Example multi-tiered application that runs as a series of Docker containers.
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This repo is a example multi-tiered application that runs as a set of Docker containers. The application is built using nginx as a reverse proxy to handle client requests, two Python based Flask apps to process requests, and a MongoDB database for persistence. As illustrated below, each component runs as its own Docker container.

Instructions for building these images from included Dockerfiles are below. The images are also automatically built and available on Docker Hub at https://registry.hub.docker.com/u/lbracken.

                             +--> |  app1   |
             +---------+    /     +---------+     +---------+
(Client) --> |  nginx  | --+----> |  app2   | --> | MongoDB |
             +---------+          +---------+     +---------+

Working from right to left...


Docker Hub provides and maintains official images for many popular applications, including MongoDB. So we can just pull down the latest mongo image from Docker Hub and start it up. By default all data is stored inside this container.

$ docker run -d --name mongo mongo

For more information on this image see: https://registry.hub.docker.com/_/mongo/

app1 & app2

Both app1 and app2 are very basic Flask apps. app2 takes the additional step of persisting data in MongoDB. We want to create a Docker image for both app1 and app2.

However, instead of building two similiar Docker images for each app, let's first create a generic base image they can each extend. flask-uwsgi is that base image. It will install the required packages and dependencies to run a Flask application using the uWSGI application server. The builtin Flask server is great for development, but isn't recommended for production use. uWSGI is fast, light, production ready and interfaces well with nginx. For more info see: http://flask.pocoo.org/docs/0.10/deploying/uwsgi/ and http://uwsgi-docs.readthedocs.org/en/latest/. Be sure to also read the Dockerfile for app1, app2 and flask-uwsgi to learn more about the setup.

To build the base image...

$ docker build -t="lbracken/flask-uwsgi" flask-uwsgi

Build images for app1 and app2 from this base image...

$ docker build -t="lbracken/docker-example-app1" app1
$ docker build -t="lbracken/docker-example-app2" app2

Start app1 and app2 containers... (notice we link app2 to our running mongo container)

$ docker run -d -P --name app1 lbracken/docker-example-app1
$ docker run -d -P --name app2 --link mongo:db lbracken/docker-example-app2

The next logic step is to access and test out app1 and app2. The quick way to do that is to jump ahead and start up the nginx container. Right now we can't just access them with a browser. The reason is that by default we've asked uWSGI to run with the socket option which means it's just speaking the uwsig protocol. This is ideal for performance when we have a uwsgi capable webserver in front of it (like nginx). If we want the uWSGI server to response to HTTP requests, then we need to run with the http option. See the the Dockerfiles for more details on how to switch this. For more info see: https://uwsgi-docs.readthedocs.org/en/latest/WSGIquickstart.html.


Docker Hub also provides an official image for nginx, so we'll start from that. We just need the image to use our custom nginx config files. One option is to mount the config files via a Docker volume. But let's just build our own nginx image, extending form the official image, to keep everything self contained and portable.

So what's in this custom nginx config? The primary config file, nginx.conf, provides basic info about how nginx should run. We haven't changed much here, though certain deployments may need to. The second config file, docker-example.nginx.conf, is more interesting. It contains configuration specific to our application. In this file you'll find some location directives that tell nginx how to route requests to certain URLs. For example...

location /app1/ {
    include uwsgi_params;
    uwsgi_pass app1:5000;
    uwsgi_intercept_errors on;        
    uwsgi_param SCRIPT_NAME /app1;
    uwsgi_modifier1 30;

location /app1/static {
    alias /var/www/app1-static;

The first location directive will route all requests with the URL path /app1/ to a uwsgi server on the container app1 on the port 5000. (If were running app1 with the uWSGI http option instead of the socket option, we'd need to use proxy_pass here, but uwsgi_pass is more efficient). The second location directive will allow nginx to directly serve all resources on the URL path /app1/static/. This is more efficient than having nginx ask our uWSGI server for static resources, and why we took the trouble of exposing a volume on app1 and app2 and mount it in our nginx container.

For more on nginx configuration see http://wiki.nginx.org/Configuration and http://uwsgi-docs.readthedocs.org/en/latest/Nginx.html.

To build our nginx image...

$ docker build -t="lbracken/docker-example-nginx" nginx

Start our nginx container. We link it to the app1 and app2 containers, and also mount volumes in these containers which contain static resources that nginx will directly serve up.

$ docker run -d -p 80:80 --name nginx --link app1:app1 --volumes-from app1:ro --link app2:app2 --volumes-from app2:ro lbracken/docker-example-nginx 

We can now access our nginx container and app1 and app2 with a browser by going to http://localhost, http://localhost/app1 and http://localhost/app2. If using boot2docker, you'll need to access the boot2docker IP instead of localhost. To find that IP...

$ boot2docker ip

Running all containers on AWS Container Service

Amazon Web Services has rolled out a new container service (ECS) that allows you to manage and run a set of Docker containers on EC2 instances. The service is now GA and no longer requires an invite. The ECS developer guide is a great resource for getting started and using the service: http://docs.aws.amazon.com/AmazonECS/latest/developerguide/ECS_GetStarted.html.

A task-definition that runs this docker-example application is provided in this repo, see: aws-task-definition.json.