Docker in Production: Best Practices and Considerations

Welcome to a tutorial on Docker’s best practices and considerations for production. By the end of this tutorial, you will understand what Docker is, why it’s beneficial, and the best practices for using Docker in a production environment.

To learn more about Docker, check out other Docker tutorials for beginners.

This tutorial is designed for beginners, so I will explain everything in very simple words. Let’s get started!

Introduction to Docker

Before we dive into the best practices, let’s understand what Docker is. Docker is a platform that simplifies software development by allowing developers to isolate their applications into containers. A Docker container is a lightweight, standalone, executable package that includes everything needed to run a piece of software, including the code, a runtime, libraries, environment variables, and config files.

Benefits of Docker

Docker has several benefits:

  1. Consistency: Docker containers run the same regardless of your environment. This means you can develop your application on your local machine, and it will run exactly the same on any other machine or server that has Docker installed. This eliminates the common issue of “it works on my machine” problem.
  2. Isolation: Docker containers are isolated from each other and the host system. This means if one of your applications has a security vulnerability, it won’t affect your other applications.
  3. Scalability: Docker makes it easy to create multiple containers for your application, which is particularly useful when you need to scale out.
  4. Efficiency: Docker containers are lightweight, making them a more efficient use of system resources compared to virtual machines.

Docker Best Practices for Production

Now that we understand what Docker is and its benefits, let’s dive into the best practices for using Docker in production.

Use Official Docker Images

When creating your Docker containers, it’s recommended to use the official Docker images as your base images. These images are maintained by the Docker team and the community, and are generally kept up-to-date and secure. When using an official image, you can be confident that it has been thoroughly vetted and tested.

For instance, if you’re developing a Node.js application, instead of creating your own image, you can use the official Node.js image:

FROM node:14

Use Dockerfile Best Practices

A Dockerfile is a text document that contains all the commands you would normally execute manually in order to build a Docker image. Here are some Dockerfile best practices:

  • Use .dockerignore: Just like .gitignore, a .dockerignore file can be used to ignore files and directories when building a Docker image. This can significantly reduce the size of your image.
  • Minimize the number of layers: Each RUN, COPY, and ADD command creates a new layer in the Docker image. Try to minimize the number of layers by combining commands in a single RUN instruction where possible.
  • Use multi-stage builds: Multi-stage builds allow you to use multiple FROM statements in your Dockerfile. Each FROM instruction can use a different base, and each of them begins a new stage of the build. You can selectively copy artifacts from one stage to another, leaving behind everything you don’t want in the final image.

Here’s an example of a multi-stage Dockerfile:

# First Stage
FROM node:14 AS builder
COPY package*.json ./
RUN npm install
COPY . .
RUN npm run build

# Second Stage
FROM node:14-alpine
COPY --from=builder /app/dist ./dist
COPY package*.json ./
RUN npm install --only=production
CMD [ "node", "dist/main.js" ]

Use Docker Compose for Development Environment

Docker Compose is a tool for defining and running multi-container Docker applications. With Compose, you use a YAML file to configure your application’s services. Then, with a single command, you create and start all the services from your configuration. This is particularly useful in a development environment where you may have multiple services that your application depends on.

Here’s an example docker-compose.yml file:

version: "3"
    build: .
      - "5000:5000"
    image: "redis:alpine"

Use Orchestration for Production

In a production environment, you need a way to manage your Docker containers. This is where Docker orchestration tools like Kubernetes, Docker Swarm, or Amazon ECS come in. These tools allow you to manage your containers, scale your applications, and ensure your containers are running smoothly.

Monitor Your Docker Containers

Monitoring is crucial in a production environment. You need to know when something goes wrong and have the information necessary to diagnose and fix the issue. There are many tools available for monitoring Docker containers, like Datadog, Prometheus, and Grafana. These tools can help you monitor CPU usage, memory usage, network traffic, and much more.

To learn more, check out the Monitoring and Logging in Docker: Tools and Strategies tutorial.

Regularly Update and Security Scan Your Images

It’s crucial to keep your Docker images up-to-date and regularly scan them for security vulnerabilities. Tools like Docker Hub, Quay, or Amazon ECR provide automated security scanning for Docker images.

Use a Private Image Registry

Once you’ve built your Docker images, you need somewhere to store them. This is where Docker registries come in. A Docker registry is a place where Docker images are stored. Docker Hub is a public registry that anyone can use, and it’s the default registry where Docker looks when it needs to download an image.

However, for a production environment, it’s often a good idea to use a private image registry. A private image registry is only accessible to you or your organization, which gives you more control over your images and their distribution.

There are several private Docker registry options to choose from, such as Docker’s own Docker Trusted Registry, Google’s Container Registry, or Amazon’s Elastic Container Registry (ECR). These services not only provide a place to store your images but also offer additional features like access control and security scanning.

Scan Your Images for Vulnerabilities

Apart from using a private image registry, it’s also important to regularly scan your images for vulnerabilities. This ensures your applications are running in a secure environment. Most private registries, including Docker Trusted Registry, Google’s Container Registry, and Amazon ECR, provide automated security scanning features. You should take advantage of these features and regularly scan your images to identify and fix any potential security issues.

Manage Sensitive Data with Docker Secrets

In any application, managing sensitive data, such as API keys, passwords, and other credentials, in a secure and reliable manner is crucial. In the context of Docker, this sensitive data is often required by the Dockerized apps and services. Docker provides a feature called “Docker Secrets” to securely store, manage, and deliver this sensitive information.

Docker Secrets is a container-native solution that allows you to securely store and manage sensitive data, such as passwords or certificates. This feature is only available in Docker Swarm mode. Secrets are encrypted during transit and at rest in a Docker swarm. A given secret is only accessible to those services which have been granted explicit access to it and are only available on the swarm nodes that are running these services.

Here’s a brief step-by-step guide on how to use Docker Secrets:

  1. Create a Docker Secret: This is where you store sensitive data. You can create a Docker secret using the docker secret create command.
    echo "my_secret_data" | docker secret create my_secret -

    This command creates a new Docker secret named my_secret and the secret data is the string “my_secret_data”. The - at the end indicates that the secret data comes from the standard input.

  2. Grant Access to a Docker Secret: Once a Docker secret is created, you can grant a service access to this secret during the service creation.
    docker service create --name my_service --secret my_secret my_image:latest

    This command creates a new service named my_service based on the image my_image:latest, and grants this service access to the secret my_secret.

  3. Use a Docker Secret: Inside the service, the Docker secrets are exposed as files under the /run/secrets/ directory. You can read the secret data from these files.
    cat /run/secrets/my_secret

Remember, Docker secrets are meant to be secrets, i.e., sensitive data. Therefore, they need to be handled with care. Here are a few tips:

  • Do not store secrets in the image: Storing secrets in the image can expose them to anyone who can access the image. Instead, use Docker secrets to manage them.
  • Do not use environment variables for secrets: Environment variables can be accidentally leaked, for example, in logs. Instead, use Docker secrets, which are stored in a tmpfs filesystem in memory and never get written to the disk.
  • Limit access to secrets: Only grant access to secrets for services that absolutely need them.

Using Docker Secrets is a great way to handle sensitive data in your Dockerized applications, keeping them secure and out of your Docker images and configs. Always remember to treat your secrets with care, and only grant access to them for services that absolutely need them.


Docker is a powerful tool for developing, deploying, and running applications. By following the best practices outlined in this tutorial, you can be confident in using Docker in a production environment. It’s important to remember that while Docker simplifies many aspects of software development, it also requires a good understanding of the underlying principles to use effectively. Keep learning, keep experimenting, and happy Dockerizing!

Remember, this is just the beginning of your Docker journey. There’s a lot more to explore and learn. Keep practicing, and soon you’ll become a Docker pro!