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Java and Node in Microcontainers with Docker

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Java and Node in Microcontainers with Docker

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Java and Node in Microcontainers on Docker

In the first article I presented a way to create Microcontainers which use volume containers to share runtimes and executables so that the actual application containers can be kept small. The containers are based on BusyBox (progrium/busybox) and necessary libraries are symbolically linked so that the executables work in the very light environment.

In this article I take the concept forward with a Java runtime environment and service registration and discovery using Consul.

The concept is built on Docker's ability to use multiple volume containers per application container. This allows the container to have a mix of different executables available and provide a specialized, minimal runtime for a specific application like Jetty.

I present an example which runs Consul for service registration and discovery in all containers, a Node.js-based hello world application, a Java-based hello world application on Jetty and cAdvisor for container monitoring. The set-up can be run with Weave-based networking with static internal IP addresses or without it.

The concept is built in three parts:

This image shows how the application containers are built by extending containers. It also shows which fileboxes are needed for the application containers to work and which ports are exposed.

Corresponding docker.io trusted builds have been made so trying out the examples doesn't require local building. The filebox volume containers need to be created locally.


Fileboxes are special containers that only define volumes. They are based on tianon/true image which only contains an assembler version of true command and causes minimum overhead (125 bytes) on the file container.


Basefilebox contains the components that are provided to all containers. For this demo that means Consul for service registration and discovery between containers and runit to allow Consul and the actual application to run at the same time in the container. The buildfile copies the executables from the image to the correct location in the volume.


As Consul is statically linked it is extremely easy to get it to run. Main idea is to have a Consul agent running in all containers so that service discovery is trivial. As all the containers get an own IP either from the Docker itself or from an external network configuration mechanism like Weave, services can be left running in the default ports and use DNS A-records for service discovery. This simplifies things as there is no need to query for ports or extra information, which could be done using SRV records or a REST-based API.

A shell script is used to start the Consul which checks if an environment variable called DC is defined. If it is, the script waits for the Weave interface to become available before getting the IP of that interface and announcing that with Consul. If it isn't, the IP of the container is received from the /etc/hosts file.


Runit is used to control multiple processes running in the microcontainer. It is used instead of supervisord as it is very small and doesn't require any extra libraries to be available. It consists of two commands: runsv and runsvdir.

Dockerfile for the base container

FROM tianon/true
MAINTAINER Ilkka Anttonen version: 0.1
VOLUME /opt/files
COPY consul /opt/files/consul
COPY runsv /opt/files/runsv
COPY runsvdir /opt/files/runsvdir


Oracle JRE 8

The Java runtime is quite large. I looked around for stripped versions, but most either weren't very compatible or were quite old. In the end I figured that sharing the runtime-executables via a volume container could be a good trade-off between compatibility and size. This way the volume container is built once and then all the containers that need the Java runtime on that host can just include it. Without any extra modifications, the size of the image is 168.5 MB. Building the volume container is extremely quick, but downloading the image will take some time.

Dockerfile for the Java 8 container

FROM tianon/true
MAINTAINER Ilkka Anttonen version: 0.1
VOLUME /opt/files/java
COPY jre1.8.0_25 /opt/files/java/jre


Node executable that was built on the Ubuntu host only requires the libstdc++ library to run. This nodefilebox includes the executable and the library. I thought about including npm as well, but decided against it as the container is meant to be a runtime instead of a development environment. This way the application with all the dependencies can be built on host (or later on a build-container) and the resulting files can just be copied to the application container.

Dockerfile for the Nodejs volume container

FROM tianon/true
MAINTAINER Ilkka Anttonen version: 0.1
VOLUME /opt/files/node
COPY libstdc++.so.6 /opt/files/node/libstdc++.so.6
COPY node /opt/files/node/node


This filebox contains the unpacked Jetty 9 distributable. To be usable, the container running this must also use the Javafilebox to provide the JRE.

Dockerfile for the Jettyfilebox

FROM tianon/true
MAINTAINER Ilkka Anttonen version: 0.1
VOLUME /opt/files/jetty
COPY jetty-distribution-9.2.4.v20141103 /opt/files/jetty/jetty

Building the volume containers from the images

The volume containers can be built with the following four commands:

docker run --name=basefilebox sirile/basefilebox
docker run --name=nodejsfilebox sirile/nodejsfilebox
docker run --name=java8filebox sirile/java8filebox
docker run --name=jettyfilebox sirile/jettyfilebox

This also downloads the container images to the local registry. The JRE image is rather large, others are small.


These are containers that stack on top of each other to build the runtime environments. They link the executables and libraries that the filebox volume containers provide to the file system. Some of them can be started by themselves instead of extending with applications for development and testing purposes. More information about this can be found from corresponding README.md files in Github.


A base Microcontainer built on top of progrium/busybox. Not that useful by itself, but acts as a base for running other applications. Includes symbolic links for Consul and runit executables. It also includes basic configuration for runit, basic consul configuration including DNS server port specification for the normal port 53 so that it can be used as the local DNS server. The container fires up runit which starts the execution of consul and also other runit controlled processes that can be configured under /etc/service.

Everything built on top of Basebox requires basefilebox volume container for the executables.

Dockerfile for Basebox

FROM progrium/busybox
MAINTAINER Ilkka Anttonen version: 0.1
RUN ln -s /opt/files/runsv /sbin/runsv
RUN ln -s /opt/files/runsvdir /sbin/runsvdir
RUN ln -s /opt/files/consul /usr/bin/consul
COPY consul /etc/service/consul/run
COPY config-consul.json /etc/consul.d/config-consul.json
CMD "/sbin/runsvdir" "/etc/service"


A Microcontainer running on top of sirile/basebox which offers a consul server and consul UI. It also contains a start script for the Consul server which can adapt to Weave provided networking if the environment variable DC has been set. Otherwise it uses the normal IP of the container.

Dockerfile for Consulbox

FROM progrium/busybox
MAINTAINER Ilkka Anttonen version: 0.1
COPY consul_ui /opt/consul_ui
COPY startConsul.sh /usr/bin/startConsul.sh
RUN ln -s /opt/files/consul /usr/bin/consul
CMD '/usr/bin/startConsul.sh'


A Microcontainer for a Java based application. The version of the JRE is decided by the volume container that has the files.

Dockerfile for Javabox

FROM sirile/basebox
MAINTAINER Ilkka Anttonen version: 0.1
RUN ln -s /opt/files/java/jre/bin/java /usr/bin/java


Jettybox build file does nothing at the moment as there is no need to link Jetty executables to the file system because Jetty can be started directly with a Java -jar command. The container is still created and the actual application container is built on top of it.


A Microcontainer that can be used to run nodejs applications.

Dockerfile for Nodejsbox

FROM sirile/basebox
MAINTAINER Ilkka Anttonen version: 0.1
RUN ln -s /opt/files/node/node /usr/bin/node
RUN ln -s /opt/files/node/libstdc++.so.6 /lib/libstdc++.so.6



The Jetty example container contains just the example application and configuration plus the runit configuration to start Jetty. The container registers itself to Consul and tells that it provides a jettyhello-service. As the container is based on basebox, it automatically launches the runit defined in that Dockerfile.

Example war-file was downloaded from https://tomcat.apache.org/tomcat-6.0-doc/appdev/sample/. It contains a servlet and a jsp that can be used to demonstrate that the Jetty environment is fully functional.

Dockerfile for Jettytestbox

FROM sirile/jettybox<
MAINTAINER Ilkka Anttonen version: 0.1
COPY jetty /etc/service/jetty/run
COPY start.ini start.ini
COPY sample.war webapps/sample.war
COPY hello.json /etc/consul.d/hello.json


A very simple nodejs and express based hello world application. The container registers itself to Consul and tells that it provides a nodehello-service.

Dockerfile for Nodejstestbox

FROM sirile/nodejsbox
MAINTAINER Ilkka Anttonen version: 0.1
COPY express.js express.js
COPY node_modules node_modules
COPY node /etc/service/node/run
COPY hello.json /etc/consul.d/hello.json

Running the example application

The github project https://github.com/SirIle/microtestboxes contains shell scripts which can be used to start the applications. As docker.io trusted builds have been defined, local building is not necessary.

Running with Weave provided networking

This can be started with the startTestboxes.sh script, which does the following:

sudo weave launch
sudo weave run -p 8500:8500 -h consul -e DC=west --name consul --volumes-from basefilebox sirile/consulbox
sudo weave run --volumes-from basefilebox --volumes-from nodejsfilebox -e DC=west --link consul:consul -h nodebox --name nodebox --dns -p 80:80 sirile/nodejstestbox
sudo weave run --volumes-from basefilebox --volumes-from java8filebox --volumes-from jettyfilebox -e DC=west --link consul:consul -h jettybox --name jettybox --dns -p 81:80 sirile/jettytestbox
sudo weave run --volume=/:/rootfs:ro --volume=/var/run:/var/run:rw --volume=/sys:/sys:ro --volume=/var/lib/docker/:/var/lib/docker:ro --publish=8080:8080 --name=cadvisor google/cadvisor:latest

Running without Weave

Running the example without Weave networking can be done with the startTestboxesNoWeave.sh script which does:

docker run -p 8500:8500 -h consul -d --name consul --volumes-from basefilebox sirile/consulbox
docker run --volumes-from basefilebox -d --volumes-from nodejsfilebox --link consul:consul -h nodebox --name nodebox --dns -p 80:80 sirile/nodejstestbox
docker run --volumes-from basefilebox -d --volumes-from java8filebox --volumes-from jettyfilebox --link consul:consul -h jettybox --name jettybox --dns -p 81:80 sirile/jettytestbox
docker run --volume=/:/rootfs:ro --volume=/var/run:/var/run:rw --volume=/sys:/sys:ro --volume=/var/lib/docker/:/var/lib/docker:ro --publish=8080:8080 --detach=true --name=cadvisor google/cadvisor:latest

Testing the application using a browser

There are several applications available:

  • Consul UI can be accessed at port 8500 (for example
  • Nodejs based test application runs at port 80 (
  • Jetty based test application runs at port 81 at context /sample (
  • cAdvisor runs in port 8080 (

Testing Consul based connectivity

Consul provided DNS can be used to connect to for example a back-end database that has registered itself as a service. For now there are three services registered: consul, nodehello and jettyhello. Calling between containers can be demonstrated with:

$ docker exec jettybox ping nodehello.service.consul
PING nodehello.service.consul ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from seq=0 ttl=64 time=0.053 ms
64 bytes from seq=1 ttl=64 time=0.207 ms

This shows that the Consul provided DNS resolves the address nodehello.service.consul to the Weave given internal IP address of nodebox container. Using Weave the container could well be running on a separate host, even on another service provider.


This is the list of the container images:

REPOSITORY             TAG                 IMAGE ID            CREATED             VIRTUAL SIZE
sirile/jettytestbox    latest              b949a448fdac        5 hours ago         4.815 MB
sirile/nodejstestbox   latest              3e546fa4663d        5 hours ago         5.775 MB
sirile/consulbox       latest              38b40fd0b0a8        6 hours ago         5.782 MB
sirile/nodejsfilebox   latest              34b1ad35b57f        6 hours ago         9.819 MB
sirile/java8filebox    latest              d6b4cb7c3079        9 hours ago         168.5 MB
sirile/basefilebox     latest              f3a56a6cb60e        9 hours ago         15.78 MB
sirile/jettyfilebox    latest              f1a14fe1f665        9 hours ago         14.7 MB
google/cadvisor        0.6.1               5c12ab6c98aa        2 days ago          17.55 MB
google/cadvisor        latest              5c12ab6c98aa        2 days ago          17.55 MB
tianon/true            latest              d222574ccc4a        2 days ago          125 B
zettio/weave           git-3cb6f1b3cc4b    6e720cb2ccd9        3 days ago          10.83 MB
zettio/weave           latest              6e720cb2ccd9        3 days ago          10.83 MB

As can be observed, the application containers are very small, around 5 MB. The memory usage varies from about 25MB of the nodejs container to around 100 MB for the untuned Jetty container. Running services as Microservices with the runtime bundled with the service is a feasible thing to do, especially if the runtimes are shared with volume containers which helps to keep the application containers small. This leads to extremely fast build and startup times for the application containers.

Next steps

The goal of this exercise was to prove that stand alone Microservices are doable on Microcontainers with Docker. They are. They can provide a lot of flexibility in creating the runtime distributed environment especially when service registration and discovery is used along with advanced networking so that the services can reside on multiple nodes.

Next step could be to implement a real multi-tiered application on this base instead of just simple example applications. Suggestions are welcome.


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