Skip to main content

Docker Basics

Related Videos#

Docker Basics Part 2
Docker Basics Part 3

In this lesson you will start, stop, list and access containers in various ways.

Starting a Container#

Starting a container is as simple as:

docker container run busybox printf "Hello World\n"

The output Hello World will appear in your terminal.

Note, Busybox [8] is a tiny bundle of UNIX utilities. Consequently, the official Busybox container image [9] is also very small. Another interesting light-weight Linux container image is Alpine [10][11].

Small container images are beneficial as they reduce the time to distribute new versions across the network. Large images have hundreds of MBs whereas small images comprise a few megabytes only.

List Running Containers#

After starting the container as described previously, run the following command:

docker container ls

To list running containers.

Do you see that no container is running?

This is because the container has been started, did what it was told to do and finally terminated. The printf command is not a daemon - not a long running process - and once the command exited, the container reach its end of life.

In order to see stopped containers execute:

docker container ls --all

This will show you the container along with some metadata such as:

CONTAINER ID        IMAGE                             COMMAND                  CREATED             STATUS                      PORTS               NAMES47e4a58fbf81        busybox                           "printf 'Hello World…"   2 minutes ago       Exited (0) 2 minutes ago                        hopeful_hoover

Starting and Stopping Containers With a Port Mapping#

In case a process within the container opens a port, the container port may interfere with a daemon running on your local computer. For this reason a port mapping is required that maps the container port to a vacant port on your machine:

docker container run -p 8081:8080 fischerjulian/smpl-go-web:1.0.0

This will map the port 8080of the container to the port 8081. Open your browser and navigate to http://localhost:8081. You should see a simple web app.

As this container starts a long-running process, the container will not automatically terminate:

docker container ls
CONTAINER ID        IMAGE               COMMAND               CREATED             STATUS              PORTS                    NAMESf535c41de16f        smpl-go-web         "/bin/sh -c ./main"   12 minutes ago      Up 12 minutes>8080/tcp   dazzling_swanson

As you can see the output also described the port mapping from your local machine to the container.

You can use the automatically assigned container name dazzling_swanson to stop the container with a SIGTERM [6] signal:

docker container stop dazzling_swanson

Alternatively you can also use the CONTAINER ID interchangeably with the container name to stop the container:

docker container stop a1eecf6fa762

And in case the container doesn't stop you can escalate from SIGTERM to a forceful SIGKILL which should terminate the container process immediately:

docker container kill dazzling_swanson

Starting an Interactive Container#

It is possible to start a container with an interactive terminal, e.g. for exploring or debugging a container (image):

docker container run -it busybox /bin/sh

You can terminate the interactive terminal with the CTRL+D shortcut. The container will stop automatically.

Starting a Detached Container#

You can start a container and detach the terminal from it:

docker container run -d busybox sleep 600

This will start a container that sits there for 10 minutes and return its full CONTAINER ID. The container IDs you see in most CLI commands such as docker container ls is just the truncated tail of the actual ID.

Obtaining an Interactive Shell to a Detached Container#

You can obtain an interactive shell and access the container assuming its CONTAINER ID is dc1945b3fa961f556d059c569460e18ba16a10c8bb5524653d27df101de49d73:

docker exec -it affectionate_wright /bin/sh

In the shell you can enter ps to list running Linux processes, and you see something similar to:

PID   USER     TIME  COMMAND 1 root      0:00 sleep 600 6 root      0:00 /bin/sh12 root      0:00 ps

The process with PID 1 is the sleep 600 command and argument passed during the container start. This tells you that you actually logged into the existing container and did not start a new one.

While being in the interactive shell, create a new file within the container:

/ # touch test.txt

Stop the container:

docker container stop dc1945b3fa96

What do you think happened to your file?

Poof! It's gone! Containers do not persist changes made to the filesystem.

Docker supports so called volumes [7] to persist files if no data service such as a database or persisting message broker is being used.

However, as this training does not aim to use Docker but Kubernetes, persistency will be covered in the subsequent Kubernetes Training.


  1. iTerm2,
  2. GNU Bash,
  3. Zsh,
  4. Cygwin,
  5. Docker Desktop,
  6. Linux Programmer's Manual, SIGNAL(7), POSIX Signals,
  7. Docker Volumes,
  9. BusyBox Container Image,
  10. Alpine Linux,
  11. Alpine Linux Image,