Laravel + Docker Part 1 — setup for Development

This is part 1 of 2 in which we’ll cover how to run a Laravel application locally with Docker. Part 2 will then complete the tutorial by showing how to run the same application in Production.

The goal in this first post is to create a reproducible development environment that is lightweight, fast & does not depend on anything being globally installed on our local machine (other than docker itself).

So, we’re talking about achieving the following goals.

  • No Mamp or similar programs
  • No Vagrant or similar VM setups
  • No Globally installed PHP
  • No Globally installed Composer

Step 1 — grab the latest Laravel release

I’m using curl here to grab the latest release from Github, but feel free to obtain a copy of the source however you like — you could just do a git clone — but if you do, don’t forget to wipe the .git directory immediately after.

We’re not following the official guide for setting up Laravel here as we don’t want the hassle of installing PHP/Composer globally on our dev machine
curl -L | tar xz

That would create a directory called laravel-5.3.16 — you should rename it to whatever you want your project to be. eg mv laravel-5.3.16 my-site and then cd into it.

Step 2 — Install dependencies

We need to run composer install to pull in all of the libraries that make up Laravel — we can use the composer/composer image from the docker hub to handle this for us.

We’ll create a throw-away container by executing the following command.

docker run --rm -v $(pwd):/app composer/composer install


  • We use the--rm flag to ensure this container does not linger around following the install.
  • -v $(pwd):/app is used to mount the current directory on the host (your cpu) to /app in the container — this is where composer running inside the container expects to find a composer.json
  • -v $(pwd):/app will also ensure that the vendor folder created by composer inside the container is also visible on our machine.

Step 3 — create the development docker-compose.yml file

We’ll be using 2 separate files to define how our environments should run. 1 for development, and another for production. Now, Docker-compose does actually support using multiple input files, allowing you to override specific keys — but because of the way it merges arrays, it will not be suitable for our particular use case. We’ll just have to put up with a bit of duplication in both files.

Anyway, you’ll need to create the following file:

  • docker-compose.yml

It should begin with…

version: '2'
... our services will go here

… into which we can begin to add our services.


This will handle executing the code within the application. We’ll also use this service to execute arbitrary php scripts — such as running artisan the CLI tool that ships with Laravel. (remember this block is under the ‘services’ key from above — don’t worry, there’ll be full snippets later)


  • We’re going to use a separate app.dockerfile (line 4) to build our image as we want to control exactly what modules PHP is using.
  • We set the working directory to /var/www — that’s where the app code will be inside the container, so it’ll save us having to CD into that folder should we ever attach to the container. It will also make exec commands shorter (we’ll see an example of this shortly)
  • We use a single volume definition ./:/var/www to mount the everything in the current directory on the host into /var/www in the container. This will allow us to make changes to our source code and have them reflected in the running application immediately. This is going to make your app feel sluggish in the browser — a few hundred ms lag (especially on OSX), but fear not — in part 2 when we transition to a production setup the speed issues will no longer be there.
host:container volume mapping explained
  • The environment variables DB_PORT & DB_HOST are set here to match up with the database container we’ll create shortly

Now we need to create the app.dockerfile that we referenced in the build setting above.



  • php:7.0.4-fpm is used here, but could be anything of your choosing.
  • The rest is the just basics needed for a typical Laravel CRUD app, with imagick thrown in for good measure (I have a few photo apps :))


Next, we need a web-server configured to handle both the serving of static files, and pass-through of requests that need to be handled by the Laravel application. We’ll follow the same pattern as before, this time naming the service web and it’s accompanying file web.dockerfile


  • We use volumes_from here to re-use what we defined in the PHP-FPM service above. This means that this nginx container will inherit the /var/www directory (which is in turn mounted to our development machine)
  • we map port 8080 on the host to 80 in the container. This is so that we can access whilst in development and won’t need to mess around with host names.

Next, we’ll create the web.dockerfile mentioned above:


  • As you can see, it’s just the standard nginx official image, with the vhost.conf file from our local directory (created next) added to configure the server.

And here’s that file vhost.conf



  • Notice how on line 12 we hand off php requests to app:9000 — this works because docker-compose will automatically link our services in a way that allows them to talk to each other via these simple hostnames.
  • The rest is just very basic nginx config — it’s not tuned in any way for performance or security— we’ll handle those in another post!


Next, we’ll configure the database, but we need to handle this one slightly differently to the previous services. With PHP-FPM & Nginx, we want files from our local directory to be accessible inside containers, to help speed up the development process. But this is not the case with a database — instead we want files created in the container to persist, allowing us to stop & restart services without losing data. This can also be achieved with a volume, only this time there’s no need for it to be synchronised with our host files.


  • On line 16 we create a named volume, dbdata (the trailing : is deliberate, a limitation of yaml that you don’t need to worry about)
  • Then, on line 7 we reference that volume by using the format <name>:<dir> So this is saying “mount the directory /var/lib/mysql from the volume named dbdata”
  • We set the required environment variables on lines 9, 10, 11 & 12 as required by the MySql docker image.
  • We used homestead as the database/user name & secret as the password as these values match what can be found in the default .env that ships with Laravel, meaning we won’t have to change it there.
  • Finally on line 13 we create an addition port mapping of 33061 on the host to the regular 3306 inside the container. This is done solely to allow external tools easier access to the database whilst in development — it will not be needed in the production setup.

All services together

Let’s look at the final docker-compose.yml now to see how these pieces fit together.

Starting the services

If you’re following along, we’re almost there! But before we boot up the environment, we need to ensure 1) you ran composer install as instructed earlier in the post & 2) you have created the following files in the root of the project (all detailed above).

  • docker-compose.yml
  • app.dockerfile
  • web.dockerfile
  • vhost.conf

Here’s a gist showing all the files together, for your reference/copy&paste needs.

Once you have all of those in place, you can go ahead and execute the following command which will start all 3 services.

docker-compose up


  • The very first time you run this, it’s going to take minutes to start as it will need to download the images for all 3 services. Subsequent start times will be in the region of a second or 2, so don’t be put off by that initial download time.

Final steps, prepare the Laravel Application.

The last steps involve a couple of things that would’ve occurred automatically had we been using the official installer.

Environment configuration file

We first need to copy the .env.example file into our own .env file. This file will not be checked into version control & we’ll have separate ones for development & production. For now, just copy .env.example -> .env

Application key & optimize

Next we’ll need to set the application key & run the optimize command. Both of these are handled by artisan, but because we have PHP and the entire Laravel app running inside of a container, we can’t just run php artisan key:generate on our local machine like you normally would— we need to be issuing these commands directly into the container instead.

Luckily docker-compose has a really nice abstraction for handling this, the two commands needed would look like:

docker-compose exec app php artisan key:generate
docker-compose exec app php artisan optimize

In plain english, the first line is saying:

Execute the command ‘php artisan key:generate’ inside the container used by the service ‘app’

And just to make it crystal clear, here’s a visual showing how those commands break down:

You’ll need this pattern any time you want to use artisan — remember the whole point of using docker is to avoid having the headaches of installing PHP versions on your local machine & this is how we get around it — by sending commands into containers, rather that running them directly.

Some other commands you’ll be running often in a Laravel project:

docker-compose exec app php artisan migrate --seed
docker-compose exec app php artisan make:controller MyController

I think you get the point by now.

Tip: create an alias like phpd that removes the need to type the full command, eg: phpd artisan migrate --seed

Once you’ve executed the two command mentioned before (artisan key:generate & artisan optimize) the application will now be ready to use — go ahead and hit in your browser and you’ll presented with this lovely screen.

Look ma, no PHP installed on my machine.

Happy developing!

Next up, modifying this setup for production.

There are already a few blogs out there covering development environments like this for Laravel, but I’ve found none so far showing how to complete the next important step — taking this environment and getting it ready for production use. I look forward to sharing that one very soon.


Like this? If you did, and you find yourself doing any front-end work, perhaps you’d enjoy some of my lessons on— many are free and I cover Vanilla JS, Typescript, RxJS and more.