Press "Enter" to skip to content

Minimalistic Docker containers in 3 tricks

One of the common mistakes we commit when starting with Docker is not taking into account the size of a produced container. This usually happens due to our goal to develop fast and easily for our own personal use.
But when we want to push a container to the public registries or when we want to distribute it in our company the size of the container can have a big impact on the discussions on why is so awesome to work in virtualized environments.

I want to propose you 3 tricks to minimize your containers.

1 – Clean up after every command

Is not easy to see but docker thinks about each command of your Dockerfile as a layer. Each layer is a folder by itself that gets overlayed on top of the rest and will keep all the information produced by the command you executed.

Is typical to start your Dockerfile by writing something like:

FROM ubuntu
RUN apt-get update
RUN apt-get install -y wget

This simple command will produce 2 separated layers. The first will contain all the indexes coming from the apt-get update and the second layer will install your package.
As you may imagine you don’t want the indexes laying on your container so you are maybe tempted to do a cleanup afterward.

FROM ubuntu
RUN apt-get update
RUN apt-get install -y wget
RUN apt-get clean

But the damage is already done. The first layer will never change since it has been built. Even if you check now, the container won’t contain the indexes, but the layer will contain them, occupying precious space.

The trick is to atomize the commands including all the required cleanups after it. Remember that every command in a Dockerfile is a layer!

A much better Dockerfile will do:

FROM ubuntu
RUN apt-get update \
    && apt-get install -y wget \
    && apt-get clean
  • You can split lines in a Dockerfile just appending \ at the end.
  • && won’t extend the duration of the build after a previous command fails.

2 – Choose your base image wisely

Some images are better designed to be small. Proof of it may be the alpine image available as the open source image. The distribution package manager apk is well-designed for avoiding any unwanted cache generated. Looking at the same process of getting wget in alpine will look much cleaner and the resulting layer is more likely to be smaller.

FROM alpine
RUN apk add --no-cache wget
  • Choosing a different base image may change the package names you need or even the locations you expect the files to be installed.

3 – Build in another container

This is my favorite trick.

If you need to compile some program instead of doing all the processes in the same container just create a temporary one and then just copy the results to the final one.

# The keyword in this line is 'as'
FROM alpine:latest as temp

RUN apk add --no-cache git
RUN git clone --recursive

RUN apk add --no-cache libconfig-dev readline-dev libexecinfo-dev \
                       python-dev openssl-dev libevent-dev \
                       jansson-dev lua-dev
RUN apk add --no-cache g++ make

# Actual build
RUN ./tg/configure; make

# Final image
FROM alpine:latest

RUN apk add --no-cache libevent jansson libconfig libexecinfo \
                       readline lua openssl

COPY --from=temp /bin/telegram-cli /bin/telegram-cli

ENTRYPOINT ["/bin/telegram-cli"]

This container I wrote for having a containerized telegram-cli is my example of minimalistic containers.

  1. FROM alpine:latest as temp This first line will create a temporary container named temp that can be used to copy things from as described in the reference. This is quite handy for creating temporary build environments that are later discarded.
  2. RUN apt add --no-cache libconfig-dev ... Installs the required dev dependencies containing in this case the header files and all the required build information. And that is something we don’t want in our final container!
  3. FROM alpine:latest the next FROM the command that will create the final image.
  4. RUN apt add --no-cache libconfig ... now is the time to install the runtime dependencies only.
  5. COPY --from=temp /bin/telegram-cli ... This is where the magic happens: We can use COPY --from=temp to specify the docker daemon to perform the copy from a previously named container. So we can copy the built program from a build container to a runtime container.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.