Let’s have fun with Docker images

In this lab we will see how to create an image from a container. Even if this is not used very often it’s interesting to try it at least once. Then we will focus on the image creation using a Dockerfile. We will then see how to get the details of an image through the inspection and explore the filesystem to have a better understanding of what happens behind the hood. We will end this lab with the image API.

Image creation from a container

Let’s start by running an interactive shell in a ubuntu container.

docker container run -ti ubuntu bash

As we’ve done in the previous lab, we will install the figlet package in this container.

apt-get update
apt-get install -y figlet

We then exit from this container


Get the ID of this container using the ls command (do not forget the -a option as the non running container are not returned by the ls command).

docker container ls -a

Run the following command, using the ID retreived, in order to commit the container and create an image out of it.

docker container commit CONTAINER_ID

Once it has been commited, we can see the newly created image in the list of available images.

docker image ls

From the previous command, get the ID of the newly created image and tag it so it’s named ourfiglet.

docker image tag IMAGE_ID ourfiglet

Now we will run a container based on the newly created image named ourfiglet, and specify the command to be ran such as it uses the figlet package.

docker container run ourfiglet figlet hello

As figlet is present in our ourfiglet image, the command ran returns the following output.

 _          _ _
| |__   ___| | | ___
| '_ \ / _ \ | |/ _ \
| | | |  __/ | | (_) |
|_| |_|\___|_|_|\___/

This example shows that we can create a container, add all the libraries and binaries in it and then commit this one in order to create an image. We can then use that image as we would do for any other images. This approach is not the recommended one as it is not very portable.

In the following we will see how images are usually created, using a Dockerfile, which is a text file that contains all the instructions to build an image.

Image creation using a Dockerfile

We will use a simple example in this section and build a hello world application in Node.js. We will start by creating a file in which we retrieve the hostname and display it.

Copy the following content into index.js file.

var os = require("os");
var hostname = os.hostname();
console.log("hello from " + hostname);

We will dockerrize this application and start by creating a Dockerfile for this purpose. We will use alpine as the base image, add a Node.js runtime and then copy our source code. We will also specify the default command to be ran upon container creation.

Create a file named Dockerfile and copy the following content into it.

FROM alpine
RUN apk update && apk add nodejs
COPY . /app
CMD ["node","index.js"]

Let’s build our first image out of this Dockerfile, we will name it hello:v0.1

docker image build -t hello:v0.1 .

We then create a container to check it is running fine.

docker container run hello:v0.1

You should then have an output similar to the following one (the ID will be different though).

hello from 92d79b6de29f

There are always several ways to write a Dockerfile, we can start from a Linux distribution and then install a runtime (as we did above) or use images where this has already been done for us.

To illustrate that, we will now create a new Dockerfile but we will use the mhart/alpine-node:6.9.4 image. This is not an official image but it’s a very well known and used one.

Create a new Dockerfile named Dockerfile-v2 and make sure it has the following content.

FROM mhart/alpine-node:6.9.4
COPY . /app
CMD ["node","index.js"]

Basically, it is not that different from the previous one, it just uses a base image that embeds alpine and a Node.js runtime so we do not have to install it ourself. In this example, installing Node.js is not a big deal, but it is really helpful to use image where a runtime (or else) is already packages when using more complex environments.

We will now create a new image using this Dockerfile.

docker image build -f Dockerfile-v2 -t hello:v0.2 .

Note: as we do not use the default name for our Dockerfile, we use the -f option to point towards the one we need to use.

We now run a container from this image.

docker container run hello:v0.2

Once again, the output will look like the following.

hello from 4094ff6bffbd


In the 2 previous Dockerfile, we used CMD to define the command to be ran when a container is launched. As we have seen, there are several ways to define the command, using ENTRYPOINT and/or CMD. We will illustrate this on a new Dockerfile, named Dockerfile-v3, that as the following content.

FROM alpine
CMD ["localhost"]

Here, we define the ping command as the ENTRYPOINT and the localhost as the CMD, the command that will be ran by default is the concatenation of ENTRYPOINT and CMD: ping localhost. This command can be seen as a wrapper around the ping utility to which we can change the address we provide as a parameter.

Let’s create an image based on this new file.

docker image build -f Dockerfile-v3 -t ping:v0.1 .

We can run this image without specifying any command:

docker container run ping:v0.1

That should give a result like the following one.

PING localhost ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from seq=0 ttl=64 time=0.046 ms
64 bytes from seq=1 ttl=64 time=0.046 ms
64 bytes from seq=2 ttl=64 time=0.046 ms
64 bytes from seq=3 ttl=64 time=0.046 ms
64 bytes from seq=4 ttl=64 time=0.047 ms

You can also override the default CMD indicating another IP address. We will use which is the IP of a Google’s DNS.

docker container run ping:v0.1

That should return the following.

PING ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from seq=0 ttl=38 time=9.235 ms
64 bytes from seq=1 ttl=38 time=8.590 ms
64 bytes from seq=2 ttl=38 time=8.585 ms

Image Inspection

As we have already seen with containers, and as we will see with other Docker’s components (volume, network, …), the inspect command is available for the image API and it returns all the information of the image provided.

The alpine image should already be present locally, if it’s not, run the following command to pull it.

docker image pull alpine

Once we are sure it is there let’s inspect it.

docker image inspect alpine

There is a lot of information in there:

  • the layers the image is composed of
  • the driver used to store the layers
  • the architecture / os it has been created for
  • metadata of the image

We will not go into all the details now but it’s interesing to see an example of the Go template notation that enables to extract the part of information we need in just a simple command.

Let’s get the list of layers (only one for alpine)

docker image inspect --format "{{ json .RootFS.Layers }}" alpine | python -m json.tool

Let’s try another example to query only the Architecture information

docker image inspect --format "{{ .Architecture }}" alpine

This should return amd64.

Feel free to play with the Go template format and get familiar with it as it’s really handy.

Filesystem exploration

We first stop and remove all containers from your host (you might not be able to remove images if containers are using some of the layers).

docker container stop $(docker container ls -aq)
docker container rm $(docker container ls -aq)

Note: containers can also be removed in a non graceful way:

docker container rm -f $(docker container ls -aq)

We also remove all the images

docker image rm $(docker image ls -q)

We will now have a look inside the /var/lib/docker/overlay2 folder where the image and container layers are stored.

ls /var/lib/docker/overlay2

As we do not have any images yet, there should not be anything in this folder.

Let’s pull an nginx image

docker image pull nginx

You should get something like the following where we can see that 3 layers are pulled.

Using default tag: latest
latest: Pulling from library/nginx
5040bd298390: Pull complete
d7a91cdb22f0: Pull complete
9cac4850e5df: Pull complete
Digest: sha256:33ff28a2763feccc1e1071a97960b7fef714d6e17e2d0ff573b74825d0049303
Status: Downloaded newer image for nginx:latest

If we have a look to the changes that occurs in the /var/lib/docker/overlay2 folder

ls /var/lib/docker/overlay2

we can see the following:


Some folders, with names that looks like hash, were created. Those are the layers which, merged together, build the image filesystem.

Let’s run a container based on nginx.

docker container run -d nginx

We can now see 2 additional folders (ID, ID-init), those ones correspond to the read-write layer of the running container.


Feel free to go into those folder and explore their filesystems.