Growing Devs

Jul 26, 2014

A basic infrastructure with Docker, Chef, and Rails

by Austen Ito

Before we get started

This tutorial expects you to have knowledge of the basic Docker concepts such as images, containers, volumes, and linking. If you aren’t familiar, take a look at Getting Started with Docker. In this post, we’ll be building infrastructure in Vagrant with the lightweight resources provided by Chef-Docker.

Our chef kitchen, where we’ll configure our environment specific variables, can be found here: Example Chef Kitchen

What isn’t covered

What are we trying to build?

It’s hard to explain even a simple infrastructure without a diagram. So this is what we’ll be building step-by-step:

Docker Rails Diagram

In this diagram, each square represents a Docker container built from a Docker image. Everything a container needs to run is either found in the container (e.g. configuration files) or by linking to other containers.

The rails application is linked to a gem cache container to avoid downloading gems everytime we deploy a container.

Gem Cache

Before each section, I’ll reference the chef recipe and the Dockerfile here:

In the Docker world, containers are ephemeral, which means data written to containers disappear when we redeploy a container. Docker volumes allow us to store data outside of a container. In our case, we never want to redownload a gem if it already has been downloaded.

Let’s take a look at the data volume recipe:

    include_recipe 'docker'

    # 1
    cookbook_file 'Dockerfile' do
      path '/tmp/Dockerfile'
      source 'gem-cache/Dockerfile'

    # 2
    docker_image 'ubuntu' do
      tag 'gem-cache'
      source '/tmp'
      action :build_if_missing

    docker_container 'gem-cache' do
      image 'ubuntu:gem-cache'
      container_name 'gem-cache'
      detach true
      action :run
  1. The first thing we need to do is copy over our Dockerfile into the context of the Docker build to provide the Docker daemon access to the files when building the image.

  2. Next we create the Docker volume image. We set the context of the build to be /tmp, which is where we copied our Dockerfile scripts.

  3. Finally, we use the image to run a container. This container is set to run bash via the CMD directive in the Dockerfile.


Let’s look at the chef recipe to build our Docker image, since there’s a lot more going on:

    # 1
    FROM austenito/ruby:2.1.2

    # 2
    RUN mkdir /postgres
    ADD Berksfile /postgres/Berksfile
    ADD solo.json /postgres/solo.json
    ADD solo.rb /postgres/solo.rb

    WORKDIR /postgres

    # 3
    RUN bash -c 'source /usr/local/share/chruby/; chruby 2.1.2'
    RUN berks vendor ./cookbooks
    RUN chef-solo -c solo.rb -j solo.json

    # 4
    VOLUME  ["/etc/postgresql", "/var/log/postgresql", "/var/lib/postgresql"]

    # 5
    EXPOSE 5432
    USER postgres
    CMD ["/usr/lib/postgresql/9.3/bin/postgres",
         "-D", "/var/lib/postgresql/9.3/main", "-c",
  1. Pull a pre-built Ruby 2.1.2 image from Docker hub. It has ruby 2.1.2 and chruby installed.

  2. Add files in the Docker daemon context to our image.

  3. Run chef-solo to build and configure postgres with the files we copied into our image.

  4. Expose directories to other containers to allow backups of our data. If we didn’t do this and the container is deleted, all of our data would be lost.

  5. Run postgres.

Our chef recipe is similar to the gem cache with a few differences:


    if `sudo docker ps -a | grep postgres`.size == 0
      docker_container 'postgres' do
        image 'austenito/postgres:9.3'
        container_name 'postgres'
        port "5432:5432"
        detach true
        env ["POSTGRES_USER=#{node['postgresql']['user']}",
        volumes_from 'gem-cache'
        action :run

Rails application

Our Rails application container uses the link directive to provide container linking. This exposes environment variables with ip and port information of postgres container.


    docker_container 'rails-example' do
      image 'austenito/rails-example'
      container_name 'rails-example'
      detach true
      link ['postgres:db']
      volumes_from 'gem-cache'
      action :run
      port '3000:3000'

When the rails-example container starts up, we want to be able to bundle, precompile our assets, migrate, then start our server. Specifying this inline via the CMD directive is a bit cumbersome, so we can specify a script to the CMD directive, The script clones the latest rails-example repository, bundles, migrates, and starts unicorn.


Unlike the postgres container, which uses a chef recipe for configuration, we will configure nginx manually via apt and copying over our nginx.conf file. Using the nginx chef recipe turns out to be a bit too compilicated for our simple infrastructure example.

Other than that, there is nothing new to see in the recipe or the Dockerfile. Our Dockerfile installs nginx and we run a container with nginx with our chef recipe.

Putting it all together

We’re ready to deploy our infrasture to vagrant. Run the following commands:

    git clone
    vagrant plugin install vagrant-omnibus
    vagrant up

If everything went right the first time (it always does right?), you can visit the example app at http://localhost:8080/.

Let’s ssh into our vagrant box by running vagrant ssh and poke around. First let see what images we created:

    sudo docker images

    REPOSITORY                TAG                 IMAGE ID
    austenito                 nginx               a10b38bf0975
    austenito/rails-example   latest              38c2ed56c811
    austenito/postgres        9.3                 88c026cf2326
    ubuntu                    gem-cache           11f9a661754b
    ubuntu                    14.04               c4ff7513909d
    austenito/ruby            2.1.2               c794944b5fa2

These images were built by the docker_image directive in our chef recipes. They are used to create and run the containers below:

    sudo docker ps -a

    IMAGE                           PORTS                    NAMES
    austenito:nginx       >80/tcp       nginx
    austenito/rails-example:latest>3000/tcp   nginx/rails_example,rails-example
    austenito/postgres:9.3>5432/tcp   nginx/rails_example/db,postgres,rails-example/db
    ubuntu:gem-cache                                         gem-cache

What if I don’t want to build my images from the ground up?

Great question! Part of the power of Docker is the ability to push your images (ala git style) to Docker Hub so you don’t have to rebuild images. Ruby takes the longest to compile and I’ve set the docker_image directive in the postgres Dockerfile to point to austenito/ruby:2.1.2.