Monday, March 23, 2015

Using Docker to deploy Java Web Applications

Docker has fast become a favorite deployment format.  For those of you who haven't used Docker, Docker is "package once, run anywhere".  Docker does for software what shipping containers do for tangible goods.  It has standard connection mechanisms for disk and networking.  Additionally, it's easy to link Docker 'containers' together (eg link database Docker container with your application).

Advantages and Disadvantages

Not only is it a win for system administrators as it makes deployment management easier and more easily automated, but it's a win for Java developers and architects too.  As the applications environment is portable and is packaged with your application, environment-specific problems and defects are greatly reduced. What runs in production is more like what you test with.  In addition since your application runs with its own version of java and the operating system, you can upgrade your JDK and any native code you rely on with less fear of impacting other applications or even involving system administrators to make the native software change. 

Getting past the hype, there are costs and disadvantages to using Docker.  Running Docker and its associated tools is much easier on Linux; Windows has limited support.  This fact creates inconveniences in most corporate environments where most development occurs on Windows.  Yes, there is boot2docker, but that solution is far from complete or convenient.  Platform differences also present issues adding maven functionality to produce docker images; maven builds are supposed to be platform independent.  Additionally, Docker does have a learning curve.

Some may fear performance issues with an additional virtualization layer.  IBM did a good study showing the performance impact to be negligible.   All in all, the advantages of using Docker outweigh the costs.

A Java EE / Docker Example

As it turns out, producing a deployable docker image for Java Web application is easy.  I leverage a packaging product such as Dropwizard or Spring Boot to make such deployments even easier.  That said, Tomcat and many other containers have official Docker images available, so this step isn't strictly required.

As an example, I'll use a microservice I'm writing for a series of presentations called Moneta, named after the Greek goddess of memory.  Moneta provides a Restful web service interface to selected portions of a relational database.

Artifacts for the Moneta product include a Dropwizard deployment for which I've defined a Docker image, which I've open sourced (here).  I'll briefly go through the example as you might find it useful.

Sample Docker File

FROM java:7-jre

MAINTAINER Derek C. Ashmore

#  External volume definitions
RUN mkdir /jarlib
VOLUME /jarlib
RUN mkdir /config
VOLUME /config
RUN mkdir /logs
VOLUME /logs

RUN curl -SL "$MONETA_URL" -o moneta-dropwizard.jar

ENV CLASSPATH /config:/jarlib/*.jar:moneta-dropwizard.jar

EXPOSE 8080 8081

ENTRYPOINT ["java", "-classpath", "$CLASSPATH", "-jar", "moneta-dropwizard.jar", "server", "/config/moneta-dropwizard.yaml"]

Docker files are scripts that produce runnable Docker images.  A couple of items to note.  In a Docker file, you expose ports and disk volumes to the outside world.  I've exposed certain ports within the Docker container, but system administrators can map those ports differently when the container is run.  For example, admins might map 8080 to 9125.  In other words, the admins still need to coordinate ports; that is still managed outside Docker.

Additionally, I've created and exposed three file mount points.  Admins map those volumes to physical disk when they run the container.  I've elected to make the product configurable and extensible.  The configuration and even additional jars can be supplied when the container is run.  I've also exposed a file system for logs so they can be processed by a log management application, such as Splunk or Logsplash.

Docker Application Run Example

Bottom line, it's possible to run the same Docker container in multiple contexts.  I can run different instances of Moneta against different databases and can horizontally scale it ad infinitum.

These mappings become evident in the command used to run the Moneta image.

docker run -d -p 8080:8080 -p 8081:8081 \ 
-v /c/Users/TheAshmores/moneta/dropwizard/config:/config \ 
-v /c/Users/TheAshmores/moneta/dropwizard/logs:/logs \ 
-v /c/Users/TheAshmores/moneta/dropwizard/jarlib:/jarlib \ 

There are other possibilities.  Docker recently announced a product called 'Compose' (here) that allows you to specify and configure multi-container applications.  This makes coordination of multiple containers much easier.  A compose discussion is best left for another post.


  1. Now finally i find the exact reason why we Use Docker to deploy Java Web Apps. Examples are also clear my concept. US web application development

  2. How is MONETA_URL defined?

    1. Hi -- the MONETA_URL is an environment variable defined in the first line in which it's used (the ENV line). It is then used in the next line in the RUN command. It would have been possible to consolidate the two lines and not define the variable at all, but that would have been slightly less readable - IMHO. Thanks for taking the time to read the post and ask questions.

  3. Thank you for sharing this knowledge in a blogpost.Really simple and even more effective and this worked great, very useful tips
    Informatica training in Hyderabad

  4. Before entering in the examination period student often counter assignment work and related assignment task. After getting through these tasks a student is eligible for taking exams.

  5. One log management solution worth mentioning is NXLog - check here: - it's open source and free to download, and it is able to provide high performance even when scaling up to thousands of servers. A great option among the log management solutions.

  6. Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! web-agency