DEV Community

Sarthak Kumar Shailendra
Sarthak Kumar Shailendra

Posted on • Updated on

Docker Basics: A Beginner's Guide to Containerization

In today's fast-paced world of software development and deployment, Docker has emerged as a revolutionary technology. Docker enables developers to package applications and their dependencies into lightweight, portable containers, making it easier to build, ship, and run applications consistently across different environments. Whether you're a seasoned developer or just getting started, this article will introduce you to the basics of Docker and help you understand why it's become an essential tool in the world of DevOps and software development.

What is Docker?

Docker is an open-source platform designed to simplify the process of developing, shipping, and running applications. At its core, Docker relies on containerization, a technology that allows applications and their dependencies to be packaged together into isolated units known as containers. These containers are self-sufficient and can run consistently across different environments, be it your local development machine, a test server, or a production server.

Why Docker?

Docker offers several benefits that have made it immensely popular in the software development and deployment world:

  • Consistency: Containers ensure that an application runs the same way on any system, eliminating the classic "it works on my machine" problem.

  • Isolation: Each container encapsulates its application and dependencies, preventing conflicts and ensuring security.

  • Portability: Containers are lightweight and can be easily moved and executed on any platform or cloud provider that supports Docker.

  • Efficiency: Docker containers consume fewer resources compared to traditional virtual machines, making efficient use of system resources.

  • Version Control: Docker allows you to version your containers, which makes it easy to roll back to previous versions if needed.

  • Scalability: Containers can be rapidly scaled up or down to accommodate changes in demand, facilitating efficient resource utilization.

Components of Docker

Before you dive into Docker, it's essential to understand its key components:

  1. Docker Engine: This is the core component of Docker, responsible for running containers. It includes a server, an API, and a command-line interface (CLI) that you'll use to interact with Docker.

  2. Images: Docker images are read-only templates that contain everything needed to run an application, including the code, libraries, and dependencies. Images are the basis for creating containers.

  3. Containers: Containers are instances of Docker images. They are lightweight, executable packages that include the application and its dependencies, isolated from the host system.

  4. Dockerfile: A Dockerfile is a text file containing a set of instructions that define how to build a Docker image. It serves as the blueprint for creating an image.

  5. Docker Registry: A Docker registry is a repository where Docker images are stored and shared. Docker Hub is the most popular public registry, but you can also set up private registries.

Getting Started with Docker

Now that you have a basic understanding of Docker, let's walk through some practical steps to get you started:

  • Installation: Install Docker on your system by following the official installation guides for your specific operating system (Windows, macOS, or Linux).

  • Hello, World!: Open a terminal and run your first Docker container by executing the following command.

docker run hello-world
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

This will download the "hello-world" image from Docker Hub and create a container that prints a simple message.

  • Docker Images: Explore the available Docker images on Docker Hub ( You can search for images and pull them to your local system using the docker pull command.
docker pull nginx
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

This command will download the official Nginx web server image to your system.

  • Creating Your Own Docker Image: Create a simple web application or service and package it into a Docker image using a Dockerfile. You can then build and run this image as a container.
# Use an official Node.js runtime as the base image
FROM node:21-alpine

# Set the working directory in the container
WORKDIR /usr/src/app

# Copy package.json and package-lock.json to the container. The syntax here is COPY <src> <dest>
COPY package*.json ./

# Install application dependencies
RUN npm install

# Copy the rest of the application source code to the container
COPY . .

# Expose a port for the application to listen on

# Define the command to run the application
CMD [ "node", "app.js" ]
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Please note that while RUN is executed in the container, COPY is executed on the host.

You can then build this Docker image by navigating to the directory containing the Dockerfile and running:

docker build -t my-node-app .
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

The -t flag tags the image with a name ("my-node-app" in this case). You can then run a container using your newly created image:

docker run -p 8080:8080 my-node-app
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

This runs the application in a container and maps port 8080 from the container to your host system.

Port mapping is typically defined using the -p (or --publish) option when starting a Docker container. The basic syntax is as follows:

docker run -p HOST_PORT:CONTAINER_PORT my-container
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

HOST_PORT: This is the port on your host system that you want to use for accessing the containerized service.

CONTAINER_PORT: This is the port within the container where the service is running.

  • Docker Compose: As you work with more complex applications, Docker Compose helps manage multi-container applications. It allows you to define application services, networks, and volumes in a single YAML file.

Here's an example of a docker-compose.yml file for a simple web application that uses a web server and a database. This file defines two services: one for the web application and one for the database, as well as networking and volume configurations.

version: '3'  # The version of the Docker Compose file format

  # Service for the web application
    image: nginx:latest  # Use the official Nginx image from Docker Hub
      - "8080:80"  # Map host port 8080 to container port 80
      - ./web-content:/usr/share/nginx/html  # Mount a local directory into the container
      - my-network  # Attach to the custom network defined below

  # Service for the database
    image: postgres:latest  # Use the official PostgreSQL image from Docker Hub
    environment: # The environment section sets environment variables for the PostgreSQL container, specifying the username, password, and database name.
      POSTGRES_USER: myuser
      POSTGRES_PASSWORD: mypassword
      POSTGRES_DB: mydatabase
      - db-data:/var/lib/postgresql/data  # Create a named volume for data storage
      - my-network

  my-network:  # Define a custom network
    driver: bridge  # Use the default bridge network driver

  db-data:  # The volumes section creates a named volume named db-data to store the PostgreSQL data. This ensures that data persists across container restarts.

Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

You can start both services with:

docker-compose up
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode
  • Learn Docker Commands: Familiarize yourself with essential Docker commands like docker ps to list running containers, docker stop to stop a container, docker logs to view container logs, and docker exec to execute commands within a running container.

  • Networking and Volumes: Understand Docker's networking model and how to use volumes to manage data persistence between containers and the host. Docker volumes are a feature that allows you to manage and persist data created by and used by Docker containers. Volumes are separate from the container's file system, and they provide a way to store and share data between containers and between the host system and containers.

To create a Docker volume and mount it to a container, you can use the following command:

docker volume create mydata
docker run -d -v mydata:/data my-node-app
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode


Docker has revolutionized the way software is developed, deployed, and managed. By containerizing applications and their dependencies, Docker provides a consistent and efficient platform for developers and operators. Whether you're building a small personal project or working in a large enterprise environment, Docker's flexibility and portability can help streamline your workflow. This article serves as a starting point on your Docker journey, and with practice, you'll unlock its full potential and reap the benefits of containerization in your software development projects.

Top comments (1)

nickdev profile image

It would be cool to add some more examples, like running Ubuntu with an attached terminal and using it as a temporary sandbox, or container with DB, like mongo/pgsql