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Benefits of a Throwaway Environment

dhandspikerwade profile image Devin HW ・2 min read

The state of a developer's workstation can very easily be summarized as "works on my machine" - something different is installed or configured differently and I don't know what or how it got that way. Every machine is personal. Some try to minimize this by using Ansible or Chef to create the ability to spin up their environment cleanly. However at the end of the day, we're developers, sometimes we need to just try something and see what happens. Sometimes trying new things creates a mess that never really gets swept up.

This is where Docker comes in handy! For the same reason that it's great for immutable deployments, it's great for creating an environment to play in and then toss away once you're done - with very little overhead. A container will only leak the changes that you tell it to. Only changes to the files in a mounted volume will be preserved.

CI/CD

If you are using a CI/CD system like GitLab CI, Bitbucket Pipelines, or CircleCI, you may already be using a throwaway environment without realizing it. Continuous integration relies on the ability to run multiple builds simultaneously that may have differing requirements and toolchains. Containers and virtual machines are often used to isolate those build processes while allowing the development team to install any needed tools without affecting another team's workflow. We wouldn't want a build to start failing randomly just because another team decided to try the newest NodeJS beta.

Why would you use it?

This all sounds great right, but how do you use it in practice? You use it to experiment! Whether that is trying your app in the newest NodeJS beta, testing a script in a sandbox, or updating up an outdated library. All without affecting your workstation permanently; if anything goes wrong or not as you wanted to, delete the container and start again. No need to break your already working environment.

Reusability

While it's great to have the ability to have a fresh sandbox each time you want to try something, sometimes you want some tools pre-installed. Using the same process that is used to create immutable deployments, we are able to create images that include tools you commonly use. For example, I personally have an image that is able to build different PHP versions so I that I can test different configs across versions. This can be done by finding a pre-made image on DockerHub or creating your own via a Dockerfile. If you are interested in creating your own, I'd recommend heading over to the official documentation.

Photo by Ferenc Horvath on Unsplash

Posted on Jun 5 by:

dhandspikerwade profile

Devin HW

@dhandspikerwade

Primarily PHP developer with a passion for automation. Currently learning and exploring Go.

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