Forking Multi Container Docker Builds

03 Nov 2020

Following on from my last post on Isolated Multistage Docker Builds, I thought it would be useful to cover another advantage to splitting your dockerfiles: building different output containers from a common base.

The Problem

When I have an application which when built, needs to have all assets in one container, and a subset of assets in a second container.

For example, writing a node webapp, where you want the compiled/bundled static assets available in the container as a fallback, and also stored in an nginx container for serving. One of the reasons to do this is separation of concerns: I don’t want to put my backend code where it doesn’t need to be. There is also, in this case, the fact that the backend code and nginx version need different base containers, meaning deploying the same container twice won’t work.

So let’s see how we solve this!

Creating Separate Dockerfiles

The first dockerfile to write is the common base, which I name Dockerfile.builder. This is the same as the previous post - we are assuming that the yarn ci:build step transpiles the typescript, and generates the static assets for our application.

FROM node:15.0.1-alpine3.12 as builder

COPY . ./
RUN yarn install --frozen-lockfile && yarn cache clean

RUN yarn ci:build

Next up is the server container, which will be in the Dockerfile.backend file, as try to name the files based on their purpose, rather than their technology used. As in the previous post, this installs the production dependencies for the application, and copies in the compiled output from the builder stage:

ARG builder_image
FROM ${builder_image} as builder

FROM node:15.0.1-alpine3.12 as output

COPY package.json yarn.lock /app
RUN yarn install --frozen-lockfile --production && yarn cache clean

COPY --from builder /app/dist /app

Now let’s deal with the Dockerfile.frontend. This uses nginx:1.19.3-alpine as a base, and copies in the nginx.conf file from the host, and the static assets directory from the builder container:

ARG builder_image
FROM ${builder_image} as builder

FROM nginx:1.19.3-alpine as output

COPY ./nginx.conf /etc/nginx/nginx.conf
COPY --from builder /app/dist/static /app

Building Containers

The reason we rely on the builder stage rather than the backend output stage is that we are now decoupled from layout/structural changes in that container, and we gain the ability to run the builds in parallel too (the & at the end of the lines), for a bit of a speed up on our build agents:


docker build --file Dockerfile.builder -t "$builder_tag" .

# run the builder container here to do tests, lint, static analysis etc.

docker build --file dockerfile.backend --build-arg "builder_image=$builder_tag" -t backend:$version . &
docker build --file Dockerfile.frontend --build-arg "builder_image=$builder_tag" -t frontend:$version . &


The result of this is 3 containers, all labled with the short version of the current git commit:

  • builder:abc123e - contains all packages, compiled output
  • backend:abc123e - node based, contains the node backend and static assets
  • frontend:abc123e - nginx based, contains the static assets

I can now publish the builder internally (so it can be cloned before builds for caching and speed), and deploy the backend and frontend to their different locations.

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