Shortcuts for Dockerfiles

A couple of common commands in a Dockerfile require writing a lot of repetitive code. In combination with variables from Python code, additional adaptions (e.g. escaping of strings, reformatting of certain parameters) has to be made. The shortcuts module includes some utilities – more precisely string formatters – for use in a Dockerfile. They are also included in other modules of Docker-Map. Of course the generated commands can also be applied to any other command line setting, e.g. run calls in Fabric.

Users and groups

Since Docker does not use the host system’s names, you either have to rely on only user ids, or create users and groups within the image. The former may not always be sufficient. Therefore, it is more practical to include commands such as RUN adduser username .... Additionally, when sharing volumes between images, user and group ids should be consistent between the containers that are accessing them.

The utility adduser() generates a adduser command with the arguments username and uid – other keyword arguments are optional. The optional default values assume that typically, you need a user for running programs, but not for login. They can be overwritten in any other case:

  • system: Create a system user; default is False.
  • no_login: Do not allow the user to login and skip creation of a home directory; default is True.
  • no_password: Do not issue a password for the user. It is set to False by default, but implied by no_login.
  • group: Add a user group for the user. It is set to False by default. In Dockerfiles, you might want to call addgroupuser() instead for making the id predicable.
  • gecos: Optional, but should usually be set to appropriate user information (e.g. full name) when no_login is set to False, as it avoids interactive prompts.

Similarly, addgroup() creates a addgroup command with the arguments groupname and gid. The optional system keyword argument decides whether to create a system user. For adding users to a group, use assignuser() with the arguments username and a list of groups in groupnames.

The three aforementioned functions can be comined easily with addgroupuser(). Like the adduser() shortcut, it has two mandatory arguments username and uid, and provides the keyword arguments system, no_login, no_password, and gecos with identical defaults. Additionally, a list of groups can be passed in groupnames. A user and group are created with identical name and id. When needed, the user is additionally added to a list of additional groups.

For example, for creating a user nginx for running web server workers with, inlcude the following commands:

df = DockerFile(...)
... #  Additional build commands'nginx', 2000))

If you are sharing files or a socket with an app server container named apps and the group id 2001, the following code creates that group and assigns the web server user to it:

df = DockerFile(...)
... #  Additional build commands
    addgroup('apps', 2001),
    addgroupuser('nginx', 2000, ['apps']),


The user and group names, as well as their ids, are only written here as literals for illustration purposes. The main intention of the DockerFile implementation is that you do not hard-code these settings, but instead refer to variables.


adduser and addgroup are specific to Debian-based Linux distributions. Therefore, they will be replaced with more system-independent commands in future versions.

User names of most Docker-Map functions are formatted by get_user_group(). It accepts the following input, which is returned as a string in the format user:group:

  • Tuple: should contain exactly two elements.
  • Integer: assumes only a user id, which is identical to the group id, and will be returned as uid:gid.
  • Strings: If they include a colon, are returned as is; otherwise formatted as name:name, where name is assumed to be the user and group id.

Files and directories

There are shortcuts available for a few common tasks, which are more infrequently used in Dockerfiles, but otherwise applied by Docker-Map. Most of them in syntax and functionality correspond with the identical unix shell commands.

The command mkdir() returns a string for creating directories. By default, parent directories are created as necessary, which can be deactivated by setting create_parent=False. Additionally, a bash if-clause can be inserted to check first whether the directory already exists. This is not the default, but set with check_if_exists=True.

Commands generated by utility functions chmod() modify file system permission flags, chown() changes the owner, just like their corresponding unix commands. The chmod permissions can be written in any notation as accepted by the unix command line. The user name for chown is expanded to a user:group notation using get_user_group(). For removing files, rm() can be used for generating a command line.

By default chmod(), chown(), and rm() include the -R argument, i.e. they apply changes recursively. This behavior is changed by passing the optional keyword argument recursive=False.

A shortcut for combining chmod(), chown(), and mkdir() is mkdir_chown(): It generates a concatenated command for creating a directory path and applying file system ownership from user_group and permission flags from permissions. Both are not mandatory and skipped if set to None. The default for permissions is ug=rwX,o=rX. Note that in this function, chmod() and chown() are not recursive by default, but optional with setting recursive=True. Optionally, an if-clause can check whether the directory exists with the keyword argument check_if_exists=True; if it does, the other two functions chmod and chown are nevertheless applied.

For example an empty directory, available only to the user with id 2001, is prepared with the following command:

df = DockerFile(...)
... #  Additional build commands'/var/lib/app', 2001, 'u=rwX,go='))


There are two utility functions for downloading files: curl() and wget(). Both have the URL as first argument, and an optional output file as second. Note that both programs need to be available in the base image, and that they behave differently when not provided with an output file parameter: curl prints the downloaded file to stdout, whereas wget attempts to detect the file name and stores it in the current directory.


A Dockerfile build can also download files with the ADD command.

Handling gzip-compressed tar archives (e.g. from downloads in Docker builds) can furthermore be supported with targz() and untargz(). Both have the archive name as the first argument. For targz(), specifying source files as second argument is obligatory, whereas untargz() has an optional destination argument, but will by default extract to the current directory.