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Conceptual image of international logistics, featuring a docker, looking at the unloading of a container ship by huge cranes in the
Conceptual image of international logistics, featuring a docker, looking at the unloading of a container ship by huge cranes in the

How the Docker Revolution Will Change Your Programming, Part 1

Since 2013, Docker (an operating system inside your current operating system) has grown rapidly in popularity

As businesses move more and more infrastructure online due to the effects of competition (not to mention COVID-19), finding the best way to manage that infrastructure becomes more and more important. Docker enables development teams to have more reliable, repeatable, and testable systems that can be deployed at massive scale with the click of a button. In this series, we are looking under the hood at Docker, an infrastructure management tool that has rapidly grown in popularity over the last decade.

A new infrastructure element has been quietly taking over for managing server-side code deployments. Docker was first released in 2013, and has seen an exponential rise in usage for developer deployments. Over the last seven years, Docker has quietly become the de facto standard for massive-scale deployments.

What Is Docker?

If you’re not familiar with it, Docker sits in a strange position in the technology toolchain. It isn’t something you develop with. In fact, as a developer, you may never touch Docker. It isn’t an operating system that you run things on. You still run on your normal server-side operating systems such as Linux. It isn’t a hardware technology, either.

Docker is a “container” system. Essentially, Docker wraps up both the application and the operating system into a single bundle that can be easily deployed anywhere. When it is deployed, it runs not as the primary system for the machine but as a process within your current operating system. That’s right; you run an operating system inside your current operating system.

What Problems Does Docker Solve?

Docker solves two huge problems for deployments. The first is configuration management. Because Docker packages up both the operating system and the application into a single bundle, it allows for testing the app in the configuration in which it is going to run when deployed on the server. Historically, developers have faced the problem of relying on a tool that isn’t available on the server or a version of something that is different on the server. With Docker, both the operating system and the application are saved together before deployment, so the developer can be sure not only of his code, but of the environment that it is running in.

The second problem is infrastructure management. Because Docker containers run as a process under the main operating system, you can run multiple containers on a single machine. This means that, instead of choosing the exact right size for each machine, you can simply provision a large machine and run several Docker containers on that machine. If you need more horsepower for one of your containers, you can simply move it to a new machine.

Additionally, Docker containers are becoming the standard for other infrastructure management tools. Amazon Web Services, which started out with its own container-like tool (Elastic Beanstalk), has been pushing Docker containers lately with their Elastic Container Service.

Kubernetes, the open-source cloud management system, can also run using containers, and is available on Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, Linode, and many other hosting services.

Seaport distribution

Does Docker Use a Lot of Disk Space?

You might think packaging up an entire operating system and shipping it to a server uses a lot of disk space. Sometimes, in fact, it does. However, Docker containers usually only contain the minimum necessary to run the application. In fact, some Docker applications don’t need any of the operating system to run! For some programming environments (such as the Go programming language), the application and all its dependencies can be bundled together in a relatively small package that doesn’t rely on any other operating system files. Thus, the container can be as small as 20MB. Other containers, which require more of the operating system or themselves contain more files, can run into the gigabyte range.

However, even with larger containers, Docker has a mechanism to limit the amount of space required by multiple containers running on the same system.

In the next installment, we will look at the technology underlying Docker and a short history of the developments that led to it. Then, we will show a few short examples of how to build and run Docker images. Finally, we will show how to build and deploy a small application using Docker.

Read the rest in the series:

Part 2: A Peek Under the Covers at the New Docker Technology. Many advances enable Docker to significantly reduce a system’s overhead. Docker, over and above the basic container technology, also provides a well-defined system of container management.

Part 3: Working With Docker: An Interactive Tutorial. Docker gives development teams more reliable, repeatable, and testable systems, deployed at massive scale with the click of a button. In this installment (Part 3), we look at the commands needed to start and run Docker, beginning with containers.

Part 4: Docker – An Introduction to Container Orchestration. This tutorial will focus on Docker’s swarm because it comes installed with Docker and uses the same standard Docker files. By splitting the app into different containers for each service, we can choose how our app scales and even scale different parts in differing amounts.

Further reading: You can build your own chatbot. New tools have made it comparatively easy.

Jonathan Bartlett

Senior Fellow, Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Jonathan Bartlett is a senior software R&D engineer at Specialized Bicycle Components, where he focuses on solving problems that span multiple software teams. Previously he was a senior developer at ITX, where he developed applications for companies across the US. He also offers his time as the Director of The Blyth Institute, focusing on the interplay between mathematics, philosophy, engineering, and science. Jonathan is the author of several textbooks and edited volumes which have been used by universities as diverse as Princeton and DeVry.

How the Docker Revolution Will Change Your Programming, Part 1