Developing on Windows, 2016 Edition

Recently, with the new Macbook refresh for 2016, many developers have taken a good hard look at whether or not they want to stick with macOS and the hardware. Traditionally Macbook Pros have been an excellent kit to use, and even I used one for travel up until earlier this year. They had powerful CPUs, could be loaded with a good amount of RAM, and had unparalleled battery life. The fact that macOS was built on a Unix subsystem also helped, making it easier for developer tools to be built and worked with thanks to the powerful command line interface.

The new hardware refresh was less than stellar. All jokes aside about the Touch Bar, it was not the hardware refresh many of us were looking for. While it does mean that 2015 models might be cheaper, if you are looking for a new laptop, is it time to possibly switch to another OS?

Linux would be the closest analogue in terms of how things work, but not all hardware works well with it. You will also lose a lot of day-to-day software, but the alternatives might work for you. If you are looking at a new OS, I'd heavily look at Linux on good portable hardware like a Thinkpad X or T series laptop. Even a used Thinkpad (except the 2014 models) will serve you well for a long time if you go the Linux route.

Up until about August, I ran Linux day-to-day. My job change meant that I had to run software that just did not work well under Linux, so I switched back to Windows. Back in 2015 I wrote about my Windows setup, and now I think it's time for an update now that I'm on Windows full time. A lot of things have changed in the past year and while working on Windows before was pretty good, its even better now.

Windows 10 Pro

Yes, it might be watching everything you do, but I've upgraded all of my computers to Windows 10 Pro. Part of this was necessity, as Docker only works on Windows 10 Pro or higher, but Windows 10 itself also opens up the ability to run bash. If you are coming from Windows 7, there isn't much difference. Everything is just about the same, with a little bit of the Windows 8.1 window dressing still coming through sometimes.

Windows 10 Pro also affords me the ability to remote desktop into my machine. Yes, yes, I know that I can do that for free with macOS and Linux, but that's not the only reason to use Pro. Remote Desktop allows me to access my full desktop from my laptop or my phone. There's been a bunch of times where I'm away, get an urgent e-mail, and need to check something on our corporate VPN. I just remote desktop into my machine at home and I'm all set. This is much easier than setting up OpenVPN on my iPhone.

The main reason I run Windows 10 is Docker, which I'll outline below. The short of it is that Docker for Windows requires Hyper-V, and Hyper-V is only available on Windows 10 Pro or higher.

If you are running a PC and Windows, you should have upgraded. Nearly all the software that I had problems with works fine with Windows 10 now. Any issues I have are purely just because of how Windows handles things after I've gotten used to Linux.

The Command Line - bash and Powershell wrapped in ConEmu

Part of this hasn't changed. I still use Powershell quite a bit. I even give my Docker workshop at conferences from a Powershell instance. With the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Powershell now works more like a traditional terminal so you can resize it! That sounds like a little thing, but being stuck to a certain column width in older versions was a pain. Copy and paste has also been much improved.

I still install git and posh-git to give the terminal experience I had using zsh and oh-my-zsh on Linux. Since Powershell has most of the GNU aliases installed for common commands, moving around is pretty easy and the switch to using Powershell shouldn't take long. Now, some things like grep don't work, so you will have to find alternatives ... or you could just use real grep using bash.

I also do all of my Docker stuff from within Powershell. The reasons for this are twofold - one is that it works fine in Powershell out of the box, and the second is that setting up Docker to work in bash is a bit of a pain.

PHP and Composer, which are daily uses for me, are also installed with their Windows variants. I do also run specific versions under Docker, but having them natively inside Powershell just saves some time. PHP just gets extracted to a directory (C:\php for me), and you just point the Composer installer to that. After that, PHP is all set to go.

The Windows Subsystem for Linux (or bash) is a must for me. This provides an environment for running Ubuntu 14.04 in a CLI environment directly inside of Windows. This is a full version of Linux, with a few very minor limitations, for running command line tools and development tools. I'm pretty familiar with Ubuntu already, so I just install things as I would in Ubuntu. I have copies of PHP, git, etc, all installed.

What I don't do is set up an entire development environment inside Ubuntu/bash, I leave that for Docker. Getting services to run like Apache can be a bit of a pain because of the networking stuff that happens between bash and the host Windows system. You can do it, I just chose not to.

I'll switch back and forth between bash and Powershell as needed.

I've also switched to using ConEmu, which is a wrapper for various Windows-based terminals. It provides an extra layer that allows things like tabs, better configuration, etc. I have it defaulted to a bash shell, but have added a keyboard shortcut to launch Powershell terminals as well. This keeps desktop clutter down while giving me some of the power that Linux/macOS-based terminals had.

Editing files in bash

One thing I don't do in bash is store my files inside of the home directory. When you install it, it sets up a directory inside C:\Users\Username\AppData\Local\Lxss\rootfs that contains the installation, and C:\Users\Username\AppData\Local\Lxss\home\username that contains your home directory. I've had issues with files being edited directly through those paths not showing up in the bash instance. For example, I don't open bash, git clone a project into ~/Projects, and then open up PHPStorm and edit the files inside those paths. I'd perform the edits inside PHPStorm, save the file, and sometimes the edits showed up, sometimes they didn't.

Instead, I always move to /mnt/c/Users/Username/ and do everything in there. bash automatically mounts your drives under /mnt, so you can get to the "Windows" file system pretty easily. I haven't had any issues since doing that.

Docker for Windows

Microsoft has done a lot of work to help Docker run on Windows. While it is not as perfect as the native Linux version, the Hyper-V version is leaps and bounds better than the old Docker Toolbox version. Hyper-V's I/O and networking layer are much faster, and other than a few little quibbles with Powershell it is just as nice to work in as on Linux. In fact, I've been running my Docker workshop from Windows 10 for the last few times with as much success as in Linux.

It does require Hyper-V to be installed, so it's still got some of the same issues as running Docker Toolbox when it comes to things like port forwarding. You can also run Windows containers, though nothing I do day-to-day requires Windows containers, so my works is all inside Linux containers.

I would suggest altering the default settings for Docker though. You will need to enable "Shared Drives," as host mounting is disabled by default. I would suggest going under "Network" and setting a fixed DNS server. This helps resolve some issues when the Docker VM decides to just stop resolving internet traffic. If you can spare it, go under "Advanced" and bump up the RAM as well. I have 20 gigabytes of RAM on my desktop so I bump it up to 6 gigs, but my laptop works fine at the default 2 gigabytes.

All of my Docker work is done through Powershell, as the Docker client sets up Powershell by default. You could get this working under Bash as well by installing the Linux Docker Client (not the engine), and pointing it to the Hyper-V instance, but I find that's much more of a pain than just opening a Powershell window.

I run all of my services through Docker, so Apache, MySQL, etc, are all inside containers. I don't run any servers from the Windows Subsystem for Linux.

PhpStorm and Sublime Text

Nothing here has changed since 2015. PhpStorm and Sublime Text 3 are my go-to editors. PhpStorm is still the best IDE I think I've ever used, and Sublime Text is an awesome text editor with very good large file support.

What I'm Not Using Anymore

A few things have changed. I've switched to using IRCCloud instead of running my own IRC bouncer. It provides logging and excellent mobile apps for iOS and Android. It is browser-based and can eat memory if the tab is left open for days, but it saves me running a $5 server on Digital Ocean that I have to maintain.

puTTY, while awesome, is completely replaced for me with Powershell and Bash. Likewise, cygwin is dead to me now that I have proper Linux tools inside Bash.

I've also pretty much dropped Vagrant. At my day job we have to run software that isn't compatible with Virtualbox, and Docker on Windows works just fine now. I don't even have Vagrant installed on any of my machines anymore.

It's a Breeze

Developing PHP on Windows is nearly as nice as developing on Linux or macOS. I'd go so far as to say that I don't have a good use for my Macbook Pro anymore, other than some audio stuff I do where I need a portable machine. I'm as comfortable working in Windows as I was when I was running Ubuntu or ArchLinux, even though I'd much prefer running a free/libre operating system. I've got to make money though, so I'll stick with Windows for the while.

tl;dr

Here's what I use:


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