DR of this post is: * tmux is awesome * (neo)vim is the best * ssh-agent forwarding is essential for remote instance working * fedora has great package maintainers

Learning to love tmux

tmux setup

So for a long time I had resisted the idea of setting up tmux. A lot of my colleauges had told me it was great but they I didn’t really see a need since I developed almost exclusively on my laptop. It wasn’t until I started using a remote instance for development that I realized how awesome tmux actually was.

If you’d like to view my tmux.conf you can view it on github!

Here are the things that have made tmux great for my workflow:

Long standing sessions are sick

Having the ability to detach from a session and come back is amazing. You can also actually save session states so you can reboot your machine and you don’t lose your session

Panes are amazing

tmux panes are great, being able to split my terminal with <prefix>,| or <prefix>,- is literally magic

Copy mode is great

You enter copy mode by entering <prefix>,[ and it’s one of my personal favorite features. You can navigate your terminal using vi-like keybindings and copy things into a buffer to copy and paste anywhere (even in (neo)vim!) using <prefix>,].

(neo)vim edits all the things!

I’m not going to go into editor wars here but for my personal setup, (neo)vim is my daily driver. From writing go to Makefiles to shell or really anything, (neo)vim does everything I need.

I won’t go deep into details about my setup but I’ll give you an idea of some of my favorite things:


Autocompletion that really just works. It’ll match things you already have in your file and if you have an omni-complete function setup it’ll do things like autocomplete python packages, autocomplete go, and completion for things in your file-system as well.


Question: Why isn’t this already part of the standard (neo)vim distribution?

This is absolutely one of the essential plugins I use. I would not be able to function without this plugin. I repeat: I would not be able to function without this plugin.

Funnily enough, most vim emulation modes for popular editors have this feature baked in. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

function! StripTrailingWhitespace

    function! StripTrailingWhitespace()
        let l:_s=@/
        let l:l = line('.')
        let l:c = line('.')
        let @/=l:_s
        call cursor(l:l, l:c)
    " Deletes trailing whitespace
    nnoremap <Leader>sw :call StripTrailingWhitespace()<CR>
    autocmd vimrc FileType c,cpp,java,php,javascript,puppet,python,rust,twig,xml,yml,perl,sql,groovy,sh autocmd BufWritePre <buffer> :call StripTrailingWhitespace()

Have you ever looked at a git diff and the diff looked like this:

diff --git a/1 b/1
index ce01362..1eb3f1d 100644
--- a/1
+++ b/1
@@ -1 +1 @@

Well what the real diff is, is that I added extra trailing whitespaces, which if we were using my StripTrailingWhitespace function would automatically be stripped away on save. Save a life and strip your trailing whitespaces please.

NOTE: I stole this function from the great maintainers at amix/vimrc

ssh tricks and tips

You should setup an ~/.ssh/config

These are amazing and allow you to do simple aliases like:

$ ssh pet

A great primer for this is Simplify Your Life with an SSH Config File

Do not store your private keys on your remote instance

Use ssh-agent forwarding and you won’t cry yourself to sleep when your pet instance gets reaped by your friendly neighborhood instance reaper and all of your private keys are lost.

Also if your instance gets comprimised it’s better that you don’t have any actual keys on the system to minimize import.

disclaimer: I’m not a security expert

Operating system choice

Turning away from Ubuntu

When I started my job at docker, I originally spun up a machine with Ubuntu 16.04 LTS because I had used Ubuntu previously in college and that’s what most of of our developers used as well. It was actually great while I was using it, support for Ubuntu is widespread since a lot of people use it in production but packages from the main repository always left a lot to be desired.

For example, installing git through the main repository gives you git version 2.7.4. As of writing this, the latest git version available is git version 2.18.0. To account for this lag, a maintaners group has gotten together and actively maintains a separate ppa repository.

Now I don’t really blame Canonical for not having up to date packages since most people running production software on Ubuntu value the stability of a slow moving package repository, but for my development machines I’d rather be the most up to date

Also, it was a major PITA to compile tmux from source on Ubuntu (which I did for every release), since the latest version found on the main repository doesn’t have all the features I need to run my setup correctly. Also I was compiling (neo)vim from source as well since the ppa for Ubuntu doesn’t seem to be updated very quickly.

Turning towards Fedora

Let me start this by saying the Fedora package maintainers are amazing.

As someone who works as a release engineer it amazes me how on top of everything the Fedora package maintainers are. Getting packages out usually within a week of a release is nothing short of awesome and they should really be commended for all of the hard work they do in order to keep everyone up to date.

Installing things on Fedora is a breeze, dnf is a great package manager, and I don’t have to compile my stuff from source anymore because there’s already packages up for them.

I wouldn’t run production servers on Fedora, but as far as my development OS goes it has gotten my vote.

How can you get started?

Well first and foremost you can spin up an instance on a cloud provider that’s a bit more developer/first timer friendly like DigitalOcean for something as cheap as $5 a month, which is how I run this site!

After that you can see my personal setup on github. I wouldn’t suggest a 1:1 copy over but you should use it as inspiration on how to start your own.

And then just start developing! When it gets hard, and yes it will get hard to move from a GUI based environment to a terminal based environment, just keep going! The more you practice with it the better you’ll get and before you know it you’ll be surprising yourself with how much you know.

Have any questions? ping me over at @_seemethere