Getting started with Docker

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I’ve spent a bit of time learning Docker using the official Learn tutorial that comes bundled with Docker Desktop. It’s a great tutorial, and one I’d recommend to anyone new to Docker. Here’s my notes.

About Docker


An image is everything needed to run (an application in) a container. It’s a linux filesystem and any dependencies.


Containers are isolated processes. You should generally run one process per container. For example, you can have one container for your mysql database and one for a nodejs application. Containers can communicate with each other using networking.


Containers can refer to each other based on their names, which resolve to their IP addresses on the docker network.

Running containers

You can run a container using the docker run command.

docker run -dp 80:80 docker/getting-started

The above command will run the container based on the docker/getting-started image, which is hosted on the official Docker container image library, Docker Hub.

It will download the image and run it in a container, binding the local port 80 to port 80 inside the container, and running it in detached mode (in the background).

We can see which containers are running using docker ps (docker ps -a to include containers not currently running), stop containers using docker stop, start them again using docker start <container-name>.

Building container images

We can build container images using a Dockerfile. A Dockerfile is a text-based script of instructions that is used to create a container image.

FROM node:12-alpine
COPY . .
RUN yarn install --production
CMD ["node", "/app/src/index.js"]

And can be built using the docker build command.

docker build -t getting-started .

The FROM directive names the image which our new image is based upon, such as node version 12-alpine. We can add new dependencies using the RUN directive, and specify which process runs using the CMD directive.

Images are cached in ‘layers’, so you can use multiple RUN directives to speed up image builds. See Docker best practices.

Replacing containers

If we make changes and rebuild our image, we have to remove the old container. The quickest way is docker rm -f <the-container-id>. Then we can run our new container using the updated image:

docker run -dp 3000:3000 getting-started

Persisting data

There is two ways to persist data in Docker: Volumes and Bind Mounts.


Volumes are managed by Docker and will stick around beyond the lifecycle of a container. We can create a named volume like this:

docker volume create todo-db

And mount it inside the container:

docker run -dp 3000:3000 -v todo-db:/etc/todos getting-started

Bind Mounts

We can mount a file or directory in our host machine (e.g. MacOS) in to the container using Bind Mounts. The command is just like for using volumes, except we specify the local directory instead of the name of the volume:

docker run -dp 3000:3000 \
    -w /app -v ${PWD}:/app \
    node:12-alpine \
    sh -c "yarn install && yarn run dev"

Docker Compose

Creating a docker-compose.yml file lets us spin up multiple containers with the specified configuration. It’s great for development and to share container configurations. We can create containers from images on Docker Hub or a based on a Dockerfile.

version: "3.7"

    image: node:12-alpine
    command: sh -c "yarn install && yarn run dev"
      - 3000:3000
    working_dir: /app
      - ./:/app
      MYSQL_HOST: mysql
      MYSQL_USER: root
      MYSQL_PASSWORD: secret
      MYSQL_DB: todos

    image: mysql:5.7
      - todo-mysql-data:/var/lib/mysql
      MYSQL_DATABASE: todos


Docker Compose automatically creates a network, so we don’t have to specify one. We can start up the application stack using the command:

docker-compose up -d

and tear it down with docker-compose down, or docker-compose down --volumes to also remove the volumes.

Next steps

There’s a lot more to learn about containers, including how best to use them in production. A straightforward way is to use docker-compose on a server, or use a project like exoframe. More comprehensive tools exist to manage, scale and orchestrate containers, such as Kubernetes, Swarm, Nomad, and ECS, but they can come with a steep learning curve.


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Getting started with Docker