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8. Applying Extensions to Docker Images

Date: 2017-12-18




One of the main advantages of Docker images is their immutability. This means once an image has been tested and verified there is a high confidence it will work as intended in other environments as it doesn't change.

Alfresco allows the core product to the enhanced via external modules in the form of AMPs or simple JARs.

This results in two big problems, how do we release containers with every combination of AMP available and how do customers apply their own extensions?

We have three options; apply extensions at build time (thus retaining the immutability advantage), apply extensions at runtime using a mechanism that doesn't change the contents of the container or apply extensions as the container initializes (breaking immutability).

Applying extensions at build time means we will be forcing customers to build their own images depending on which official and custom extensions they require.

However, there are a number of disadvantages of applying extensions at runtime; The immutability advantage is lost (the WAR file is changed), an extension could fail to apply and prevent the container from starting, it has the potential to introduce performance issues as the AMP or JAR has to be fetched and applied and finally it opens a potential security hole as code can be applied to a container via a simple environment variable.

We investigated potential approaches to keep the main container immutable by using volumes and initContainers but this increases the complexity of the solution and doesn't resolve all the issues outlined above.


We will proceed with the build time option as there are a number of disadvantages to applying extensions at runtime, customers are already used to applying their own extensions and they're having to learn a new deployment mechanism anyway.

We will release a small number of images with and without common AMPs applied.


Only supporting extensions applied at build time will require customers to build their own images if they have custom extensions or we don't ship an image with the required combination of extensions.

To mitigate the additional complexity for customers we will provide scripts and clear documentation on how to build their own images to meet their requirements.