Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Creating a test web server using Ubuntu Server 13.04 and VirtualBox

1st September 2013

Having seen Linux Format cover tools like Vagrant and Puppet that manage virtual machines, I have been attracted by the prospect of a virtual web server running on my own PC. Certainly, having the LAMP software stack in a VM means that the corresponding tools don’t need to be added to a host system should its operating system need a fresh installation.

As intriguing as tools like Vagrant may be, I decided that I needed to learn a bit more about getting server instances set up in VirtualBox anyway. Thus, I went and downloaded the latest version of Ubuntu Server and gave that a go. One lesson that I learned was that Bridged Networking needs to be added to the VM before installation of the operating system unless you fancy overcoming the challenge of getting Ubuntu Server to recognise an altered or additional network interface. In my case, I added an extra adapter for the Bridged Networking and left the original in place as NAT. The reason for having Bridged Networking set up is that it allows access to the virtual web server from the host once you know the IP address and that information can be obtained by executing the ifconfig command on the virtual machine.

With the networking sorted, the next step was to install the 64-bit edition of Ubuntu Server. Unlike its desktop counterpart, this is all driven by text menus but remains fairly intuitive and there is hardly anything there that you wouldn’t see with another Linux distribution. A useful addition is the addition of a menu to select the type of server services that you’d like to see installed. From this, I chose the web server and SSH options and I seem to remember that there was a database server option too. If there was an FTP server option, I would have chosen that too but it was no ordeal to add ProFTPd later on anyway.

All of this set was done through the VirtualBox GUI just to keep life more straightforward. Even so, I only selected 12 MB of video memory and was tempted to cut the overall memory back from 512 MB but leaving things be for now. However, what I have begun to do is start and stop the virtual machine from the command line since servers are headless operations anyway. With SSH enabled, there is little need to have the VirtualBox GUI going. The command for starting the server is below:

VBoxManage startvm "Ubuntu Server" --type=headless

There is a VBoxHeadless command for the same end too but VBoxManage does what I need. The startvm option is what tells VBoxManage to start the server and the virtual machine’s name is enclosed in quotes. The --type=headless ensures that no window pops up. To stop the virtual web server cleanly, a command like the following is needed:

VBoxManage controlvm "Ubuntu Server" acpipowerbutton

Again, the VBoxManage command gets used and the acpipowerbutton option ensures that a clean shutdown is performed. Not doing so results in the server not fully starting up according to my experiences thus far. Getting the virtual web server to start and stop with the host machine itself starting and stopping but this looks more complex so I plan to leave things a while before trying that experiment.

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