Introducing Docker for Drupal Developers

Docker is an efficient way to host Drupal applications that allows for the creation of consistent, isolated development environments that streamline testing, deployment, and collaboration, enhancing efficiency and reducing the "it works on my machine" problem.

This course covers the basics of Docker, including understanding containers and images, installing Docker, and running containers interactively and in detached mode. Learners will also explore advanced topics such as using Docker Compose to manage sets of containers, configuring bind volumes and environment variables, exposing ports, and importing/exporting databases. By the end of the course, you will be equipped to set up and maintain a Docker-based development environment for Drupal, enhancing your team’s workflow and ensuring consistency across development and production environments.

Key topics

  • Understanding the basics of Docker
  • Installing Docker
  • Running Docker containers
  • Creating and managing sets of containers using Docker Compose
  • Starting, stopping, and listing container sets
  • Setting environment variables and exposing ports to ensure proper communication between containers and the host system
  • Working with Docker Hub
  • Importing and exporting databases into containers
  • Running Drupal in Docker

Note: If you are just looking for a Docker-based local development environment solution for Drupal, we recommend using DDEV.

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Installing Drupal using the instructions in this tutorial will give you a working Drupal site that can be used for learning, or real-world project development.

Before you can work on a Drupal site locally (on your computer), you'll need to set up a local development environment. This includes all the system requirements like PHP and a web server, that Drupal needs in order to run. Our favorite way to accomplish this is using DDEV.

In this tutorial we'll learn:

  • How to install and configure DDEV for use with a Drupal project.
  • How to use DDEV's integrated Composer to download Drupal and Drush.
  • How to install Drupal inside DDEV so you can access the site and start doing development.

By the end of this tutorial, you should be able to set up a local development environment for learning Drupal or working on a new Drupal project.

Tutorials in this course
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Docker often seems like an impenetrable product. Is it a VM system? A suite of development tools? A clustering product? A software distribution facility? When the answer is "yes" to each of these, it only becomes more confusing. For the Drupal developer, Docker is a way to provide a local development environment to run web server software.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Define the terms hypervisor, virtual machine (VM), and containers
  • List the advantages of containers over VMs
  • List the advantages of Docker for Drupal developers
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Installing Docker is easy, but there are some details you may want to consider before you download and run the installer.

In this tutorial, we'll focus on:

  • Why Linux is Docker’s native environment
  • The difference between Docker edge vs. Docker stable
  • Why Docker for non-Linux requires a VM
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Now that we know what Docker is, what containers are, and how to install Docker, just how do we use containers? While graphical user interfaces (GUI) exist for Docker, the primary way to interact with it is via the command line.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Start Docker for Mac or Docker for Windows
  • Use the docker run command to run a container interactively
  • Break down the arguments of the docker run command
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Containers are sandboxed applications that can be run anywhere, no matter the underlying host OS. Docker containers are quite different from VMs in a number of ways that need to be understood before we can use them to develop Drupal sites.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Define a container
  • Explain how a container is a more limited environment than a VM
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When we use docker run to start a container, we download a compressed, ready-to-use container called an image. Images make containers easy to share via a registry like Docker Hub, but also affect how file storage works when using containers.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Discuss how file storage works in Docker containers
  • Describe images, base images, and the scratch image
  • Identify layers and show how layers make up Docker's filesystem
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Running a container interactively can be useful, but often it's not what we really need. A web server stack is made up of several components such as the Linux OS, the Apache web server, a PHP runtime, and a database such as MySQL. Collectively, we call this a LAMP stack. If we were to run these in Docker with what we now know, we'd have to keep open several terminal windows!

Obviously that's not what we want to do. Instead, we want to run the containers in the background. That way, we can use them like we would any web server. Fortunately, Docker makes running and managing a container in the a background easy with just a few commands.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Start a container in the background
  • Use docker ps to list running Docker containers
  • Use docker run to enter a container running in the background
  • Use docker kill to stop a container running in the background
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Often we don't want to run just one container at a time, but a set of containers that act together to provide a unit of functionality. Yet, docker run only starts one container at a time, with one command in each container at a time.

Docker Compose lets us overcome this limitation by allowing us to define a single file that describes multiple containers, their relationship to each other, and utilities to manage that set of containers as a single unit.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Introduce Docker Compose
  • Run multiple containers at once using Docker Compose
  • Identify the purpose of docker-compose.yml
  • Learn what resources a set of containers share
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Docker Compose allows us to manage several related containers as a single group. We define container sets by creating a creating the Compose file, docker-compose.yml.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Create the basic structure of the Compose file
  • Define a container set using off-the-shelf containers
  • Describe where to place it in your project
  • See how directory names are significant in Compose
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Once we have the docker-compose.yml file created, we can use it to work with a set of containers. Instead of the docker command, Docker Compose has its own command to work with multiple containers at once: docker-compose.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Cover the basic usage of the Compose command
  • Describe how to start, stop, and list running container sets
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One of the biggest questions when first learning Docker is "How do we get data into and out of containers?" We can use docker-compose exec to interact with them on the command line, but that doesn't fulfill our needs as developers. Docker provides several mechanisms to share data with the container, each with specific purposes. Docker Compose lets us leverage each of those easily with just a few lines of YAML.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Identify the various ways we can get data into containers
  • Define volumes
  • Describe how to use environment variables in Docker
  • Describe how to expose network ports from a container set
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Bind Volumes are essential to the Drupal developer when using Docker. They allow you to synchronize a directory on your laptop or workstation with a directory in the container. Changes can be replicated in either direction -- from the container to the host OS, or from the host OS to the container. You can add a bind volume to a Compose file with just a single line of code.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Describe how to use the volumes key in your Compose file
  • Best practices for describing mount points
  • Introduce different synchronization strategies for volumes and which to use
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Docker's goal is to treat containers as reusable, off-the-shelf pieces of infrastructure. Often, however, we need to tailor a container to our specific needs. We may need to enable debugging facilities, enable key configuration options, create databases, and set logins. Many development-oriented containers rely on environment variables to configure containers at runtime.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Set environment variables using a static value in the Compose file
  • Use an environment file to pass multiple variables at once
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Network communication is essential when developing for a multi-tier web application like Drupal. Docker automatically isolates each container it runs, only allowing explicit ports to be exposed to the host OS. Docker Compose takes this one step further.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Explain how Docker isolates containers
  • Expose a container's ports to the host OS
  • Re-map ports from the container to the host OS
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A common task when developing a Drupal site is loading the database into your local development environment. When working with non-Docker local development environments, command line tools or a graphical application are used to load the database dump. These methods also work for Docker with a bit of container configuration. With Docker, you can include all the tooling in containers, reducing the need for utilities on the host OS.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Outline the challenges for loading a database into a container
  • Identify the methods by which a database can be loaded into a container
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One of Docker's goals is to make it as simple to deploy and update infrastructure as it is to pull a product off of a shelf. At the center of this goal is Docker Hub, a massive, public, and free-to-use library of Docker images for you to use. As a free service, additional care is required to select images that will provide you with updated, secure, and well-maintained infrastructure.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Show how Hub is an integral part of using Docker
  • Describe registries and private registries
  • Identify official images vs. contributed images
  • Outline best practices for selecting an image on Hub
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When we issue docker run, Docker will attempt to download any images it doesn't have cached locally. Locally cached images take up disk space and are not automatically managed. Furthermore, once downloaded, Docker never updates them for you. You can list, update, or delete locally cached images using the docker command.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Show how to list all images currently stored on your host OS
  • Identify the disk space occupied by cached images
  • Learn to explicitly download and update a locally cached image
  • Learn to delete images on your system
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Often we need a particular version or variation of software in order to support our project. Our site might require Apache Solr 4.x, whereas the same project could be perfectly fine with the latest version of MySQL. Since image names need to be unique on Docker Hub, it'd be inconvenient to require a separate image name for each version of a particular piece of software. Docker solves this problem by using tags.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Define tags
  • Describe how tags are used
  • Explain the latest tag
  • Show how to find a container's tags on Docker Hub
  • Use a tag with docker commands, and in the Compose file
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Creating a container set to support Drupal development requires some specialized knowledge. Now that we understand containers, images, how to use Docker Compose (docker-compose), and how to select images on Docker Hub, we're ready to build a container set to support Drupal development.

In this tutorial, we'll:

  • Select images of software that we'll need to run Drupal
  • Create a new Compose file
  • Configure bind volumes and environment variables to support the site
  • Test the configuration

See Dockerize an Existing Project if you already have Drupal installed.

This course appears in the following guides:
Backend and Infrastructure
Learn about Docker configuration and management in Drupal development.

Docker for Drupal Developers