Webinar Series: Building Containerized Applications

Published on December 22, 2017
Webinar Series: Building Containerized Applications

Webinar Series

This article supplements a webinar series on deploying and managing containerized workloads in the cloud. The series covers the essentials of containers, including container lifecycle management, deploying multi-container applications, scaling workloads, and understanding Kubernetes, along with highlighting best practices for running stateful applications.

This tutorial includes the concepts and commands covered in the second session in the series, Building Containerized Applications.


In the last tutorial, How to Install and Configure Docker, we explored one method for converting Docker containers into Docker images. Although the method we used worked, it is not always the optimal way of building images.

In many cases, you’ll want to bring existing code into container images, and you’ll want a repeatable, consistent mechanism for creating Docker images that are in sync with the latest version of your codebase.

A Dockerfile addresses these requirements by providing a declarative and consistent way of building Docker images.

Additionally, you’ll sometimes want to containerize entire applications which are composed of multiple, heterogeneous containers that are deployed and managed together.

Docker Compose, like a Dockerfile, takes a declarative approach to provide you with a method for defining an entire technology stack, including network and storage requirements. This not only makes it easier to build containerized applications, but it also makes it easier to manage and scale them.

In this tutorial, you will use a sample web application based on Node.js and MongoDB to build a Docker image from a Dockerfile, you will create a custom network that allows your Docker containers to communicate, and you will use Docker Compose to launch and scale a containerized application.


To follow this tutorial, you will need:

Step 1 — Building an Image with a Dockerfile

Start by changing to your home directory, then use Git to clone this tutorial’s sample web application from its official repository on GitHub.

  1. cd ~
  2. git clone https://github.com/janakiramm/todo-app.git

This will copy the sample application into a new directory named todo-app.

Switch to todo-app and use ls to view the directory’s contents.

  1. cd todo-app
  2. ls

The new directory contains two subdirectories and two files:

  • app - the directory where the sample application’s source code is stored
  • compose - the directory where the Docker Compose configuration file is stored
  • Dockerfile - a file that contains instructions for building the Docker image
  • README.md - a file that contains a one-sentence summary of the sample application

Running cat Dockerfile shows us the following:

FROM node:slim
LABEL maintainer = "jani@janakiram.com"
RUN mkdir -p /usr/src/app
WORKDIR /usr/src/app
COPY ./app/ ./
RUN npm install
CMD ["node", "app.js"]

Let’s take a look at this file’s contents in more detail:

  • FROM indicates the base image from which you are building the custom image. In this example, the image is based on node:slim, a public Node.js image that contains only the minimal packages needed to run node.
  • LABEL is a key value pair typically used to add descriptive information. In this case, it contains the email address of the maintainer.
  • RUN executes commands within the container. This includes tasks like creating directories and initializing the container by running basic Linux commands. The first RUN command in this file is used to create the directory /usr/src/app that holds the source code.
  • WORKDIR defines the directory where all of the commands are executed. It is typically the directory where the code is copied.
  • COPY copies the files from the host machine into the container image. In this case, you are copying the entire app directory into the image.
  • The second RUN command executes npm install to install the application’s dependencies as defined in package.json.
  • CMD runs the process that will keep the container running. In this example, you will execute node with the parameter app.js.

Now it’s time to build the image from the Dockerfile. Use the -t switch to tag the image with the registry username, image name, and an optional tag.

  1. docker build -t sammy/todo-web .

The output confirms that the image is Successfully built and tagged appropriately.

Output from docker build -t
Sending build context to Docker daemon 8.238MB Step 1/7 : FROM node:slim ---> 286b1e0e7d3f Step 2/7 : LABEL maintainer = "jani@janakiram.com" ---> Using cache ---> ab0e049cf6f8 Step 3/7 : RUN mkdir -p /usr/src/app ---> Using cache ---> 897176832f4d Step 4/7 : WORKDIR /usr/src/app ---> Using cache ---> 3670f0147bed Step 5/7 : COPY ./app/ ./ ---> Using cache ---> e28c7c1be1a0 Step 6/7 : RUN npm install ---> Using cache ---> 7ce5b1d0aa65 Step 7/7 : CMD node app.js ---> Using cache ---> 2cef2238de24 Successfully built 2cef2238de24 Successfully tagged sammy/todo-web:latest

We can verify that the image is created by running the docker images command.

  1. docker images

Here, we can see the size of the image along with the time elapsed since it was created.

Output from docker images
REPOSITORY TAG IMAGE ID CREATED SIZE sammy/todo-web latest 81f5f605d1ca 9 minutes ago 236MB

Since we also need a MongoDB container to run the sample web application, let’s get that to our machine.

  1. docker pull mongo:latest

The output reports exactly which image was pulled along with the download status.

Output from docker pull
latest: Pulling from library/mongo Digest: sha256:18b239b996e0d10f4ce2b0f64db6f410c17ad337e2cecb6210a3dcf2f732ed82 Status: Downloaded newer image for mongo:latest

We now have everything we need to run the sample application, so let’s create a custom network that will allow our containers to communicate with each other.

If we were to launch the web application and database containers independently through the docker run command, they would not be able to find each other.

To see why, view the contents of the web application’s database configuration file.

  1. cat app/db.js

After importing Mongoose — a MongoDB object-modeling library for Node.js — and defining a new database schema, the web application tries to connect to the database at the hostname, db, which doesn’t exist yet.

var mongoose = require( 'mongoose' );
var Schema   = mongoose.Schema;

var Todo = new Schema({
    user_id    : String,
    content    : String,
    updated_at : Date

mongoose.model( 'Todo', Todo );

mongoose.connect( 'mongodb://db/express-todo' );

To ensure that containers belonging to the same application discover each other, we need to launch them on the same network.

Docker provides the ability to create custom networks in addition to the default networks created during installation.

You can check your currently available networks with the following command:

  1. docker network ls

Each network created by Docker is based on a driver. In the following output, we see that the network named bridge is based on the driver bridge. The local scope indicates that the network is available only on this host.

Output from docker network ls
NETWORK ID NAME DRIVER SCOPE 5029df19d0cf bridge bridge local 367330960d5c host host local f280c1593b89 none null local

We will now create a custom network named todo_net for our application and then we will launch containers on that network.

  1. docker network create todo_net

The output tells us the hash of the network that was created.

Output from docker network create

Now, list the available networks again.

  1. docker network ls

Here, we see that todo_net is ready for use.

Output from docker network ls
NETWORK ID NAME DRIVER SCOPE c51377a045ff bridge bridge local 2e4106b07544 host host local 7a8b4801a712 none null local bc992f0b2be6 todo_net bridge local

When using the docker run command, we can now refer to this network with the --network switch. Let’s launch both the web and database containers with specific hostnames. This will ensure that the containers can connect to each other through those hostnames.

First, launch the MongoDB database container.

  1. docker run -d \
  2. --name=db \
  3. --hostname=db \
  4. --network=todo_net \
  5. mongo

Taking a closer look at that command, we see:

  • The -d switch runs the container in detached mode.
  • The --name and --hostname switches assign a user defined name to the container. The --hostname switch also adds an entry to the DNS service managed by Docker. This helps in resolving the container by host name.
  • The --network switch instructs Docker Engine to launch the container on a custom network instead of the default bridge network.

When we see a long string as output from the docker run command, we can assume that the container is successfully launched. But, this may not guarantee that the container is actually running.

Output docker run

Verify that the db container is up and running with the docker logs command.

  1. docker logs db

This prints the container logs to stdout. The last line of the log indicates that MongoDB is ready and waiting for connections.

Output from docker logs
2017-12-10T02:55:08.284+0000 I CONTROL [initandlisten] MongoDB starting : pid=1 port=27017 dbpath=/data/db 64-bit host=db . . . . 2017-12-10T02:55:08.366+0000 I NETWORK [initandlisten] waiting for connections on port 27017

Now, let’s launch the web container and verify it. This time, we’re also including --publish=3000:3000 which publishes the host’s port 3000 to the container’s port 3000.

  1. docker run -d \
  2. --name=web \
  3. --publish=3000:3000 \
  4. --hostname=web \
  5. --network=todo_net \
  6. sammy/todo-web

You’ll receive a long string as output like before.

Let’s also verify that this container is up and running.

  1. docker logs web

The output confirms that Express — the Node.js framework our test application is based on — is listening on port 3000.

Output from docker logs
Express server listening on port 3000

Verify that the web container is able to talk to the db container with a ping command. We do this by running the docker exec command in an interactive (-i) mode attached to a pseudo-TTY (-t).

  1. docker exec -it web ping db

The command produces standard ping output and lets us know that the two containers can communicate with each other.

Output from docker exec -it web ping db
PING db ( 56 data bytes 64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=64 time=0.210 ms 64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=0.095 ms ...

Press CTRL+C to stop the ping command.

Finally, access the sample application by pointing your web browser to http://your_server_ip:3000. You will see a web page with a label that reads Containers Todo Example along with a textbox that accepts a todo task as input.

To avoid naming conflicts, you can now stop the containers and clean up the resources with the docker rm and docker network remove commands.

  1. docker rm -f db
  2. docker rm -f web
  3. docker network remove todo_net

At this point, we have a containerized web application made up of two separate containers. In the next step, we will explore a more robust approach.

Step 3 — Deploying a Multi-Container Application

Although we were able to launch linked containers, it’s not the most elegant way of dealing with multi-container applications. We need a better way to declare all of the related containers and manage them as one logical unit.

Docker Compose is a framework available to developers to deal with multi-container applications. Like Dockefile, it is a declarative mechanism to define the entire stack. We will now convert our Node.js and MongoDB application into a Docker Compose-based application.

Start by installing Docker Compose.

  1. sudo apt-get install -y docker-compose

Let’s examine the docker-compose.yaml file located in the sample web application’s compose directory.

  1. cat compose/docker-compose.yaml

The docker-compose.yaml file brings everything together. It defines the the MongoDB container in the db: block, the Node.js web container in the web: block, and the custom network in the networks: block.

Note that with the build: ../. directive, we are pointing Compose to the Dockerfile in the app directory. This will instruct Compose to build the image before launching the web container.

version: '2'
    image: mongo:latest
    container_name: db
      - todonet
    build: ../.
      - todonet
     - "3000"
    driver: bridge

Now, change to the compose directory and launch the application with the docker-compose up command. As with docker run, the -d switch starts the container in detached mode.

  1. cd compose
  2. docker-compose up -d

The output reports that Docker Compose created a network called compose_todonet and launched both containers on it.

Output from docker-compose up -d
Creating network "compose_todonet" with driver "bridge" Creating db Creating compose_web_1

Notice that we didn’t provide the explicit host port mapping. This will force Docker Compose to assign a random port to expose the web application on the host. We can find that port by running the following command:

  1. docker ps

We see that the web application is exposed on host port 32782.

Output from docker ps
CONTAINER ID IMAGE COMMAND CREATED STATUS PORTS NAMES 6700761c0a1e compose_web "node app.js" 2 minutes ago Up 2 minutes>3000/tcp compose_web_1 ad7656ef5db7 mongo:latest "docker-entrypoint..." 2 minutes ago Up 2 minutes 27017/tcp db

Verify this by navigating your web browser to http://your_server_ip:32782. This will bring up the web application just as you saw it at the end of Step 2.

With our multi-container application up and running through Docker Compose, let’s take a look at managing and scaling our application.

Step 4 — Managing and Scaling the Application

Docker Compose makes it easy to scale stateless web applications. We can launch 10 instances of our web container with a single command.

  1. docker-compose scale web=10

The output lets us watch the instances being created and started in real time.

Output from docker-compose scale
Creating and starting compose_web_2 ... done Creating and starting compose_web_3 ... done Creating and starting compose_web_4 ... done Creating and starting compose_web_5 ... done Creating and starting compose_web_6 ... done Creating and starting compose_web_7 ... done Creating and starting compose_web_8 ... done Creating and starting compose_web_9 ... done Creating and starting compose_web_10 ... done

Verify that the web application is scaled to 10 instances by running docker ps.

  1. docker ps

Notice that Docker has assigned a random port to expose each web container on the host. Any of these ports can be used to access the application.

Output from docker ps
CONTAINER ID IMAGE COMMAND CREATED STATUS PORTS NAMES cec405db568d compose_web "node app.js" About a minute ago Up About a minute>3000/tcp compose_web_9 56adb12640bb compose_web "node app.js" About a minute ago Up About a minute>3000/tcp compose_web_10 4a1005d1356a compose_web "node app.js" About a minute ago Up About a minute>3000/tcp compose_web_7 869077de9cb1 compose_web "node app.js" About a minute ago Up About a minute>3000/tcp compose_web_8 eef86c56d16f compose_web "node app.js" About a minute ago Up About a minute>3000/tcp compose_web_4 26dbce7f6dab compose_web "node app.js" About a minute ago Up About a minute>3000/tcp compose_web_5 0b3abd8eee84 compose_web "node app.js" About a minute ago Up About a minute>3000/tcp compose_web_3 8f867f60d11d compose_web "node app.js" About a minute ago Up About a minute>3000/tcp compose_web_6 36b817c6110b compose_web "node app.js" About a minute ago Up About a minute>3000/tcp compose_web_2 6700761c0a1e compose_web "node app.js" 7 minutes ago Up 7 minutes>3000/tcp compose_web_1 ad7656ef5db7 mongo:latest "docker-entrypoint..." 7 minutes ago Up 7 minutes 27017/tcp db

You can also scale-in the web container with the same command.

  1. docker-compose scale web=2

This time, we see the extra instances being removed in real time.

Output from docker-compose
Stopping and removing compose_web_3 ... done Stopping and removing compose_web_4 ... done Stopping and removing compose_web_5 ... done Stopping and removing compose_web_6 ... done Stopping and removing compose_web_7 ... done Stopping and removing compose_web_8 ... done Stopping and removing compose_web_9 ... done Stopping and removing compose_web_10 ... done

Finally, re-check the instances.

  1. docker ps

The output confirms that there are only two instances left.

Output from docker ps
CONTAINER ID IMAGE COMMAND CREATED STATUS PORTS NAMES 36b817c6110b compose_web "node app.js" 3 minutes ago Up 3 minutes>3000/tcp compose_web_2 6700761c0a1e compose_web "node app.js" 9 minutes ago Up 9 minutes>3000/tcp compose_web_1 ad7656ef5db7 mongo:latest "docker-entrypoint..." 9 minutes ago Up 9 minutes 27017/tcp db

You can now stop the application, and, just like before, you can also clean up the resources to avoid naming conflicts.

  1. docker-compose stop
  2. docker-compose rm -f
  3. docker network remove compose_todonet


This tutorial introduced you to Dockerfiles and Docker Compose. We started with a Dockerfile as the declarative mechanism to build images, then we explored the basics of Docker networking. Finally, we scaled and managed multi-container applications with Docker Compose.

To extend your new setup, you can add an Nginx reverse proxy running inside another container to route requests to one of the available web application containers. Or, you can take advantage of DigitalOcean’s Block Storage and Load Balancers to bring durability and scalability to the containerized applications.

Thanks for learning with the DigitalOcean Community. Check out our offerings for compute, storage, networking, and managed databases.

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Tutorial Series: Webinar Series: Deploying & Managing Containerized Workloads in the Cloud

This series covers the essentials of containers, including container lifecycle management, deploying multi-container applications, scaling workloads, and understanding Kubernetes, along with highlighting best practices for running stateful applications. These tutorials supplement the by the same name.

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You may need to add this in your Dockerfile to test if the web container is connected to the db container with ping.

RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y iputils-ping

Very useful tutorial… Thank you very much. Hope you update it by using the latest versions of docker and docker-compose.

  • I got errors when running exec on the web container to ping the db.
  • I edit the docker-compose.yaml file using version 3, also I add the depends_on instruction to the web container so it can be linked to the db, I’m wondering why it isn’t present in the yaml file!.. I think it is mandatory.

I got an error with web container unable to connect to mongo db container port:27017, which resulted in web container exiting. so I have to add expose statement to the db service : db: 4 image: mongo:latest 5 expose : 6 - ‘27017’ 7 container_name: db 8 networks: 9 - todonet

Nice tutorial! Thanks for sharing ^_^

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