Slightly Ahead of Behind the Curve

Brain droppings found here.

Mar 10, 2016 - 5 minute read - Comments

Run Dependency Services in Docker

My current primary project is a Rails app that depends on PostgreSQL and Redis. I used to run those services directly on my Mac OS development workstation, but didn’t like the untidiness of having services I wasn’t using all the time running all the time. Or that the default install might leave the services listening on all interfaces so that everyone in the coffee shop could poke at my test data. (Nah. I’ve got a firewall and so should you.) I figured, “Hey, I could use Docker to cordon these services off.”

Docker, so hot right now

Prepare Your App

First, I had to make sure my config files would be happy with the usual defaults of services running on localhost.


For PostgreSQL, we update the database configuration to accept an IP address from an environment variable, otherwise use localhost as it did before.

# config/database.yml
  adapter: postgresql
  database: derelicte_development
  host: <%= ENV['POSTGRES_IP'] || 'localhost' %>
  pool: 30

  adapter: postgresql
  database: derelicte_test
  host: <%= ENV['POSTGRES_IP'] || 'localhost' %>

NOTE: We will still need a version of PostgreSQL installed—but not services running—on the local filesystem for development libraries to be available to be able to build the pg gem. Configure bundler to know where to find PostgreSQL libraries. For example, we have PostgreSQL installed via Homebrew, so we run the following to configure bundler:

$ bundle config --with-pg-config=/usr/local/bin/pg_config


Our application had long received the Redis connection information via an environment variable in an initializer.

# config/initializers/redis.rb
# ...
  redis_url = ENV['REDIS_URL'] || 'redis://localhost:6379/0/derelicte'
# ...

Services in Docker

With the application configurable by environment variables (but with sensible defaults), we can move on to installing Docker and getting the services running.

Docker Prerequisites

Docker on a Mac requires some sort of hypervisor—like Virtualbox or VMware—to run a Linux virtual machine (VM) which supports the container features Docker uses. Virtualbox is the easiest to get started with.

  • Download and install Virtualbox.

  • Install docker-machine and docker. With Homebrew:

# install the things
$ brew install docker docker-machine
  • Create a docker-machine VM on which to run Docker services. The following command assumes your hypervisor is VirtualBox and that you will name this host “default”.
# create the docker-machine VM
$ docker-machine create --driver virtualbox default
  • Set the environment variables for the application configuration. This can be done by hand or we can automate the setup with something like direnv. See Closer to Environmental Bliss with Direnv for more on direnv.
# environment setup
eval $(docker-machine env default)
export DOCKER_IP=$(docker-machine ip default)
export REDIS_URL="redis://${DOCKER_IP}:6379/0/derelicte"

Manage the Services

Now we can use docker to control the Docker services running in the default Docker Machine VM. Now we can actually run PostgreSQL and Redis.

# test docker command
$ docker info

That should return lots of information about the running Docker services in the VM.

# start postgresql
$ docker run \
      --detach=true \
      --env POSTGRES_USER=$USER  \
      --publish 5432:5432 \
      --name derelicte-pg \
# start redis
$ docker run \
      --detach=true \
      --publish 6379:6379 \
      --name derelicte-redis \

These docker run commands retrieve already configured container images from DockerHub and runs them. Ports are forwarded from the running containers to the Docker Machine VM’s network interface. The commands are a bit long, so I recommend scripting them, possibly by adding them to a rake task like setup:docker. Maybe go a step further and have a rake task that chains the docker runs with db:create, db:migrate, db:test:prepare.

# check on running containers
$ docker ps
CONTAINER ID        IMAGE               COMMAND                  CREATED             STATUS              PORTS                    NAMES
9ca2dbac647e        redis:3.0           "/ redis"   4 seconds ago       Up 3 seconds>6379/tcp   derelicte-redis
5009b1db0c08        postgres:9.3        "/docker-entrypoint.s"   4 seconds ago       Up 3 seconds>5432/tcp   derelicte-pg

At this point, with the application configured and the services running, we can start running tests and a development server on the workstation. PostgreSQL and Redis are safely listening on a host-only interface on the Docker Machine VM. To scrap the services and start fresh, stop the containers individually.

# blow away the database and redis containers - WILL LOSE DATA
$ docker rm -f derelicte-redis
$ docker rm -f derelicte-pg
$ docker ps
CONTAINER ID        IMAGE               COMMAND             CREATED             STATUS              PORTS               NAMES

Then, if those run commands are in a rake task:

# run those containers again
$ time be rake setup:docker
# lotsa output
bundle exec rake setup:docker  2.61s user 0.93s system 91% cpu 3.868 total

$ time be rake db:create db:migrate db:seed db:test:prepare
# a lot more output
bundle exec rake db:create db:migrate db:seed db:test:prepare  4.41s user 1.64s system 73% cpu 8.175 total

Aww yeah, 4 second recreate and 8 second setup and we’re ready to test.

It&rsquo;s beautiful!

We can blow away the entire Docker Machine VM for even more pave-the-earth destruction, but this will destroy all the containers in that VM and will lengthen the next startup because images will need to be downloaded from DockerHub again. Beware if using the same Docker Machine for more than one project.

# destroy and recreate the docker machine
$ docker-machine rm default
About to remove default
Are you sure? (y/n): y
Successfully removed default

$ docker-machine create -d virtualbox default

We should reinitialize the environment variables set earlier—super handy if you control them with direnv: direnv reload—because the docker-machine IP may have changed after being recreated.


Closer to Environmental Bliss with direnv Computing a Version for a Habitat Package

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