How to use Docker Compose to orchestrate multiple containers

Roman Glushach
4 min readAug 2, 2023

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Docker Compose

Docker Compose is a tool that was originally developed by Fig, a startup that was acquired by Docker in 2014. It is based on the idea of using a single file to describe the configuration of multiple containers that form an application. This file is called docker-compose.yml and it uses a YAML syntax to specify the services, networks, volumes, and other resources that your application needs.

Docker Compose allows you to use a single command, docker-compose up to build the images, create the containers, and start the services that your application requires. You can also use other commands, such as docker-compose down, docker-compose ps, docker-compose logs, and docker-compose exec, to stop, list, view, and run commands in your containers.

Docker Compose is not a replacement for Docker itself, but rather a complement that makes it easier to work with multi-container applications. You can still use the regular Docker commands to interact with your containers individually, but Docker Compose provides a higher-level abstraction that simplifies the orchestration of your application.

Why use Docker Compose?

Reduces the complexity and verbosity of your commands

Instead of writing long and repetitive commands to create networks, volumes, and containers for each service, you can write a concise and readable docker-compose.yml file that defines everything in one place.

Improves the consistency and reproducibility of your application

By using a docker-compose.yml file, you can ensure that your application will always run in the same way, regardless of the environment or platform. You can also share your file with other developers or users who can easily run your application with a single command.

Facilitates the development and testing of your application

By using Docker Compose, you can quickly spin up or tear down your application with a single command. You can also update your code or configuration without rebuilding your images or restarting your containers. You can also use Docker Compose to run integration tests or simulate different scenarios for your application.

Enables the scalability and portability of your application

By using Docker Compose, you can easily scale up or down your services by changing the number of replicas or the resources allocated to each container. You can also deploy your application to different environments or platforms by changing the settings or variables in your docker-compose.yml file.

How does Docker Compose work?

Docker Compose works by using the Docker Engine API to create and manage containers based on your docker-compose.yml file.

When you run docker-compose up, Docker Compose will do the following:

  • Pull or build the images for each service if they are not already present on your machine
  • Create a network for your app and connect all the containers to it
  • Start all the containers in the order of their dependencies
  • Attach to the logs of all the containers and display them in your terminal

You can also run docker-compose down to stop and remove all the containers, networks, and volumes created by docker-compose up.

Common Docker Compose Commands

Common Docker Compose Properties

Practical Example

Here is an example of docker-compose.yml a file that defines a simple web application that consists of two services: web and db

version: 3.8

services:
web:
image: nginx
ports:
- 80:80
environment:
- DB_HOST=db
depends_on:
- db
networks:
- app-network

db:
image: postgres
environment:
- POSTGRES_PASSWORD=secret
volumes:
- db-data:/var/lib/postgresql/data
networks:
- app-network

networks:
app-network:
driver: bridge
ipam:
config:
- subnet: 172.16.0.0/24

volumes:
db-data:

To run your application with Docker Compose, you need to navigate to the directory where your YAML file is located and execute the following command:

docker-compose up

This command will pull the images from the Docker Hub or a private registry if they are not already present on your machine, create and start the containers according to the configuration in the YAML file, and attach to their logs. You can also use the -d flag to run the containers in detached mode, which means they will run in the background without blocking your terminal.

To stop your application with Docker Compose, you need to execute the following command:

docker-compose down

This command will stop and remove the containers created by docker-compose up. You can also use the -v flag to remove any volumes associated with the containers.

Best Practices

Common Problems and Solutions

Conclusion

Docker Compose is a powerful tool that allows you to define and run multi-container applications with Docker. It simplifies the development, deployment, and management of complex applications that consist of multiple services.

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Roman Glushach

Senior Software Architect & Engineer Manager at Freelance