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How To Install and Use Docker on Ubuntu 16.04

Posted May 20, 2016 142.4k views Docker Ubuntu Ubuntu 16.04


Docker is an application that makes it simple and easy to run application processes in a container, which are like virtual machines, only more portable, more resource-friendly, and more dependent on the host operating system. For a detailed introduction to the different components of a Docker container, check out The Docker Ecosystem: An Introduction to Common Components.

There are two methods for installing Docker on Ubuntu 16.04. One method involves installing it on an existing installation of the operating system. The other involves spinning up a server with a tool called Docker Machine that auto-installs Docker on it.

In this tutorial, you'll learn how to install and use it on an existing installation of Ubuntu 16.04.


To follow this tutorial, you will need the following:

Note: Docker requires a 64-bit version of Ubuntu as well as a kernel version equal to or greater than 3.10. The default 64-bit Ubuntu 16.04 Droplet meets these requirements.

All the commands in this tutorial should be run as a non-root user. If root access is required for the command, it will be preceded by sudo. Initial Setup Guide for Ubuntu 16.04 explains how to add users and give them sudo access.

Step 1 — Installing Docker

The Docker installation package available in the official Ubuntu 16.04 repository may not be the latest version. To get the latest and greatest version, install Docker from the official Docker repository. This section shows you how to do just that.

But first, let's update the package database:

  • sudo apt-get update

Now let's install Docker. Add the GPG key for the official Docker repository to the system:

  • sudo apt-key adv --keyserver hkp:// --recv-keys 58118E89F3A912897C070ADBF76221572C52609D

Add the Docker repository to APT sources:

  • echo "deb ubuntu-xenial main" | sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/docker.list

Update the package database with the Docker packages from the newly added repo:

  • sudo apt-get update

Make sure you are about to install from the Docker repo instead of the default Ubuntu 16.04 repo:

  • apt-cache policy docker-engine

You should see output similar to the follow:

Output of apt-cache policy docker-engine
  Installed: (none)
  Candidate: 1.11.1-0~xenial
  Version table:
     1.11.1-0~xenial 500
        500 ubuntu-xenial/main amd64 Packages
     1.11.0-0~xenial 500
        500 ubuntu-xenial/main amd64 Packages

Notice that docker-engine is not installed, but the candidate for installation is from the Docker repository for Ubuntu 16.04. The docker-engine version number might be different.

Finally, install Docker:

  • sudo apt-get install -y docker-engine

Docker should now be installed, the daemon started, and the process enabled to start on boot. Check that it's running:

  • sudo systemctl status docker

The output should be similar to the following, showing that the service is active and running:

● docker.service - Docker Application Container Engine Loaded: loaded (/lib/systemd/system/docker.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled) Active: active (running) since Sun 2016-05-01 06:53:52 CDT; 1 weeks 3 days ago Docs: Main PID: 749 (docker)

Installing Docker now gives you not just the Docker service (daemon) but also the docker command line utility, or the Docker client. We'll explore how to use the docker command later in this tutorial.

Step 2 — Executing the Docker Command Without Sudo (Optional)

By default, running the docker command requires root privileges — that is, you have to prefix the command with sudo. It can also be run by a user in the docker group, which is automatically created during the installation of Docker. If you attempt to run the docker command without prefixing it with sudo or without being in the docker group, you'll get an output like this:

docker: Cannot connect to the Docker daemon. Is the docker daemon running on this host?. See 'docker run --help'.

If you want to avoid typing sudo whenever you run the docker command, add your username to the docker group:

  • sudo usermod -aG docker $(whoami)

You will need to log out of the Droplet and back in as the same user to enable this change.

If you need to add a user to the docker group that you're not logged in as, declare that username explicitly using:

  • sudo usermod -aG docker username

The rest of this article assumes you are running the docker command as a user in the docker user group. If you choose not to, please prepend the commands with sudo.

Step 3 — Using the Docker Command

With Docker installed and working, now's the time to become familiar with the command line utility. Using docker consists of passing it a chain of options and commands followed by arguments. The syntax takes this form:

  • docker [option] [command] [arguments]

To view all available subcommands, type:

  • docker

As of Docker 1.11.1, the complete list of available subcommands includes:

attach Attach to a running container build Build an image from a Dockerfile commit Create a new image from a container's changes cp Copy files/folders between a container and the local filesystem create Create a new container diff Inspect changes on a container's filesystem events Get real time events from the server exec Run a command in a running container export Export a container's filesystem as a tar archive history Show the history of an image images List images import Import the contents from a tarball to create a filesystem image info Display system-wide information inspect Return low-level information on a container or image kill Kill a running container load Load an image from a tar archive or STDIN login Log in to a Docker registry logout Log out from a Docker registry logs Fetch the logs of a container network Manage Docker networks pause Pause all processes within a container port List port mappings or a specific mapping for the CONTAINER ps List containers pull Pull an image or a repository from a registry push Push an image or a repository to a registry rename Rename a container restart Restart a container rm Remove one or more containers rmi Remove one or more images run Run a command in a new container save Save one or more images to a tar archive search Search the Docker Hub for images start Start one or more stopped containers stats Display a live stream of container(s) resource usage statistics stop Stop a running container tag Tag an image into a repository top Display the running processes of a container unpause Unpause all processes within a container update Update configuration of one or more containers version Show the Docker version information volume Manage Docker volumes wait Block until a container stops, then print its exit code

To view the switches available to a specific command, type:

  • docker docker-subcommand --help

To view system-wide information about Docker, use:

  • docker info

Step 4 — Working with Docker Images

Docker containers are run from Docker images. By default, it pulls these images from Docker Hub, a Docker registry managed by Docker, the company behind the Docker project. Anybody can build and host their Docker images on Docker Hub, so most applications and Linux distributions you'll need to run Docker containers have images that are hosted on Docker Hub.

To check whether you can access and download images from Docker Hub, type:

  • docker run hello-world

The output, which should include the following, should indicate that Docker in working correctly:

Hello from Docker. This message shows that your installation appears to be working correctly. ...

You can search for images available on Docker Hub by using the docker command with the search subcommand. For example, to search for the Ubuntu image, type:

  • docker search ubuntu

The script will crawl Docker Hub and return a listing of all images whose name match the search string. In this case, the output will be similar to this:

NAME DESCRIPTION STARS OFFICIAL AUTOMATED ubuntu Ubuntu is a Debian-based Linux operating s... 3808 [OK] ubuntu-upstart Upstart is an event-based replacement for ... 61 [OK] torusware/speedus-ubuntu Always updated official Ubuntu docker imag... 25 [OK] rastasheep/ubuntu-sshd Dockerized SSH service, built on top of of... 24 [OK] ubuntu-debootstrap debootstrap --variant=minbase --components... 23 [OK] nickistre/ubuntu-lamp LAMP server on Ubuntu 6 [OK] nickistre/ubuntu-lamp-wordpress LAMP on Ubuntu with wp-cli installed 5 [OK] nuagebec/ubuntu Simple always updated Ubuntu docker images... 4 [OK] nimmis/ubuntu This is a docker images different LTS vers... 4 [OK] maxexcloo/ubuntu Docker base image built on Ubuntu with Sup... 2 [OK] admiringworm/ubuntu Base ubuntu images based on the official u... 1 [OK] ...

In the OFFICIAL column, OK indicates an image built and supported by the company behind the project. Once you've identified the image that you would like to use, you can download it to your computer using the pull subcommand, like so:

  • docker pull ubuntu

After an image has been downloaded, you may then run a container using the downloaded image with the run subcommand. If an image has not been downloaded when docker is executed with the run subcommand, the Docker client will first download the image, then run a container using it:

  • docker run ubuntu

To see the images that have been downloaded to your computer, type:

  • docker images

The output should look similar to the following:

REPOSITORY TAG IMAGE ID CREATED SIZE ubuntu latest c5f1cf30c96b 7 days ago 120.8 MB hello-world latest 94df4f0ce8a4 2 weeks ago 967 B

As you'll see later in this tutorial, images that you use to run containers can be modified and used to generate new images, which may then be uploaded (pushed is the technical term) to Docker Hub or other Docker registries.

Step 5 — Running a Docker Container

The hello-world container you ran in the previous is an example of a container that runs and exits, after emitting a test message. Containers, however, can be much more useful than that, and they can be interactive. After all, they are similar to virtual machines, only more resource-friendly.

As an example, let's run a container using the latest image of Ubuntu. The combination of the -i and -t switches gives you interactive shell access into the container:

  • docker run -it ubuntu

Your command prompt should change to reflect the fact that you're now working inside the container and should take this form:


Important: Note the container id in the command prompt. In the above example, it is d9b100f2f636.

Now you may run any command inside the container. For example, let's update the package database inside the container. No need to prefix any command with sudo, because you're operating inside the container with root privileges:

  • apt-get update

Then install any application in it. Let's install NodeJS, for example.

  • apt-get install -y nodejs

Step 6 — Committing Changes in a Container to a Docker Image

Docker filesystems are temporary by default. If you start up a Docker image, you can create, modify, and delete files just like a virtual machine. However, if you stop the container and start it up again, all your changes will be lost: any files you previously deleted will now be back, and any new files or edits you made won't be present. This is because Docker images are more like templates than like images in the standard virtualization world.

To learn how to retain these changes within the container so that they are persistent through restarts of the container, you need to use Docker Data Volumes. Refer to How To Work with Docker Data Volumes on Ubuntu 14.04 for details.

This section shows you how to save the state of a container as a new Docker image.

After installing nodejs inside the Ubuntu container, you now have a container running off an image, but the container is different from the image you used to create it.

To save the state of the container as a new image, first exit from it:

  • exit

Then commit the changes to a new Docker image instance using the following command. The -m switch is for the commit message that helps you and others know what changes you made, while -a is used to specify the author. The container ID is the one you noted earlier in the tutorial when you started the interactive docker session. Unless you created additional repositories on Docker Hub, the repository is usually your Docker Hub username:

  • docker commit -m "What did you do to the image" -a "Author Name" container-id repository/new_image_name

For example:

  • docker commit -m "added node.js" -a "Sunday Ogwu-Chinuwa" d9b100f2f636 finid/ubuntu-nodejs

Note: When you commit an image, the new image is saved locally, that is, on your computer. Later in this tutorial, you'll learn how to push an image to a Docker registry like Docker Hub so that it may be assessed and used by you and others.

After that operation has completed, listing the Docker images now on your computer should show the new image, as well as the old one that it was derived from:

  • docker images

The output should be similar to this:

finid/ubuntu-nodejs latest 62359544c9ba 50 seconds ago 206.6 MB ubuntu latest c5f1cf30c96b 7 days ago 120.8 MB hello-world latest 94df4f0ce8a4 2 weeks ago 967 B

In the above example, ubuntu-nodejs is the new image, which was derived from the existing ubuntu image from Docker Hub. The size difference reflects the changes that were made. And in this example, the change was that NodeJS was installed. So next time you need to run a container using Ubuntu with NodeJS pre-installed, you can just use the new image. Images may also be built from what's called a Dockerfile. But that's a very involved process that's well outside the scope of this article.

Step 7 — Listing Docker Containers

After using Docker for a while, you'll have many active (running) and inactive containers on your computer. To view the active ones, use:

  • docker ps

You will see output similar to the following:

CONTAINER ID IMAGE COMMAND CREATED STATUS PORTS NAMES f7c79cc556dd ubuntu "/bin/bash" 3 hours ago Up 3 hours silly_spence

To view all containers — active and inactive, pass it the -a switch:

  • docker ps -a

To view the latest container you created, pass it the -l switch:

  • docker ps -l

Stopping a running or active container is as simple as typing:

  • docker stop container-id

The container-id can be found in the output from the docker ps command.

Step 8 — Pushing Docker Images to a Docker Repository

The next logical step after creating a new image from an existing image is to share it with a select few of your friends, the whole world on Docker Hub, or other Docker registry that you have access to. To push an image to Docker Hub or any other Docker registry, you must have an account there.

This section shows you how to push a Docker image to Docker Hub. To learn how to create your own private Docker registry, check out How To Set Up a Private Docker Registry on Ubuntu 14.04.

To create an account on Docker Hub, register at Docker Hub. Afterwards, to push your image, first log into Docker Hub. You'll be prompted to authenticate:

  • docker login -u docker-registry-username

If you specified the correct password, authentication should succeed. Then you may push your own image using:

  • docker push docker-registry-username/docker-image-name

It will take sometime to complete, and when completed, the output will similar to the following:

The push refers to a repository [] e3fbbfb44187: Pushed 5f70bf18a086: Pushed a3b5c80a4eba: Pushed 7f18b442972b: Pushed 3ce512daaf78: Pushed 7aae4540b42d: Pushed ...

After pushing an image to a registry, it should be listed on your account's dashboard, like that show in the image below.

New Docker image listing on Docker Hub

If a push attempt results in an error of this sort, then you likely did not log in:

The push refers to a repository [] e3fbbfb44187: Preparing 5f70bf18a086: Preparing a3b5c80a4eba: Preparing 7f18b442972b: Preparing 3ce512daaf78: Preparing 7aae4540b42d: Waiting unauthorized: authentication required

Log in, then repeat the push attempt.


There's a whole lot more to Docker than has been given in this article, but this should be enough to getting you started working with it on Ubuntu 16.04. Like most open source projects, Docker is built from a fast-developing codebase, so make a habit of visiting the project's blog page for the latest information.

Also check out the other Docker tutorials in the DO Community.


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