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Getting Started

Parallel Builds

So far we've shown how Packer can automatically build an image and provision it. This on its own is already quite powerful. But Packer can do better than that. Packer can create multiple images for multiple platforms in parallel, all configured from a single template.

This is a very useful and important feature of Packer. As an example, Packer is able to make an AMI and a VMware virtual machine in parallel provisioned with the same scripts, resulting in near-identical images. The AMI can be used for production, the VMware machine can be used for development. Or, another example, if you're using Packer to build software appliances, then you can build the appliance for every supported platform all in parallel, all configured from a single template.

Once you start taking advantage of this feature, the possibilities begin to unfold in front of you.

Continuing on the example in this getting started guide, we'll build a DigitalOcean image as well as an AMI. Both will be near-identical: bare bones Ubuntu OS with Redis pre-installed. However, since we're building for both platforms, you have the option of whether you want to use the AMI, or the DigitalOcean snapshot. Or use both.

»Setting Up DigitalOcean

DigitalOcean is a relatively new, but very popular VPS provider that has popped up. They have a quality offering of high performance, low cost VPS servers. We'll be building a DigitalOcean snapshot for this example.

In order to do this, you'll need an account with DigitalOcean. Sign up for an account now. It is free to sign up. Because the "droplets" (servers) are charged hourly, you will be charged about \$0.01 for every image you create with Packer. If you're not okay with this, just follow along.

Once you sign up for an account, grab your API token from the DigitalOcean API access page. Save these values somewhere; you'll need them in a second.

»Modifying the Template

We now have to modify the template to add DigitalOcean to it. Modify the template we've been using and add the following JSON object to the builders array.

  "type": "digitalocean",
  "api_token": "{{user `do_api_token`}}",
  "image": "ubuntu-14-04-x64",
  "region": "nyc3",
  "size": "512mb",
  "ssh_username": "root"

You'll also need to modify the variables section of the template to include the access keys for DigitalOcean.

"variables": {
  "do_api_token": "",
  // ...

The entire template should now look like this:

  "variables": {
    "aws_access_key": "",
    "aws_secret_key": "",
    "do_api_token": ""
  "builders": [
      "type": "amazon-ebs",
      "access_key": "{{user `aws_access_key`}}",
      "secret_key": "{{user `aws_secret_key`}}",
      "region": "us-east-1",
      "source_ami": "ami-fce3c696",
      "instance_type": "t2.micro",
      "ssh_username": "ubuntu",
      "ami_name": "packer-example {{timestamp}}"
      "type": "digitalocean",
      "api_token": "{{user `do_api_token`}}",
      "image": "ubuntu-14-04-x64",
      "region": "nyc3",
      "size": "512mb",
      "ssh_username": "root"
  "provisioners": [
      "type": "shell",
      "inline": [
        "sleep 30",
        "sudo apt-get update",
        "sudo apt-get install -y redis-server"

Additional builders are simply added to the builders array in the template. This tells Packer to build multiple images. The builder type values don't even need to be different! In fact, if you wanted to build multiple AMIs, you can do that as long as you specify a unique name for each build.

Validate the template with packer validate. This is always a good practice.


Now run packer build with your user variables.

$ packer build \
    -var 'aws_access_key=YOUR ACCESS KEY' \
    -var 'aws_secret_key=YOUR SECRET KEY' \
    -var 'do_api_token=YOUR API TOKEN' \

The output is too verbose to include all of it, but a portion of it is reproduced below. Note that the ordering and wording of the lines may be slightly different, but the effect is the same.

==> amazon-ebs: amazon-ebs output will be in this color.
==> digitalocean: digitalocean output will be in this color.

==> digitalocean: Creating temporary ssh key for droplet...
==> amazon-ebs: Creating temporary keypair for this instance...
==> amazon-ebs: Creating temporary security group for this instance...
==> digitalocean: Creating droplet...
==> amazon-ebs: Authorizing SSH access on the temporary security group...
==> amazon-ebs: Launching a source AWS instance...
==> digitalocean: Waiting for droplet to become active...
==> amazon-ebs: Waiting for instance to become ready...
==> digitalocean: Connecting to the droplet via SSH...
==> amazon-ebs: Connecting to the instance via SSH...
==> Builds finished. The artifacts of successful builds are:
--> amazon-ebs: AMIs were created:

us-east-1: ami-376d1d5e
--> digitalocean: A snapshot was created: packer-1371870364

As you can see, Packer builds both the Amazon and DigitalOcean images in parallel. It outputs information about each in different colors (although you can't see that in the block above), making it easier to identify the actions executed when you execute the command.

At the end of the build, Packer outputs both of the artifacts created (an AMI and a DigitalOcean snapshot). Both images created are bare bones Ubuntu installations with Redis pre-installed.