#lifeprotip: Use Docker to simplify development workflows

Table of Contents


During my ongoing work on TinyDevCRM, I realized I need this ability to trace / audit / lock down dependencies while also not adversely impacting my development velocity during the MVP phase (where dependencies come and go in a game of musical chairs). I also want to reproducibly build and ship code when working through tutorials so that I can go back and reference them later. So I came up with this informal, hacky way to wrap all my “stuff” into one Docker container.

I’ve used it for a handful of projects I’ve worked on so far, and it’s honestly been great. I’ve shied away from sharing it until now due to how I might encourage bad habits for myself and others. After mulling it over though, I think if I found this workflow useful, it could prove useful to others in a similar situation. I also could put myself in a position where I could collect feedback and constructive criticism on how to improve this workflow.

End result

I published a basic GitHub repository here. I also added the minimal configuration below to get started. It’s really quite simple.

Directory structure:

$ tree .
├── Dockerfile
├── entrypoint.sh
└── run.sh

0 directories, 3 files

Dockerfile (chmod 644):

FROM ubuntu:18.04

ENTRYPOINT [ "/app/entrypoint.sh" ]

entrypoint.sh (chmod 755):

#!/usr/bin/env bash

tail -f /dev/null

run.sh (chmod 755):

#!/usr/bin/env bash

DOCKER=$(which docker)
GIT=$(which git)

GIT_REPO_ROOT=$(git rev-parse --show-toplevel)

$DOCKER build $GIT_REPO_ROOT/conf \

CONTAINER_EXISTS=$($DOCKER ps -a --format '{{ .Names }}' --filter name=$DOCKER_CONTAINER_NAME)

if [ -n "$CONTAINER_EXISTS" ];

$DOCKER run \
    --network=host \
    --volume=$(pwd):/app \

After executing cd /path/to/dir && ./run.sh && docker ps, you should see something like this:

$ ./run.sh && docker ps
Sending build context to Docker daemon  4.608kB
Step 1/2 : FROM ubuntu:18.04
 ---> 72300a873c2c
Step 2/2 : ENTRYPOINT [ "/app/entrypoint.sh" ]
 ---> Using cache
 ---> 23e7c598eb3e
Successfully built 23e7c598eb3e
Successfully tagged dummy:latest
CONTAINER ID        IMAGE               COMMAND                CREATED                  STATUS                  PORTS               NAMES
f2b0480d5daf        dummy:latest        "/app/entrypoint.sh"   Less than a second ago   Up Less than a second                       dummy

Then you can execute docker exec -it dummy bash and “lift” yourself into the Docker context:

$ docker exec -it dummy bash

Type exit to drop out of the Docker context:

root@hostname:/# exit

I was going to describe the step-by-step process of how I arrived at this solution, but I felt maybe I can highlight the key points instead and let Docker’s documentation handle the rest:

  • Dockerfile describes the base image and tag for the core environment, and has an entrypoint in order to execute runtime contexts on a container basis in addition to an image basis.

  • entrypoint.sh keeps the container running, and provides an environment to add additional commands.

  • run.sh sets up the docker build and docker run process, and overwrites any older containers that might have the same container name. Tracing this file should result in absolute paths for the two core dependencies that are required on the host.

Pros / cons


  • It’s god-awful simple to get started, and extend in whatever direction you need. I’ve found that it’s the simple abstractions that last. You can add or remove a shared volume, expose certain port mappings as opposed to using --network=host, use a different base like centos:7, and do anything you need to in order to get your MVP working.

    I personally find this process much better than having to bend a tutorial to suit a simplistic ops process. For example, many “build an app” tutorials use SQLite instead of PostgreSQL, which makes it difficult for me to apply some of those teachings to PostgreSQL, since it’s an entirely different SQL ecosystem. Why not start off with something like this, and add PostgreSQL instead?

  • If you add as much logic to the Dockerfile proper, as opposed to entrypoint.sh, Docker will automatically cache the build process to make it quite fast. The build process will also be reproducible, and logs will appear in stdout that you can pipe to a persisted log.txt file or similar.

  • You can hot-modify files in directories in shared Docker volumes from the host – that is, the changes will appear in a live-running Docker context without needing to do any kind of manual refresh operation. So I can write a test in directory tests/ (shared Docker volume) in Visual Studio Code (with my specially-tuned configuration) on my host, and inside my Docker context, run python manage.py test and see an additional test passing or failing. This effectively removes my incentive to learn Vagrant, another framework to make development frameworks easy to use.

  • This workflow makes it easy to build out systems that could be readily deployable. This minimizes time-to-ship, which for MVPs may be crucial to shortening user feedback loops. I’m currently looking at AWS Elastic Beanstalk (EB), which I believe runs on AWS Elastic Container Service (ECS), because I can’t directly use AWS Relational Database Service (RDS) due to lack of support for a critical PostgreSQL extension. If I can reference an EC2 instance to act as a database (which I think I should), it will make deploying this project so much easier.


  • This breaks the fundamental Docker creed of “one container per process”. I’m starting a bunch of processes using & or service before calling tail -f /dev/null.

    I personally plan on working around this problem by separating out concerns once complexity reaches a certain point (e.g. I want to move away from a monolithic stack, and add scale-out for my backend, or add high availability for my database). Then you can run a container with flask run as the core process, which will enable container orchestration tools to better understand what I’m actually trying to do.

  • Docker can be quirky at times. For example, when I first started off using Docker, I didn’t know that every build cache layer remains more or less independent of each other; therefore, a live process during the Docker build process isn’t possible (e.g. RUN service postgresql start will not result in a live database process running), and can only change a persisted resource (since resources can be shared across processes, which helps parallelize the build workload). So if you want to say alter a PostgreSQL password, you need to && a bunch of commands together, to start the server and change the persisted password, all in one step. This can result in inefficient workloads.

  • entrypoint.sh does not generate any kind of logs to the host stdout. stdout is captured by docker run, which captures the container’s stdout. If you want to keep the output for entrypoint.sh, you need to pipe it to a file inside the Docker container. This could get tricky. For example, piping stdout for Python processes requires source code mutation using the sys library.

  • I’m not sure if FreeBSD or OpenBSD have the notion of containers, and whether containers are tightly coupled to Linux. But I don’t think you can do docker pull freebsd. I checked the FreeBSD website and apparently Docker support there is broken. This means if you go with Docker to lock down your dependencies, it may not be portable across operating systems, and you may to reproduce your ops / build infra work.

    I really want to move my project to FreeBSD after everything is said and done. I’ve heard such good things. Hacker News user livueta talked favorably about FreeBSD in response to one query I had:

    Probably fits your requirements. One interesting thing to remember about FreeBSD is that a lot of commercial users of it use it as a base for enterprise appliances (think storage arrays, proxies, DPI boxes, etc). This means that the project as a whole is fairly beholden to these users, who provide a nice chunk of the project’s funding and many of its professional committers.

    As a result, the project is less focused on desktop use cases and free software/security at any cost ideology than on a) not breaking all the complicated crap built on top of it and b) providing drop-in perf and stability enhancements.

    So, yeah, if you want a performant network stack and a consolidated kernel/userland that values stability (both in the “years of uptime” and the no “hey guys, we’re jumping to systemd!” senses of the word) FreeBSD is a good option. As a bonus, FreeBSD’s manpages are really really nice and give you basically everything you need to get down and do some serious systems programming or box-tuning. Go check out man 7 tuning.

    Anecdotally, during my years as a sysadmin I ran a bunch of FreeBSD boxes alongside a bunch of Linux boxes - similar hardware, similar tasks. The FreeBSD boxes would routinely run for literal years without a hiccup, while we never got a similar level of stability from any other OS.

    This limitation isn’t a deal-breaker for me. I would hope that the project looks like a set of sourced dependencies (or otherwise an offline-first package archive), that I could package as RPM or .deb files, that I could then deploy in a handful of lines using sudo dpkg -i $PKG_NAME or similar. Having a build process that could generate those assets for me should make it trivial to support FreeBSD.

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