There’s a New Player in Town, named Habitat

You may have heard some buzz around the launch of Chef‘s new open source project Habitat (still in beta), designed to change a bit of how we think about building and delivering software applications in the modern age.

There’s a lot of press, video announcement, and even a Food Fight Show where we got to chat with some of the brains behind the framework, and get into some of the nitty-gritty details.

In the vibrant Slack channel where a lot of the fast-paced discussion happens with a bunch of the core habitat developers, a community member had brought up a pain point, as many do.
They were trying to build a Python application, and had to result to playing pretty hard with either the PYTHONPATH variable or with sys.path post-dependency install.
One even used Virtualenv inside the isolated environment.

I had worked on making an LLVM compiler package, and while notoriously slow to compile on my laptop, I used the waiting time to get a Python web application working.

My setup is OSX 10.11.5, with Docker (native) 1.12.0-rc2 (almost out of beta!).

I decided to use the Flask web framework to carry out a Hello World, as it would prove a few of pieces:

  • Using Python to install dependencies using pip
  • Adding “local” code into a package
  • Importing the Python package in the app code
  • Executing the custom binary that the Flask package installs

Key element: it needed to be as simple as possible, but no simpler.

On my main machine, I wrote my application.
It listens on port 5000, and responds with a simple phrase.
Yay, I wrote a website.

Then I set about to packaging it into a deliverable where, in habitat’s nomenclature, it becomes a self-contained package, which can then be run via the habitat supervisor.

This all starts with getting the habitat executable, conveniently named hab.
A recent addition to the Homebrew Casks family, installing habitat was as simple as:

$ brew cask install hab

habitat version 0.7.0 is in use during the authoring of this article.

I sat down, wrote a file, that describes how to put the pieces together.

There’s a bunch of phases in the build cycle that are fully customizable, or “stub-able” if you don’t want them to take the default action.
Some details were garnered from here, despite my package not being a binary.

Once I got my package built, it was a matter of figuring out how to run it, and one of the default modes is to export the entire thing as a Docker image, so I set about to run that, to get a feel for the iterative development cycle of making the application work as configured within the habitat universe.

(This step usually isn’t the best one for regular application development, but it is good for figuring out what needs to be configured and how.)

# In first OSX shell
$ hab studio enter
[1][default:/src:0]# build
   python-hello: Build time: 0m36s
[2][default:/src:0]# hab pkg export docker miketheman/python-hello
Successfully built 2d2740a182fb

# In another OSX shell:
$ docker run -it -p 5000:5000 -p 9631:9631 miketheman/python-hello
hab-sup(MN): Starting miketheman/python-hello
hab-sup(GS): Supervisor cb719c1e-0cac-432a-8d86-afb676c3cf7f
hab-sup(GS): Census python-hello.default: 19b7533a-66ba-4c6f-b6b7-c011abd7dbe1
hab-sup(GS): Starting inbound gossip listener
hab-sup(GS): Starting outbound gossip distributor
hab-sup(GS): Starting gossip failure detector
hab-sup(CN): Starting census health adjuster
python-hello(SV): Starting
python-hello(O):  * Running on (Press CTRL+C to quit)

# In a third shell, or use a browser:
$ curl http://localhost:5000
Hello, World!

The code for this example can be found in this GitHub repo.
See the and hooks/ for Habitat-related code.
The src/ directory is the actual Python app.

At this point, I declared success.

There’s a large amount of other pieces to the puzzle that I hadn’t explored yet, but getting this part running was the first one.
Items like interacting with the supervisor, director, healthchecks, topologies – these have some basic docs, but there’s not a bevy of examples or use cases yet to lean upon for inspiration.

During this process I uncovered a couple of bugs, submitted some feedback, and the team is very receptive so far.
There’s still a bunch of rough edges to be polished down, many around the documentation, use cases and how the pieces fit together, and what benefit it all drives.

There appears to be some hooks for using Chef Delivery as well – I haven’t seen those yet, as I don’t use Delivery.
I will likely try looking at making a larger strawman deployment to test these pieces another time.

I am looking forward to seeing how this space evolves, and what place habitat will take in the ever-growing, ever-evolving software development life-cycle, as well as how the community approaches these concepts and terminology.