Building images with DockerFile

The functionality of DockerFile is centered around creating Dockerfile’s for Docker images. Although it is not particularly hard to write them directly, doing so requires you to remember what to configure where. In some instances (e.g. commands, ports etc.) this may be done at run-time using a configuration utility. However, if there are more dynamic elements, e.g. paths and version numbers, you can end up having to change them in multiple places.

This implementation aims to make Dockerfiles easy to generate by Python code. Approaches in detail may vary, i.e. some may prefer to insert commands one-by-one, whereas others would rather use a format string to insert variables. It is possible to combine such methods.

Basic instantiation

A new Dockerfile can be created with the following commands:

from dockermap.api import DockerFile

df = DockerFile('ubuntu', maintainer='ME,', initial='RUN apt-get update\nRUN apt-get -y upgrade')

The first argument is the base image, as every new Docker image should have one. The maintainer argument is optional, and is written with a MAINTAINER prefix. Afterwards, the contents of initial (also optional) are written to the Dockerfile.

Internally, instantiation creates a string buffer and some configuration variables. All action commands where the order is relevant, e.g. RUN, are written to this buffer immediately, whereas configuration commands such as EXPOSE are delayed until a finalization step.

Except for being embedded in a context tarball, the Dockerfile is never actually stored by itself. If you wish to do so, you can use save().

Action commands

The following actions are performed on the string buffer immediately:

Initial contents

Passing in a base image, a maintainer, or initial contents on instantiation. Plain Dockerfile commands can be used in initial, as found in the Dockerfile reference. The base image is prefixed with FROM, whereas the maintainer is inserted with MAINTAINER. None of the initial commands are processed any further, so they should be formatted properly and contain line breaks.

Run commands

In order to insert RUN commands for execution during the build process, use run() and run_all(). They are convenience methods for prefix('RUN', 'command') and prefix_all('RUN', 'command 1', 'command 2', ...).

Adding files

Files can be added using add_file() and add_archive(). The former adds a single file or directory, whereas the latter adds the contents of a tar archive. By default, all files and directories will be inserted at the root of the container’s filesystem, maintaining their original structure of subdirectories where applicable.

Inserting a file or archive also adds an entry to a list which is used for building the context tarball. The latter carries all file-based information that is later sent to the Docker Remote API, including the finalized Dockerfile. Files and directories will simply be added to the context archive, whereas archives’ contents are extracted and recompressed without storing additional temporary files.

Target directories inside the image can be specified for add_file() using further arguments. For archives, this is currently not supported, so existing tarballs should be structured in a way suitable for the image.

For example, a file may also be added with the following arguments:

dockerfile.add_file('~/my_file', '/new_dir/my_file', '/another_file', expanduser=True, remove_final=True)


  • The first argument is the current actual place in the file system from where Docker-Map is run. If this includes variables, such as the current user home ~, expanduser should be set to True for resolving it to an absolute path name. Similarly, environment variables can be used when passing expandvars=True.
  • The second argument defines the target path in the final image. By default, the file would have ended up in /my_file.
  • The third argument is also optional, and specifies the path inside the context archive. By default it is identical to the image’s destination path, and can be used in case conflicts arise from adding multiple files or directories with identical names.
  • remove_final inserts a removal command (e.g. RUN rm -Rf /new_dir/my_file) at the end of the Dockerfile, but before configuration commands. You may want to set this to clean up the file system of the final image from files and directories that were only needed during the build process. Please note that due to the file system layering that Docker uses, this will not actually make the image smaller.

Comments and blank lines

Comments can be inserted with comment(), which is only a convenience for prefix('#', 'comment'). Passing None inserts an empty comment line. Blank lines are inserted with blank(). Note that these only have an effect if you actually store the Dockerfile somewhere.

Miscellaneous Docker commands

Any Dockerfile command, or a series thereof, can be inserted with prefix() and prefix_all(). These insert strings prefixed with a Dockerfile command. Following convenience methods should be preferred where available.

Direct write access

Strings with Dockerfile contents may also be written directly using write() and writeline() (same, but appends a line break) and writelines() (for multiple). They are not further processed besides that.

Configuration commands

The following are set as properties to a Dockerfile. They are appended as soon as finalize() is called. Afterwards no more changes are allowed to the object. Typically it is not necessary to call finalize() manually.


Setting volumes defines the list of volumes that a container in its default configuration will share. The list will be inserted prefixed with a VOLUME command, before any other of the following finalizing commands.

Entry point and default command

entrypoint and command do the same as inserting ENTRYPOINT and CMD in the Dockerfile. They can be set either as a list/tuple of strings, or a single string separated with spaces. Depending on command_shell, they are either written as a shell command in the Dockerfile (i.e. with spaces) or as an exec command (i.e. as a list).

The command_user property sets the default user for COMMAND and ENTRYPOINT. It is therefore inserted directly before them. In contrast to inserting the USER command directly, this does not change the user for other commands in the Dockerfile. You can still use prefix('USER', 'username') if you need to change users during the build process.

Similarly, command_workdir sets the working directory for ENTRYPOINT, CMD. It does however not change directories immediately, i.e. does not affect RUN commands.

Exposed ports

expose can be set as a single string, integer, or as a list or tuple thereof. It will be written to the Dockerfile with the EXPOSE command; if applicable, multiple ports are separated with spaces.

Building the Docker image

For starting the build process, pass the DockerFile to the Docker Remote API with the enhanced client method build_from_file():

from dockermap.api import DockerClientWrapper, DockerFile

client = DockerClientWrapper('unix://var/run/docker.sock')
dockerfile = DockerFile('ubuntu', maintainer='ME,')
client.build_from_file(dockerfile, 'new_image')