Introduction

Before we can continue, we need to set up a development environment.

If you are already using MacOS or Ubuntu, you can skip this section. Otherwise, click on the small arrow to the left of the method you would like to use below to expand that section, and then follow the installation instructions.

Virtual Machine (Recommended)

Installing a Virtual Machine (VM) is the easiest and most reliable way to get started creating an environment for web development. A VM is an entire computer emulation that runs inside your current Operating System (OS), like Windows. The main drawback of a VM is that it can be slow because you’re essentially running two computers at the same time. We’ll do a few things to improve its performance.

Step 1: Download VirtualBox and Xubuntu

Installing a VM is a simple process. This guide uses Oracle’s VirtualBox program to create and run the VM. This program is open-source, free, and simple. What more can you ask for? Now, let’s make sure we have everything downloaded and ready for installation.

IMPORTANT

Once you have completed these instructions, you are expected to work entirely in the VM. Maximize the window, add more virtual monitors if you have them, fire up the Internet Browser in the Whisker Menu Whisker Menu Icon on the top left of the desktop. You should not be using anything outside of the VM while working on The Odin Project. If you feel like you have a good understanding after using the VM for a while, and or want to improve your experience, we recommend dual-booting Ubuntu, which there are instructions for below.

Step 1.1: Download VirtualBox

Click here and download VirtualBox for Windows hosts.

Step 1.2: Download Xubuntu

There are thousands of distributions of Linux out there, but Ubuntu is undoubtedly one of the most popular and user friendly. When installing Linux on a VM, we recommend downloading Xubuntu 18.04. Xubuntu uses the same base software as Ubuntu but has a desktop environment that requires fewer computer resources and is therefore ideal for virtual machines.

Step 2: Install VirtualBox and set up Xubuntu

Step 2.1: Install VirtualBox

Installing VirtualBox is very straightforward. It doesn’t require much technical knowledge and is the same process as installing any other program on your Windows computer. Double clicking the downloaded VirtualBox file will start the installation process. During the installation, you’ll be presented with various options. Leave them in their default state unless you are certain about their behavior. As the software installs, the progress bar might appear to be stuck; just wait for it to finish.

Step 2.2: Prepare VirtualBox for Xubuntu

Now that you have VirtualBox installed, launch the program. Once open, you should see the start screen.

The VirtualBox start screen

Click on the “New” button to create a virtual operating system. Give it a name of “Xubuntu”, leave the “Machine Folder” as is, set the “Type” to “Linux” and be sure “Version” is set to “Ubuntu (64-bit)”. Continue by pressing “Next”, and choose the following options in the next steps:

The VirtualBox Create Virtual Machine window

  1. Memory size: Use 2048 MB or more if possible. Ideally, this amount should be about half of your computer’s maximum memory. For example, if you have 8 GB of RAM, allocate 4096 MB (1024 MB to 1 GB) to your VM’s operating system. If you do not know how much RAM is available to you, please click here.

    The VirtualBox RAM window

  2. Hard disk: Click “Create a virtual hard disk now”.

    The VirtualBox Create Hard Disk window 1

  3. Hard disk file type: Choose the VDI (VirtualBox disk image) option.

    The VirtualBox Create Virtual Hard Disk window 2

  4. Storage on physical hard disk: “Dynamically allocated”.

    The VirtualBox Create Virtual Hard Disk window 3

  5. File location and size: We recommend at least 20 GB for the virtual hard disk.

    The VirtualBox Create Virtual Hard Disk window 4

After completing the last step, click the “Create” button. Your new virtual OS should now appear in the menu. With Xubuntu selected, click on the “Settings” button on the navigation bar, highlighted in red below.

The VirtualBox Home screen with Xubuntu

Click on the “System” tab and then the “Processor” tab. Increase the Processor(s) to 2. If this screen prevents you from increasing processors, you likely need to enable virtualization in your computer’s BIOS/UEFI settings. If you have a single core processor, you will not be able to change this setting.

The Xubuntu System Settings Processor window

If you have more than one monitor, you can create additional monitors by increasing the “Monitor Count” attribute in the “Display” tab. Please be sure to increase the “Video Memory” slider until it is in the green. All other settings should remain default.

The Xubuntu System Settings Display window

With all that complete, click “OK” to save the changes.

You cannot install Xubuntu without mounting the ISO you downloaded earlier. We will do that now. Click on the section labeled [Optical Drive] Empty to the right of the text labeled IDE Secondary Master under Storage at the main VirtualBox screen, while Xubuntu is selected. This will open up a dropdown menu, click Choose/Create a disk image….

The VirtualBox Home Screen again

The next window that opens, click on the Blue Circle with the Green Plus labeled Add, and locate your Xubuntu ISO file you downloaded earlier. Choose the ISO and click open.

The Xubuntu - Opticial Disk Selector screen

You should now see the ISO on the Disk Selector screen. Click it and hit the Choose button at the bottom.

The Xubuntu - Opticial Disk Selector screen but with an ISO loaded

You can now start the VM by right clicking on the icon in the menu and by clicking the large “Start” arrow at the top.

When the VM starts up, you’ll be asked to install Xubuntu. All of the default options can be left alone, including the Installation type (“Erase disk and install Ubuntu”). It may sound dangerous, but the VM can only see the “Hard Drive” of the VM. This is the beauty of VMs: the ability to separate the physical space of your computer across many VMs. While installing, be sure to take note of the password and username you chose, we will need these later.

The rest of the installation is pretty straightforward, but if you have any questions, you can find Ubuntu’s official installation guide for Ubuntu here.

Step 3: Install and Enable Guest Additions

Your regular operating system (Windows in this case) is called the Host, and all other operating systems that run as VMs are called Guests. To make working in your Guest OS easier, you need to install Guest Additions. It adds useful functionality to the Guest OS, such as full-screen guest mode.

While your VM is running, do the following steps:

  1. Click the Whisker Menu Whisker Menu Icon on the top left of the desktop.
  2. Type Software Updater in the text field that opens up and click on the item with the same name.
  3. Install all available updates. If there are no available updates, move on to Step 5.
  4. If the Software Updater is stuck waiting for an unattended upgrade to finish, reboot the VM and start again from Step 1.
  5. Open a terminal with ctrl + alt + t or opening the Whisker Menu and typing in Terminal (the shortcut is obviously faster).
  6. Copy and paste this into the terminal: sudo apt install linux-headers-$(uname -r) build-essential dkms. Enter your password when it asks you to. (note: Your password will not be visible in the terminal. This is a security feature to protect your password. Press Enter when done.)
  7. If you get the following errors: Unable to locate package build-essential and Unable to locate package dkms, paste in the following: sudo apt-get install build-essential and enter your password. Otherwise, move on to Step 8.
  8. Type Y when it asks you to and let it finish installing. Close the terminal when it is finished.
  9. Click Devices on the VM toolbar -> Insert Guest additions CD image in the menu bar.
  10. Wait for the CD image to mount, it will show the CD on the desktop as solid, not transparent, and a window will show on the top right of the VM screen saying it was successfully mounted.
  11. Double-click on the CD icon on the VM desktop.
  12. In the new window that opens, right click on the white-space or any file/folder, and click Open Terminal Here.
  13. In the newly opened terminal window, paste sudo ./VBoxLinuxAdditions.run and hit enter.
  14. Once it finishes, close the terminal and the CD folder.
  15. Right-click CD on the VM desktop and click Eject Volume. It will not eject if the CD folder is open.
  16. Reboot your VM (which you can do by typing reboot and hitting enter in a terminal).
  17. You can now maximize the VM window, use the shared clipboard, and create additional displays, among many other useful features. These options are available on the VM toolbar under View and Device.

NOTE:

  • If upon trying to start the VM you only get a black screen, close and “power off” the VM, click “Settings -> Display” and make sure “Enable 3D Acceleration” is UNCHECKED, and Video memory is set to AT LEAST 128mb.
  • If you receive an error when trying to mount the Guest Additions CD image (“Unable to insert the virtual optical disk”), please reboot your host (Windows/OSX) operating system. Afterwards, ensure that there is no image file mounted in both Virtual Box as well as in the file system of the VM.
  • If you encounter the error “VirtualBox-Error: Failed to open a session for the virtual machine…” you might have to turn on ‘virtualization’ in your host’s BIOS settings. If you are using Windows as your host OS you can follow these instructions, otherwise just google how to turn it on for your specific OS.

Step 4: Understand Your New VM

Here are some tips to help you get started in a virtual environment:

  • All your work should happen in the VM. You will install everything you need for coding, including your text editor, Ruby, and Rails inside the VM. The Xubuntu installation inside of your VM also comes with a web browser pre-installed.

  • To install software on your VM, you will follow the Ubuntu installation instructions from inside the Xubuntu VM.

  • All of the development that you’ll do related to TOP will be done in the VM.

  • We recommend going full screen (Edit > Full-screen Mode) and forgetting about your host OS (Windows). For best performance, close all programs inside of your host OS when running your VM.

  • If you added additional monitors in the “Display” tab of your VM settings, with the VM running, clicking “View” -> “Virtual Screen 2” -> “Enable”. You can run fullscreen with multiple monitors, but it may ask for more “Video Memory”, which you should have increased when adding more monitors. Upon exiting fullscreen, your secondary display may close. You can reopen it with these instructions.

Ubuntu/Windows Dual-Boot

Read this entire section before starting

Dual-booting provides two operating systems on your computer that you can switch between with a simple reboot. One OS will not modify the other unless you explicitly tell it to do so. Before you continue, be sure to back up any important data and to have a way to ask for help. If you get lost, scared, or stuck, we’re here to help in the Odin Tech Support chat room. Come say “Hi”!

Step 1: Download Ubuntu

First, you need to download the version of Ubuntu you want to install on your computer. Ubuntu comes in different versions (“flavors”), but we suggest the standard Ubuntu. If you’re using an older computer, we recommend Xubuntu. Be sure to download the 64-bit version of Ubuntu or Xubuntu.

Step 2: Create a Bootable Flash Drive

Next, follow this guide to create a bootable flash drive so that you can install Ubuntu on your hard drive. If you don’t have a flash drive, you can also use a CD or DVD.

Note: You can use this method to try out different flavors of Ubuntu if you’d like. These images allow you to try out different flavors without committing to an installation. Be aware that running the OS from a flash drive will cause the OS to be slow and can decrease the life of your flash drive.

Step 3: Install Ubuntu

Step 3.1: Boot from the Flash Drive

First, you need to boot Ubuntu from your flash drive. The exact steps may vary, but in general, you will need to do the following:

  • Insert the flash drive into the computer.
  • Reboot the computer.
  • Select the flash drive as the bootable device instead of the hard drive.

For example, on a Dell computer, you would need to plug in the flash drive, reboot the computer, and press the F12 key while the computer is first booting up to bring up the boot menu. From there, you can select to boot from the flash drive. Your computer may not be exactly the same, but Google can help you figure it out.

Step 3.2: Install Ubuntu

If you would like to test out the version of Ubuntu on the flash drive, click ‘Try me’. When you have found a flavor of Ubuntu you like, click ‘Install’ and continue to the next step.

Installing Ubuntu is where the real changes start happening on your computer. The default settings are mostly perfect, but be sure to “Install Ubuntu alongside Windows” and change the allocated disk space allowed for Ubuntu to 30 GB (or more if you can).

For step-by-step instructions, please follow this installation guide from the creators of Ubuntu.

A note to those who are wondering why they’re being asked to install an entire new operating system

Why is everyone who comes to The Odin Project ‘forced’ to switch to Linux or macOS for development? Are there no web developers out there who use Windows as their main operating system?

The answer to that question is: well, not that many. One of the reasons is that Ruby (on Rails) and Node.js, popular backend technologies taught by The Odin Project and widely used in the larger web development community, are open source projects that explicitly expect to run on an open-source (UNIX-based) platform. And while Apple’s operating systems have all included the XNU kernel, originally based on the FreeBSD flavor of UNIX since the transition from System 9 to Mac OS X in 2001, Microsoft has only recently commited to embracing open source and providing more support for the way people approach web development today.

One of the biggest features added in Windows 10 was the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), which is a Linux command line within Windows. Setting up a development environment inside WSL is not beginner friendly, though, which is why The Odin Project chooses not to recommend and/or support this approach. All instructions you encounter here will assume you’re running either MacOS or Linux. Using WSL with these instructions may cause problems we are not able to help you resolve.

We do have great support for Linux/MacOS if you get stuck, so please give it a shot! If you feel you can contribute and support Windows at The Odin Project, please create a PR with Windows installation directions, and fixes for wherever the Windows commands might differ from Linux.

Improve this lesson on GitHub

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