Run multiple services in a container

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A container’s main running process is the ENTRYPOINT and/or CMD at the end of the Dockerfile. It is generally recommended that you separate areas of concern by using one service per container. That service may fork into multiple processes (for example, Apache web server starts multiple worker processes). It’s ok to have multiple processes, but to get the most benefit out of Docker, avoid one container being responsible for multiple aspects of your overall application. You can connect multiple containers using user-defined networks and shared volumes.

The container’s main process is responsible for managing all processes that it starts. In some cases, the main process isn’t well-designed, and doesn’t handle “reaping” (stopping) child processes gracefully when the container exists. If your process falls into this category, you can use the --init option when you run the container. The --init flag inserts a tiny init-process into the container as the main process, and handles reaping of all processes when the container exits. Handling such processes this way is superior to using a full-fledged init process such as sysvinit, upstart, or systemd to handle process lifecycle within your container.

If you need to run more than one service within a container, you can accomplish this in a few different ways.

  • Put all of your commands in a wrapper script, complete with testing and debugging information. Run the wrapper script as your CMD. This is a very naive example. First, the wrapper script:

    # Start the first process
    ./my_first_process -D
    if [ $status -ne 0 ]; then
      echo "Failed to start my_first_process: $status"
      exit $status
    # Start the second process
    ./my_second_process -D
    if [ $status -ne 0 ]; then
      echo "Failed to start my_second_process: $status"
      exit $status
    # Naive check runs checks once a minute to see if either of the processes exited.
    # This illustrates part of the heavy lifting you need to do if you want to run
    # more than one service in a container. The container will exit with an error
    # if it detects that either of the processes has exited.
    # Otherwise it will loop forever, waking up every 60 seconds
    while /bin/true; do
      ps aux |grep my_first_process |grep -q -v grep
      ps aux |grep my_second_process |grep -q -v grep
      # If the greps above find anything, they will exit with 0 status
      # If they are not both 0, then something is wrong
      if [ $PROCESS_1_STATUS -ne 0 -o $PROCESS_2_STATUS -ne 0 ]; then
        echo "One of the processes has already exited."
        exit -1
      sleep 60

    Next, the Dockerfile:

    FROM ubuntu:latest
    COPY my_first_process my_first_process
    COPY my_second_process my_second_process
    CMD ./
  • Use a process manager like supervisord. This is a moderately heavy-weight approach that requires you to package supervisord and its configuration in your image (or base your image on one that includes supervisord), along with the different applications it will manage. Then you start supervisord, which manages your processes for you. Here is an example Dockerfile using this approach, that assumes the pre-written supervisord.conf, my_first_process, and my_second_process files all exist in the same directory as your Dockerfile.

    FROM ubuntu:latest
    RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y supervisor
    RUN mkdir -p /var/log/supervisor
    COPY supervisord.conf /etc/supervisor/conf.d/supervisord.conf
    COPY my_first_process my_first_process
    COPY my_second_process my_second_process
    CMD ["/usr/bin/supervisord"]
docker, supervisor, process management