Introduction to Docker

November 3, 2017 | Last updated: March 9, 2019


Introduction to Docker

Objectives of this guide

This guide will:

  • Explain you the basics of Docker.
  • Show you how to use Docker throughout the development process.
  • Illustrate the automation of the application deployment process with Buddy and Docker.
The contents of this guide require basic Git knowledge. If you have no experience with version control, you can learn Git basics here.

Why should you care about Docker?

As a developer you probably know that before you can run an application on your machine, you need to configure its environment first. The list of tasks required to do that may be pretty long and include:

  • Installing database version
  • Installing file server version yy.yyy
  • Installing package a version xy.zzz

and so on...

Environment management is cumbersome and expensive

Every change in the environment, like database version change for example, adding a new package or any other dependency means that:

  • Every developer has to introduce this particular change to his machine
  • Upon release, all the changes have to be introduced to the production server

It’s hard to keep track of dependencies without proper tools. And still, with or without them, configuration-related problems tend to emerge unexpectedly and are hard to debug and fix. This is why over the years we’ve tested various methods of ruling them out.

Current tools may be slow and complicated

We used virtual machines and configuration management tools, such as Vagrant, Ansible or Puppet. However, virtual machines are very resource-consuming and the amount of time required to start and stop them is so huge that it slows down work progress. Dealing with configuration management tools is also pretty time-consuming and requires specialized knowledge.

The Docker Solution

Docker logoDocker logo

How can Docker help you deal with the above problems? Let’s start with the definition from Docker itself.

Docker containers wrap a piece of software in a complete filesystem that contains everything needed to run: code, runtime, system tools, system libraries – anything that can be installed on a server. This guarantees that the software will always run the same, regardless of its environment.

To make the message clearer:

  • Docker is a faster and less resource-consuming equivalent of the virtual machine.
  • In a few minutes you can run Docker on any server, using any operating system.

Think Docker sounds cool and want to give it a try? Read the next section to see how easy it is.

Docker in the development process

Let’s assume we’ve just hired you as the developer responsible for our website. To start working, you need to get access to:

  • Source code of the application – hopefully already in the repository. If not, putting your the sources under version control should be your top priority.
  • Documentation – it will tell you what components you’re supposed to install on your machine and how to configure them in order to run the application locally. This is how it sounds in practice because in reality in 9 out of 10 cases THERE IS NO DOCUMENTATION AT ALL.

While working with Docker, we eliminate the stickiest problems of dealing with configuration:

  • Working out what components need to be installed
  • Picking up the correct version for each component
  • Configuring the components properly in order to run the application locally

Let’s move to a straightforward example that proves how Docker handles it.

Docker configuration

Install Docker

First of all you need to install Docker according to the guidelines on the supplier’s website:

Download sample files

To show you how Docker works, we'll use a repository with an already Dockerized application. Download the package and unzip the contents in any directory.

Get Docker running

Run the terminal, go to the directory where you unzipped the files, and execute the docker-compose up command:

cd unzipped_directory
docker-compose up$$

Marvel at the results

You’re done—your development environment is running—you can view the website at http://localhost:8080:

Website previewWebsite preview

Remember: all you’ve just done was installing Docker—no HTTP server installation, no dependencies to deal with. You didn’t have to configure one single component. Yet, you are ready to work. Awesome, huh? So let’s get busy!

Change the code: Blue is the new Black

Now, open the index.html file with your favorite IDE and change anything you like. For example, change:

<body class="bg-black">


<body class="bg-blue">

Enjoy your new background

Save the changes and refresh the site. The background is now blue—your changes are visible right away! What’s the conclusion? Introducing you to our team was fast and easy and you did your job very well!

What about the other sample files?

You’ve probably noticed that index.html is not the only file. Let’s take a closer look at the contents of our project:

  • index.html, with the source code of the website
  • nginx.conf, with the NGINX server configuration
  • docker-compose.yml, with all information on the environment

Since we’ve already made some changes to index.html, let's have a closer look at the other two


This is a very basic configuration of the NGINX server. All it says is that the server is supposed to serve files from the /www directory:

server {
    index index.html;
    root /www;


The file contains the definition of the application environment. The syntax of the file might be a bit scary at first glance, but don’t worry—we’ll clarify all the necessary issues.

version: “2”

    image: nginx
      - "8080:80"
      - .:/www
      - ./nginx.conf:/etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf

And here come the explanations:

  • version: “2“ – determines the syntax used throughout the file. There are two versions of the docker-compose file format—version 1 (the legacy format, which doesn’t support volumes or networks) and version 2 (most up-to-date).
  • services: – this section defines the containers. In this particular file we’re defining only one container named web.
  • image: nginx – this means the container will be created on the basis of the NGINX image. Images are stored in a Docker registry. You can pick one of the ready-to-use images from the Docker Hub, or create your own image.
  • ports: – this section redirects the ports from the local host (8080) to the container (80) where the NGINX server is listening. Thanks to this, we are able to view the site at http://localhost:8080
  • volumes: – this section is about mounting disks to the container. In this example, it ensures that the project files that accompany docker-compose.yml are placed in the /www folder and our NGINX configuration file overwrites the one in the container.
In case of problems configuring your Dockerfile, you can always reach out to However, upon reading the complete guide you should have no problems understanding how it works and writing your own one.

How to extend the Docker image with more services

Up till now, as our new employee, you didn’t have to worry about the configuration of the environment. To make sure you don't feel too comfortable, it's time to assign you a new task. It’s pretty straightforward: you have to add the current date and time below the “hello-world” sentence on our website.

To do this, you're going to need PHP. By default, the NGINX server is not handling PHP files, but we can deal with that by completing two tasks:

  • Configuring the NGINX sever file to process PHP files
  • Installing PHP server

Configure NGINX server to process PHP files

Configuring NGINX server means simply updating the nginx.conf file:

server {
        index index.php;
        root /www;
            location ~ \.php$ {
                      fastcgi_pass php:9000;
                      include fastcgi_params;
                      fastcgi_param SCRIPT_FILENAME $document_root$fastcgi_script_name;

The above changes indicate that all PHP files are supposed to be interpreted by the PHP service on the port number 9000.

Install PHP server

Next thing we need is the PHP server. We’ll add another container, responsible for interpreting PHP files. To do that, add the php service to your docker-compose.yml file and define the image version and the links command order for the NGINX service. The second thing is linking the web-service container to the PHP container so that both can communicate:

version: "2"

    image: nginx
      - "8080:80"
      - .:/www
      - ./nginx.conf:/etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf
      - php
    image: php:7-fpm
      - .:/www

We are ready with the configuration, which means it's time to move on to actual development and work on our index.html file. Let's assume we want to display date and time on the website. To do it, we need to do two things:

  • Change the filename to index.php
  • Add the line displaying the current date and time: html <?php echo "<p>".date("F j, Y, g:i a")."</p>"; ?>

Relaunch the Docker container

Now we can try the new configuration and check if the date and time are really displayed on our website. To do this, run the following commands from the terminal:

docker-compose down
docker-compose up$$

Refresh the website and marvel at the results yet again:

Updated websiteUpdated website

With the above instructions, you can add other services, like MySQL, MongoDB, PostgreSQL and so on to your docker-compose.yml file. And, what’s the most important, with every push to the Git repository the changes you made will be available for other team members. Nobody needs to configure anything—all they have to do is run the docker-compose up command and the environment will be launched, regardless of the local operating system or the PHP server installation.

Automating deployment with Buddy and Docker

Buddy logoBuddy logo

Till now we’ve been working on the website locally, using the local development environment. But how can we streamline the actual deployment with Docker? The answer is pretty obvious: install docker-compose on the production server, upload new source files there, and execute docker-compose down and docker-compose up on the server.

Sounds easy, but when you have to do this manually a couple of times a day, it’s annoying. Every change in the repository that you want to deliver requires connecting the server, uploading the files there, logging in and running the commands back and forth, which can not only prove time-consuming but error-prone as well. And you probably have more than one project and more than one delivery to deal with every day.

In other words, it would be really nice to automate the process. This is where Buddy steps in, whose delivery pipelines makes Docker automation a breeze.

All you need is:

  • An account in Buddy. If you haven't registered yet, you can sign up for free with your GitHub/Bitbucket account or email
  • A server with Docker installed

Set up a project in Buddy with the provided repository

In this example, we'll use the website that we used before and put it under version control in Buddy:

  • Add a new project and select Buddy as your Git hosting provider:

Selecting Git providerSelecting Git provider

  • Download the file: and unzip it

  • Run the following commands in the unzipped folder:

git init
git add *
git commit -m "init repo"
git push --all BUDDY_REPO_URL$$$$
BUDDY_REPO_URL is the URL that appears while adding the project: Buddy repo URLBuddy repo URL

Create your first Buddy pipeline to automate your daily development workflow

Now we’ll take care of the pipelines—delivery automation tools.

Add a pipeline

First, add a pipeline that will automatically deploy changes introduced to the repository to the production server.

Pipeline configurationPipeline configuration

Let Buddy upload the website for you on every change

Add an action that will upload the source files of your application to the server. In Buddy, you can choose from numerous uploading options, from bare-metal servers to cloud services like AWS, DigitalOcean, and Microsoft Azure. In this example we’ll use SFTP:

Selecting the upload actionSelecting the upload action

On the action details screen, enter the authorization data and the upload path:

SFTP configurationSFTP configuration

Let Buddy relaunch the Docker container

Add an SSH action that will run docker-compose down and docker-compose up. This action requires authorization data and defining methods to be executed in the working directory. The working directory must be the same as the one for the upload action, so that the commands are run in the folder where the source files are placed.

SSH configurationSSH configuration

Your pipeline is ready

When you're done, the pipeline should look like this:

SFTP configurationSFTP configuration

You can see the upload action followed by an SSH action with the script triggering the Docker commands. With such setup every change in the repository will automatically be pushed to the server and visible in the production environment. This concerns the configuration and the source code as well.

You can manually check how the pipeline works—simply hit the Run button on the right side of the pipeline name. Now open the page (server IP:8080) and check your site on live server.

See how easy it is to setup a pipeline to ensure Dev-Test equivalance

And now we have one more trick for you. During the development process we recommend using the staging server. This is the place where the changes undergo testing prior to release. With Docker and Buddy configuring this machine will be easy—just follow the steps listed below.

Create a Staging branch

Add a new branch to your repository (stage branch). Git branches let you work on multiple disparate features at once, without having to deal with project dependencies or synchronization of changes:

Branch management screenBranch management screen

Add a delivery pipeline for the Staging server

Add a new pipeline that will be dealing with the staging server. This pipeline will execute exactly the same tasks as the production server pipeline, but for another branch. To streamline the work, you can clone the existing pipeline. After that you need to modify it a little bit:

  • Change the branch name from production to staging
  • Edit the file upload action: change the path so that it points to your staging server (staging application files must be placed in a different directory than live application files)
  • Edit the SSH action:
    • Change the execution path to the one you’ve just set for the upload action (see above)
    • Change the docker compose up command to docker-compose run -d -p 8081:80 web (we are doing this to run staging application on a different port than the live application is running).
  • In the end, make sure to reassign the branch to staging

Assigning the branch on a pipeline's viewAssigning the branch on a pipeline's view

Play with it

Now your live and staging applications are running on the same server:

  • Live application at server IP:8080
  • Staging application server IP:8081

They may use different configurations and no changes in staging application will affect your live environment, as both applications are running in separate containers and are isolated from each other.


  1. We’ve just learned how to deal with Docker and use docker-compose.yml file to set up the application environment in a very short time.
  2. We managed to introduce two simple changes into the application code and review them.
  3. We used Buddy and Docker to automate the process of delivering the application to the server.

Thanks to Docker, we got you up and running in no time. All you had to do was to install Docker, pull the files from the repository and you were able to commit code in no time and provide value for our company. You also know how to perform the same operations on the server and how to use Buddy and its pipelines to automate your work.

Happy sailing on the blue whale's tide!

Alexander Kus

Alexander Kus

Customer Success Manager

A story-teller and conversation-lover, Alexander decided to invest his skills to help his friends at Buddy transform the cold language of patch notes into exciting narratives. Also: an avid gamer, hip-hop DJ, Liverpool FC fan, absentminded husband, and the father of two.

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