What Is Docker And What Is It Used For?

In Devops, Docker
July 21, 2023


Docker is an open-source platform that simplifies the development, distribution, and execution processes of software applications. It was first introduced in 2013 and has since revolutionized the software world. In this article, we aim to explain what Docker is, how it works, and the reasons why it is widely used, providing a better understanding of this technology.

What is Docker?

Docker revolutionizes software deployment by automating application deployment, scaling, and management through containerization technology. By packaging applications and their dependencies into lightweight, portable containers, Docker enables seamless distribution and execution across various environments. With isolated environments, Docker ensures consistency and eliminates conflicts between software dependencies, making it a preferred choice for modern, agile development and deployment workflows.

Docker is not a virtual machine (VM) software

Key concepts of Docker:

  1. Containerization: Docker uses containerization to encapsulate an application and all its dependencies (libraries, configurations, runtime, etc.) into a single unit called a container. Containers are isolated from the host system and other containers, making them portable and ensuring consistency across different environments.
  2. Docker Image: An image is a lightweight, standalone, and executable software package that includes everything needed to run a piece of software, including the code, runtime, libraries, and system tools. Docker images are the basis for containers.
  3. Docker Container: A container is an instance of a Docker image. It is a running process that runs in an isolated environment with its own filesystem, network, and process space. Containers are created from Docker images and are ephemeral, meaning they can be stopped, started, and destroyed without affecting the host system or other containers.
  4. Dockerfile: A Dockerfile is a text file that contains a set of instructions for building a Docker image. It specifies the base image, any additional dependencies, and the steps to copy application code and configurations into the image. Dockerfiles are used to automate the image creation process and ensure consistency across environments.
  5. Docker Registry: A Docker registry is a repository for Docker images. Docker Hub is a popular public registry that allows developers to share and access Docker images. Organizations can also set up private registries to store proprietary or custom Docker images.
  6. Docker Compose: Docker Compose is a tool that allows you to define and manage multi-container Docker applications. It uses a YAML file to configure the services, networks, and volumes required for the application, making it easier to define complex, multi-container setups.
  7. Docker Engine: The Docker Engine is the core component of Docker that enables the creation and management of Docker containers. It includes a server daemon (dockerd) responsible for building and running containers and a command-line interface (CLI) tool (docker) that allows users to interact with the Docker daemon.
  8. Orchestration: Docker Swarm and Kubernetes are container orchestration tools that allow you to manage and scale containerized applications across multiple hosts or nodes. They provide features like load balancing, service discovery, auto-scaling, and self-healing, making it easier to manage large-scale deployments.

By leveraging Docker’s containerization and the associated concepts, developers can create a consistent development-to-production workflow, speed up application deployment, and reduce the risk of environment-related issues. Docker has become an essential tool in modern software development and deployment processes.

Before Docker, software deployment often faced various challenges related to inconsistency, dependency issues, and portability across different environments. These challenges were particularly pronounced in traditional monolithic applications where deploying an application on one machine might not work on another due to differences in the underlying infrastructure and software dependencies.

Advantages of Docker

Docker offers several advantages in terms of containerization, making it a popular choice for developers and operations teams. Here are some of the key advantages we like to mention:

  1. Portability: Docker containers are lightweight and self-sufficient, encapsulating all dependencies needed to run an application. This portability allows developers to build an application once and run it anywhere, whether it’s on a developer’s laptop, staging servers, or production environments. It reduces the “it works on my machine” problem and ensures consistent behavior across different environments.
  2. Isolation: Containers provide process-level isolation, meaning each container operates in its isolated environment, separated from other containers and the host system. This isolation ensures that changes made to one container do not affect other containers or the host system, improving security and reliability. By this, a docker container can become a disposable thing where you can do whatever you want without installing or configuring something on your machine.
  3. Resource Efficiency: Docker containers share the host system’s kernel, which makes them lightweight and efficient. They consume fewer resources compared to virtual machines since they do not require a full OS for each container. This efficiency allows you to run more containers on the same host, optimizing resource utilization.
  4. Rapid Deployment: Docker simplifies the process of packaging applications and their dependencies into containers. This allows for rapid deployment and scaling of applications. Developers can focus on writing code, while operations teams can easily deploy and manage applications, reducing the time between development and production.
  5. Version Control and Rollbacks: Docker images are version-controlled, allowing you to track changes to the container environment. This makes it easy to roll back to previous versions if issues arise during an update, providing a safety net and simplifying the rollback process.
  6. Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD): Docker integrates seamlessly with CI/CD pipelines. Developers can build, test, and package applications as Docker containers, which can then be easily deployed to various environments. This promotes a more automated and streamlined development workflow.
  7. DevOps Collaboration: Docker encourages collaboration between development and operations teams. Developers can define the application’s environment using Dockerfiles, which operations teams can use to create the same environment in various stages of the deployment pipeline.
  8. Scalability: Docker containers can be easily scaled up or down based on application demand. This flexibility allows you to handle fluctuations in traffic and ensures your application performs well under varying workloads.
  9. Version Compatibility: Docker containers bundle all dependencies with the application code, ensuring that the application runs consistently across different environments and avoids dependency conflicts.
  10. Security: Docker provides various security features like user namespace mapping, resource constraints, and isolation, making it harder for malicious code to break out of containers and compromise the host system. You can create a user for your container that has limited access to the runtime environment and only allows for actions that are relevant to its purpose.

Overall, Docker’s containerization approach brings significant benefits in terms of development agility, operational efficiency, and application reliability, making it a powerful tool for modern software development and deployment.

Use Cases of Docker

Docker has many use cases but there are some topics we should definitely mention in this article.

1. Software Distribution:
Docker simplifies software distribution by packaging applications and their dependencies into portable Docker containers. This consistency in packaging ensures that the application runs identically in any environment, making it an ideal solution for distributing software.

Real-World Use Case: WordPress
Imagine a team developing a WordPress website. With Docker, they can create a Docker image containing the WordPress application, PHP runtime, and required plugins. This image can then be shared via Docker Hub, a public or private registry. Any team member can pull the same Docker image, and the WordPress site will run consistently on their local development environment or any server. This eliminates the need for manual setup and reduces the chances of configuration errors during deployment.

2. Microservices Architecture:
Docker is a natural fit for microservices architecture, where applications are built as a collection of loosely coupled services. Each service can be developed, deployed, and scaled independently, and Docker simplifies managing these microservices.

Real-World Use Case: E-commerce Platform
A large e-commerce platform may have separate microservices for user authentication, product catalog, shopping cart, and payment processing. Each microservice can be containerized with Docker. This allows developers to work on each service independently, and updates to one service won’t disrupt others. Docker’s orchestration tools like Docker Swarm or Kubernetes further enable automated scaling, load balancing, and service discovery, making it easier to manage the complex microservices architecture.

3. Continuous Integration and Deployment (CI/CD):
Docker plays a crucial role in modern CI/CD pipelines, enabling developers to automate the building, testing, and deployment of applications. Docker’s ability to create consistent environments ensures the same code tested during CI is deployed in production, reducing deployment issues.

Real-World Use Case: Web Application CI/CD Pipeline
In a CI/CD pipeline for a web application, developers commit code to a version control system like Git. Upon every commit, a CI server (e.g., Jenkins, GitLab CI) pulls the code and runs tests inside a Docker container built from a standardized Docker image. If the tests pass, the Docker image is tagged and pushed to a registry. In the deployment stage, the same Docker image is pulled from the registry and deployed to a staging or production environment, ensuring consistency across the entire pipeline.

By using Docker in CI/CD, teams can achieve faster and more reliable deployments, easier rollback mechanisms, and consistent environments for both testing and production. It also promotes collaboration between development and operations teams by standardizing the deployment process and reducing the “it works on my machine” problem.

Overall, Docker’s versatility, portability, and ease of use have made it a preferred choice for a wide range of use cases, from software development and distribution to microservices architectures and CI/CD pipelines. It has revolutionized the way applications are developed, deployed, and managed, empowering teams to innovate and deliver software with greater speed and efficiency.

Article Name
What Is Docker And What Is It Used For?
Docker: An open-source platform streamlining app deployment with containerization. Learn how it simplifies software distribution, microservices, and CI/CD workflows.