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Dockerize your Development Environment

nialljoemaher profile image Niall Maher ใƒป3 min read

With Visual Studio Code

A problem I had within our teams in my last gig was running projects consistently across multiple operating systems. I spent a few weeks trying to hack around docker files that would give the teams a consistent workflow locally but then... I found that Visual Studio Code can do it so easily with just 1 plugin.

This guide combines Visual Studio Code and Docker to mimic your production settings and create consistency across the development environments. Both Docker and Visual Studio Code are required to be installed to use this guide.

The guide is written for a Node.js environment with Create React App but the steps can be altered for whatever the chosen environment required is.

You will even still have hot reloading working inside your dev container ๐Ÿ’œ

If you want a video version of this guide:

Or else continue reading to copy and paste ๐Ÿง‘๐Ÿปโ€๐Ÿ’ป

In Visual Studio code install the following Plugin:


It can be found here: https://marketplace.visualstudio.com/items?itemName=ms-vscode-remote.remote-containers

This allows us to run Visual Studio Code in a container.

In the root directory of your project, you need to create a folder called .devcontainer. This is where we will store the settings for our environment.

Then create 2 files in this folder, devcontainer.json and a Dockerfile.

The naming is important as there are expected folder and file names Visual Studio Code expects for us to run the container successfully.

Your folder structure should match this:

Within the Dockerfile we choose the image and RUN any commands required (such as global installs) after we install the image.


FROM node:12.14.1-stretch
RUN npm install -g eslint prettier


Then in the devcontainer.json we can configure all of the settings.

The devcontainer.json is basically a config file that determines how your dev container gets built and started.


  "name": "Node.js Sample",
  "dockerFile": "Dockerfile",
  "appPort": 3000,
  "extensions": ["dbaeumer.vscode-eslint"],
  "settings": {
    "terminal.integrated.shell.linux": "/bin/bash"
  "postCreateCommand": "yarn install",
  // Comment out the next line to run as root instead. Linux users, update
  // Dockerfile with your user's UID/GID if not 1000.
  "runArgs": ["-u", "node"]
Option Description
dockerfile Relative path to a Dockerfile that you wish to use as your image.
appPort A port or array of ports that should be made available locally when the container is running
extensions An array of extension IDs that specify the extensions that should be installed inside the container when it is created.
settings Adds default settings.json values into a container/machine specific settings file.
postCreateCommand A command string or list of command arguments to run after the container is created.
runArgs An array of Docker CLI arguments that should be used when running the container.

Full list of devcontainer.json options.



Once the container is running and you're connected, you should see your remote context change in the bottom left of the Status bar:

With the Remote - Containers extension installed, you will see a new Status bar item at the far left.

The Remote Status bar item can quickly show you in which context VS Code is running (local or remote) and clicking on the item will bring up the Remote - Containers commands.


Select Reopen in Container.


Wait for the container to build

If this is your first time connecting, a Docker image will be downloaded, built, and starts a container with a copy of VS Code Server running. This might take a few minutes the first time, but future connections will only take seconds.

Check your environment

One of the useful things about developing in a container is that you can use specific versions of dependencies that your application needs without impacting your local development environment.

node --version; 
npm --version

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Niall Maher


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Editor guide

Using powershell:
I just do dev-here node:latest it will download the image mount the current directory to /code in the container and you can edit locally update to git etc. Works for any container that you want, I use it for rust, donet core, node, etc.

function dev-here($lang, $port = 8000) {
    if ($lang -eq '') {
        echo 'usage is dev-here <container name>'
    $args = 'bash'
    if ($lang -eq 'python') {
        $args = "bash"
        # $args = "bash -c 'cd code && pip install -r requirements.txt && bash'"
    $msg = $lang + ' opening port ' + $port + ' running ' + $args
    echo $msg
    echo "docker run --rm -it -e USER=dev -p ${port}:${port} -v ${PWD}:/code $lang $args"
    docker run --rm -it -e USER=dev -p ${port}:${port} -v ${PWD}:/code $lang $args

Nice well then all this article would give you is all the plugins out of the box too. This is a really smart script ๐Ÿ’œ


Nice post, I was going to write one along these lines but now I don't have to!

I actually prefer this workflow in lieu using rvm, nvm, etc. these days. You can use a Docker Compose file too, which is handy for apps with more complicated dependencies.


I do the exact same! I'm wondering why more OSS communities don't do the same. It's such an easy way to get up and running.


Excellent article, man. Super useful and super easy.




Thank for the useful post


Glad it was useful at least ๐Ÿ’œ


Hi !
Devilbox is a great alternative to newbies, to use Docker with some benefits and very easy


I've never seen Devilbox before I will take a look


I've been using it for a long time. It's very comfortable to use ;)
I use docker and kubernetes standalone too, but to my PHP development environment I use devilbox :)


docker is great, docker on non-linux is not


They fixed it on Windows recently, it's worth trying again


i am on mac, I do use docker everywhere, but I still feel it is much slower then on a linux os.

I'm using a Mac too haven't actually used Docker on Linux so I have no idea how much faster it could be ๐Ÿ˜‚


This is pretty cool, love the format! I'm the maintainer of a couple of open source projects focused on moving dev environments to containers in Kubernetes, would love your thoughts on them!


Oh nice I'll take a look over the day ๐Ÿ˜


Excellent post! I think you're one of the first people I've seen put both video and text explanation- although I don't exactly go far and wide around dev.to.

The extra effort is greatly appreciated, as I usually like to read first and watch later when I know I'm interested. Thanks :)


Thanks! I know I learn better from video so that's why ๐Ÿ˜‚


What theme are you using in VScode?


Synthwave '84 personally, but for the video, I think I used Cobalt


Thanks! These are awesome :)


Thanks ๐Ÿ’œ