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BOINC project cookbook (with boinc-server-docker)

This guide will show you how to create your own BOINC project with boinc-server-docker.

boinc-server-docker packages up all of the dependencies of a BOINC project into a Docker application, making it extremely easy and fast to set up. You don't need to know anything about Docker to use boinc-server-docker, its fairly easy to pick up the few pieces you need to know along the way. This guide will assume you don't know anything about Docker.

Once you have your server running, there a few ways to develop and run your code on it. This guide describes only the easiest way to do so, which is to use the boinc2docker tool that comes preinstalled on boinc-server-docker. This will involve packaging your application code inside a Docker container, a fairly simple task which we will describe. It assumes your code runs on Linux, and will automatically allow your code to run on Linux, Mac, and Windows 64bit volunteer computers.

boinc-server-docker was initially developed for Cosmology@Home. To see an example of a working project which is built on boinc-server-docker, see the Cosmology@Home source code.

Note on alternatives

There are other ways to run a server rather than using boinc-server-docker, for example installing the server software yourself, or using the prepackaged VM image. Although these will work, they require more expertise and configuration; boinc-server-docker works out of the box and otherwise has no limitations.

There are other ways to develop your applications too besides boinc2docker, for example compiling your code natively for each of the different platforms you wish to support (see e.g. the section Developing BOINC applications). You might want to do this if your application only compiles on Windows or Mac, or if you need GPU computing (which is currently not supported by boinc2docker apps). However, if neither of those are the case, boinc2docker applications are likely the easiest and fastest way to run your code (note the speed penalty due to the fact boinc2docker runs your code in a virtual machine is only 5-10%).


If you are hosting your server on a Linux machine, the requirements are,

(Note that Docker requires a 64-bit machine and Linux kernel newer than version 3.10)

If your are hosting your server on Windows/Mac, you should use either,

If you Windows/Mac system is too old to run either of those, you can use instead,

There are no other dependencies, as everything else is packaged inside of Docker.

The server itself runs Linux. On Windows/Mac, Docker does the job of transparently virtualizing a Linux machine for you. The commands given in this guide should be run from your system's native terminal, unless you are running Docker Toolbox, in which case they should be run from the "Docker Quickstart Terminal" (and on Windows you will need to add .exe to the end, e.g. docker.exe instead of docker).

Docker lightning intro

Docker is kind of like a virtual machine in that it packages up a program, its dependencies, and in fact an entire operating system, into a self contained and isolated unit. It's not actually a virtual machine though. For example, it doesn't run any slower than if you were running the programs natively.

Some terminology: A Docker image (like a virtual machine image) contains the operating system and its entire filesystem. Images have names that look like "debian" or "ubuntu:16.04". The part after the ":" specifies the version (the default is "latest", so "debian" and "debian:latest" are the same thing). A running image is called a container; you can run multiple containers from a given image (i.e. multiple instances). Unlike most virtual machines, when you stop a container, any changes to files are lost. To persist files between runs, Docker uses volumes. A Docker volume is just a folder. It can be mounted at any location inside a container, and it can be mounted in multiple containers at once. Files changed inside volumes are saved.

Finally, Docker provides a free public repository for hosting images called the Docker Hub. You pull and push images to and from Docker Hub. This is how we distribute the boinc-server-docker images. Most images on the Docker Hub start with a repository name, e.g. our repository is called "boinc" so the full image names look like "boinc/server_apache:latest".

Docker images are created by writing a Dockerfile which specifies a base image to start from and a set of normal Linux commands which are run ontop of the image to create a new one. When you create your own server, you will start from a base image provided by boinc-server-docker (which already includes all of the BOINC software), and you will write a Dockerfile which adds just your customizations, (e.g. your custom web pages, your applications, etc...)

Launching a test server

Before creating your real project, lets launch a sample test server to see how it works. To do this, get the boinc-server-docker source code,

git clone
cd boinc-server-docker

and then run,

docker-compose pull
docker-compose up -d

You now have a running BOINC server!


  • The first time you run this, it may take a few minutes after invoking the docker-compose up -d command before the server webpage appears.
  • Make sure your user is added to the docker group, otherwise the docker-compose and docker commands in this guide need to be run with sudo.
  • If using Docker Toolbox, replace the final command above with URL_BASE=$(docker-machine ip) docker-compose up -d. The server will be accessible at the IP returned by docker-machine ip rather than at

The server is made up of three Docker images,

  • boinc/server_mysql - This runs the MySQL server that holds your project's database. The database files are stored inside a volume called "boincserverdocker_mysql"
  • boinc/server_apache - This runs the Apache server that serves your project's webpage. It also runs all of the various backend daemons and programs which communicate with hosts that connect to your server.
  • boinc/server_makeproject - Unlike the other two images, this one doesn't remain running while your server is running. Instead, its run at the beginning to create your project's home folder. Your project's home folder contains things like your web pages, your applications, your job input files, etc... This folder is stored in a volume "boincserverdocker_project" and is mounted into the apache image after its created by this image.

The docker-compose program orchestrates Docker applications which involve multiple Docker images (like ours). The configuration and relation between the multiple images can be seen in the file docker-compose.yml.

If you wish to get a shell inside your server (sort of like ssh'ing into it), run docker-compose exec apache bash. From here you can run any one-time commands on your server, for example checking the server status (bin/status) or submitting some jobs with (bin/create_work ...; more on this later). However, remember that only the project folder is a volume, so any changes you make outside of this will disappear the next time you restart the server. In particular, any software installed with apt-get will disappear; the correct way to install anything into your server is discussed later.

Server URL

BOINC servers have their URL hardcoded, and will not function correctly unless they are actually accessible from this URL on the computer your are testing them from. By default, boinc-server-docker takes server URL to be, i.e. localhost. If you are running Docker natively and testing on your local machine this is the correct URL and you don't need to take any other action.

If this is not the case, for example if you are running Docker via Docker Machine instead of natively, or if you are running the server remotely, you will have to change the server URL. You can do so with the following command,

URL_BASE= docker-compose up -d

where you can replace with whatever IP address or hostname you want to set for your server.

Note that each time you run the docker-compose up command you should specify the URL_BASE otherwise it will reset to the default. If you are running via Docker Machine, you can use URL_BASE=http://$(docker-machine ip) to automatically set the correct URL.

At this point, your BOINC server is now 100% fully functioning, its webpage can be accessed at or whever else you have set the server URL, and it is ready to accept connections from clients and submission of jobs.

Running jobs

Traditionally, creating a BOINC application meant either compiling your code into static binaries for each platform you wanted to support (e.g. 32 and 64-bit Linux, Windows, or Mac), or creating a Virtualbox image housing your app. Instructions for creating these types of applications can be found here or here, and work just the same with boinc-server-docker.

In this guide, however, we describe an easier way to run jobs which uses boinc2docker. This tool (which comes preinstalled with boinc-server-docker) lets you package your science applications inside Docker containers which are then delivered to your hosts. This makes your code automatically work on Linux, Windows, and Mac, and allows it to have arbitrary dependencies (e.g. Python, etc...) The trade-off is that it only works on 64-bit machines (most of BOINC anyway), requires users to have Virtualbox installed, and does not (currently) support GPUs.

To begin, we give a brief introduction to running Docker containers in general. The syntax to run a Docker container is docker run <image> <command> where <image> is the name of the image and <command> is a normal Linux shell command to run inside the container. For example, the Docker Hub provides the image python:alpine which has Python installed (the "alpine" refers to the fact that the base OS for the Docker image is Alpine Linux, which is super small and makes the entire container be only ~25Mb). Thus you could execute a Python command in this container like,

docker run python:alpine python -c "print('Hello BOINC')"

and it would print the string "Hello BOINC".

Suppose you wanted to run this as a BOINC job. To do so, first get a shell inside your server with docker-compose exec apache bash and from the project directory run,

root@boincserver:~/project$ bin/ \
    python:alpine python -c "print('Hello BOINC')"

As you see, the script bin/ takes the same arguments as docker run but instead of running the container, it creates a job on your server which runs the container on the volunteer's computer.

If you now connect a client to your server, it will download and run this job, and you will see "Hello BOINC" in the log file which is returned to the server after the job is finished.

Note that to run these types of Docker-based jobs, the client computer will need 64bit Virtualbox installed and "virtualization" enabled in the BIOS.

If your jobs have output files, boinc2docker provides a special folder for this, /root/shared/results; any files written to this directory are automatically tar'ed up and returned as a BOINC result file. For example, if you ran the job,

root@boincserver:~/project# bin/ \
    python:alpine python -c "open('/root/shared/results/hello.txt','w').write('Hello BOINC')"

which creates a file "hello.txt" with contents "Hello BOINC", your server will receive a result file from the client which is a tar containing this file. BOINC results are stored by boinc-server-docker in a volume mounted by default at /results in the Apache container.

Of course, the python:alpine image here was just an example, any Docker image will work, including ones you create yourself.

Creating your own project

Now that you understand the mechanics of how to launch a test server and submit some jobs, lets look at how to actually create your real server. There are two templates for starting a project,

  • example_project/with_b2d - this has boinc2docker pre-installed, just like the test server
  • example_project/without_b2d - if you don't need boinc2docker, this image comes without it and is slightly smaller

The first step is to copy one of these two folders to a new folder, which for the purpose of this guide we will call myproject/ (you can, and should, version control this folder so that you have your project's entire history saved, e.g. like Cosmology@Home). The folder structure will look like this,


The three Dockerfile's will contain any modifications your project needs ontop of the default boinc-server-docker images. The docker-compose.yml file specifies how these containers work together, and will likely not need any modifications from you. The .env file contains some customizable configuration options which you can change.

Building and running your server

The test server did not require us to build any Docker containers because these were pre-built, stored on the Docker Hub, and were downloaded to your machine when you executed the docker-compose pull command. The images which comprise your server, on the other hand, need to be built; the command to do so is simply docker-compose build.

Afterwards, you can run a docker-compose up -d just as before to start the server. Of course, at this point you have made no modifications at all so the server is identical to the test server. We will discuss how to customize your server shortly. Note that you can combine the build and run commands into one with docker-compose up -d --build.

To stop your server, run docker-compose down. If you wish to reset your server entirely (i.e. to also delete the volumes housing your database and project folder), run docker-compose down -v.

Pinning the boinc-server-docker version

If you open up one of the Dockerfiles for one of the three images comprising your server, for example myproject/images/apache/Dockerfile, you will see this:

FROM boinc/server_apache:latest-b2d

We have not discussed Dockerfile commands yet, but they are fairly simple, and you only need to know about three of them to use boinc-server-docker. One of them is the FROM command which always comes at the beginning of a Dockerfile and specifies that this image is built starting from another image. In our case it is saying that the Apache image for your server is based on the boinc-server-docker image called boinc/server_apache:latest-b2d.

An important step you should take is to replace latest with a specific version, for example 2.0.0, and you should do so for all three Dockerfiles. You can find the latest version of boinc-server-docker by looking at the GitHub releases. With the versions pinned in this way, you can control exactly when you upgrade the version of boinc-server-docker that your server uses, and you can reproducibly go back to any previous version of your server.

Installing software

By default the boinc-server-docker images come with as few unnecessary programs as possible. Suppose for example you wanted to install emacs, which is not included by default. You could run apt-get install emacs from inside the Apache container, but note that if you now stop and start the container, emacs will be gone. This is because files inside Docker containers are not persisted unless they are in a volume.

The correct way to install software like emacs or anything else is to do so in the Dockerfile which builds that image. The Dockerfile for the Apache container is myproject/images/apache/Dockerfile, so the correct way to install emacs would be to add the following to this file,

RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y emacs

RUN is another Dockerfile command and simply runs a regular Linux shell command inside our container. We need an apt-get update to pull the latest package information and the -y flag automatically answers "yes" when apt-get asks whether you really want to install the package. If we now run docker-compose up -d --build, it will produce a new Apache image for our project and start it up, swapping out the old version (that lacked emacs). If you now get a shell inside the container with docker-compose exec apache bash you will see that emacs is correctly installed, and will still exist if you restart the container.

In exactly this way you can install any software into any of the containers, or run any commands that might be necessary to set them up. These commands are for the general set up of the server; for things like submitting jobs, performing server maintenance tasks like database optimization, etc... you can just get a shell into the server and run the commands directly from there.

Custom config.xml and other files

Next you will probably want to give your project a name, give it a URL, and more generally copy things into the server and change various files. Lets take a look at changing the project "long name". This is specified inside the config.xml file under the tag <long_name>.

If you want to change config.xml, first copy it out of the Docker container into your project folder with,

docker-compose run makeproject cat /root/project/config.xml > myproject/images/makeproject/config.xml

Your folder structure should now look like this,

            config.xml  # <-- new file we just copied

Now edit myproject/images/makeproject/Dockerfile to contain the line,

COPY config.xml /root/project

The COPY command makes it so that the next time you docker-compose build your project images, the config.xml file in myproject/images/makeproject is copied into the image, overwriting the default one which is there. Any changes you make to this file are now reflected in the image, and will take effect after you run build and up. You can now set <long_name> as desired, or change any other option.

Similarly, you can COPY any files into any of the other containers comprising your project. For a full list of available Dockerfile commands beyond the FROM, RUN, and COPY that we've discussed here, see the Dockerfile Reference.

Custom configuration variables

You may have noticed that the the config.xml file you copied in the previous step has some placeholder variables in it like ${project} and ${url_base}. These variables allow some simple but powerful run-time re-configuration of the server. This was used, for example, in the Server URL section.

The idea is that you can pass some set of environment variables to docker-compose up which reconfigure the server. Currently two variables are supported (but more are planned to be added)

  • URL_BASE - The "base" or "master" URL.
  • PROJECT - The name of the project.

These can be specified in e.g. the following way,

URL_BASE= PROJECT=myproject docker-compose up -d

The underlying mechanism is based on the following procedure. boinc-server-docker does a variable substitution (names are case in-sensitive) anywhere it finds these variables in the following set of files, and also in the filenames of files which match these patterns (except in the case when this would overwrite an existing file):


The default project created by makeproject has these files and filenames initialized such that they contain ${url_base} and ${project} in the appropriate places. You can see this, for example, by running docker-compose run makeproject ls /root/project, and you saw it in the generated config.xml as well.

Note that these are not permanent, so that if you later run a docker-compose up without specifying any of the variables, they reset back to their defaults.

Their default values can viewed in the .env file inside of myproject/. If you want to make the changes permanent, you should edit this file.

In designing your custom config.xml file, you are encouranged to use these variables, as they can make running your server more flexible.

This cookbook is a work in progress; the remainder coming soon!

Digitally signing your apps

Advanced steps

Custom boinc2docker-based apps

Squashing images