How to Build and Run your apps using Docker Compose

Docker compose, formerly known as Fig,  is a tool which can define and run complex applications using Docker. Basically it does the job of creating multiple containers and links between them.

Using Docker Compose requires defining the environment required for your app using a Dockerfile and the services required for the app in a '.yml' file. One can then use a single command to create and start all the services from the configuration file. In this writeup, we will learn how to install and use compose on Ubuntu 15.10. We will also touch upon how to run your app using it.


The prerequisite to installing Docker Compose is Docker Engine.  If you have not already installed Docker Engine, here are the quick steps for the same:

$ sudo apt-get update

$ sudo apt-get install linux-image-extra-$(uname -r)

$ sudo apt-get install docker-engine

To verify if the Docker installation was successful, let us run a hello-world program:

$sudo docker run hello-world

poornima@BNPTHKPD:~$ sudo docker run hello-world
Unable to find image 'hello-world:latest' locally
latest: Pulling from library/hello-world
03f4658f8b78: Pull complete
a3ed95caeb02: Pull complete
Digest: sha256:8be990ef2aeb16dbcb9271ddfe2610fa6658d13f6dfb8bc72074cc1ca36966a7
Status: Downloaded newer image for hello-world:latest

Hello from Docker.
This message shows that your installation appears to be working correctly.


Now to install Compose, execute the following curl command in the terminal:

$ curl -L`uname -s`-`uname -m`/usr/local/bin/docker-compose

Set executable permissions to the binary

$ chmod +x /usr/local/bin/docker-compose

Verify if the installation is complete:

$docker compose --version

root@BNPTHKPD:/home/poornima# docker-compose --version
docker-compose version 1.7.0, build 0d7bf73

Docker compose commands

Before we go ahead and learn how to run your applications using Compose, let me introduce you to some of its important commands.

Syntax for docker-compose command is

docker-compose [-f=...] [options] [commands] [args]

One can verify the version of docker-compose using:

docker-compose  -v, --version

When used with 'ps' command, it lists the available containers

docker-compose ps

You can create and start your containers using the 'up' command and adding '-d' option will run the containers in the background

docker-compose up -d

Listed below are some more commands that can be used with docker-compose:

build -  to build services

pause / unpause  -  pause and unpause services

stop -  stop services

restart - restart services

rm  - remove stopped containers

logs - view output from containers

help - to get help on a command

Building and Running your app

In this section, we will focus on building a simple Python web application and running it using Docker Compose.


Let us first create a directory for our app.

poornima@BNPTHKPD:~$ mkdir dockcompose
poornima@BNPTHKPD:~$ cd dockcompose/

We will now create a Hello World web application using the Flask framework in this directory with the following contents:

from flask import Flask

app = Flask(__name__)
def hello_world():
return 'Hello World using Docker Compose'

if __name__ == '__main__':,host='')

Create a requirements.txt file in the same project directory containing the following:


In the next step, we need to create a Docker image containing all the dependencies that the Python application needs.

Creating a Docker Image

For this, create a file called Dockerfile again in the project directory with the following contents:

FROM python:2.7

ADD . /code


RUN pip install -r requirements.txt

CMD python

This file informs Docker to build an image using Python 2.7, add the directory '.' into the path '/code' in the image,  set the working directory to /code,  install Python dependencies as mentioned in the requirements.txt file and set the default command of the container to 'python'

We will now build the image.

$ docker build -t web .

poornima@BNPTHKPD:~/dockcompose$ sudo docker build -t web .
Sending build context to Docker daemon 5.632 kB
Step 1 : FROM python:2.7
---> a3b29970a425
Step 2 : ADD . /code
---> 855e1a126850
Removing intermediate container 2e713165c053
Step 3 : WORKDIR /code
---> Running in 431e3f52f421
---> 157b4cffd6df
Removing intermediate container 431e3f52f421
Step 4 : RUN pip install -r requirements.txt
---> Running in 07c294591a76
Collecting Flask==0.10.1 (from -r requirements.txt (line 1))
Downloading Flask-0.10.1.tar.gz (544kB)
Collecting Werkzeug>=0.7 (from Flask==0.10.1->-r requirements.txt (line 1))
Downloading Werkzeug-0.11.8-py2.py3-none-any.whl (306kB)
Collecting Jinja2>=2.4 (from Flask==0.10.1->-r requirements.txt (line 1))
Downloading Jinja2-2.8-py2.py3-none-any.whl (263kB)
Collecting itsdangerous>=0.21 (from Flask==0.10.1->-r requirements.txt (line 1))
Downloading itsdangerous-0.24.tar.gz (46kB)
Collecting MarkupSafe (from Jinja2>=2.4->Flask==0.10.1->-r requirements.txt (line 1))
Downloading MarkupSafe-0.23.tar.gz
Building wheels for collected packages: Flask, itsdangerous, MarkupSafe
Running bdist_wheel for Flask: started
Running bdist_wheel for Flask: finished with status 'done'
Stored in directory: /root/.cache/pip/wheels/d2/db/61/cb9b80526b8f3ba89248ec0a29d6da1bb6013681c930fca987
Running bdist_wheel for itsdangerous: started
Running bdist_wheel for itsdangerous: finished with status 'done'
Stored in directory: /root/.cache/pip/wheels/97/c0/b8/b37c320ff57e15f993ba0ac98013eee778920b4a7b3ebae3cf
Running bdist_wheel for MarkupSafe: started
Running bdist_wheel for MarkupSafe: finished with status 'done'
Stored in directory: /root/.cache/pip/wheels/94/a7/79/f79a998b64c1281cb99fa9bbd33cfc9b8b5775f438218d17a7
Successfully built Flask itsdangerous MarkupSafe
Installing collected packages: Werkzeug, MarkupSafe, Jinja2, itsdangerous, Flask
Successfully installed Flask-0.10.1 Jinja2-2.8 MarkupSafe-0.23 Werkzeug-0.11.8 itsdangerous-0.24
---> 9ef07d3ed698
Removing intermediate container 07c294591a76
Step 5 : CMD python
---> Running in ac5ce91ddc85
---> 65d218cbea14
Removing intermediate container ac5ce91ddc85
Successfully built 65d218cbea14
poornima@BNPTHKPD:~/dockcompose$ sudo docker-compose up
Starting dockcompose_web_1
Attaching to dockcompose_web_1
web_1 | * Running on (Press CTRL+C to quit)
web_1 | * Restarting with stat
web_1 | * Debugger is active!
web_1 | * Debugger pin code: 151-559-328
web_1 | - - [19/Apr/2016 08:17:43] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200 -
web_1 | - - [19/Apr/2016 08:17:43] "GET /favicon.ico HTTP/1.1" 404 -

This command can automatically locate the required Dockerfile, requirements.txt and files and builds the image 'web' by using them.

Services files

Different services to be used in your app should be put together in a file called docker-compose.yml. The service file for our python HelloWorld app looks like the following:

build: .
- "5000:5000"

The above file is defining the web service which builds from the current directory and forwards the container's exposed port 5000 to port 5000 on the host.

Running the app

Now let's go to the project directory and run the app:

$docker-compose up

In order to view the app running, point your web browser to the following:

Here is how your browser displays the message for you:

Running an app using Docker Compose

More commands

Let us try out some commands to see how they work.

Note: All the docker compose commands should be run from the directory that contains docker-compose.yml

To run your services in the background, use '-d' option.

poornima@BNPTHKPD:~/dockcompose$ sudo docker-compose up -d
Starting dockcompose_web_1

To list all the containers, use the 'ps' option.

poornima@BNPTHKPD:~/dockcompose$ sudo docker-compose ps
Name Command State Ports
dockcompose_web_ /bin/sh -c Up>50
1 python 00/tcp

To take a look at the environment variables available in the configured service (in this case, web), use the 'env' option.

poornima@BNPTHKPD:~/dockcompose$ sudo docker-compose run web env

In order to stop containers, use the 'stop' option:

poornima@BNPTHKPD:~/dockcompose$ sudo docker-compose stop
Stopping dockcompose_web_1 ... done

You can pause and unpause them using the 'pause' and 'unpause' option.

poornima@BNPTHKPD:~/dockcompose$ sudo docker-compose pause
Pausing dockcompose_web_1 ... done

poornima@BNPTHKPD:~/dockcompose$ sudo docker-compose ps
Name Command State Ports
dockcompose_web_ /bin/sh -c Paused>50
1 python 00/tcp

poornima@BNPTHKPD:~/dockcompose$ sudo docker-compose unpause
Unpausing dockcompose_web_1 ... done

Use the 'kill' command to stop all containers in one go.

$ sudo docker-compose kill

Compose logs can be reviewed using 'log' command.

$ sudo docker-compose logs

If one needs help to list all the available commands / options, use the help command.

poornima@BNPTHKPD:~/dockcompose$ sudo docker-compose --help
Define and run multi-container applications with Docker.

docker-compose [-f=...] [options] [COMMAND] [ARGS...] docker-compose -h|--help

-f, --file FILE Specify an alternate compose file (default: docker-compose.yml)
-p, --project-name NAME Specify an alternate project name (default: directory name)
--verbose Show more output
-v, --version Print version and exit
-H, --host HOST Daemon socket to connect to

--tls Use TLS; implied by --tlsverify
--tlscacert CA_PATH Trust certs signed only by this CA
--tlscert CLIENT_CERT_PATH Path to TLS certificate file
--tlskey TLS_KEY_PATH Path to TLS key file
--tlsverify Use TLS and verify the remote
--skip-hostname-check Don't check the daemon's hostname against the name specified
in the client certificate (for example if your docker host
is an IP address)

build Build or rebuild services
config Validate and view the compose file
create Create services
down Stop and remove containers, networks, images, and volumes
events Receive real time events from containers
exec Execute a command in a running container
help Get help on a command
kill Kill containers
logs View output from containers
pause Pause services
port Print the public port for a port binding
ps List containers
pull Pulls service images
restart Restart services
rm Remove stopped containers
run Run a one-off command
scale Set number of containers for a service
start Start services
stop Stop services
unpause Unpause services
up Create and start containers
version Show the Docker-Compose version information


Docker Compose is a wonderful tool to easily build a feature rich and scalable app. With its capabilities and simplicity, it is quite useful as a development tool. For more information on the tool and on building apps, please visit its official page

About B N Poornima

She is a Linux professional working on Linux and open source since 2003. She loves blogging, travelling, photography and music.

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