How to Create a Vagrant Base Box from an Existing One

This tutorial is out of date and no longer maintained.


Vagrant Boxes are prepackaged development environments that are the foundation of Vagrant. In most cases, this is usually just a stripped and naked operating system such as Ubuntu, Debian, or CentOS. Boxes exist with the intention to be provisioned with additional features like Apache and PHP using tools like Chef or Puppet. This is really powerful, but it can be time-consuming to set up the first configuration and difficult for beginners. Plus, not everyone has the skill set of a system admin or works with a huge collaborative team.

This post will describe to you how to create your own prepackaged Vagrant Box from an existing virtual machine. In my opinion, it’s the quickest and easiest way for beginners to get started with Vagrant. This way you’ll be able to reuse it over and over and even share it. I feel this generally goes against the main idea of Vagrant where you provision your development environments from a single config. You generally lose a lot of the debugging and configurability of your development environment, but this should be helpful for plenty of developers, teams, and projects regardless.

Choose a Box

The first thing you’ll need to do is pick a box that you want to build from. The Vagrant Cloud lets you easily find boxes that people have shared. We’ll be working off of Hashicorp’s (Vagrant’s) Precise64. This box is a good one to work off of because Chef and Puppet are already installed, plus all the settings we’re configured by the creator(s) of Vagrant.

Initialize and Start the Vagrant Box

After you’ve chosen a box, initialize the Vagrant box. Each one is slightly different, but here’s how to do it for the example we’re doing:

  • vagrant init hashicorp/precise64

This will also create a Vagrant file for you. Now, boot the box with Vagrant by doing (it will need to download if it’s the first time using it):

  • vagrant up

SSH into the Box and Customize It

We’ll now SSH into the box and start customizing it. Here’s how to SSH into the box:

  • vagrant ssh

Now, we need to set up our server by installing whatever we want on it. This example will install a basic LAMP stack, but you can do whatever you like (Ruby, Nginx, etc.). The point of this article isn’t to teach you how to set up a server, but instead how to turn your virtual environment into a Vagrant Box. So this step might be more involved than what is actually shown:

  • sudo apt-get update
  • sudo apt-get upgrade
  • sudo apt-get install vim
  • sudo apt-get install apache2
  • sudo apt-get install mysql-server libapache2-mod-auth-mysql php5-mysql
  • sudo mysql_install_db
  • sudo /usr/bin/mysql_secure_installation
  • sudo apt-get install php5 libapache2-mod-php5 php5-mcrypt
  • sudo apt-get install php5-cgi php5-cli php5-curl php5-common php5-gd php5-mysql
  • sudo service apache2 restart

Make the Box as Small as possible

We’re now going to clean up disk space on the VM so when we package it into a new Vagrant box, it’s as clean as possible. First, remove APT cache

  • sudo apt-get clean

Then, “zero out” the drive (this is for Ubuntu):

  • sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/EMPTY bs=1M
  • sudo rm -f /EMPTY

Lastly, let’s clear the Bash History and exit the VM:

  • cat /dev/null > ~/.bash_history && history -c && exit

Repackage the VM into a New Vagrant Box

We’re now going to repackage the server we just created into a new Vagrant Base Box. It’s very easy with Vagrant:

  • vagrant package --output mynew.box

Add the Box into Your Vagrant Install

The previous command will have created a “mynew.box” file. You can technically put this wherever you want on your computer. Now, let’s add this new Vagrant Box into Vagrant:

vagrant box add mynewbox mynew.box

This now will “download” the box into your Vagrant install allowing to initiate this from any folder, but before we do this, let’s delete and remove the Vagrant file we built this box from.

  • vagrant destroy
  • rm Vagrantfile

Initialize Your New Vagrant Box

We need to now initialize a Vagrant environment from our brand new box using the same command from earlier but referencing the new Box.

  • vagrant init mynewbox

Customize Your New Vagrantfile

When you initialize the Vagrant environment, it creates a Vagrantfile for you (just like from before). Open the Vagrantfile and delete everything. You can use what was in there as a reference or just use Vagrant’s Official Docs, but we’re going to only use the absolute essentials that I’ve already spelled out for you.

Now paste the following bare-bones code into your Vagrantfile:

Now let’s create a landing page:

  • vim index.php

And add the following line to demo what we just installed with PHP:


Visit Your Site!

Now, visit the IP address from the Vagrantfile in your browser. If everything works, you should see a PHP info dump of the index.php file you just created.


Now that you’ve just created your own Vagrant Base Box from an existing one, you should consider sharing it on the Vagrant Cloud. This way other people can download and use it!

There are tons of ways of building Vagrant Boxes, and this method is only intended to get you started in the easiest and fastest way. You should consider these additional resources if you want to build from scratch or use a service to help you with the process:

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