Working with volumes

Figure 63 : volume


At the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Create containers holding volumes.

  • Share volumes across containers.

  • Share a host directory with one or many containers.

Working with volumes

Docker volumes can be used to achieve many things, including:

  • Bypassing the copy-on-write system to obtain native disk I/O performance.

  • Bypassing copy-on-write to leave some files out of docker commit.

  • Sharing a directory between multiple containers.

  • Sharing a directory between the host and a container.

  • Sharing a single file between the host and a container.

  • Using remote storage and custom storage with "volume drivers".

Volumes are special directories in a container

Volumes can be declared in two different ways.

  • Within a Dockerfile, with a VOLUME instruction.
VOLUME /uploads
  • On the command-line, with the -v flag for docker run.
$ docker run -d -v /uploads myapp

In both cases, /uploads (inside the container) will be a volume.

Volumes bypass the copy-on-write system

Volumes act as passthroughs to the host filesystem.

  • The I/O performance on a volume is exactly the same as I/O performance on the Docker host.

  • When you docker commit, the content of volumes is not brought into the resulting image.

  • If a RUN instruction in a Dockerfile changes the content of a volume, those changes are not recorded neither.

  • If a container is started with the --read-only flag, the volume will still be writable (unless the volume is a read-only volume).

Volumes can be shared across containers

You can start a container with exactly the same volumes as another one.

The new container will have the same volumes, in the same directories.

They will contain exactly the same thing, and remain in sync.

Under the hood, they are actually the same directories on the host anyway.

This is done using the --volumes-from flag for docker run.

We will see an example in the following slides.

Sharing app server logs with another container

Let's start a Tomcat container:

$ docker run --name webapp -d -p 8080:8080 -v /usr/local/tomcat/logs tomcat

Now, start an alpine container accessing the same volume:

$ docker run --volumes-from webapp alpine sh -c "tail -f /usr/local/tomcat/logs/*"

Then, from another window, send requests to our Tomcat container:

$ curl localhost:8080

Volumes exist independently of containers

If a container is stopped or removed, its volumes still exist and are available.

Volumes can be listed and manipulated with docker volume subcommands:

$ docker volume ls
local               5b0b65e4316da67c2d471086640e6005ca2264f3...
local               pgdata-prod
local               pgdata-dev
local               13b59c9936d78d109d094693446e174e5480d973...

Some of those volume names were explicit (pgdata-prod, pgdata-dev).

The others (the hex IDs) were generated automatically by Docker.

Naming volumes

  • Volumes can be created without a container, then used in multiple containers.

Let's create a couple of volumes directly.

$ docker volume create webapps
$ docker volume create logs

Volumes are not anchored to a specific path.

Using our named volumes

  • Volumes are used with the -v option.

  • When a host path does not contain a /, it is considered to be a volume name.

Let's start a web server using the two previous volumes.

$ docker run -d -p 1234:8080 \
         -v logs:/usr/local/tomcat/logs \
         -v webapps:/usr/local/tomcat/webapps \

Check that it's running correctly:

$ curl localhost:1234
... (Tomcat tells us how happy it is to be up and running) ...

Using a volume in another container

  • We will make changes to the volume from another container.

  • In this example, we will run a text editor in the other container.

    (But this could be a FTP server, a WebDAV server, a Git receiver...)

Let's start another container using the webapps volume.

$ docker run -v webapps:/webapps -w /webapps -ti alpine vi ROOT/index.jsp

Vandalize the page, save, exit.

Then run curl localhost:1234 again to see your changes.

Using custom "bind-mounts"

In some cases, you want a specific directory on the host to be mapped inside the container:

  • You want to manage storage and snapshots yourself.

    (With LVM, or a SAN, or ZFS, or anything else!)

  • You have a separate disk with better performance (SSD) or resiliency (EBS) than the system disk, and you want to put important data on that disk.

  • You want to share your source directory between your host (where the source gets edited) and the container (where it is compiled or executed).

Wait, we already met the last use-case in our example development workflow! Nice.

$ docker run -d -v /path/on/the/host:/path/in/container image ...

Migrating data with --volumes-from

The --volumes-from option tells Docker to re-use all the volumes of an existing container.

  • Scenario: migrating from Redis 2.8 to Redis 3.0.

  • We have a container (myredis) running Redis 2.8.

  • Stop the myredis container.

  • Start a new container, using the Redis 3.0 image, and the --volumes-from option.

  • The new container will inherit the data of the old one.

  • Newer containers can use --volumes-from too.

  • Doesn't work across servers, so not usable in clusters (Swarm, Kubernetes).

Data migration in practice

Let's create a Redis container.

$ docker run -d --name redis28 redis:2.8

Connect to the Redis container and set some data.

$ docker run -ti --link redis28:redis busybox telnet redis 6379

Issue the following commands:

SET counter 42
INFO server

Upgrading Redis

Stop the Redis container.

$ docker stop redis28

Start the new Redis container.

$ docker run -d --name redis30 --volumes-from redis28 redis:3.0

Testing the new Redis

Connect to the Redis container and see our data.

docker run -ti --link redis30:redis busybox telnet redis 6379

Issue a few commands.

GET counter
INFO server

Volumes lifecycle

  • When you remove a container, its volumes are kept around.

  • You can list them with docker volume ls.

  • You can access them by creating a container with docker run -v.

  • You can remove them with docker volume rm or docker system prune.

Ultimately, you are the one responsible for logging, monitoring, and backup of your volumes.

Checking volumes defined by an image

Wondering if an image has volumes? Just use docker inspect:

$ # docker inspect training/datavol
  "config": {
    . . .
    "Volumes": {
        "/var/webapp": {}
    . . .

Checking volumes used by a container

To look which paths are actually volumes, and to what they are bound, use docker inspect (again):

$ docker inspect <yourContainerID>
  "ID": "<yourContainerID>",
. . .
  "Volumes": {
     "/var/webapp": "/var/lib/docker/vfs/dir/f4280c5b6207ed531efd4cc673ff620cef2a7980f747dbbcca001db61de04468"
  "VolumesRW": {
     "/var/webapp": true
  • We can see that our volume is present on the file system of the Docker host.

Sharing a single file

The same -v flag can be used to share a single file (instead of a directory).

One of the most interesting examples is to share the Docker control socket.

$ docker run -it -v /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock docker sh

From that container, you can now run docker commands communicating with the Docker Engine running on the host. Try docker ps!

.warning[Since that container has access to the Docker socket, it has root-like access to the host.]

Volume plugins

You can install plugins to manage volumes backed by particular storage systems, or providing extra features. For instance:

  • REX-Ray - create and manage volumes backed by an enterprise storage system (e.g. SAN or NAS), or by cloud block stores (e.g. EBS, EFS).

  • Portworx - provides distributed block store for containers.

  • Gluster - open source software-defined distributed storage that can scale to several petabytes. It provides interfaces for object, block and file storage.

  • and much more at the Docker Store!

Volumes vs. Mounts

  • Since Docker 17.06, a new options is available: --mount.

  • It offers a new, richer syntax to manipulate data in containers.

  • It makes an explicit difference between:

    • volumes (identified with a unique name, managed by a storage plugin),

    • bind mounts (identified with a host path, not managed).

  • The former -v / --volume option is still usable.

--mount syntax

Binding a host path to a container path:

$ docker run \
  --mount type=bind,source=/path/on/host,target=/path/in/container alpine

Mounting a volume to a container path:

$ docker run \
  --mount source=myvolume,target=/path/in/container alpine

Mounting a tmpfs (in-memory, for temporary files):

$ docker run \
  --mount type=tmpfs,destination=/path/in/container,tmpfs-size=1000000 alpine

Section summary

We've learned how to:

  • Create and manage volumes.

  • Share volumes across containers.

  • Share a host directory with one or many containers.