Yield Thought

it's not as hard as you think
formerly coderoom.wordpress.com

Last week I promised to share all the details about my cloud development setup - this is how I did it, in ten soul-crushing liberating steps:

Step 1: Get a Linode

I chose a Linode 512, which has been perfect for my needs. You get all phenomenal CPU power and an itty-bitty RAM. Surprisingly, this is enough as we’ll be doing most of our work on the command-line; you can always upgrade it later.

I also turned on the $5 a month backups. Zero-effort data safety for less than the price of a hot chocolate? Yes, please!

Step 2: Configure your Linode

Linode’s interfaces walks you through adding your new node. Pick a region close to yourself - you want to minimize the roundtrip time to the server. I spend most of my time in Munich, so I have mine in London and get a 30-40ms ping, which is great.

I also picked one of their default 32-bit distributions - if you’re not sure or don’t care then just choose the latest Ubuntu and you won’t go far wrong.

After a few minutes the machine will be installed and booted, ready for use! Time to log in and set things up!

Step 3: Build Vim

I found Ubuntu’s default vim didn’t have everything I wanted, but don’t worry! It’s easy to download and build it yourself:

install-vim

Step 4: Install lots of juicy plugins

I honestly can’t remember which plugins I installed and which ones I actually use. My currently-installed list is:

  1. acp.vim
  2. asynccommand.vim
  3. a.vim
  4. cctree.vim
  5. clang_complete.vim
  6. color_sample_pack.vim
  7. command-t.vim
  8. compview.vim
  9. cscope_maps.vim
  10. fuf.vim
  11. l9.vim
  12. NERD_tree.vim
  13. scratch.vim
  14. searchfold.vim
  15. taglist.vim
  16. tasklist.vim

You probably don’t want all of those; I wouldn’t be without command-t though. You can get them all from vim.org/scripts - you might want to install pathogen and get them that way; I just copied the existing .vim folder from my MacVim installation, hence all the cruft.

Note that command-t requires you to build a stub - follow the install instructions in command-t.vim and it just works.

To use the clang_complete plugin, you’ll need clang: “apt-get install clang” should do the trick. I had to play around with it a bit to get it working on my project, which included adding all the -I and -D command-line options to a .clang-complete file in the project directory.

Step 5: Create your .vimrc

Here’s my .vimrc - some of the things here relate to e.g. our internal tracker system and won’t be interesting for you, but it should be clear what most of these things do and which keys are bound to them:

.vimrc

Step 6: Configure GNU screen

I don’t recall where I got this from, but it works well for me:

.screenrc

You’ll also want to create a few aliases to connect to different screen sessions painlessly - my .bashrc contains:

.bashrc

You can probably change screen’s escape key in the .screenrc file too; I never bothered to look it up. Here, ‘s’ or ‘t’ will attach me to my work or personal sessions respectively.

Many people have recommended tmux - I haven’t tried it yet; screen hasn’t given me a reason to want anything else.

Step 7: Configure VNC

install-vnc

Feel free to pick a display that makes you happy but make sure it matches the DISPLAY=:5 line in your .bashrc!

Step 8: Get a super-sweet thin client

I chose an iPad2, (the 16Gb Wifi model). I haven’t tried working over (tethered) 3G yet, but ssh from my iPhone works well so perhaps that’s also an option if you’re often out of wireless contact.

If you already have a tablet that you like, use that instead - all you need is a good SSH client and a good VNC client. On the iPad I use iSSH and Jump for SSH and VNC respectively. I haven’t tried Prompt or Screens, if you already have them then let me know how well they work out.

Whatever you do, get an external keyboard. The Apple bluetooth one is amazing, I can thoroughly recommend it.

You’ll also want an adjustable stand / case for your tablet. Amazon offers plenty to choose from.

Step 9: Configure your thin client

The hardest part of setting up a SSH client on a tablet is getting your private SSH key on there without entrusting it to a third party. I split mine across multiple services and removed it after recombining it; maybe you don’t really care.

If you didn’t add the export TERM line into your .bashrc then remember to tell your SSH client to report its TERM type as “xterm-256color” - providing it supports this (iSSH does) then you’ll get to enjoy beautiful soft shades in your remote Vim sessions - joy!

To begin with I used iSSH’s VNC client, which worked perfectly well but was a pain to switch to quickly. Last week I started using Jump instead and love it, it’s a super-smooth experience with lots of cute little touches that make me smile. Swiping to it with the new iOS5 gestures is much easier than changing the view in iSSH and the next update will make it auto-reconnect after the 10 minute background timeout, making the whole experience seamless all the time.

I learned a lesson: take a bit of time and money and try out various different clients. You’ll be spending most of your working day in them; try to smooth out every aspect of the experience.

Step 10: Enjoy life in the cloud

There’ll be many other packages you want to install - Dropbox and Google AppEngine spring to mind - both can run in console-only modes.

If you’ve followed this far then you should have a fully-connected remote server and tablet client - welcome to the future!

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