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How To Build a Node.js Application with Docker

PostedNovember 29, 2018 4.5k views Docker Node.js Applications Ubuntu 18.04

Introduction

The Docker platform allows developers to package and run applications as containers. A container is an isolated process that runs on a shared operating system, offering a lighter weight alternative to virtual machines. Though containers are not new, they offer benefits — including process isolation and environment standardization — that are growing in importance as more developers use distributed application architectures.

When building and scaling an application with Docker, the starting point is typically creating an image for your application, which you can then run in a container. The image includes your application code, libraries, configuration files, environment variables, and runtime. Using an image ensures that the environment in your container is standardized and contains only what is necessary to build and run your application.

In this tutorial, you will create an application image for a static website that uses the Express framework and Bootstrap. You will then build a container using that image and push it to Docker Hub for future use. Finally, you will pull the stored image from your Docker Hub repository and build another container, demonstrating how you can recreate and scale your application.

Prerequisites

To follow this tutorial, you will need:

Step 1 — Installing Your Application Dependencies

To create your image, you will first need to make your application files, which you can then copy to your container. These files will include your application's static content, code, and dependencies.

First, create a directory for your project in your non-root user's home directory. We will call ours node_project, but you should feel free to replace this with something else:

  • mkdir node_project

Navigate to this directory:

  • cd node_project

This will be the root directory of the project.

Next, create a package.json file with your project's dependencies and other identifying information. Open the file with nano or your favorite editor:

  • nano package.json

Add the following information about the project, including its name, author, license, entrypoint, and dependencies. Be sure to replace the author information with your own name and contact details:

~/node_project/package.json
{
  "name": "nodejs-image-demo",
  "version": "1.0.0",
  "description": "nodejs image demo",
  "author": "Sammy the Shark <sammy@example.com>",
  "license": "MIT",
  "main": "app.js",
  "scripts": {
    "start": "node app.js",
    "test": "echo \"Error: no test specified\" && exit 1"
  },
  "keywords": [
    "nodejs",
    "bootstrap",
    "express"
  ],
  "dependencies": {
    "express": "^4.16.4"
  }
}

This file includes the project name, author, and license under which it is being shared. Npm recommends making your project name short and descriptive, and avoiding duplicates in the npm registry. We've listed the MIT license in the license field, permitting the free use and distribution of the application code.

Additionally, the file specifies:

  • "main": The entrypoint for the application, app.js. You will create this file next.
  • "scripts": The commands that will run when you use npm start to start your application.
  • "dependencies": The project dependencies — in this case, Express 4.16.4 or above.

Though this file does not list a repository, you can add one by following these guidelines on adding a repository to your package.json file. This is a good addition if you are versioning your application.

Save and close the file when you've finished making changes.

To install your project's dependencies, run the following command:

  • npm install

This will install the packages you've listed in your package.json file in your project directory.

We can now move on to building the application files.

Step 2 — Creating the Application Files

We will create a website that offers users information about sharks. Our application will have a main entrypoint, app.js, and a views directory that will include the project's static assets. The landing page, index.html, will offer users some preliminary information and a link to a page with more detailed shark information, sharks.html. In the views directory, we will create both the landing page and sharks.html.

First, open app.js in the main project directory to define the project's routes:

  • nano app.js

The first part of the file will create the Express application and Router objects, and define the base directory, port, and host as variables:

~/node_project/app.js
var express = require("express");
var app = express();
var router = express.Router();

var path = __dirname + '/views/';
const PORT = 8080;
const HOST = '0.0.0.0';

The require function loads the express module, which we then use to create the app and router objects. The router object will perform the routing function of the application, and as we define HTTP method routes we will add them to this object to define how our application will handle requests.

This section of the file also sets a few variables, path, PORT, and HOST:

  • path: Defines the base directory, which will be the views subdirectory within the current project directory.
  • HOST: Defines the address that the application will bind to and listen on. Setting this to 0.0.0.0 or all IPv4 addresses corresponds with Docker's default behavior of exposing containers to 0.0.0.0 unless otherwise instructed.
  • PORT: Tells the app to listen on and bind to port 8080.

Next, set the routes for the application using the router object:

~/node_project/app.js
...

router.use(function (req,res,next) {
  console.log("/" + req.method);
  next();
});

router.get("/",function(req,res){
  res.sendFile(path + "index.html");
});

router.get("/sharks",function(req,res){
  res.sendFile(path + "sharks.html");
});

The router.use function loads a middleware function that will log the router's requests and pass them on to the application's routes. These are defined in the subsequent functions, which specify that a GET request to the base project URL should return the index.html page, while a GET request to the /sharks route should return sharks.html.

Finally, mount the router middleware and the application's static assets and tell the app to listen on port 8080:

~/node_project/app.js
...

app.use(express.static(path));
app.use("/", router);

app.listen(8080, function () {
  console.log('Example app listening on port 8080!')
})

The finished app.js file will look like this:

~/node_project/app.js
var express = require("express");
var app = express();
var router = express.Router();

var path = __dirname + '/views/';
const PORT = 8080;
const HOST = '0.0.0.0';

router.use(function (req,res,next) {
  console.log("/" + req.method);
  next();
});

router.get("/",function(req,res){
  res.sendFile(path + "index.html");
});

router.get("/sharks",function(req,res){
  res.sendFile(path + "sharks.html");
});

app.use(express.static(path));
app.use("/", router);

app.listen(8080, function () {
  console.log('Example app listening on port 8080!')
})

Save and close the file when you are finished.

Next, let's add some static content to the application. Start by creating the views directory:

  • mkdir views

Open the landing page file, index.html:

  • nano views/index.html

Add the following code to the file, which will import Boostrap and create a jumbotron component with a link to the more detailed sharks.html info page:

~/node_project/views/index.html
<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
   <head>
      <title>About Sharks</title>
      <meta charset="utf-8">
      <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1">
      <link rel="stylesheet" href="https://maxcdn.bootstrapcdn.com/bootstrap/3.3.7/css/bootstrap.min.css">
      <link href="css/styles.css" rel="stylesheet">
      <link href='https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Merriweather:400,700' rel='stylesheet' type='text/css'>
      <script src="https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/3.3.1/jquery.min.js"></script>
      <script src="https://maxcdn.bootstrapcdn.com/bootstrap/3.3.7/js/bootstrap.min.js"></script>
   </head>
   <body>
      <nav class="navbar navbar-inverse navbar-static-top">
         <div class="container">
            <div class="navbar-header">
               <button type="button" class="navbar-toggle collapsed" data-toggle="collapse" data-target="#bs-example-navbar-collapse-1" aria-expanded="false">
               <span class="sr-only">Toggle navigation</span>
               <span class="icon-bar"></span>
               <span class="icon-bar"></span>
               <span class="icon-bar"></span>
               </button>
               <a class="navbar-brand" href="#">Everything Sharks</a>
            </div>
            <div class="collapse navbar-collapse" id="bs-example-navbar-collapse-1">
               <ul class="nav navbar-nav mr-auto">
                  <li class="active"><a href="/">Home</a></li>
                  <li><a href="/sharks">Sharks</a></li>
               </ul>
            </div>
         </div>
      </nav>
      <div class="jumbotron">
         <div class="container">
            <h1>Want to Learn About Sharks?</h1>
            <p>Are you ready to learn about sharks?</p>
            <br>
            <p><a class="btn btn-primary btn-lg" href="/sharks" role="button">Get Shark Info</a></p>
         </div>
      </div>
      <div class="container">
         <div class="row">
            <div class="col-md-6">
               <h3>Not all sharks are alike</h3>
               <p>Though some are dangerous, sharks generally do not attack humans. Out of the 500 species known to researchers, only 30 have been known to attack humans.</p>
            </div>
            <div class="col-md-6">
               <h3>Sharks are ancient</h3>
               <p>There is evidence to suggest that sharks lived up to 400 million years ago.</p>
            </div>
         </div>
      </div>
   </body>
</html>

The top-level navbar here allows users to toggle between the Home and Sharks pages. In the navbar-nav subcomponent, we are using Bootstrap's active class to indicate the current page to the user. We've also specified the routes to our static pages, which match the routes we defined in app.js:

~/node_project/views/index.html
...
<div class="collapse navbar-collapse" id="bs-example-navbar-collapse-1">
    <ul class="nav navbar-nav mr-auto">
        <li class="active"><a href="/">Home</a></li>
        <li><a href="/sharks">Sharks</a></li>
    </ul>
</div>
...

Additionally, we've created a link to our shark information page in our jumbotron's button:

~/node_project/views/index.html
...
<div class="jumbotron">
    <div class="container">
      <h1>Want to Learn About Sharks?</h1>
      <p>Are you ready to learn about sharks?</p>
      <br>
      <p><a class="btn btn-primary btn-lg" href="/sharks" role="button">Get Shark Info</a></p>
    </div>
</div>
...

There is also a link to a custom style sheet in the header:

~/node_project/views/index.html
...
<link href="css/styles.css" rel="stylesheet">
...

We will create this style sheet at the end of this step.

Save and close the file when you are finished.

With the application landing page in place, we can create our shark information page, sharks.html, which will offer interested users more information about sharks.

Open the file:

  • nano views/sharks.html

Add the following code, which imports Bootstrap and the custom style sheet and offers users detailed information about certain sharks:

~/node_project/views/sharks.html
<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
   <head>
      <title>About Sharks</title>
      <meta charset="utf-8">
      <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1">
      <link rel="stylesheet" href="https://maxcdn.bootstrapcdn.com/bootstrap/3.3.7/css/bootstrap.min.css">
      <link href="css/styles.css" rel="stylesheet">
      <link href='https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Merriweather:400,700' rel='stylesheet' type='text/css'>
      <script src="https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/3.3.1/jquery.min.js"></script>
      <script src="https://maxcdn.bootstrapcdn.com/bootstrap/3.3.7/js/bootstrap.min.js"></script>
   </head>
   <nav class="navbar navbar-inverse navbar-static-top">
      <div class="container">
         <div class="navbar-header">
            <button type="button" class="navbar-toggle collapsed" data-toggle="collapse" data-target="#bs-example-navbar-collapse-1" aria-expanded="false">
            <span class="sr-only">Toggle navigation</span>
            <span class="icon-bar"></span>
            <span class="icon-bar"></span>
            <span class="icon-bar"></span>
            </button>
            <a class="navbar-brand" href="/">Everything Sharks</a>
         </div>
         <div class="collapse navbar-collapse" id="bs-example-navbar-collapse-1">
            <ul class="nav navbar-nav mr-auto">
               <li><a href="/">Home</a></li>
               <li class="active"><a href="/sharks">Sharks</a></li>
            </ul>
         </div>
      </div>
   </nav>
   <div class="jumbotron text-center">
      <h1>Shark Info</h1>
   </div>
   <div class="container">
      <div class="row">
         <div class="col-md-6">
            <p>
            <div class="caption">Some sharks are known to be dangerous to humans, though many more are not. The sawshark, for example, is not considered a threat to humans.</div>
            <img src="https://assets.digitalocean.com/articles/docker_node_image/sawshark.jpg" alt="Sawshark">
            </p>
         </div>
         <div class="col-md-6">
            <p>
            <div class="caption">Other sharks are known to be friendly and welcoming!</div>
            <img src="https://assets.digitalocean.com/articles/docker_node_image/sammy.png" alt="Sammy the Shark">
            </p>
         </div>
      </div>
    </div>
   </body>
</html>

Note that in this file, we again use the active class to indicate the current page.

Save and close the file when you are finished.

Finally, create the custom CSS style sheet that you've linked to in index.html and sharks.html by first creating a css folder in the views directory:

  • mkdir views/css

Open the style sheet:

  • nano views/css/styles.css

Add the following code, which will set the desired color and font for our pages:

~/node_project/views/css/styles.css
.navbar {
    margin-bottom: 0;
}

body {
    background: #020A1B;
    color: #ffffff;
    font-family: 'Merriweather', sans-serif;
}

h1,
h2 {
    font-weight: bold;
}

p {
    font-size: 16px;
    color: #ffffff;
}

.jumbotron {
    background: #0048CD;
    color: white;
    text-align: center;
}

.jumbotron p {
    color: white;
    font-size: 26px;
}

.btn-primary {
    color: #fff;
    text-color: #000000;
    border-color: white;
    margin-bottom: 5px;
}

img,
video,
audio {
    margin-top: 20px;
    max-width: 80%;
}

div.caption: {
    float: left;
    clear: both;
}

In addition to setting font and color, this file also limits the size of the images by specifying a max-width of 80%. This will prevent them from taking up more room than we would like on the page.

Save and close the file when you are finished.

With the application files in place and the project dependencies installed, you are ready to start the application.

If you followed the initial server setup tutorial in the prerequisites, you will have an active firewall permitting only SSH traffic. To permit traffic to port 8080 run:

  • sudo ufw allow 8080

To start the application, make sure that you are in your project's root directory:

  • cd ~/node_project

Start the application with npm start:

  • npm start

Navigate your browser to http://your_server_ip:8080. You will see the following landing page:

Application Landing Page

Click on the Get Shark Info button. You will see the following information page:

Shark Info Page

You now have an application up and running. When you are ready, quit the server by typing CTRL+C. We can now move on to creating the Dockerfile that will allow us to recreate and scale this application as desired.

Step 3 — Writing the Dockerfile

Your Dockerfile specifies what will be included in your application container when it is executed. Using a Dockerfile allows you to define your container environment and avoid discrepancies with dependencies or runtime versions.

Following these guidelines on building optimized containers, we will make our image as efficient as possible by minimizing the number of image layers and restricting the image's function to a single purpose — recreating our application files and static content.

In your project's root directory, create the Dockerfile:

  • nano Dockerfile

Docker images are created using a succession of layered images that build on one another. Our first step will be to add the base image for our application that will form the starting point of the application build.

Let's use the node:10 image, since, at the time of writing, this is the recommended LTS version of Node.js. Add the following FROM instruction to set the application's base image:

~/node_project/Dockerfile
FROM node:10

This image includes Node.js and npm. Each Dockerfile must begin with a FROM instruction.

By default, the Docker Node image includes a non-root node user that you can use to avoid running your application container as root. It is a recommended security practice to avoid running containers as root and to restrict capabilities within the container to only those required to run its processes. We will therefore use the node user's home directory as the working directory for our application and set them as our user inside the container. For more information about best practices when working with the Docker Node image, see this best practices guide.

To fine-tune the permissions on our application code in the container, let's create the node_modules subdirectory in /home/node along with the app directory. Creating these directories will ensure that they have the permissions we want, which will be important when we create local node modules in the container with npm install. In addition to creating these directories, we will set ownership on them to our node user:

~/node_project/Dockerfile
...
RUN mkdir -p /home/node/app/node_modules && chown -R node:node /home/node/app

For more information on the utility of consolidating RUN instructions, see this discussion of how to manage container layers.

Next, set the working directory of the application to /home/node/app:

~/node_project/Dockerfile
...
WORKDIR /home/node/app

If a WORKDIR isn't set, Docker will create one by default, so it's a good idea to set it explicitly.

Next, copy the package.json and package-lock.json (for npm 5+) files:

~/node_project/Dockerfile
...
COPY package*.json ./

Adding this COPY instruction before running npm install or copying the application code allows us to take advantage of Docker's caching mechanism. At each stage in the build, Docker will check to see if it has a layer cached for that particular instruction. If we change package.json, this layer will be rebuilt, but if we don't, this instruction will allow Docker to use the existing image layer and skip reinstalling our node modules.

After copying the project dependencies, we can run npm install:

~/node_project/Dockerfile
...
RUN npm install

Copy your application code to the working application directory on the container:

~/node_project/Dockerfile
...
COPY . .

To ensure that the application files are owned by the non-root node user, copy the permissions from your application directory to the directory on the container:

~/node_project/Dockerfile
...
COPY --chown=node:node . .

Set the user to node:

~/node_project/Dockerfile
...
USER node

Expose port 8080 on the container and start the application:

~/node_project/Dockerfile
...
EXPOSE 8080

CMD [ "npm", "start" ]

EXPOSE does not publish the port, but instead functions as a way of documenting which ports on the container will be published at runtime. CMD runs the command to start the application — in this case, npm start. Note that there should only be one CMD instruction in each Dockerfile. If you include more than one, only the last will take effect.

There are many things you can do with the Dockerfile. For a complete list of instructions, please refer to Docker's Dockerfile reference documentation.

The complete Dockerfile looks like this:

~/node_project/Dockerfile

FROM node:10

RUN mkdir -p /home/node/app/node_modules && chown -R node:node /home/node/app

WORKDIR /home/node/app

COPY package*.json ./

RUN npm install

COPY . .

COPY --chown=node:node . .

USER node

EXPOSE 8080

CMD [ "npm", "start" ]

Save and close the file when you are finished editing.

Before building the application image, let's add a .dockerignore file. Working in a similar way to a .gitignore file, .dockerignore specifies which files and directories in your project directory should not be copied over to your container.

Open the .dockerignore file:

  • nano .dockerignore

Inside the file, add your local node modules, npm logs, Dockerfile, and .dockerignore file:

~/node_project/.dockerignore
node_modules
npm-debug.log
Dockerfile
.dockerignore

If you are working with Git then you will also want to add your .git directory and .gitignore file.

Save and close the file when you are finished.

You are now ready to build the application image using the docker build command. Using the -t flag with docker build will allow you to tag the image with a memorable name. Because we are going to push the image to Docker Hub, let's include our Docker Hub username in the tag. We will tag the image as nodejs-image-demo, but feel free to replace this with a name of your own choosing. Remember to also replace your_dockerhub_username with your own Docker Hub username:

  • docker build -t your_dockerhub_username/nodejs-image-demo .

The . specifies that the build context is the current directory.

It will take a minute or two to build the image. Once it is complete, check your images:

  • docker images

You will see the following output:

Output
REPOSITORY TAG IMAGE ID CREATED SIZE your_dockerhub_username/nodejs-image-demo latest 1c723fb2ef12 8 seconds ago 895MB node 10 f09e7c96b6de 17 hours ago 893MB

It is now possible to create a container with this image using docker run. We will include three flags with this command:

  • -p: This publishes the port on the container and maps it to a port on our host. We will use port 80 on the host, but you should feel free to modify this as necessary if you have another process running on that port. For more information about how this works, see this discussion in the Docker docs on port binding.
  • -d: This runs the container in the background.
  • --name: This allows us to give the container a memorable name.

Run the following command to build the container:

  • docker run --name nodejs-image-demo -p 80:8080 -d your_dockerhub_username/nodejs-image-demo

Once your container is up and running, you can inspect a list of your running containers with docker ps:

  • docker ps

You will see the following output:

Output
CONTAINER ID IMAGE COMMAND CREATED STATUS PORTS NAMES e50ad27074a7 your_dockerhub_username/nodejs-image-demo "npm start" 8 seconds ago Up 7 seconds 0.0.0.0:80->8080/tcp nodejs-image-demo

With your container running, you can now visit your application by navigating your browser to http://your_server_ip. You will see your application landing page once again:

Application Landing Page

Now that you have created an image for your application, you can push it to Docker Hub for future use.

Step 4 — Using a Repository to Work with Images

By pushing your application image to a registry like Docker Hub, you make it available for subsequent use as you build and scale your containers. We will demonstrate how this works by pushing the application image to a repository and then using the image to recreate our container.

The first step to pushing the image is to log in to the Docker Hub account you created in the prerequisites:

  • docker login -u your_dockerhub_username -p your_dockerhub_password

Logging in this way will create a ~/.docker/config.json file in your user's home directory with your Docker Hub credentials.

You can now push the application image to Docker Hub using the tag you created earlier, your_dockerhub_username/nodejs-image-demo:

  • docker push your_dockerhub_username/nodejs-image-demo

Let's test the utility of the image registry by destroying our current application container and image and rebuilding them with the image in our repository.

First, list your running containers:

  • docker ps

You will see the following output:

Output
CONTAINER ID IMAGE COMMAND CREATED STATUS PORTS NAMES e50ad27074a7 your_dockerhub_username/nodejs-image-demo "npm start" 3 minutes ago Up 3 minutes 0.0.0.0:80->8080/tcp nodejs-image-demo

Using the CONTAINER ID listed in your output, stop the running application container. Be sure to replace the highlighted ID below with your own CONTAINER ID:

  • docker stop e50ad27074a7

List your all of your images with the -a flag:

  • docker images -a

You will see the following output with the name of your image, your_dockerhub_username/nodejs-image-demo, along with the node image and the other images from your build:

Output
REPOSITORY TAG IMAGE ID CREATED SIZE your_dockerhub_username/nodejs-image-demo latest 1c723fb2ef12 7 minutes ago 895MB <none> <none> e039d1b9a6a0 7 minutes ago 895MB <none> <none> dfa98908c5d1 7 minutes ago 895MB <none> <none> b9a714435a86 7 minutes ago 895MB <none> <none> 51de3ed7e944 7 minutes ago 895MB <none> <none> 5228d6c3b480 7 minutes ago 895MB <none> <none> 833b622e5492 8 minutes ago 893MB <none> <none> 5c47cc4725f1 8 minutes ago 893MB <none> <none> 5386324d89fb 8 minutes ago 893MB <none> <none> 631661025e2d 8 minutes ago 893MB node 10 f09e7c96b6de 17 hours ago 893MB

Remove the stopped container and all of the images, including unused or dangling images, with the following command:

  • docker system prune -a

Type y when prompted in the output to confirm that you would like to remove the stopped container and images. Be advised that this will also remove your build cache.

You have now removed both the container running your application image and the image itself. For more information on removing Docker containers, images, and volumes, please see How To Remove Docker Images, Containers, and Volumes.

With all of your images and containers deleted, you can now pull the application image from Docker Hub:

  • docker pull your_dockerhub_username/nodejs-image-demo

List your images once again:

  • docker images

You will see your application image:

Output
REPOSITORY TAG IMAGE ID CREATED SIZE your_dockerhub_username/nodejs-image-demo latest 1c723fb2ef12 11 minutes ago 895MB

You can now rebuild your container using the command from Step 3:

  • docker run --name nodejs-image-demo -p 80:8080 -d your_dockerhub_username/nodejs-image-demo

List your running containers:

  • docker ps
Output
CONTAINER ID IMAGE COMMAND CREATED STATUS PORTS NAMES f6bc2f50dff6 your_dockerhub_username/nodejs-image-demo "npm start" 4 seconds ago Up 3 seconds 0.0.0.0:80->8080/tcp nodejs-image-demo

Visit http://your_server_ip once again to view your running application.

Conclusion

In this tutorial you created a static web application with Express and Bootstrap, as well as a Docker image for this application. You used this image to create a container and pushed the image to Docker Hub. From there, you were able to destroy your image and container and recreate them using your Docker Hub repository.

If you are interested in learning more about how to work with tools like Docker Compose and Docker Machine to create multi-container setups, you can look at the following guides:

For general tips on working with container data, see:

If you are interested in other Docker-related topics, please see our complete library of Docker tutorials.

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