Development Environment

This document is for developers who are interested in working directly on the Deis codebase. In this guide, we walk you through the process of setting up a local development environment. While there are many ways to set up your Deis environment, this document covers a specific setup:

  • Developing on Mac OSX or Linux
  • Managing virtualization with Vagrant/Virtualbox
  • Hosting a docker registry with Boot2Docker (Mac)

We try to make it simple to hack on Deis. However, there are necessarily several moving pieces and some setup required. We welcome any suggestions for automating or simplifying this process.

If you’re just getting into the Deis codebase, look for GitHub issues with the label easy-fix. These are more straightforward or low-risk issues and are a great way to become more familiar with Deis.


You can develop on any supported platform including your laptop, cloud providers or on bare metal. We strongly recommend a minimum 3-node cluster. We strongly suggest using Vagrant and VirtualBox for your virtualization layer during development.

At a glance, you will need:

  • Python 2.7 or later (with pip)
  • virtualenv (sudo pip install virtualenv)
  • Go 1.4 or later, with support for compiling to linux/amd64
  • Godep (
  • VirtualBox latest
  • Vagrant 1.5 or later
  • On Mac, you will also want - Boot2Docker

In most cases, you should simply install according to the instructions. There are a few special cases, though. We cover these below.

Configuring Go

If your local workstation does not support the linux/amd64 target environment, you will have to install Go from source with cross-compile support for that environment. This is because some of the components are built on your local machine and then injected into a docker container.

Homebrew users can just install with cross compiling support:

$ brew install go --with-cc-common

It is also straightforward to build Go from source:

$ sudo su
$ curl -sSL | tar -v -C /usr/local -xz
$ cd /usr/local/go/src
$ # compile Go for our default platform first, then add cross-compile support
$ ./make.bash --no-clean
$ GOOS=linux GOARCH=amd64 ./make.bash --no-clean

Once you can compile to linux/amd64, you should be able to compile Deis’ components as normal.

Configuring Boot2Docker (Mac)

Deis needs a Docker registry running independently of the Deis cluster. On OS X, you will need to run this docker registry inside of Boot2Docker (

Install Boot2Docker according to the normal installation instructions. When you run init, we highly recommend allocating a large disk, since the Docker registry that will live there is fairly large.

$ boot2docker init --disksize=100000

That will create virtual disk that can eventually take up a full 100,000MB of disk space. Then start up Boot2Docker.

Once you have run boot2docker up, you should be able to connect to it. You need to make a minor editor to the boot2docker config:

$ boot2docker ip
$ boot2docker ssh sudo vi /var/lib/boot2docker/profile

Inside of the profile, you need to add one line, making sure to set the IP address to whatever boot2docker ip printed.


Once that line has been added, you can either restart boot2docker’s docker server, or you can restart boot2docker. We recommend the latter.

$ boot2docker halt
$ boot2docker up

At this point, Boot2Docker can now serve as a registry for Deis’ Docker images. Later on we will return to this.

Fork the Deis Repository

Once the prerequisites have been met, we can begin to work with Deis.

To get Deis running for development, first fork the Deis repository, then clone your fork of the repository. Since Deis is predominantly written in Go, the best place to put it is in $GOPATH/src/

$ mkdir -p  $GOPATH/src/
$ cd $GOPATH/src/
$ git clone<username>/deis.git
$ cd deis


By checking out the forked copy into the namespace, we are tricking the Go toolchain into seeing our fork as the “official” Deis tree.

If you are going to be issuing pull requests and working with official Deis repository, we suggest configuring Git accordingly. There are various strategies for doing this, but the most common is to add an upstream remote:

$ git remote add upstream

For the sake of simplicity, you may want to point an environment variable to your Deis code:

export DEIS=$GOPATH/src/

Throughout the rest of this document, $DEIS refers to that location.

Alternative: Forking with a Pushurl

A number of Deis developers prefer to pull directly from deis/deis, but push to <username>/deis. If that workflow suits you better, you can set it up this way:

$ git clone
$ cd deis
$ git config remote.origin.pushurl<username>/deis.git

In this setup, fetching and pulling code will work directly with the upstream repository, while pushing code will send changes to your fork. This makes it easy to stay up to date, but also make changes and then issue pull requests.

Build Deisctl

Deisctl is used for interacting with the Deis cluster. While you can use an existing deisctl build, we recommend that developers build it from source.

$ cd $DEIS/deisctl
$ make build
$ make install  # optionally

This will build just the deisctl portion of Deis. Running make install will install the deisctl command in $GOPATH/bin/deisctl.

You can verify that deisctl is correctly built and installed by running deisctl -h. That should print the help text and exit.

Configure SSH Tunneling for Deisctl

To connect to the cluster using deisctl, you must add the private key to ssh-agent. For example, when using Vagrant:

$ ssh-add ~/.vagrant.d/insecure_private_key

Set DEISCTL_TUNNEL so the deisctl client on your workstation can connect to one of the hosts in your cluster:



A number of times during this setup, tools will suggest that you export various environment variables. You may find it convenient to store these in your shell’s RC file (~/.bashrc or ~/.zshrc).

Install the Deis Client

Unlike deisctl, the deis client is written in Python.

Your Deis client should match your server’s version. For developers, one way to ensure this is to use Python 2.7 to install requirements and then run client/ in the Deis code repository. Then make a symlink or shell alias for deis to ensure it is found in your $PATH. The example below shows the simplest way to install as deis.


On OSX, you must have the XCode command line utilities installed. If you see errors about ffi, try installing or reinstalling the XCode command line tools.

From the root of the deis repository, run the appropriate make command:

$ cd $DEIS
$ make -C client/ install
$ sudo ln -fs $(pwd)/client/ /usr/local/bin/deis
$ deis
Usage: deis <command> [<args>...]

This will fetch all of the dependencies. If one of your system Python libraries is out of date, you may prefer to cd into client and run pip install --upgrade . to fetch the latest dependencies.

Start Up a Development Cluster

Our host system is now configured for controlling a Deis cluster. The next thing to do is begin standing up a development cluster.

When developing locally, we want deisctl to check our local unit files so that any changes are reflected in our Deis cluster. The easiest way to do this is to set an environment variable telling deisctl where to look. Assuming the variable $DEIS points to the location if the deis source code, we want something like this:

export DEISCTL_UNITS=$DEIS/deisctl/units

To start up and configure a local vagrant cluster for development, you can use the dev-cluster target.

$ make dev-cluster

This may take a while to run the first time. At the end of the process, you will be prompted to run deis start platform. Hold off on that task for now. We will come back to it later.

To verify that the cluster is running, you should be able to connect to the nodes on your Deis cluster:

$ vagrant status
Current machine states:

deis-01               running (virtualbox)
deis-02               running (virtualbox)
deis-03               running (virtualbox)

$ vagrant ssh deis-01
Last login: Tue Jun  2 18:26:30 2015 from
 * *    *   *****    ddddd   eeeeeee iiiiiii   ssss
*   *  * *  *   *     d   d   e    e    i     s    s
 * *  ***** *****     d    d  e         i    s
*****  * *    *       d     d e         i     s
*   * *   *  * *      d     d eee       i      sss
*****  * *  *****     d     d e         i         s
  *   *****  * *      d    d  e         i          s
 * *  *   * *   *     d   d   e    e    i    s    s
***** *****  * *     ddddd   eeeeeee iiiiiii  ssss

Welcome to Deis                     Powered by CoreOS

With a dev cluster now running, we are ready to set up a local Docker registry.

Configure a Docker Registry

The development workflow requires Docker Registry set at the DEV_REGISTRY environment variable. If you’re developing locally you can use the dev-registry target to spin up a quick, disposable registry inside a Docker container. The target dev-registry prints the registry’s address and port when using boot2docker; otherwise, use your host’s IP address as returned by ifconfig with port 5000 for DEV_REGISTRY.

$ make dev-registry

To configure the registry for local Deis development:
    export DEV_REGISTRY=

It is important that you export the DEV_REGISTRY variable as instructed.


If you are using Boot2Docker, make sure you set the EXTRA_ARGS as explained in the prerequisites. Otherwise your registry will not work.

If you are developing elsewhere, you must set up a registry yourself. Make sure it meets the following requirements:

  1. You can push Docker images from your workstation
  2. Hosts in the cluster can pull images with the same URL


If the development registry is insecure and has an IP address in a range other than,, or, you’ll have to modify contrib/coreos/user-data.example and whitelist your development registry so the daemons can pull your custom components.

Initial Platform Build

The full environment is prepared. You can now build Deis from source code and then run the platform.

We’ll do three steps together:

  • Build the source (make build)
  • Update our local cluster with a dev release (make dev-release)
  • Start the platform (deisctl start platform)

Conveniently, we can accomplish all three in one step:

$ make deploy

Running deisctl list should display all of the services that your Deis cluster is currently running.

You can now use your Deis cluster in all of the usual ways.

At this point, you are running Deis from the code in your Git clone. But since rebuilding like this is time consuming, Deis has a simplified developer workflow more suited to daily development.

Development Workflow

Deis includes Makefile targets designed to simplify the development workflow.

This workflow is typically:

  1. Update source code and commit your changes using git
  2. Use make -C <component> build to build a new Docker image
  3. Use make -C <component> dev-release to push a snapshot release
  4. Use make -C <component> restart to restart the component

This can be shortened to a one-liner using the deploy target:

$ make -C controller deploy

You can also use the same tasks on the root Makefile to operate on all components at once. For example, make deploy will build, dev-release, and restart all components on the cluster.


In order to cut a dev-release, you must commit changes using git to increment the SHA used when tagging Docker images

Test Your Changes

Deis ships with a comprehensive suite of automated tests, most written in Go. See Testing Deis for instructions on running the tests.

Useful Commands

Once your controller is running, here are some helpful commands.

Tail Logs

$ deisctl journal controller

Rebuild Services from Source

$ make -C controller build push restart

Restart Services

$ make -C controller restart

Django Shell

$ deisctl list             # determine which host runs the controller
$ ssh core@<host>          # SSH into the controller host
$ nse deis-controller      # inject yourself into the container
$ cd /app                  # change into the django project root
$ ./ shell        # get a django shell

Have commands other Deis developers might find useful? Send us a PR!

Pull Requests

Please read Submitting a Pull Request. It contains a checklist of things you should do when proposing a change to Deis.