Going Beyond Hello World Containers is Hard Stuff

22 Oct 2015

In my previous post, I provided the basic concepts behind Linux container technology. I wrote as much for you as I did for me. Containers are new to me. And I figured having the opportunity to blog about the subject would provide the motivation to really learn the stuff.

I intend to learn by doing. First get the concepts down, then get hands-on and write about it as I go. I assumed there must be a lot of Hello World type stuff out there to give me up to speed with the basics. Then, I could take things a bit further and build a microservice container or something.

I mean, it can’t be that hard, right?


Maybe it’s easy for someone who spends significant amount of their life immersed in operations work. But for me, getting started with this stuff turned out to be hard to the point of posting my frustrations to Facebook...

But, there is good news: I got it to work! And it’s always nice being able to make lemonade from lemons. So I am going to share the story of how I made my first microservice container with you. Maybe my pain will save you some time.

If you've ever found yourself in a situation like this, fear not: folks like me are here to deal with the problems so you don't have to!

Let’s begin.

A Thumbnail Micro Service

The microservice I designed was simple in concept. Post a digital image in JPG or PNG format to an HTTP endpoint and get back a a 100px wide thumbnail.

Here’s what that looks like:


I decide to use a NodeJS for my code and version of ImageMagick to do the thumbnail transformation.

I did my first version of the service, using the logic shown here:


I download the Docker Toolbox which installs an the Docker Quickstart Terminal. Docker Quickstart Terminal makes creating containers easier. The terminal fires up a Linux virtual machine that has Docker installed, allowing you to run Docker commands from within a terminal.

In my case, I am running on OS X. But there’s a Windows version too.

I am going to use Docker Quickstart Terminal to build a container image for my microservice and run a container from that image.

The Docker Quickstart Terminal runs in your regular terminal, like so:


The First Little Problem and the First Big Problem

So I fiddled around with NodeJS and ImageMagick and I got the service to work on my local machine.

Then, I created the Dockerfile, which is the configuration script Docker uses to build your container. (I’ll go more into builds and Dockerfile more later on.)

Here’s the build command I ran on the Docker Quickstart Terminal:

$ docker build -t thumbnailer:0.1

I got this response:

docker: "build" requires 1 argument.


After 15 minutes I realized: I forgot to put a period . as the last argument!

It needs to be:

$ docker build -t thumbnailer:0.1 .

But this wasn’t the end of my problems.

I got the image to build and then I typed the the run command on the Docker Quickstart Terminal to fire up a container based on the image, called thumbnailer:0.1:

$ docker run -d -p 3001:3000 thumbnailer:0.1

The -p 3001:3000 argument makes it so the NodeJS microservice running on port 3000 within the container binds to port 3001 on the host virtual machine.

Looks so good so far, right?

Wrong. Things are about to get pretty bad.

I determined the IP address of the virtual machine created by Docker Quickstart Terminal by running the docker-machine command:

$ docker-machine ip default

This returns the IP address of the default virtual machine, the one that is run under the Docker Quickstart Terminal. For me, this IP address was

I browsed to and got the file upload page I built:


I selected a file and clicked the Upload Image button.

But it didn’t work.

The terminal is telling me it can’t find the /upload directory my microservice requires.

Now, keep in mind, I had been at this for about a day—between the fiddling and research. I’m feeling a little frustrated by this point.

Then, a brain spark flew. Somewhere along the line remembered reading a microservice should not do any data persistence on its own! Saving data should be the job of another service.

So what if the container can’t find the /upload directory? The real issue is: my microservice has a fundamentally flawed design.

Let’s take another look:


Why am I saving a file to disk? Microservices are supposed to be fast. Why not do all my work in memory? Using memory buffers will make the "I can’t find no stickin’ directory" error go away and will increase the performance of my app dramatically.

So that’s what I did. And here’s what the plan was:


Here’s the NodeJS I wrote to do all the in-memory work for creating a thumbnail:

// Bind to the packages
var express = require('express');
var router = express.Router();
var path = require('path'); // used for file path
var im = require("imagemagick");

// Simple get that allows you test that you can access the thumbnail process
router.get('/', function (req, res, next) {
 res.status(200).send('Thumbnailer processor is up and running');

// This is the POST handler. It will take the uploaded file and make a thumbnail from the 
// submitted byte array. I know, it's not rocket science, but it serves a purpose
router.post('/', function (req, res, next) {
 req.busboy.on('file', function (fieldname, file, filename) {
   var ext = path.extname(filename)

   // Make sure that only png and jpg is allowed 
   if(ext.toLowerCase() != '.jpg' && ext.toLowerCase() != '.png'){
     res.status(406).send("Service accepts only jpg or png files");

   var bytes = [];

   // put the bytes from the request into a byte array 
   file.on('data', function(data) {
     for (var i = 0; i < data.length; ++i) {
     console.log('File [' + fieldname + '] got bytes ' + bytes.length + ' bytes');

   // Once the request is finished pushing the file bytes into the array, put the bytes in 
   // a buffer and process that buffer with the imagemagick resize function
   file.on('end', function() {
     var buffer = new Buffer(bytes,'binary');
     console.log('Bytes  got ' + bytes.length + ' bytes');

         srcData: buffer,
         height: 100
     }, function(err, stdout, stderr){
       if (err){
         throw err;
       // get the extension without the period
       var typ = path.extname(filename).replace('.','');
       res.setHeader("content-type", "image/" + typ);
       // send the image back as a response
       res.send(new Buffer(stdout,'binary'));

module.exports = router;

Okay, so we’re back on track and everything is hunky dory on my local machine. I go to sleep.

But, before I do I test the microservice code running as standard Node app on localhost...

Containers Hard

It works fine. Now all I needed to do was get it working in a container.

The next day I woke up, grabbed some coffee, and built an image—not forgetting to put in the period!

$ docker build -t thumbnailer:01 .

I am building from the root directory of my thumbnailer project. The build command uses the Dockerfile that is in the root directory. That’s how it goes: put the Dockerfile in the same place you want to run build and the Dockerfile will be used by default.

Here is the text of the Dockerfile I was using:

FROM ubuntu:latest
MAINTAINER [email protected]

RUN apt-get update
RUN apt-get install -y nodejs nodejs-legacy npm
RUN apt-get install imagemagick libmagickcore-dev libmagickwand-dev
RUN apt-get clean

COPY ./package.json src/

RUN cd src && npm install

COPY . /src


CMD npm start

What could go wrong?

The Second Big Problem

I ran the build command and I got this error:

Do you want to continue? [Y/n] Abort.

The command '/bin/sh -c apt-get install imagemagick libmagickcore-dev libmagickwand-dev' returned a non-zero code: 1

I figured something was wrong with the microservice. I went back to my machine, fired up the service on localhost, and uploaded a file.

Then I got this error from NodeJS:

Error: spawn convert ENOENT

What’s going on? This worked the other night!

I searched and searched, for every permutation of the error I could think of. After about four hours of replacing different node modules here and there, I figured: why not restart the machine?

I did. And guess what? The error went away!

Go figure.

Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle

So, back to the original quest: I needed to get this build working.

I removed all of the containers running on the VM, using the rm command:

$ docker rm -f $(docker ps -a -q)

The -f flag here force removes running images.

Then I removed all of my Docker images, using the rmi command:

$ docker rmi if $(docker images | tail -n +2 | awk '{print $3}')

I go through the whole process of rebuilding the image, installing the container and try to get the microservice running. Then after about an hour of self-doubt and accompanying frustration, I thought to myself: maybe this isn’t a problem with the microservice.

So, I looked that the the error again:

Do you want to continue? [Y/n] Abort.

The command '/bin/sh -c apt-get install imagemagick libmagickcore-dev libmagickwand-dev' returned a non-zero code: 1

Then it hit me: the build is looking for a Y input from the keyboard! But, this is a non-interactive Dockerfile script. There is no keyboard.

I went back to the Dockerfile, and there it was:

RUN apt-get update
RUN apt-get install -y nodejs nodejs-legacy npm
RUN apt-get install imagemagick libmagickcore-dev libmagickwand-dev
RUN apt-get clean

The second apt-get command is missing the -y flag which causes "yes" to be given automatically where usually it would be prompted for.

I added the missing -y to the command:

RUN apt-get update
RUN apt-get install -y nodejs nodejs-legacy npm
RUN apt-get install -y imagemagick libmagickcore-dev libmagickwand-dev
RUN apt-get clean

And guess what: after two days of trial and tribulation, it worked! Two whole days!

So, I did my build:

$ docker build -t thumbnailer:0.1 .

I fired up the container:

$ docker run -d -p 3001:3000 thumbnailer:0.1

Got the IP address of the Virtual Machine:

$ docker-machine ip default

Went to my browser and entered into the address bar.

The upload page loaded.

I selected an image, and this is what I got:


It worked!

Inside a container, for the first time!

So What Does It All Mean?

A long time ago, I accepted the fact when it comes to tech, sometimes even the easy stuff is hard. Along with that, I abandoned the desire to be the smartest guy in the room. Still, the last few days trying get basic competency with containers has been, at times, a journey of self doubt.

But, you wanna know something? It’s 2 AM on an early morning as I write this, and every nerve wracking hour has been worth it. Why? Because you gotta put in the time. This stuff is hard and it does not come easy for anyone. And don’t forget: you’re learning tech and tech runs the world!

P.S. Check out this two part video of Hello World containers, check out Raziel Tabib’s excellent work in this video...

And don't miss part two...

Posted in Docker, Containers

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