Docker Tutorial Series Part 8 Linking Containers

In this part, we shall take a look at how to link Docker Containers. By linking containers, you provide a secure channel via which Docker containers can communicate to each other.

Think of a sample web application. You might have a Web Server and a Database Server. When we talk about linking Docker Containers, what we are talking about here is the following:
  1. We can launch one Docker container that will be running the Database Server.
  2. We will launch the second Docker container (Web Server) with a link flag to the container launched in Step 1. This way, it will be able to talk to the Database Server via the link name.
This is a generic and portable way of linking the containers together rather than via the networking port that we saw earlier in the series. Keep in mind that this chapter covers Linking Containers via the — link flag. A new tool Docker Compose is the recommended way moving forward but for this tutorial, I will cover the — link flag only and leave it to the reader to look at Docker Compose.
Let us begin first by launching the popular NoSQL Data Structure Server Redis. Like other software, Redis too has its official Docker image available in the Docker Hub.
First, let us pull down the Redis image via the following command:
docker@boot2docker:~$ docker pull redis
Next, let us launch a Redis container (named redis1) in detached mode as follows:
docker@boot2docker:~$ docker run -d --name redis1 redis
We can check that redis1 container has started via the following command:
docker@boot2docker:~$ docker ps
37f174130f75 redis "/entrypoint.sh redi 30 seconds ago Up 29 seconds 6379/tcp redis1
Notice that it has started on port 6379.
Now, let us run a another container, a busybox container as shown below:
docker@boot2docker:~$ docker run -it --link redis1:redis --name redisclient1 busybox
Notice the — link flag. The value provided to the — link flag is sourcecontainername:containeraliasname. We have chosen the value redis1 in the sourcecontainername since that was the name that was given to our first container that we launched earlier. The containeraliasname has been selected as redis and it could be any name of your choice.
The above launch of container (redisclient1) will lead you to the shell prompt.
Now, what has this launch done for you. Let us observe first what entry has got added in the /etc/hosts file of the redisclient1 container:
/ # cat /etc/hosts 26c37c8982e9 localhost
::1 localhost ip6-localhost ip6-loopback
fe00::0 ip6-localnet
ff00::0 ip6-mcastprefix
ff02::1 ip6-allnodes
ff02::2 ip6-allrouters redis 37f174130f75 redis1
/ #
Notice an entry at the end, where the container redis1 has got associated with the redis name.
Now, if you do a ping by the host name i.e. alias name (redis) — it will work:
/ # ping redis
PING redis ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from seq=0 ttl=64 time=0.218 ms
64 bytes from seq=1 ttl=64 time=0.135 ms
64 bytes from seq=2 ttl=64 time=0.140 ms
64 bytes from seq=3 ttl=64 time=0.080 ms
If you print out the environment variables you will see the following (I have removed the other environment variables):
/ # set
You can see that various environment variables were auto-created for you to help reach out to the redis1 server from the redisclient1.
Sounds good? Now , let us get a bit more adventurous.
Exit the redis1 container and come back to the boot2docker prompt.
Let us launch a container based on the redis image but this time instead of the default command that will launch the redis server, we will simply go into the shell so that all the redis client tools are ready for us. Note that the redis1server (container) that we launched is still running.
docker@boot2docker:~$ docker run -it --link redis1:redis --name client1 redis sh
This will lead you to the prompt. Do a ping of redis i.e. our alias name and it should work fine.
# ping redis
PING redis ( 48 data bytes
56 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=64 time=0.269 ms
56 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=0.248 ms
56 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=64 time=0.205 ms
Next thing is to launch the redis client (redis-cli) and connect to our redis server (running in another container and to which we have linked) as given below:
# redis-cli -h redis
You can see that we have been able to successfully able to connect to the redis server via the alias name that we specified in the — link flag while launching the container. Ofcourse if we were running the Redis server on another port (other than the standard 6379) we could have provided the -p parameter to the redis-cli command and used the value of the environment variable over here (REDIS_PORT_6379_TCP_PORT). Hope you are getting the magic!
Now, let us execute some standard Redis commands:
redis:6379> PING
redis:6379> set myvar DOCKER
redis:6379> get myvar
Everything looks fine. Let us exit this container and launch another client (client2) that wants to connect to the same Redis Server that is still running in the first container that we launched and to which we added a string key / value pair.
docker@boot2docker:~$ docker run -it --link redis1:redis --name client2 redis sh
Once again, we execute a few commands to validate things:
# redis-cli -h redis
redis:6379> get myvar
You are all set now to link containers together.


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