Skip to main content

Selective sudo on Travis

I’m a heavy user of Travis CI. If you don’t know it, Travis is a service for automatically building and testing your code. You tell it how to run your tests, and when you commit to GitHub, it runs your tests and tells you the result. I use Travis to run tests at work, test and release several open source projects I work on, and it even builds this blog!

If you’re running builds on Linux, Travis offers two build environments:


A sudo enabled, full virtual machine per build, that runs Linux, either Ubuntu Precise 12.04 or Ubuntu Trusty 14.04.


A fast boot time environment in which sudo commands are not available. Running Linux Ubuntu Trusty 14.04.

The container-based builds are usually much faster, and I prefer using them when I can. The main distinction for me is “do I need Docker” – I use Docker in a lot of my projects, and that’s only available in the sudo-enabled builds.

In your Travis build, you can have multiple “jobs” – processes that run on different build machines. For example, you might test your Python library with three versions of Python in three separate jobs.

Until recently, I thought sudo-vs-containers was all or nothing. If any of my jobs needed sudo, I had to add sudo: required at the top of my Travis config, and every job would get the slower VMs – even if they could run in a container instead.

Thanks to Anthony Sottile, I know that’s no longer the case! Anthony opened a pull request for Hypothesis adding Python 3.7 support to the build, which requires a sudo-enabled Travis build machine. This is the relevant snippet from the build config:

# .travis.yml
sudo: false

    - env: TASK=check-py35
    - env: TASK=check-py36
    - env: TASK=check-py37
      sudo: required
      dist: xenial

Adding sudo: required to the individual job runs the py37 job in a sudo-enabled environment, but the py35 and py36 jobs still run in containers.

I’ve changed a number of my builds this way to run more jobs on containers, and it’s made a nice improvement in build times. It also makes it easier to add sudo-based jobs to builds in future, because I don’t have to take a penalty for switching the other tasks to VMs.