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Docker - A Beginner Guide

In this Docker tutorial, you'll learn the basics needed to navigate and use this useful code container. This guide is perfect for those beginners in Docker.

Jan 10, 2019 • 7 Minute Read


This tutorial covers the basics of Docker, a container that wraps code in a complete filesystem that contains code, runtime, system tools, and system libraries. Docker containers ensure that code will function the same, regardless of the environment -- in essence, a code incubator.

This tool is a hot product on the market right now.

Let me explain some terms used in Docker:

  • dockerfile - a file that describes your steps in order to create a Docker image. It's like a recipe with all ingredients and steps necessary in making your dish.
  • image - the snapshot of a virtual machine, but way more lightweight. Images are the building-blocks of the containers.
  • container - the equivalent of creating a VM from a snapshot, but again, way more lightweight. Containers run the applications themselves.

These terms are the most used terms in the Docker world, and they are the main terms that I will use in this tutorial.

I will also cover the creation and packaging of a Java application that runs on Tomcat Server.

Kitematic Installation

Docker only runs above Linux but you can use it with Mac OS or Windows OS using Kitematic. Kitematic creates VirtualBox Machines that let you run Docker on them.

You can install Kitematic for Mac OS and Windows from here and for Linux you can type this command:

      curl -sSL | sh

If you are using Mac or Windows, I suggest that you not use the Kitematic interface early on. It will be better if you start creating and manipulating everything from the command line. In this way you will learn more.

Creating a Dockerfile

You start by creating your Dockerfile that describes the steps in order to create the base image. Here is an example (comments on each line describe the code):

      # All Dockerfiles need to start from a base Linux image.
# Docker has a hub ( where you can see all Images submitted by users and
# where you can submit your own images. This is like a github for Docker images.
# We will start from java:8-jre. This is an ubuntu machine with java 8 installed on it.
# The keyword here is FROM.
FROM java:8-jre

# The KEYWORD ENV it let us specify some Linux environment variables
# Here we will set CATALINA_HOME (the home of the tomcat server)
ENV CATALINA_HOME /usr/local/tomcat

# RUN lets you run Linux commands inside the image.
# The \ symbol allows you to continue the command onto the next line
# The && allows you to string multiple commands together. This is preferred over having a RUN statement for each command
# Here we will navigate into /usr/local then download tomcat from the server
# then decompress it and rename it to /tomcat.
# The final path to tomcat will be /usr/local/tomcat.
RUN cd /usr/local/ \
     && wget \
     && tar xzf apache-tomcat-8.0.48.tar.gz \
     && mv apache-tomcat-8.0.48/ tomcat/

# the EXPOSE command will tell your future container to expose 8080 port to the outside
# 8080 is the default port for tomcat.

# CMD sets the first command that will run when you create containers from the resulting image.
# Here, we will start tomcat once the container is called
CMD ["/usr/local/tomcat/bin/", "run"]

Creating an Image

After you create this Dockerfile you need to create your image. Docker will run an intermediate container for each step in your Dockerfile during the build process, eventually creating a final image that you can export and import to other systems. You need to navigate through your directory to where the Dockerfile was saved. Use this command line prompt:

      docker build -t tomcat .

A couple quick definitions:

docker build - This command builds a new image from the Dockerfile code at PATH. In our case, the PATH is '.' (current folder). The option -t refers to a Name of (or tag of) the image (format name:tag). In this case, just the name "tomcat".

After all steps have been executed, you can test your code's functionality by typing docker images and you will see your image there named tomcat after the tomcat image we just built:

      $ docker images
REPOSITORY          TAG                 IMAGE ID            CREATED             SIZE
tomcat              latest              24b60eaf8397        7 seconds ago       334 MB
java                8-jre               e44d62cf8862        8 months ago        311 MB

Starting a container

You can now start a container from an image by running this:

      docker run -p 8080:8080 --name=tomcat tomcat

Let's break down this simple, yet complex command.

docker run - Runs a command in a new container.

-p parameter - Establishes a connection between container's port(s) to the host. By using port1:port2 you make port1 match with port2. After that, you can use port2 in order to access the service that is opened on port1 inside the container. Thus, the container is now connected with outside environments. Usually applications that use some ports in order to run (like tomcat on port 8080, mySQL on port 3306, Apache on port 80, and so) will be restricted in a container to that specific container, unable to communicate with the host or outside network. That means if you start a mySQL container using port 3306, you wouldn't be able to access it with another application outside that container. Using the -p 8080:8080 option allows communication between the container on the container's port 8080 and the host's port 8080.

--name= - The assigned name for the container. This will be what you reference when you run other docker commands against the container. Here we are naming the container tomcat

tomcat - The image the container is based on. In this example, we are specifying running the Tomcat image we just created as a container.

Checking for containers

After you run a container you can check that it exists by typing the following sequence:

      docker ps

This command will show you all running containers. If this commands returns nothing at all, then your container creation failed.

      docker ps -a

The above command displays all containers (running or not).


After you started a container you can stop it by using docker stop [name]. You can restart the container by typing docker start [name].

Another important command is docker exec, which lets you run a command inside your Docker running container. Note that this only works in running containers, not stopped ones.

For a complete list of commands you can go to Docker references. I will recommend that you read up on many of those commands if you find Docker containers interesting.

I hope that this brief tutorial on Dockers has helped you!

If you have any questions, please comment below or find me on Twitter, at @grvmariobyn.

Thank you. Marius.