Running Django + PostgreSQL containers and persisting data with Docker

Vinh Le
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Published in
6 min readDec 1, 2020


From Node.js to Django

I have been picking up Python and Django for a while. In overall, Django seems to be pretty powerful with a loads of utilities.

Coming from Node.js world, I got so amazed by how Django helps to code much less and things just magically work out of the box.

Even though there has been a steep learning curve to get comfortable with a high level framework, I am more and more keen on its convenience and fast development speed.

Project overview

In this blog, we will quickly bootstrap a simple Django API with PostgreSQL database. All services will run in Docker containers.

Our main goal is to:

  • Use Docker to get the services up and running quickly without any hassle of configuring and debugging environment-related issues.
  • Persist and access data in PostgreSQL container


Basic knowledge of:

  • Django and Python
  • PostgreSQL
  • Docker and Docker compose

Besides, make sure that you have Docker and Postgres up and running on your local machine. You could check if those 2 are running by:

docker --versionpsql --version

GitHub repository to follow

All the code in this blog could be found in this repo.

It’s coding time! 🥳 👨🏻‍💻

Setup services

We will setup our services in following order:

  • Setup Docker and Compose
  • Create new Django project and configure database settings
  • Setup PostgreSQL

Setup Docker

Setup Dockerfile

In your project directory, create requirements.txt file. We will add all libraries that we need to install here. For now, there are only 2 needed: Django and psycopg2:


🔖 Psycopg is the most popular PostgreSQL adapter for Python.

Next, let’s create a Dockerfile with following configurations:

FROM python:3.9-alpine


COPY ./requirements.txt /requirements.txt

# Install postgres client
RUN apk add --update --no-cache postgresql-client

# Install individual dependencies
# so that we could avoid installing extra packages to the container
RUN apk add --update --no-cache --virtual .tmp-build-deps \
gcc libc-dev linux-headers postgresql-dev
RUN pip install -r /requirements.txt

# Remove dependencies
RUN apk del .tmp-build-deps

RUN mkdir /app
COPY ./app /app

# [Security] Limit the scope of user who run the docker image
RUN adduser -D user

USER user

Setup Docker Compose

In the same directory, let’s create a docker-compose.yml file:

version: "3"

context: .
- "3003:3003"
- ./app:/app
command: >
sh -c "python migrate && python runserver"

🔖 In this Compose setup, we specify 3003 as server port and map the ports between the container and the host machine (our local machine).

Now we could use docker-compose command to create a new Django project:

docker-compose run --rm app django-admin startproject app

🔖 We could use django-admin here as it came with installed Django.

Django should create a new directory called app in our project:

Django project tree

Great job so far! Now let’s build our image:

docker-compose build

You should get following output if the operation succeeded:

Successfully built 6c1e5849af55
Successfully tagged docker-django-postgres_app:latest

Update Django database settings

Django came with sqlite as default database service. We want to use Postgres so let's change the DATABASES configurations in app/app/

import os


'default': {
'ENGINE': 'django.db.backends.postgresql',
'HOST': os.environ.get('DB_HOST'),
'NAME': os.environ.get('DB_NAME'),
'USER': os.environ.get('DB_USER'),
'PASSWORD': os.environ.get('DB_PASS'),

We want to get Postgres configurations such as HOST, NAME, USER, PASSWORD from environment variables instead of hard coding them here.

Setup PostgreSQL

Now we can add database environment variables in docker-compose.yml:

- DB_HOST=db
- DB_NAME=mydb-dev
- DB_USER=vinhle
- DB_PASS=password
- db

1 important thing to note from above’s code is we just create a new database service called db and tell Docker to start db first every time we start the container since app depends on db.

Now we can continue adding configuration for our db service:

image: postgres:13-alpine
- POSTGRES_DB=mydb-dev
- "5432:5432"

Keep in mind that POSTGRES_DB could be anything of your choice.

Create superuser

Now we will use values from POSTGRES_USER and POSTGRES_PASSWORD variables to create a superuser:

docker-compose run --rm app python createsuperuser

🔖 If the command above fails to run, you might need to do an initial migration for the postgres database first:

docker-compose run --rm app python migrate

If the createsuperuser command runs, the terminal will ask you to enter Username and Password for the super user. Now you could enter those values from POSTGRES_USER and POSTGRES_PASSWORD in docker-compse file:

Creating docker-django-postgres_app_run ... done
Username (leave blank to use 'user'): vinhle
Email address:
Password (again):
This password is too common.
Bypass password validation and create user anyway? [y/N]: y
Superuser created successfully.

We will use this super user’s credentials to access the database later.

Get the server up and running

Now that we have all configurations correctly in place, let’s start the server:

docker-compose up

Now open the browser and go to http://localhost:3003, you should see Django starter screen:

Django starting view

Let’s go to Django Admin and try to login with the super user that we created in the previous step:

Django admin

🛠 If you are unable to authenticate, you might want to re-create the super user role.

By selecting “User” tab in Django admin, you could see a list of users in our app:

Django admin user list view

Database storage gotcha

So up until now, things have been running beautifully. We have both services: Django server and postgres running in their containers.

More interestingly, we have also created 1 super user and able to log in to Django admin with that credential.

Now let’s try to “restart” both running containers by stopping them:

docker-compose down

and starting up again:

docker-compose up

Now both containers should up and running as we expected. Let’s try to verify that things work as before by logging in to Django admin again by our old super user.

Can you authenticate that user?

If you have same Docker configuration that we have done so far, the answer is most likely NO. 🤦🏻‍♂️

Confusing? Yes I know. The bitter thing about Docker containers is that the data that they produced will be wiped out once the containers stopped. So our beloved super user is gone at the moment we type docker-compose down.

Thankfully, Docker provides useful tools to persist data generated and used by Docker containers. It is recommended to use volumes as they are managed by Docker (not by the OS host machines, aka our computers) and thus have better performance.

Let’s add volumes for our db service in Compose file:


- tutorial-volume:/var/lib/postgresql/data


In the snippet above, we are “connecting” 2 sides of the colons :

  • tutorial-volume is the name of the Docker volume that the data generated by the postgres container will sync to. This volume will be created and managed by Docker itself.
  • /var/lib/postgresql/data is the location inside the postgres container where all the data get saved to.

Now let’s start our containers up again:

docker-compose up

In this invocation, the tutorial-volume is created by Docker. Any data generated by the postgres container will be persisted in that volume and it will be used next time the container is up.

Now if you try to create a new super user and restart the containers, you should be able to use the created user to login to Django admin.

Congratulations! You made it to the end of this blog 💯 To recap, here are what we have learnt:

  • Dockerize Django server and PostgreSQL services using Docker Compose
  • Persist data generated by Docker containers by Docker volumes

The source code could be found here.

That’s the end of this blog. I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts 🤗 Please jot them down bellow 👇👇👇

✍️ Written by

Vinh Le @vinhle95


A hustler, lifelong learner, tech lover & software developer

This blog is originally published at

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Vinh Le
Shot code

An engineer loves building digital product and sharing knowledge👨🏻‍💻💪🔥🎾