Local development environments with Terraform + LXD

Local development environments with Terraform + LXD

Do you like our work......we hire!

Never miss our publications about Open Source, big data and distributed systems, low frequency of one email every two months.

As a Big Data Solutions Architect and InfraOps, I need development environments to install and test software. They have to be configurable, flexible, and performant. Working with distributed systems, the best-fitting setups for this use case are local virtualized clusters of several Linux instances.

For a few years, I have been using HashiCorp’s Vagrant to manage libvirt/KVM instances. This is working well, but I recently experienced another setup that works better for me: LXD to manage instances and Terraform (another HashiCorp tool) to operate LXD. In this article, I explain what the advantages of the latter are and how to setup such an environment.


Vagrant and Terraform

Vagrant enables users to create and configure lightweight, reproducible, and portable development environments. It is mostly used to provision virtual machines locally.

Terraform is a widely used Infrastructure as Code tool that allows provisioning resources on virtually any cloud. It supports many providers from public cloud (AWS, Azure, GCP) to private self-hosted infrastructure (OpenStack, Kubernetes, and LXD of course). With Terraform, InfraOps teams apply GitOps best practices to manage their infrastructure.

Linux virtualization/containerization

Here is a quick review of the various tools (and acronyms) used in this article and composing the crowded Linux virtualization/containerization ecosystem:

  • Virtual machines tools:

    • QEMU (Quick EMUlator): an emulation and virtualization tool that acts as a VM hypervisor, instead of Virtualbox for example.
    • KVM (Kernel Virtual Machine): a Linux kernel module that leverages hardware virtualization, notably special CPU features made specifically for virtualization (e.g. Intel VT).
    • libvirt: a virtualization API that supports several VM hypervisors and simplifies the management of VMs from any programing language.
  • Linux containers tools (see LXD: The Missing Piece for more about Linux containers):

    • LXC (LinuX Containers): an interface to create and manage system or application containers
    • LXD (LinuX container Daemon): a system container and VM manager that offers a unified user experience around full Linux systems. It operates on top of LXC (for containers) and QEMU (for VMs) to manage machines hosted by an individual host or by a cluster of federated hosts.
    • LXC (the other one): the CLI for LXD

Having Vagrant operating KVM hosts is achieved with the vagrant-libvirt provider. See KVM machines for Vagrant on Archlinux for how to setup libvirt/KVM with Vagrant.

Why Terraform?

LXD is used in CLI with the lxc command to manage it’s resources (containers and VMs, networks, storage pools, instance profiles). Being a command-based tool, it is by nature not Git friendly.

Fortunately, there is a Terraform provider to manage LXD: terraform-provider-lxd. This enables versioning LXD infrastructure configuration alongside application code.

Note: Another tool to operate LXD could be Canonical’s Juju, but it seems a bit more complex to learn.

Why Terraform + LXD? Advantages over Vagrant + libvirt/KVM

Live resizing of instances

Linux containers are more flexible than VMs, which allows resizing instances without reboot. This is a very convenient feature.

Unified tooling from development to production

LXD can be installed on multiple hosts to make a cluster that can be used as the base layer of a self-hosted cloud. The Terraform + LXD couple can thus be used to manage local, integration, and production environments. This significantly eases testing and deploying infrastructure configurations.

LXD support in Ansible

To install and configure software on the local instances, I often use Ansible. There are several connection plugins available to Ansible to connect to the target hosts, the main one being ssh.

When provisioning LXC instances we can use the standard ssh plugin but also a native LXC plugin: lxc (which uses the LXC Python library) or lxd (which uses the LXC CLI). This is beneficial for two reasons:

  • For security as we don’t have to start an OpenSSH server and open the SSH port on our instances
  • For simplicity as we don’t have to manage SSH keys for Ansible

Configuration changes preview

One of the main features of Terraform is the ability to preview the changes that a command would apply. This avoids unwanted configuration deployments and command errors.

Example with an LXD instance profile’s resizing:

$ terraform plan
Terraform will perform the following actions:

  # lxd_profile.tdp_profiles["tdp_edge"] will be updated in-place
  ~ resource "lxd_profile" "tdp_profiles" {
      ~ config = {
          ~ "limits.cpu"    = "1" -> "2"
          ~ "limits.memory" = "1GiB" -> "2GiB"
        id     = "tdp_edge"
        name   = "tdp_edge"

Plan: 0 to add, 1 to change, 0 to destroy.

Configuration readability and modularity

The Terraform language is declarative. It describes an intended goal rather than the steps to reach that goal. As such, it is more readable than the Ruby language used in Vagrant files. Also because Terraform parses all files in the current directory and allows defining modules with inputs and outputs, we can very easily split the configuration to increase maintainability.

# Using multiple Terraform config files:
$ ls -1 | grep -P '.tf(vars)?$'

Performance gain

Using Terraform + LXD speeds up daily operations in local development environments which is always enjoyable.

Here is a performance benchmark when operating a local development cluster with the following specs:

  • Host OS: Ubuntu 20.04
  • Number of guest instances: 7
  • Resources allocated: 24GiB of RAM and 24 vCPUs
MetricVagrant + libvirt/KVMTerraform + LXDPerformance gain
Cluster creation (sec)56.5511.1x faster
Cluster startup (sec)36.566x faster
Cluster shutdown (sec)4613.53.4x faster
Cluster destroy (sec)9172x slower

Setup of a minimal Terraform + LXD environment

Now let’s try to setup a minimal Terraform + LXD environment.


Your computer needs:

  • LXD (see Installation)
  • Terraform >= 0.13 (see Install Terraform)
  • Linux cgroup v2 (to run recent Linux containers like Rocky 8)
  • 5 GB of RAM available

Also create a directory to work from:

mkdir terraform-lxd-xs
cd terraform-lxd-xs

Linux cgroup v2

To check if your host uses cgroup v2, run:

stat -fc %T /sys/fs/cgroup
# cgroup2fs => cgroup v2
# tmpfs     => cgroup v1

Recent distributions use cgroup v2 by default (check the list here) but the feature is available on all hosts that run a Linux kernel >= 5.2 (e.g. Ubuntu 20.04). To enable it, see Enabling cgroup v2.

Terraform provider

We will use the terraform-lxd/lxd Terraform provider to manage our LXD resources.

Create provider.tf:

terraform {
  required_providers {
    lxd = {
      source  = "terraform-lxd/lxd"
      version = "1.7.1"

provider "lxd" {
  generate_client_certificates = true
  accept_remote_certificate    = true

Variables definition

It is a good practice to allow users to configure the Terraform environment through input variables. We enforce the variable correctness by declaring their expected types.

Create variables.tf:

variable "xs_storage_pool" {
  type = object({
    name   = string
    source = string

variable "xs_network" {
  type = object({
    ipv4 = object({
      address = string

variable "xs_profiles" {
  type = list(object({
    name = string
    limits = object({
      cpu    = number
      memory = string

variable "xs_image" {
  type    = string
  default = "images:rocky/8"

variable "xs_containers" {
  type = list(object({
    name    = string
    profile = string
    ip      = string

The following variables are defined:

  • xs_storage_pool: the LXD storage pool storing the disks of our containers
  • xs_network: the LXD IPv4 network used by containers to communicate within a shared network
  • xs_profiles: the LXD profiles created for our containers. Profiles allow the definition of a set of properties that can be applied to any container.
  • xs_image: the LXD image. This essentially specifies which OS the containers run.
  • xs_containers: The LXD instances to create.


The main Terraform file defines all the resources configured through the variables. This file is not modified very often by developers after its first implementation for the project.

Create main.tf:

# Storage pools
resource "lxd_storage_pool" "xs_storage_pool" {
  name = var.xs_storage_pool.name
  driver = "dir"
  config = {
    source = "${path.cwd}/${path.module}/${var.xs_storage_pool.source}"

# Networks
resource "lxd_network" "xs_network" {
  name = "xsbr0"

  config = {
    "ipv4.address" = var.xs_network.ipv4.address
    "ipv4.nat"     = "true"
    "ipv6.address" = "none"

# Profiles
resource "lxd_profile" "xs_profiles" {
  depends_on = [

  for_each = {
    for index, profile in var.xs_profiles :
    profile.name => profile.limits

  name = each.key

  config = {
    "boot.autostart" = false
    "limits.cpu"    = each.value.cpu
    "limits.memory" = each.value.memory

  device {
    type = "disk"
    name = "root"

    properties = {
      pool = var.xs_storage_pool.name
      path = "/"

# Containers
resource "lxd_container" "xs_containers" {
  depends_on = [

  for_each = {
    for index, container in var.xs_containers :
    container.name => container

  name  = each.key
  image = var.xs_image
  profiles = [

  device {
    name = "eth0"
    type = "nic"
    properties = {
      network        = lxd_network.xs_network.name
      "ipv4.address" = "${each.value.ip}"

The following resources are created by Terraform:

  • lxd_network.xs_network: the network for all our instances
  • lxd_profile.xs_profiles: several profiles that can be defined by the user
  • lxd_container.xs_containers: the instances’ definitions (including the application of the profile and the network device attachment)

Variables file

Finally, we provide Terraform with the variables specific to our environment. We use the auto.tfvars extension to automatically load the variables when terraform is run.

Create local.auto.tfvars:

xs_storage_pool = {
  name = "xs_storage_pool"
  source = "lxd-xs-pool"

xs_network = {
  ipv4 = { address = "" }

xs_profiles = [
    name = "xs_master"
    limits = {
      cpu    = 1
      memory = "1GiB"
    name = "xs_worker"
    limits = {
      cpu    = 2
      memory = "2GiB"

xs_image = "images:rockylinux/8"

xs_containers = [
    name    = "xs-master-01"
    profile = "xs_master"
    ip      = ""
    name    = "xs-master-02"
    profile = "xs_master"
    ip      = ""
    name    = "xs-worker-01"
    profile = "xs_worker"
    ip      = ""
    name    = "xs-worker-02"
    profile = "xs_worker"
    ip      = ""
    name    = "xs-worker-03"
    profile = "xs_worker"
    ip      = ""

Environment provisioning

Now we have all the files needed to provision our environment:

# Install the provider
terraform init

# Create the directory for the storage pool
mkdir lxd-xs-pool

# Preview and apply the resource changes
terraform apply

Once the resources are created, we can check that everything is working fine:

# Check resources existance in LXD
lxc network list
lxc profile list
lxc list

# Connect to an instance
lxc shell xs-master-01

Et voilà!

Note: To destroy the environment: terraform destroy

More advanced example

You can take a look at tdp-lxd for a more advanced setup with:

  • More profiles
  • File templating (for an Ansible inventory)
  • Outputs definition


The combination of Terraform and LXD brings a new way of managing local development environments that has several advantages over competitors (namely Vagrant). If you are often bootstrapping this kind of environment, I suggest you give it a try!

Share this article

Canada - Morocco - France

We are a team of Open Source enthusiasts doing consulting in Big Data, Cloud, DevOps, Data Engineering, Data Science…

We provide our customers with accurate insights on how to leverage technologies to convert their use cases to projects in production, how to reduce their costs and increase the time to market.

If you enjoy reading our publications and have an interest in what we do, contact us and we will be thrilled to cooperate with you.

Support Ukrain