You Don’t Need Laravel Sail


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@osteelYannick Chenot

Senior backend developer

Truman continues to steer his wrecked sailboat towards the infinitely receding horizon. All is calm until we see the bow of the boat suddenly strike a huge, blue wall, knocking Truman off his feet. Truman recovers and clambers across the deck to the bow of the boat. Looming above him out of the sea is a cyclorama of colossal dimensions. The sky he has been sailing towards is nothing but a painted backdrop. (Andrew M. Niccol, The Truman Show)

On December 8 2020, Taylor Otwell announced the launch of Laravel Sail, a development environment based on Docker, along with a large overhaul of Laravel’s documentation:

The announcement caused a wave of excitement across the community, as a lot of people identified the new environment as a way to finally get into Docker; but it also left some confusion in its wake, as Sail introduces an approach to development that is quite different from its predecessors and isn’t exactly a guide to becoming a Docker expert.

This post is about what to expect from Laravel Sail, how it works and how to make the most of it; it is also a plea to developers to break away from it, in favour of their own, tailored solution.

But before we get there, we need to take a look under the deck, starting with a high-level explanation of what Sail is.

What is Laravel Sail?

Sail is Laravel’s latest development environment. It is the most recent addition to a long list featuring official solutions like Homestead and Valet on the one hand, and community efforts like Laragon, Laradock, Takeout and Vessel on the other (according to the GitHub repository, Sail is largely inspired by the latter).

Laravel Sail is based on Docker, a technology leveraging containers to essentially package up applications so they can run quickly and easily on any operating system.

The future of Sail appears to be bright, as the Laravel documentation already features it as the preferred way to instal and run Laravel projects locally, a spot that Homestead and Valet occupied for years.

How does it compare to its predecessors?

As a refresher, Homestead is a Vagrant box (a virtual machine) pre-packaged with everything most Laravel applications need, including essential components like PHP, MySQL and a web server (Nginx), but also less-often used technologies like PostgreSQL, Redis or Memcached.

Valet, on the other hand, is a lightweight environment for macOS focused on performance, relying on a local installation of PHP instead of a virtual machine, and intended to be used along with other services like DBngin or Takeout to manage other dependencies like databases.

While Homestead and Valet look quite different on paper, they promote the same general approach to local development, which is also shared by most of the aforementioned solutions: they try to be one-size-fits-all environments for Laravel projects and to manage them all under one roof.

Sail’s approach is different, in that the development environment’s description is included with the rest of the codebase. Instead of relying on the presence of a third-party solution on the developer’s machine, the project comes with a set of instructions for Docker to pick up and build the corresponding environment.

The application comes with batteries included, only requiring a single command to spin up its development environment, regardless of the developer’s operating system so long as Docker is installed on it. It also introduces the notion of a bespoke development environment for the application, which, in my opinion, is Laravel Sail’s real kicker.

While this approach is a major departure from traditional solutions, Sail still bears some resemblance to them around the tools it comes with, some of which are essential, others not.

Let’s review the most important ones and the way they’re implemented.

How does it work?

From here on, it will probably be easier to follow along with a fresh installation of Laravel, although the files I refer to come with links to the official GitHub repository. If you’ve got a little bit of time, go follow the instructions for your operating system now and come back here when you’re done.

Sail is currently composed of three main components: PHP, MySQL and Redis. As per the documentation, the whole setup gravitates around two files:

docker-compose.yml

(which you will find at the project’s root after a fresh installation) and the

sail

script (found under

vendor/bin

).

The docker-compose.yml file

As mentioned earlier, Laravel Sail is based on Docker, which is a technology leveraging containers. As a rule of thumb, each container should only run one process; roughly translated, that means that each container should only run a single piece of software. If we apply this rule to the above setup, we’ll need one container for PHP, another one for MySQL, and a third one for Redis.

These containers make up your application, and they need to be orchestrated for it to function properly. There are several ways to do this, but Laravel Sail relies on Docker Compose to do the job, which is the easiest and most used solution for local setups.

Docker Compose expects us to describe the various components of our application in a

docker-compose.yml

file, in YAML format. If you open the one at the root of the project in a new tab (or in your text editor), you will see a

version

parameter at the top, under which there is a

services

section containing a list of components comprising the ones we’ve just mentioned:

laravel.test

,

mysql

and

redis

.

I’ll describe the

mysql

and

redis

services first, as they are simpler than

laravel.test

; I’ll then briefly cover the other, smaller ones.

The mysql service

As the name suggests, the

mysql

service handles the MySQL database:

    mysql:
        image: 'mysql:8.0'
        ports:
            - '${FORWARD_DB_PORT:-3306}:3306'
        environment:
            MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: '${DB_PASSWORD}'
            MYSQL_DATABASE: '${DB_DATABASE}'
            MYSQL_USER: '${DB_USERNAME}'
            MYSQL_PASSWORD: '${DB_PASSWORD}'
            MYSQL_ALLOW_EMPTY_PASSWORD: 'yes'
        volumes:
            - 'sailmysql:/var/lib/mysql'
        networks:
            - sail

The

image

parameter indicates which image should be used for this container. An easy way to understand images and the difference with containers is to borrow from OOP concepts: an image is akin to a class and a container to an instance of that class.

Here, we specify that we want to use the tag

8.0

of the

mysql

image, corresponding to MySQL version 8.0. By default, images are downloaded from Docker Hub, which is the largest image registry. Have a look at the page for MySQL – most images come with simple documentation explaining how to use it.

The

ports

key allows us to map local ports to container ports, following the

local:container

format. In the code snippet above, the value of the

FORWARD_DB_PORT

environment variable (or

3306

if that value is empty) is mapped to the container’s

3306

port. This is mostly useful to connect third-party software to the database, like MySQL Workbench or Sequel Ace; the setup would also work without it.

environments

is for defining environment variables for the container. Here, most of them receive the value of existing environment variables, which are loaded from the

.env

file at the root of the project –

docker-compose.yml

automatically detects and imports the content of this file. For instance, in the

MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: '${DB_PASSWORD}'

line, the container’s

MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD

environment variable will receive the value of

DB_PASSWORD

from the

.env

file.

volumes

is to declare some of the container’s files or folders as volumes, either by mapping specific local files or folders to them or by letting Docker deal with it.

Here, a single Docker-managed volume is defined:

sailmysql

. This type of volume must be declared in a separate

volumes

section, at the same level as

services

. We can find it at the bottom of the

docker-compose.yml

file:

    volumes:
        sailmysql:
            driver: local
        sailredis:
            driver: local

The

sailmysql

volume is mapped to the container’s

/var/lib/mysql

folder, which is where the MySQL data is stored. This volume ensures that the data is persisted even when the container is destroyed, which is the case when we run the

sail down

command.

Finally,

networks

allows us to specify which internal networks the container should be available on. Here, all services are connected to the same

sail

network, which is also defined at the bottom of

docker-compose.yml

, in the

networks

section above the

volumes

one:

    networks:
        sail:
            driver: bridge

The redis service

The

redis

service is very similar to the

mysql

one:

    redis:
        image: 'redis:alpine'
        ports:
            - '${FORWARD_REDIS_PORT:-6379}:6379'
        volumes:
            - 'sailredis:/data'
        networks:
            - sail

We pull the

alpine

tag of the official image for Redis (Alpine is a lightweight Linux distribution) and we define which port to forward; we then declare a volume to make the data persistent and also connect the container to the

sail

network.

The laravel.test service

The

laravel.test

service is more complex:

    laravel.test:
        build:
            context: ./vendor/laravel/sail/runtimes/8.0
            dockerfile: Dockerfile
            args:
                WWWGROUP: '${WWWGROUP}'
        image: sail-8.0/app
        ports:
            - '${APP_PORT:-80}:80'
        environment:
            WWWUSER: '${WWWUSER}'
            LARAVEL_SAIL: 1
        volumes:
            - '.:/var/www/html'
        networks:
            - sail
        depends_on:
            - mysql
            - redis
            # - selenium

For starters, the name is a bit confusing, but this service is the one handling PHP (i.e. the one serving the Laravel application).

Next, it has a

build

key that we haven’t seen before, which points to the

Dockerfile

that is present under the

vendor/laravel/sail/runtimes/8.0

folder.

Dockerfiles are text documents containing instructions to build images. Instead of pulling and using an existing image from Docker Hub as-is, the Laravel team chose to describe their own in a Dockerfile. The first time we ran the

sail up

command, we built that image and created a container based on it.

Open the Dockerfile and take a look at the first line:

This means that the tag

20.04

of the

ubuntu

image is used as a starting point for the custom image; the rest of the file is essentially a list of instructions to build upon it, installing everything a standard Laravel application needs. That includes PHP, various extensions, and other packages like Git or Supervisor, as well as Composer.

The end of the file also deserves a quick explanation:

COPY start-container /usr/local/bin/start-container
COPY supervisord.conf /etc/supervisor/conf.d/supervisord.conf
COPY php.ini /etc/php/8.0/cli/conf.d/99-sail.ini
RUN chmod +x /usr/local/bin/start-container
    
EXPOSE 8000
    
ENTRYPOINT ["start-container"]

We can see that a bunch of local files are copied over to the container:

  • the
    php.ini

    file is some custom configuration for PHP;

  • the
    supervisord.conf

    file is a configuration file for Supervisor, a process manager here responsible for starting the PHP process;

  • the
    start-container

    file is a Bash script that will do a few things every time the container starts, because it is defined as the container’s

    ENTRYPOINT

    . We can see that it’s made executable by the

    RUN chmod +x

    instruction;

  • finally,
    EXPOSE 8000

    doesn’t do anything, apart from informing the reader that this container listens on the specified port at runtime (which actually seems wrong here, since the application is served on port 80, not 8000).

Other things are happening in this Dockerfile, but the above is the gist of it. Note that this one pertains to PHP 8.0, but Laravel Sail also comes with a 7.4 version you can point to from the

laravel.test

service in

docker-compose.yml

instead.

The service also has a

depends_on

section containing the list of services whose containers should be started prior to the Laravel application’s. Since the latter references both MySQL and Redis, theirs should be started first to avoid connection errors.

The rest of the settings should be familiar by now, so I’ll skip them.

The selenium, memcached and mailhog services

These are the smaller services I referred to earlier;

selenium

and

mailhog

are already documented here and here, and

memcached

doesn’t seem to be used at the time of writing. The point is they work the same way as the other ones: they pull existing images from Docker Hub and use them as-is, with minimal configuration.

The sail script

If you followed Laravel’s installation instructions for your operating system, you must have run the following command at some point:

The

sail

file that we call here is a Bash script essentially adding a more user-friendly layer on top of sometimes long-winded Docker commands.

Let’s open it now for closer inspection (don’t worry if you’re not familiar with Bash – it’s pretty straightforward).

We can ignore the whole first part of the file and focus on the big

if

statement that starts like this:

if [ $# -gt 0 ]; then
    # Source the ".env" file so Laravel's environment variables are available...
    if [ -f ./.env ]; then
        source ./.env
    fi
    # ...

In plain English, the

$# -gt 0

bit translates to “if the number of arguments is greater than 0”, meaning whenever we call the

sail

script with arguments, the execution will enter that

if

statement.

In other words, when we run the

./vendor/bin/sail up

command, we call the

sail

script with the

up

argument, and the execution gets inside the big

if

statement where it looks for a condition matching the

up

argument. Since there is none, the script goes all the way down to the end of the big

if

, in the sort of catch-all

else

we can find there:

# Pass unknown commands to the "docker-compose" binary...
else
    docker-compose "[email protected]"
fi

The comment already describes what’s going on – the script passes the

up

argument on to the

docker-compose

binary. In other words, when we run

./vendor/bin/sail up

we actually run

docker-compose up

, which is the standard Docker Compose command to start the containers for the services listed in

docker-compose.yml

.

This command downloads the corresponding images first if necessary, and builds the Laravel image based on the Dockerfile as we talked about earlier.

Give it a try! Run

./vendor/bin/sail up

then

docker-compose up

– they do the same thing.

Let’s now look at a more complicated example, one involving Composer, which is among the packages installed by the application’s Dockerfile. But before we do that, let’s start Sail in detached mode to run the containers in the background:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail up -d

The

sail

script allows us to run Composer commands, e.g.:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail composer --version

The above calls the

sail

script with

composer

and

--version

as arguments, meaning the execution will enter that big

if

statement again.

Let’s search for the condition dealing with Composer:

# ...
# Proxy Composer commands to the "composer" binary on the application container...
elif [ "$1" == "composer" ]; then
    shift 1

    if [ "$EXEC" == "yes" ]; then
        docker-compose exec 
            -u sail 
            "$APP_SERVICE" 
            composer "[email protected]"
    else
        sail_is_not_running
    fi
    # ...

The first line of the condition starts with

shift

, which is a Bash built-in that skips as many arguments as the number it is followed by. In this case,

shift 1

skips the

composer

argument, making

--version

the new first argument. The program then makes sure that Sail is running, before executing a weird command split over four lines, which I break down below:

docker-compose exec 
    -u sail 
    "$APP_SERVICE" 
    composer "[email protected]"
exec

is the way Docker Compose allows us to execute commands on already running containers.

-u

is an option indicating which user we want to execute the command as, and

$APP_SERVICE

is the container on which we want to run it all. Here, its value is

laravel.test

, which is the service’s name in

docker-compose.yml

as explained in a previous section. It is followed by the command we want to run once we’re in the container, namely

composer

followed by all the script’s arguments. These now only comprise

--version

, since we’ve skipped the first argument.

In other words, when we run:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail composer --version

The command that is executed behind the scenes is the following:

$ docker-compose exec -u sail "laravel.test" composer "--version"

It would be quite cumbersome to type this kind of command every single time; that’s why the

sail

script provides shortcuts for them, making the user experience much smoother.

Have a look at the rest of the smaller

if

statements inside the big one to see what else is covered – you’ll see that roughly the same principle applies everywhere.

There are a few other features available out of the box (like making local containers public), but we’ve now covered the substance of what Laravel Sail currently offers. While this is a pretty good start already, it is somewhat limited, even for a basic application.

The good news is that the Laravel team is aware of this, and built the environment with extension in mind:

Since Sail is just Docker, you are free to customize nearly everything about it. (The Laravel documentation)

Let’s see what that means in practice.

Extending Laravel Sail

The code covered in this section is also available as a GitHub repository you can refer to at any moment.

We’re going to explore three ways to extend Laravel Sail, using MongoDB as a pretext; but before we proceed, let’s make sure we get our hands on as many files as we can.

The only thing we’ve got access to initially is the

docker-compose.yml

file, but we can publish more assets with the following command, which will create a new

docker

folder at the root of the project:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail artisan sail:publish

We’ll get back to those in a minute; for the time being, let’s try and instal the Laravel MongoDB package, which will make it easy to use MongoDB with our favourite framework:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail composer require jenssegers/mongodb

Unfortunately, Composer is complaining about some missing extension:

mongodb/mongodb[dev-master, 1.8.0-RC1, ..., v1.8.x-dev] require ext-mongodb ^1.8.1 -> it is missing from your system. Install or enable PHP's mongodb extension

Let’s fix this!

Installing extra extensions

Earlier in this post, we talked about the way Sail uses Dockerfiles to build images matching Laravel’s requirements for both PHP 7.4 and PHP 8.0. These files were published with the command we ran at the beginning of this section – all we need to do to add extensions is to edit them and rebuild the corresponding images.

Many extensions are available out of the box and we can list them with the following command:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail php -m

MongoDB is not part of them; to add it, open the

docker/8.0/Dockerfile

file and spot the

RUN

instruction installing the various packages:

RUN apt-get update 
    && apt-get install -y gnupg gosu curl ca-certificates zip unzip git supervisor sqlite3 libcap2-bin 
    && mkdir -p ~/.gnupg 
    && echo "disable-ipv6" >> ~/.gnupg/dirmngr.conf 
    && apt-key adv --homedir ~/.gnupg --keyserver hkp://keyserver.ubuntu.com:80 --recv-keys E5267A6C 
    && apt-key adv --homedir ~/.gnupg --keyserver hkp://keyserver.ubuntu.com:80 --recv-keys C300EE8C 
    && echo "deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/ondrej/php/ubuntu focal main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/ppa_ondrej_php.list 
    && apt-get update 
    && apt-get install -y php8.0-cli php8.0-dev 
       php8.0-pgsql php8.0-sqlite3 php8.0-gd 
       php8.0-curl php8.0-memcached 
       php8.0-imap php8.0-mysql php8.0-mbstring 
       php8.0-xml php8.0-zip php8.0-bcmath php8.0-soap 
       php8.0-intl php8.0-readline 
       php8.0-msgpack php8.0-igbinary php8.0-ldap 
       php8.0-redis 
    && php -r "readfile('http://getcomposer.org/installer');" | php -- --install-dir=/usr/bin/ --filename=composer 
    && curl -sL https://deb.nodesource.com/setup_15.x | bash - 
    && apt-get install -y nodejs 
    && apt-get -y autoremove 
    && apt-get clean 
    && rm -rf /var/lib/apt/lists/* /tmp/* /var/tmp/

It’s easy to identify the block related to PHP extensions since they all start with

php8.0

. Amend the end of the list so it looks like this:

php8.0-redis php8.0-mongodb 

You can see the detail of the available PHP extensions for Ubuntu 20.04 here.

Save the file and run the following command:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail build

This will go through all the services listed in the

docker-compose.yml

file and build the corresponding images if they have changed, including the

laravel.test

service’s, whose Dockerfile we’ve just updated.

Once it’s done, start the containers again:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail up -d

The command will detect that the image corresponding to the

laravel.test

service has changed, and recreate the container:

That’s it! The MongoDB extension for PHP is now installed and enabled. We’ve only done it for the PHP 8.0 image, but you can apply the same process to PHP 7.4’s by updating the

docker/7.4/Dockerfile

file instead, with

php7.4-mongodb

as the extension name.

We can now safely import the Laravel package:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail composer require jenssegers/mongodb

Next up: adding a Docker service for MongoDB.

Adding new services

MongoDB is essentially another database; as a result, the corresponding service will be very similar to the ones of MySQL and Redis. A quick search on Docker Hub reveals that there is an official image for it, which we are going to use.

Its documentation contains an example configuration for Docker Compose, which we can copy and adjust to our needs. Open

docker-compose.yml

and add the following service at the bottom, after the

mailhog

one:

    mongo:
        image: 'mongo:4.4'
        restart: always
        environment:
            MONGO_INITDB_ROOT_USERNAME: '${DB_USERNAME}'
            MONGO_INITDB_ROOT_PASSWORD: '${DB_PASSWORD}'
            MONGO_INITDB_DATABASE: '${DB_DATABASE}'
        volumes:
            - 'sailmongo:/data/db'
        networks:
            - sail

The changes I’ve made are the following: first, I specified the tag

4.4

of the

mongo

image. If you don’t specify one, Docker Compose will pull the

latest

tag by default, which is not good practice since it will refer to different versions of MongoDB over time, as new releases are available. The introduction of breaking changes could create instability in your Docker setup, so it’s better to target a specific version, matching the production one whenever possible.

Then, I declared a

MONGO_INITDB_DATABASE

environment variable for the container to create a database with the corresponding name at start-up, and I matched the value of each environment variable to one coming from the

.env

file (we’ll come back to those in a minute).

I also added a

volumes

section, mounting a Docker-managed volume onto the container’s

/data/db

folder. The same principle as MySQL and Redis here applies: if you don’t persist the data on your local machine, it will be lost every time the MongoDB container is destroyed. In other words, as the MongoDB data is stored in the container’s

/data/db

folder, we persist that folder locally using a volume.

As this volume doesn’t exist yet, we need to declare it at the bottom of

docker-compose.yml

, after the two other ones:

    volumes:
        sailmysql:
            driver: local
        sailredis:
            driver: local
        sailmongo:
            driver: local

Finally, I added the

networks

section to ensure the service is on the same network as the others.

We can now configure Laravel MongoDB as per the package’s instructions. Open

config/database.php

and add the following database connection:

    'mongodb' => [
        'driver' => 'mongodb',
        'host' => env('DB_HOST'),
        'port' => env('DB_PORT'),
        'database' => env('DB_DATABASE'),
        'username' => env('DB_USERNAME'),
        'password' => env('DB_PASSWORD'),
        'options' => [
            'database' => env('DB_AUTHENTICATION_DATABASE', 'admin'),
        ],
    ],

Open the

.env

file at the root of the project and change the database values as follows:

DB_CONNECTION=mongodb
DB_HOST=mongo
DB_PORT=27017
DB_DATABASE=laravel_sail
DB_USERNAME=root
DB_PASSWORD=root

The above makes MongoDB the main database connection; in a real case scenario, you might want to make it a secondary database like Redis, but for demonstration purposes, this will do.

DB_HOST

is the name of the MongoDB service from

docker-compose.yml

; behind the scenes, Docker Compose resolves the service’s name to the container’s IP on the networks it manages (in our case, that’s the single

sail

network defined at the end of

docker-compose.yml

).

DB_PORT

is the port MongoDB is available on, which is

27017

by default, as per the image’s description.

We’re ready for a test! Run the following command again:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail up -d

It will download MongoDB’s image, create the new volume and start the new container, which will also create the

laravel_sail

database:

Let’s make sure of that by running Laravel’s default migrations:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail artisan migrate

We can push the test further by updating the

User

model so it extends Laravel MongoDB’s

Authenticable

model:

<?php

namespace AppModels;

use IlluminateContractsAuthMustVerifyEmail;
use IlluminateDatabaseEloquentFactoriesHasFactory;
use IlluminateNotificationsNotifiable;
use JenssegersMongodbAuthUser as Authenticatable;

class User extends Authenticatable
{
    // ...

Use Tinker to try and create a model:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail tinker

Psy Shell v0.10.5 (PHP 8.0.0 — cli) by Justin Hileman
>>> AppModelsUser::factory()->create();

Great! Our MongoDB integration is functional.

We can keep interacting with it using Tinker and Eloquent, but oftentimes it is useful to have direct access to the database, through third-party software or via a command-line interface such as the Mongo shell.

Let’s add the latter to our setup.

Custom

sail

commands

The good news is the Mongo shell is already available, as long as we know the right formula to summon it. Here it is, along with some extra commands to log into the database and list the users (run the first command from the project’s root):

$ docker-compose exec mongo mongo

MongoDB shell version v4.4.2
connecting to: mongodb://127.0.0.1:27017/?compressors=disabled&gssapiServiceName=mongodb
Implicit session: session { "id" : UUID("919072cf-817d-43a6-9ffb-c5e721eeefbc") }
MongoDB server version: 4.4.2
Welcome to the MongoDB shell.
For interactive help, type "help".
For more comprehensive documentation, see
	https://docs.mongodb.com/
Questions? Try the MongoDB Developer Community Forums
	https://community.mongodb.com
> use admin
switched to db admin
> db.auth("root", "root")
1
> use laravel_sail
switched to db laravel_sail
> db.users.find()

The

docker-compose exec mongo mongo

command should look familiar; earlier in the article, we looked at what the

sail

script does behind the scenes, which mostly consists of translating simple

sail

commands into more complex

docker-compose

ones. Here, we’re telling the

docker-compose

binary to execute the

mongo

command on the

mongo

container.

To be fair, this command isn’t too bad and we could easily remember it; but for consistency, it would be nice to have a simpler

sail

equivalent, like the following:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail mongo

To achieve this we’d need to complete the

sail

script somehow, but as it is located inside the

vendor

folder – which is created by Composer – we cannot update it directly. We need a way to build upon it without modifying it, which I’ve summarised below:

  1. make a copy of the
    sail

    script at the root of the project;

  2. replace the content of its big
    if

    statement with custom conditions;

  3. if none of the custom conditions matches the current arguments, pass them on to the original
    sail

    script.

If we take a closer look at the

sail

file with

ls -al

, we can see that it’s a symbolic link to the

vendor/laravel/sail/bin/sail

file:

Let’s copy that file to the root of our project now:

$ cp vendor/laravel/sail/bin/sail .

Open the new copy and replace the content of its big

if

with the following, leaving the rest as-is:

if [ $# -gt 0 ]; then
    # Source the ".env" file so Laravel's environment variables are available...
    if [ -f ./.env ]; then
        source ./.env
    fi

    # Initiate a Mongo shell terminal session within the "mongo" container...
    if [ "$1" == "mongo" ]; then

        if [ "$EXEC" == "yes" ]; then
            docker-compose exec mongo mongo
        else
            sail_is_not_running
        fi

    # Pass unknown commands to the original "sail" script..
    else
        ./vendor/bin/sail "[email protected]"
    fi
fi

In the above code, we removed all the

if...else

conditions inside the big

if

and added one of our own, which runs the command we used earlier to access the Mongo shell if the value of the script’s first argument is

mongo

. If it’s not, the execution will hit the last

else

statement and call the original

sail

script with all the arguments.

You can try this out now – save the file and run the following command:

It should open a Mongo shell session in your terminal.

Try another command, to make sure the original

sail

script is taking over when it’s supposed to:

The Artisan menu should display.

That’s it! If you need more commands, you can add them as new

if...else

conditions inside the big

if

of the copy of the

sail

script at the root of the project.

It works exactly the same way, except that you now need to run

./sail

instead of

./vendor/bin/sail

(or update your Bash alias if you created one as suggested in the documentation).

We are now running a fully functional instance of MongoDB as part of our Docker setup, nicely integrated with Laravel Sail. But MongoDB is a mere example here – you can do the same with pretty much any technology you’d like to use.

Go take a look now! Most major actors have Docker images – official or community-maintained – with easy-to-follow instructions. In most cases, you’ll have a local instance of the software running in minutes.

There are probably many more things we could do to customise Laravel Sail, but the three methods described above should get you a long way already.

At this stage, you may be thinking that Laravel’s new environment has a lot going for it, maybe even more so than you initially thought. Yet, the point of this article is to avoid using it…

So where am I going with this?

What’s wrong with Laravel Sail anyway?

If you made it this far, you’re probably wondering what’s wrong with Laravel Sail, now that it’s clear how far we can push it.

Let me break it to you right now: once you know and understand everything I’ve explained in the previous sections, you don’t need Laravel Sail anymore.

That’s right – you can take that knowledge and walk away.

But before I elaborate on this, let’s review some actual pain points of Sail, even though I expect the Laravel team to address most of them sooner rather than later.

The first one concerns the custom

sail

commands: while it’s possible to extend the

sail

script as demonstrated earlier, the process is a bit ugly and somewhat hacky. Sail’s maintainers could fix this with an explicit Bash extension point allowing users to add their own shortcuts, or by publishing the

sail

script along with the other files.

Second, the Laravel application is served by PHP’s development server. I won’t go into too much detail here, but as mentioned before Supervisor manages the PHP process in the

laravel.test

container; this line is where Supervisor runs the

php artisan serve

command, which starts PHP’s development server under the hood.

The point here is that the environment doesn’t use a proper web server (e.g. Nginx), which means we can’t easily have local domain names, nor bring HTTPS to the setup. This may be fine for quick prototyping, but more elaborate development will most likely need those.

The third issue is less obvious at this stage: what is likely to happen is that Laravel will add more and more services to Sail, to at least be on a par with Homestead. This means that a lot of software will be thrown in to try and cater for an always greater range of applications, with any given one only using a small subset of the available services.

Redis and Memcached are already not essential to most applications, yet the setup starts an instance of the former by default, and while the latter is currently commented out, it still needlessly clutters the

docker-compose.yml

file. I bet that the Laravel team is currently exploring ways to enable/disable services (like Takeout or Laradock do), but whatever the preferred approach, the result will be the same – a lot of stuff you don’t need.

The fourth issue is one I noticed while trying to clone and run a fresh instance of this article’s repository for testing. While the process to create a new Laravel project based on Sail works well, I couldn’t find proper instructions to instal and run an existing one.

You can’t run

./vendor/bin/sail up

because the

vendor

folder doesn’t exist yet. For this folder to be created, you need to run

composer install

; but if your project relies on dependencies present on the Docker image but not on your local machine,

composer install

won’t work. You can run

composer install --ignore-platform-reqs

instead, but that doesn’t feel right. There should be a way to instal and run an existing project without relying on a local Composer instance and clunky commands.

The last issue belongs to a separate category, as it relates to Docker overall and not Laravel Sail specifically. It should be carefully considered before going down the Docker road and deserves a section of its own.

The whale in the cabin

The one major caveat that appears to be absent from the conversation so far relates to performance. While this shouldn’t affect Linux users, if you run Docker Desktop on your system you will most likely experience long loading times, especially on macOS (it seems that using WSL 2 on Windows can mitigate the slowness).

You can see it for yourself right now: if you’re using Docker Desktop and Sail is running, try and load the Laravel welcome page – you will probably notice a delay.

I won’t go into too much detail here, but the reason essentially comes from the host’s underlying filesystem, which does not perform well around mounted local directories. As we’ve seen, this is how Laravel Sail gets the application’s source code in the Laravel application’s container, hence the slowness.

This is where an approach like Takeout’s makes sense, as instead of running PHP from a Docker container, they expect developers to run it on their local machine (e.g. via Valet), all the while providing instances of services like MySQL or MongoDB, thus offering convenience without sacrificing performance. But from the moment you choose to run PHP via a Docker container (like Sail does), the added value of Takeout decreases, in my opinion.

There are strategies to mitigate these performance issues, but the Laravel documentation mentions none of them, let alone the fact that performance might be an issue at all, which I find surprising.

That being said, you might be comfortable enough with performance as it is; I, for one, have been OK with it for years, even though I use Docker Desktop on macOS. The bottom line is that this aspect should be carefully considered before moving your whole setup to a solution running PHP in a container, be it Laravel Sail or something else.

But once you’ve made that decision, and whether or not the other issues are eventually addressed, the main idea of this article remains the same.

You don’t need Laravel Sail

If you’re considering building anything substantial using Laravel Sail as your development environment, sooner or later you will have to extend it. You’ll find yourself fumbling around the Dockerfiles and eventually writing your own; having to add some services to

docker-compose.yml

; and maybe throwing in a few custom Bash commands.

Once you get there, there’s one question you should ask yourself:

What’s stopping me from building my own setup?

The answer is nothing. Once you feel comfortable extending Laravel Sail, you already have the knowledge required to build your own environment.

Think about it: the

docker-compose.yml

file is not specific to Laravel Sail, that’s just how Docker Compose works. The same goes for Dockerfiles – they are standard Docker stuff. The Bash layer? That’s all there is to it – some Bash code, and as you can see, it’s not that complicated.

So why artificially restrain yourself within the constraints of Sail?

And more importantly: why limit yourself to using Docker in the context of Laravel?

Your application may start as a monolith, but it might not always be. Perhaps you’ve got a separate frontend, and you use Laravel as the API layer. In that case, you might want your development environment to manage them both; to run them simultaneously so they interact with each other like they do on a staging environment or in production.

If your whole application is a monorepo, your Docker configuration and Bash script could be at the root of the project, and you could have your frontend and backend applications in separate subfolders, e.g. under an

src

folder.

The corresponding tree view would look something like this:

my-app/
├── bash-script
├── docker-compose.yml
└── src/
    ├── backend/
    │   └── Dockerfile
    └── frontend/
        └── Dockerfile

The

docker-compose.yml

file would declare two services – one for the backend and one for the frontend – both pointing to each’s respective Dockerfile.

If the backend and the frontend live in different repositories, you could create a third one, containing your Docker development environment exclusively. Just git-ignore the

src

folder and complete your Bash script so that it pulls both application repositories into it, using the same commands you would normally run by hand.

Even if your project is a Laravel monolith, this kind of structure is already cleaner than mixing up development-related files with the rest of the source code. Moreover, if your application grows bigger and needs other components besides Laravel, you’re already in a good position to support them.

Once you’ve made the effort to understand Laravel Sail to extend it, nothing is stopping you from building your own development environments, whether or not Laravel is part of the equation. That’s right, you can build bespoke Docker-based environments for anything.

And if Laravel is part of the stack, nothing prevents you from reusing Sail’s Dockerfiles if you’re not comfortable writing your own yet; after all, they are already optimised for Laravel. Likewise, you can draw inspiration from Sail’s

docker-compose.yml

file if that helps.

Conclusion

Don’t get me wrong: Laravel Sail has a lot going for it, and I am glad to see such an established actor push forward the adoption of Docker for local development.

We love our frameworks because they offer guidelines to achieve desired results in a way we know to be efficient and battle-tested, and it’s only natural that they also seek to provide the environment that will allow their users to build upon them. But one thing that Sail incidentally shows us is that this doesn’t have to be part of the framework’s mandate anymore.

Much like Truman’s sailboat helps him overcome his fear of the sea and takes him to the edges of the artificial world he lives in, Sail reveals both the confines of Laravel and a way to escape from them.

You may feel that Sail is more than enough for your needs today, or that you’re not yet ready to go your own way. That’s fine. But Laravel will always be limited by its monolithic nature, and as you grow as a developer, the day will come where your Laravel application will be but a single component of a larger system, for which Sail won’t be enough anymore. Eventually, your small sailboat will bump into a painted backdrop.

If you’d like to explore this further but feel like you need more guidance, I’ve published a series on the subject that should get you going. It requires no prior knowledge of Docker and covers web servers, HTTPS, domain names and many other things. It doesn’t have all the answers but will get you to a place where you can find your own.

What you do next is entirely up to you; just know that there’s a whole world out there, waiting for you.

Truman hesitates. Perhaps he cannot go through with it after all. The camera slowly zooms into Truman’s face.

_TRUMAN:_ “In case I don’t see you – good afternoon, good evening and good night.”

He steps through the door and is gone.

This story was originally published on tech.osteel.me.

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