VSCode’s Remote Container support is game changing. It provides reproducible development environments with a UI that runs smoothly on my Mac while I develop in Ubuntu.

I recently started using VSCode. I’m maybe late to this party. I was stuck in the world of VIM. My VIM setup was more than just a vimrc, but a Ubuntu development environment sitting inside Docker where I could spin up multiple reproducible environments. Frankly, VSCode is better for me now that I get that same virtual development environment experience within a highly customizable UI.

The big win I find using VSCode and Docker for virtual development environments is that once setup with Remote Containers I’m not limited to running Docker containers on my local system.

If I start VSCode at the commandline with the DOCKER_HOST environment variable set to a remote instance that has Docker installed, VSCode will run the containers there.

DOCKER_HOST=ssh://ubuntu@<hostname-or-ip> code

This opens up the possibility of using large instances, such as AWS’s m5zn instance types that have up to 48x 4.5GHz vCPUs. I’ve found this rapidly speeds up compiling large applications, such as stellar-core.

Large instances like the m5zn.12xlarge can be expensive though, so I use an AWS EC2 Launch Template with the following User Data to quickly bring up an instance ready to go for Remote Containers. Since it is fast to bring up a new instance, I can stop or terminate an instance the moment I’m not using it.

I have a selection of favorite instance types that are focused on high-CPU speeds.

I connect to the instance via Tailscale so I don’t have to deal with changing public IPs, but you could just assign a public IP to the instance and connect via it instead.

User Data:


hostnamectl set-hostname awsdevenv

addgroup --system docker
adduser ubuntu docker
snap install docker

curl -fsSL https://pkgs.tailscale.com/stable/ubuntu/focal.gpg | apt-key add -
curl -fsSL https://pkgs.tailscale.com/stable/ubuntu/focal.list | tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/tailscale.list
apt-get update
apt-get install tailscale

tailscale up -authkey <tskey>

Finally I use the dotfiles feature of VSCode Remote Containers to setup any container I run. You can checkout my dotfiles for an example of how I Configured my shell. Dotfiles are configured in VSCode Settings as so.

"dotfiles.repository": "leighmcculloch/dotfiles",
"dotfiles.targetPath": "~/dotfiles",
"dotfiles.installCommand": "~/dotfiles/install-remote.sh",

It’s also possible to use Docker Contexts instead of setting the DOCKER_HOST environment variable, but it’s a little buggy inside of VSCode Remote Containers. If you’d give it a try checkout my last post, Docker: Context via SSH with macOS.