Different Types of Docker Containers

Different Types of Docker Containers

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Updated on Sep 8, 2023 12:04 IST

In Docker, a container is a running instance of a Docker image. When you start a container, you are creating a new runtime environment that runs the application or process defined in the image. Containers are isolated from one another and from the host system, which means that they each have their own file system, network interfaces, and process space. This allows you to run multiple containers on the same host system without them interfering with one another.

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There are several built-in docker container management commands, such as docker run, docker start, docker stop, docker ps, and docker rm, which you can use to create, start, stop, list, and remove containers, respectively. You can also use the docker exec command to run a command inside a running container and the docker logs command to view the logs of a running container.

Containers are lightweight and fast to start, making them a popular choice for packaging and deploying applications in a microservices architecture. In this article, we will cover the following aspects associated with docker contains:

  1. Why do we need containers?
  2. Types of Docker container
  3. Disadvantages of Contenerazition
  4. Alternatives to Docker for contenerazition

Why Do We Need Containers?

There are several reasons why containers are important in Docker:

  1. Isolation: Containers provide a way to isolate applications from one another and from the host system. This means that you can run multiple containers on the same host without them interfering with each other.
  2. Portability: As containers include all of the dependencies and configurations required to run an application, they can be easily moved between different environments. This means that you can develop an application on your laptop, test it in a staging environment, and then deploy it to production, all using the same container image.
  3. Scalability: Containers make it easy to scale an application by running multiple instances of a container on different host systems. This allows you to add more resources to an application as needed quickly.
  4. Resource Efficiency: Containers share the host kernel and have a small footprint. They can start and stop quickly and use fewer resources than traditional virtual machines.
  5. Version Control: With containerization, we can version control our application dependencies and configurations. This makes it easy to roll back to a previous application version if there are issues with a new release.
  6. Standardization: Docker provides a standard format for packaging and distributing container images, which makes it easy for developers to share their applications with others and for operations teams to deploy and manage them in production.

Overall, Containers in Docker provide a way to package and deploy applications in a consistent and efficient manner, making it easier to develop, test, and deploy applications in different environments.

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Types of Containers in Docker

There are two types of containers in Docker:

  • Stateless Containers: These types of containers do not persist data, i.e., their data is deleted as soon as they are stopped. These containers are typically used to run stateless applications such as web servers, reverse proxies, and load balancers.
  • Stateful Containers: These types of containers persist data and are typically used to run stateful applications such as databases, message queues, and file servers. The data stored inside the container is persistent even if the container is stopped or recreated.

Additionally, there is another container type, which is:

  • Ephemeral Containers: These types of containers are used for short-lived tasks, such as running one-off commands, performing CI/CD pipeline tasks, etc. They are typically used for testing and debugging purposes. They are created and destroyed very quickly and are not meant to be long-lived.

It’s worth noting that you can use both stateless and stateful containers together to create a complete application. For example, you might use a stateless container to run a web server and a stateful container to run a database, and use the network to connect them.

Now, let’s deep dive into each one of them in detail.

1. Stateful Containers

Stateful Containers in Docker are used to run stateful applications, such as databases, message queues, and file servers. These types of containers persist data and are typically used when you need to maintain data across container restarts or if you need to run a stateful service that requires a certain level of persistence.

Some examples of stateful applications that can be run in a Docker container include:

  • A database like MySQL, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, etc.
  • A message queue like RabbitMQ, Kafka, etc.
  • A file server like Nginx, Apache, etc.

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To create a stateful container, you can use the docker run command and mount a volume from the host to the container. This allows the container to read and write data to the host’s file system, which makes the data persistent.

For example, you can start a stateful container with the command:

docker run –name my-mysql -v /path/on/host:/var/lib/mysql -d mysql:latest

This command creates a container named my-mysql and mounts the host’s directory /path/on/host to the container’s /var/lib/mysql directory. This allows the container to store data in the host’s directory, which makes the data persistent even if the container is stopped or recreated.

Alternatively, you can also use the docker volume create command to create a named volume and then mount it to the container.

docker volume create my-vol

docker run –name my-mysql -v my-vol:/var/lib/mysql -d mysql:latest

This command creates a named volume my-vol and then mounts it to the container’s /var/lib/mysql directory.

It’s worth noting that running stateful applications in containers can have some challenges, such as data management, backup, and disaster recovery. Therefore, you should consider the requirements of your applications and plan accordingly.

2. Stateless Containers

Stateless Containers in Docker are used to run stateless applications, such as web servers, reverse proxies, and load balancers. These types of containers do not persist data, i.e., their data is deleted as soon as they are stopped. They are typically used when the application does not need to maintain data across container restarts or if it can easily rebuild the data.

Some examples of stateless applications that can be run in a Docker container include:

  • A web server like Apache, Nginx, etc.
  • A reverse proxy like HAProxy, Traefik, etc.
  • A load balancer like HAProxy, Traefik, etc.

To create a stateless container, you can use the docker run command without mounting a volume from the host to the container. This means that the container does not have access to the host’s file system, and any data that is written to the container’s file system is lost when the container is stopped or recreated.

For example, you can start a stateless container with the command:

docker run –name my-nginx -d nginx:latest

This command creates a container named my-nginx and runs the latest version of the Nginx image. Since no volume is mounted, any data written to the container’s file system is lost when the container is stopped or recreated.

Since stateless containers do not persist data, it makes them more scalable, easy to manage, and less prone to data corruption. However, stateless containers may require additional services or mechanisms to store data, like databases or cloud storage services.

Additionally, stateless containers are usually more lightweight, easier to deploy, and quick to start, which makes them ideal for microservices architecture.

3. Ephemeral Container

Ephemeral Containers in Docker are used for short-lived tasks, such as running one-off commands, performing CI/CD pipeline tasks, etc. They are typically used for testing and debugging purposes and are created and destroyed very quickly. They are not meant to be long-lived and are not expected to persist data across container restarts.

Some examples of use cases for ephemeral containers include:

  • Running a one-off command or script inside a container for testing or debugging purposes.
  • Running a container for a specific task in a CI/CD pipeline, such as building, testing, or deploying an application.
  • Running a temporary container for a specific task, such as running a database migration or a data import.

To create an ephemeral container, you can use the docker run command with the –rm option. This option automatically removes the container when it exits.

For example, you can run a one-off command inside an ephemeral container with the command:

docker run –rm -it alpine:latest sh -c “echo ‘Hello, World!'”

This command creates a new container based on the alpine:latest image and runs the command echo ‘Hello, World!‘ inside the container. Since the –rm option is used, the container is automatically removed when the command exits.

Another example:

docker run –rm -it -v $(pwd):/app node:12-alpine sh -c “cd /app && npm install”

This command creates a new container based on the node:12-alpine image, mounts the current host directory to the container’s /app directory, and runs the command cd /app && npm install inside the container. The container will be removed once the command is finished running.

Ephemeral containers are helpful for running short-lived tasks, but should not be used for running long-lived services. They are useful for testing, debugging, and CI/CD pipeline tasks, but not for production services.

Drawbacks of Using Docker Containers

Some of the drawbacks of using Docker containers include:

  1. Security concerns: Containers share the host operating system, so if a container is compromised, the host can also be affected. This is why proper measures must be taken to ensure the security of containers.
  2. Limited Resource Management: Containers rely on the host for resource management, so there may be limitations on the resources available to each container, such as CPU, memory, and storage.
  3. Networking Complexity: Networking between containers can be complex, especially in multi-host deployments.
  4. Persistent Storage: Persistent storage can be a challenge with containers, as containers are ephemeral by nature and data can be lost when a container is deleted or recreated.
  5. Scalability: Scaling containers can be difficult, as each container runs in isolation, and multiple containers must be coordinated to scale an application.
  6. Support for Legacy Applications: Legacy applications that are not designed to run in containers may not work well in a containerized environment.

These are some of the challenges that can be faced while using Docker containers, but with proper planning and management, these challenges can be overcome to achieve the benefits of containerization.

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Alternatives of Docker Container

Some alternatives of Docker containers available in the market are:

  • Rkt: The rkt is a container runtime designed to be secure and composable. It uses the App Container (appc) image format and is compatible with Kubernetes, among other orchestration systems.
  • LXC (Linux Containers): LXC is an older, lightweight container technology that is still widely used. It uses Linux namespaces and cgroups to create isolated environments for processes.
  • OpenVZ: OpenVZ is a container-based virtualization solution that provides isolated environments for applications on a single physical server.
  • LXD: LXD is a next-generation system container manager that provides a user experience similar to virtual machines but uses Linux containers instead.
  • Microsoft Containers: Microsoft provides container support through the Windows Server operating system, including Windows Server Containers and Hyper-V Containers.
  • VMware Pivotal Container Service (PKS): PKS is a container management platform that can deploy and manage containers on vSphere, NSX-T, and Kubernetes.

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These are some of the popular alternatives to Docker containers, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Choosing the right solution will depend on the specific needs and requirements of your organization.

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