It’s not been a great week for logging, partially because I have felt distracted, unsure of which direction to go in, and have not really achieved the thing, whatever the thing is. I guess I am also unclear what this is really for, because writing up as I go is not organised enough for anyone else to follow. Maybe I should write recap, tutorial-style posts, after getting a useful thing written and deployed.

Pet burial

The week started off a little sad. Padfoot, one of our two remaining guinea pigs, died overnight on Monday, shortly after getting a diagnosis of bone cancer. We buried her in the back garden, which involved hours, on Tuesday, of me making a grave in the wooded part. Digging through tree roots and into clay is hard.

Left to right, Ned who died last month, Padfoot, and Prongs. Prongs is lonely now so we are thinking of getting her a new companion.

More AWS and Terraform, now with deploys

Just a brief outline here. I will try and write a more coherent tutorial when I have something more coherent to write. This week I was working on approaches to deploying an actual Elixir application. I have been working with this freshly generated one. (I’ve linked to a particular commit).

Elixir release

This is the first time I have used built-in releases, rather than distillery. Unsurprisingly it’s not too different. The challenge is, of course, compiling for the target and including the appropriate runtime, when I still develop on OS X and am deploying to Ubuntu. There are various options including:-

  • Compiling on the target box. This just seems wrong. One of the nice things about a release is that (by default) it includes the Erlang runtime so we only need to set up a vanilla operating system and we’re ready to go. This is messier and increases the replacing VMs, clustering (if we decide to go down that root), and importantly feels icky.
  • Having a dedicated VM for releases. At Cultivate I had set up a box for just this, on Digital Ocean, and used eDeliver. It was a pain to maintain, especially for multiple projects on slightly varying versions of Elixir/Erlang, and meant paying for a box just to make releases. A full scaleable and robust solution, as described at last year’s ElixirConf Elixir in the Jungle tutorial, built and released from the Bastion. I am not planning on investing in that robust of a solution right now.
  • Local docker. Having got fed up of maintaining the Cultivate edeliver release, I switched to making releases locally but through an appropriate Docker container. That is using Docker to create the release, but not deploying with Docker. This is a nice flexible approach and I opted to go down this route again. Of course, it got fiddly.

The Dockerfile for setting up the build environment is here. Things to note:

  • I’m releasing to Ubuntu so it’s an Ubuntu based Docker.
  • The default Erlang solutions Linux package was a little old, so I opted for using ASDF to neatly specify Erlang and Elixir versions. Only as I write this do I stumble upon up to date versions.
  • Node is not installed using ASDF. I have previously found the GPG signature check to be a major headache to maintain in automatically provisioned setups.

The shell script for building within the Docker container is here. Note:

  • I’m using local git repository for the build rather than downloading from the remote repo. It’s a bit more a of a scrappy approach but sidesteps lots of configuration setup.
  • In the past I have built within a shared volume, directly to my working copy. This can lead to awkward clashes if I have, for whatever reason, compiled to production within OS X. It now does lead to an awkward clash on the npm install, between OS X and Linux components. Instead I copy over the .git directory to a build space, and checkout a fresh version of whatever branch I’m currently on.
  • The secret key generation is kind-of awkward.
  • I have a note, to do the same kind of thing for the LiveView salt.

It’s all tied together with this script to create the image, and release from it.

AWS infrastructure

The infrastructure setup is based on the examples from last week. The main Terraform file is here. One major difference is that the Elastic/Classic) Load Balancer has been replaced with the Application Load Balancer.

Turns out the the simpler classic version does not support Websockets, which is not terribly well documented. This would be a problem for LiveView.

Application Load Balancers require that they are attached to at least two subnets in different availability zones. This makes sense in terms of maximising resilience in case of outage, which is not a thing that’s bothering me right now. I ended up creating a spare subnet, with nothing else attached, which is a bit of a hint that load balancing is over-egging things right now.


I also added another cheeky wee Terraform file to automate setting up the DNS in DNSimple every time I recreated the infrastructure.

Deploying the release

I had an initial plan to (for now) upload the release using the Terraform file provisioner and maybe untar and start it with a remote exec. The 18mb gzipped tar file times out on upload, quashing that option.

For now I am doing it with a separate shell script. It works. (If you’re wondering about the service start stuff, the application is made a systemd service here)

I would like to try using Packer to create a custom API that contains the release.

Thoughts on the load balancing

Load balancers are a chunky bit of kit, and so far I am only deploying a single instance. Running the figures, once I’ve exhausted by free tier an active load balancer will cost $0.023 per hour or about $16.80 per month compared to about $8.50 for an unreserved t2.micro instance. With a single instance there’s no load to balance.

For now it’s overkill for a hobby project. For something with remotely production like needs, it would probably be worth load balancing across availability zones and probably autoscaling.

It is a pretty convenient way to deal with Amazon issued SSL certificates though; much easier than approaches using Let’s Encrypt (awesome as it is). For that reason, and that I’ve still free-tier allowance, I’m willing to swallow any cost for now, but it would be good to look into a simpler single instance setup.