Pluggable Tools with Docker Data Containers

There are some apps that have a simple installation process. When using them with other applications in Docker, they may be able to be installed in their own data volume container and used in a pluggable way.

The kind of apps I’m talking about are some Java apps (and in fact, Java itself) which follow this installation process:

  1. Install the contents of the app into a single directory
  2. Set an environmental variable to point to the installation directory, e.g. XXX_HOME
  3. Add the executables of the app to the PATH environmental


That’s it.

An example of an app installation that follows this pattern is Gradle:

  1. Uncompress the Gradle files from an archive to a directory.
  2. Set the enviromental variable GRADLE_HOME to point to the gradle installation directory
  3. Add GRADLE_HOME/bin to the PATH



Using Gradle as an example, here is a Dockerfile that installs it in a data volume container:

# Install Gradle as a data volume container. 
# The app container that uses this container will need to set the Gradle environmental variables.
# - set GRADLE_HOME to the gradle installation directory
# - add the /bin directory under the gradle directory to the PATH

FROM mini/base


# setup location for installation

# install Gradle version required

RUN curl -L -O${GRADLE_VERSION} && \
    unzip -qo gradle-${GRADLE_VERSION} && \
    rm -rf gradle-${GRADLE_VERSION}
# to make the container more portable, the installation directory name is changed from the default
# gradle-${GRADLE_VERSION} to just gradle, with the version number stored in a text file for reference
# e.g. instead of /opt/gradle-2.2.1, the directory will be /opt/gradle

RUN mv gradle-${GRADLE_VERSION} gradle && \
    echo ${GRADLE_VERSION} > gradle/version

# echo to make it easy to grep
CMD /bin/sh -c '/bin/echo Data container for Gradle'

(From github

Build the image and container from the Dockerfile. Here I’ve tagged the image with the version number of the Gradle installation, and named the container gradle-2.2.1.

docker build -t yourrepo/gradle:2.2.1 .

docker run -i -t --name gradle-2.2.1 yourrepo/gradle:2.2.1

A few things to note about this installation:

  • I have changed the directory name where Gradle is installed from the default, by removing the version number in order to make it generic.
  • no environmental variables have been set, that will be done later
  • you can use any minimal image as the basis for the container, it justs need curl or wget in order to download the Gradle archive file

Now we have the Gradle installation in a docker data volume that can be persisted and shared by other containers.

You can then repeat this process with difference versions of Gradle to create separate data containers for each version (of course giving the containers different names, e.g. gradle-2.2.1, gradle-1.9, etc).

Use Case

I originally got this idea when I was running my Jenkins CI docker container. Some of the Jenkins builds required Gradle 2.x while others were using Gradle 1.x.

So instead of building multiple Jenkins + Gradle images for the different versions of Gradle required, I can now just run the Jenkins container with the appropriate Gradle data container. This is done by using –volumes-from to get access to the Gradle installation directory and setting the require environmental variables.

To use the data container with Gradle 2.2.1 installed:

docker run -i -t --volumes-from gradle-2.2.1 -e GRADLE_HOME=/opt/gradle -e PATH=/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin:/opt/gradle/bin myjenkins</pre>

To use the one with Gradle 1.9:

docker run -i -t --volumes-from gradle-1.9 -e GRADLE_HOME=/opt/gradle -e PATH=/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin:/opt/gradle/bin myjenkins</pre>

Of course there are limitations to this technique since Docker data volume containers were designed to share persistant data rather than application installs. In particular they do not allow sharing of environmental variables.

However this work around that can be useful in some circumstances.