The Startup
Published in

The Startup

Understand Dockerfile

Introduction

Dockerfile is the basic concept for building Docker images. It is better to understand it if you want to dig into Docker image building scenarios a bit more deeply.

Dockerfile is a text file that contains a list of commands (instructions), which describes how a Docker image is built based on them. The command docker build tells Docker to build the image by following the content (instructions) inside the Dockerfile.

Structure and Format

Dockerfile starts with a FROM command which indicates the base image. The subsequent commands in the Docker file are executed on the base image which must be a valid image.

Here is the format:

# Comments
COMMAND arguments

A comment line starts with # and describes the purposes or whatever you want.

The COMMAND is not required to be uppercase but it is a convention here to distinguish them from arguments obviously.

An example of Dockerfile:

# The latest version of Ubuntu is used as the base image for this Dockerfile.
FROM ubuntu:latest
# Set the author field for the generated image.
MAINTAINER rocky.chen@example.com
# Run some commands.
RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -yq curl
RUN apt-get clean
# Commands to run when the generated image gets launched.
CMD ["top"]
CMD ["ls", "-l"]
# Set working directory and environment variables.
WORKDIR /root
ENV VAR1 version1
# Add a shell script to the generated image.
ADD run.sh /root/run.sh
RUN chmod +x run.sh
# Set entry point and argments for the generated image.
ENTRYPOINT ["./run.sh"]
CMD ["arg1"]

Build Context

To build your Docker image, you could call docker image build command by specifying building directory with the Dockerfile in the terminal and some arguments can be provided as well. For example:

$ docker image build .

It tells Docker to build an image according to the Docker file in the current directory, called the context of the build.

An important note here is the build is run by the Docker daemon instead of the CLI, so the entire context is transferred to the daemon. From the output of the building command above, this was shown at the beginning:

Sending build context to Docker daemon  3.584kB

As you noticed, the output also tells how many data transferred (3.584kB in the example). Therefore, a warning from Docker document is:

Do not use your root directory, /, as the PATH as it causes the build to transfer the entire contents of your hard drive to the Docker daemon.

A .dockerignore file is useful sometimes when you want to ignore some files in the Docker image context directory.

Layers

When the Docker daemon builds your image, it executes the steps defined in the Dockerfile. A container is generated in each step and the instruction is run inside of the generated container. Once the instruction succeeds, the container is stored as a new image, as a new layer is added. The next instruction will build another new one on top of the previous one.

Let’s have a quick look on the fully output of building the example Dockerfile:

Sending build context to Docker daemon  3.584kB
Step 1/12 : FROM ubuntu:latest
---> d70eaf7277ea
Step 2/12 : MAINTAINER rocky.chen@example.com
---> Running in 5d1f44d64602
Removing intermediate container 5d1f44d64602
---> 82eb396b28ec
Step 3/12 : RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -yq curl
---> Running in cc6adb835c4d
...
Removing intermediate container cc6adb835c4d
---> bbd0dc87c576
Step 4/12 : RUN apt-get clean
---> Running in 7664a4778017
Removing intermediate container 7664a4778017
---> a9ed19e6119d
Step 5/12 : CMD ["top"]
---> Running in 7e37bb170506
Removing intermediate container 7e37bb170506
---> d6c8736f0e9f
Step 6/12 : CMD ["ls", "-l"]
---> Running in cbd1a7512232
Removing intermediate container cbd1a7512232
---> 0c087c832e7f
Step 7/12 : WORKDIR /root
---> Running in 3068d7075458
Removing intermediate container 3068d7075458
---> d80343d04808
Step 8/12 : ENV VAR1 version1
---> Running in ae6480ddac50
Removing intermediate container ae6480ddac50
---> 3c649e8e249c
Step 9/12 : ADD run.sh /root/run.sh
---> b0419c4d6864
Step 10/12 : RUN chmod +x run.sh
---> Running in 12520302b333
Removing intermediate container 12520302b333
---> f52955a93631
Step 11/12 : ENTRYPOINT ["./run.sh"]
---> Running in 22bc5cc335b1
Removing intermediate container 22bc5cc335b1
---> 409dee822026
Step 12/12 : CMD ["arg1"]
---> Running in 44cf42bcd050
Removing intermediate container 44cf42bcd050
---> 8c2b84201d65
Successfully built 8c2b84201d65
Successfully tagged myimage:latest

There are 12 steps per the output texts because there are 12 lines of instructions in the Dockerfile.

After all steps complete, the image could be shown in the output of the command docker image ls:

$ docker image ls
REPOSITORY TAG IMAGE ID CREATED SIZE
my_image latest 6c284ed9fe68 17 minutes ago 115MB

Cache

Let’s run the build command again with the same docker file:

$ docker build -t my_image .
Sending build context to Docker daemon 3.584kB
Step 1/12 : FROM ubuntu:latest
---> d70eaf7277ea
Step 2/12 : MAINTAINER rocky.chen@example.com
---> Using cache
---> 82eb396b28ec
Step 3/12 : RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -yq curl
---> Using cache
---> bbd0dc87c576
Step 4/12 : RUN apt-get clean
---> Using cache
---> 738becba91a0
Step 5/12 : CMD ["top"]
---> Using cache
---> 58e31420c1dd
Step 6/12 : CMD ["ls", "-l"]
---> Using cache
---> ec643d75f7ee
Step 7/12 : WORKDIR /root
---> Using cache
---> 4c79437f5c37
Step 8/12 : ENV VAR1 version1
---> Using cache
---> 8ce59472dc52
Step 9/12 : ADD run.sh /root/run.sh
---> Using cache
---> ab7f0e31b020
Step 10/12 : RUN chmod +x run.sh
---> Using cache
---> 769075a61ee3
Step 11/12 : ENTRYPOINT ["./run.sh"]
---> Using cache
---> 26b434f12885
Step 12/12 : CMD ["arg1"]
---> Using cache
---> 6c284ed9fe68
Successfully built 6c284ed9fe68
Successfully tagged my_image:latest

You would notice the ‘Using cache’ in each step that indicates the Docker daemon used cache directly to generate the intermedium image instead of building again.

The cache is used when the instructions in the Dockerfile are same or unchanged with the previous version.

Image Launch

Once the image is built successfully, it is stored in the local registry by default. To list all images, use following command:

$ docker image ls -a

Next, we could start to launch the image with a Docker container. First, let’s get started with a simple version of Dockerfile:

# The latest version of Ubuntu is used as the base image for this Dockerfile.
FROM ubuntu:latest
# Set the author field for the generated image.
MAINTAINER rocky.chen@example.com
# Run some commands.
RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -yq curl
RUN apt-get clean

Then, build it with:

$ docker build -t my_image .

Now, we have an image in the Docker local registry and launch it:

$ docker run -it --rm my_image /bin/bash
root@8f4991177fe8:/# curl
curl: try 'curl --help' or 'curl --manual' for more information

The -it instructs Docker to allocate a pseudo-TTY connected to the container’s stdin.

The —rm means deleting the container after it exits.

As instructed in the Dockerfile, the curl tool is installed in the image.

Instruction — CMD

CMD command is to provide defaults when a contain is being launched, including an executable or arguments for ENTRYPOINT.

The CMD instruction has three forms:

  1. CMD ["executable","param1","param2"] (exec form, this is the preferred form)
  2. CMD ["param1","param2"] (as default parameters to ENTRYPOINT)
  3. CMD command param1 param2 (shell form)

For CMD, there are some notes:

  • Only the last one CMD instruction takes effect in a Dockerfile.
  • If CMD provides the default arguments for ENTRYPOINT, both CMD and ENTRYPOINT must be JSON array formatted.
  • In JSON array format, double-quote (") must be used.
  • Exec format does not invoke a command shell.
  • For example, CMD ["echo", "$HOME"] outputs $HOME exactly instead of the environment value of $HOME. To echo the value, do this:
CMD echo $HOME
or
CMD ["sh", "-c", "echo $HOME"]

Instruction — ENTRYPOINT

The ENTRYPOINT specifies an executable as an entrypoint of a container. When the container is launched, the command specified by ENTRYPOINT will be run first.

For ENTRYPOINT instruction, there are two forms:

  • The exec form (preferred):
ENTRYPOINT ["executable", "param1", "param2"]
  • The shell form:
ENTRYPOINT command param1 param2

Some notes for ENTRYPOINT:

  1. Any command arguments passed to docker run will be appended to the ENTRYPOINT command.
  2. The command arguments passed to docker run will override the ones provided by CMD.
  3. ENTRYPOINT could be overridden by running docker run —entrypoint <command and arguments>.

Now, let’s go back the our first Dockerfile example. Before building the image, here is the content of run.sh file in the same directory with Dockerfile:

#!/bin/shecho "The current directory : $(pwd)"
echo "The VAR1 variable : $VAR1"
echo "There are $# arguments: $@"

Then, build it and run:

$ docker build -t myimage .
$ docker run -it --rm myimage
The current directory : /root
The VAR1 variable : version1
There are 1 arguments: arg1

We can see the output reflects ENTRYPOINT and CMD instructions in the last two line of the Dockerfile.

Now, let’s try to push some arguments to docker run:

$ docker run -it --rm myimage arg2 arg3
The current directory : /root
The VAR1 variable : version1
There are 2 arguments: arg2 arg3

As expected, the input arguments (arg2 and arg3) override the CMD at the last line.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store