Vagrant vs Docker | Compare DevOps Tools

Finding the right DevOps tool can be tricky. There are a variety of factors to weigh in deciding what solution will work best for your projects. Learn more about two of the top solutions: Vagrant and Docker.

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Vagrant and Docker are two of the best DevOps tools on the market. They both offer great functionality for developers looking to build and share applications or collaborate with team members on projects.

However, the way that each program works is quite a bit different. One is a containerization tool, while the other is used to create and provision virtual environments. The two tools are typically used separately, but there are some developers that use the two tools together.

Here’s what you need to know about the differences between these two DevOps software tools in order to decide whether Vagrant or Docker is right for you.

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What is Vagrant?

HashiCorp Vagrant is a tool that is designed to help developers build and manage virtual machine environments in a centralized workflow. Vagrant can be used to run multiple virtual environments together using other virtual machines and operating systems. Users can create a self-contained, secure virtual network of virtual machines that can be imaged and shared to other developers to collaborate without sharing a single environment.

What is Docker?

Docker is a container management tool that can be used to build, test and share containerized applications. A Docker container can hold all the data that an app needs including the code, runtime, system tools, system libraries and settings. These containers may be used with virtual machines to deploy and manage applications.

Vagrant vs. Docker: Feature comparison

Feature Vagrant Docker
Full isolation Yes No
Requires Linux No Yes
Containerization No Yes
Virtual machine system Yes No
Quick launch time No Yes
High resource consumption Yes No

Head-to-head comparison: Vagrant vs Docker

Operating system compatibility

Vagrant does not run on the host operating system. Instead, it runs its own operating system within virtual machines. Vagrant files can contain any operating system including Windows, Linux or MacOS.

Docker can run natively on Linux or Windows x86-64. If you want to run docker on a non compatible OS you may do so using a virtual machine. This is one instance where some developers choose to use both Docker and Vagrant together.

Launch Speed

Upon start up, Vagrant has to load an entire virtual machine image and initialize all of the core processes. This can lead to a slower launch speed, which some users may find frustrating.

Docker on the other hand uses the existing operating system of your device. When you power on that device and system, all of its core processes will have already initialized. This allows it to maintain a much more efficient launch speed. Docker is often able to launch in seconds while Vagrant may take minutes to launch.

Depending on the size of your files, the difference in launch speed may not be that significant. However, large Vagrant files can be much slower to launch and work with than Docker files. Though regardless of file size, Docker will almost always be at least somewhat faster to launch.

Resource consumption

As discussed above, Vagrant has to load an entire operating system upon start-up. In addition to this being a slower process, it also consumes more resources on launch and while using the tool.

Docker consumes fewer resources. It only needs to load the libraries required by the application as opposed to a full OS. As a result, you can typically have more applications running while using less compute capacity.

Isolation

Both Vagrant and Docker can provide isolated environments for applications. Vagrant offers a higher degree of isolation than Docker. It provides a fully isolated environment by running a separate operating system.

Docker containers are run as isolated processes within the host operating system. Users can adjust their security setting to limit access to the Docker containers, but they may still interact with other resources or processes on the host operating system. Some developers have also experienced security issues due to links between the host OS and docker containers.

Choosing between Vagrant and Docker

While the two DevOps tools can accomplish many of the same core goals, they take quite different approaches. If you want quick launch times and lower resource consumption, you may be better off choosing Docker. If you prefer the ability to build and manage virtual machines to work simultaneously but separately with collaborations, consider Vagrant.

You don’t necessarily have to choose between the two. Some people do run Docker on Vagrant. There are scenarios where you need a virtual machine to run Docker, such as on MacOS, and some developers just generally prefer using a VM. In this case, you could use Vagrant to build and manage that virtual machine environment and run Docker within it.