Thursday, April 03, 2014

A Docker ‘Hello World' With Mono

Docker is a lightweight virtualization technology for Linux that promises to revolutionize the deployment and management of distributed applications. Rather than requiring a complete operating system, like a traditional virtual machine, Docker is built on top of Linux containers, a feature of the Linux kernel, that allows light-weight Docker containers to share a common kernel while isolating applications and their dependencies.

There’s a very good Docker SlideShare presentation here that explains the philosophy behind Docker using the analogy of standardized shipping containers. Interesting that the standard shipping container has done more to create our global economy than all the free-trade treaties and international agreements put together.

A Docker image is built from a script, called a ‘Dockerfile’. Each Dockerfile starts by declaring a parent image. This is very cool, because it means that you can build up your infrastructure from a layer of images, starting with general, platform images and then layering successively more application specific images on top. I’m going to demonstrate this by first building an image that provides a Mono development environment, and then creating a simple ‘Hello World’ console application image that runs on top of it.

Because the Dockerfiles are simple text files, you can keep them under source control and version your environment and dependencies alongside the actual source code of your software. This is a game changer for the deployment and management of distributed systems. Imagine developing an upgrade to your software that includes new versions of its dependencies, including pieces that we’ve traditionally considered the realm of the environment, and not something that you would normally put in your source repository, like the Mono version that the software runs on for example. You can script all these changes in your Dockerfile, test the new container on your local machine, then simply move the image to test and then production. The possibilities for vastly simplified deployment workflows are obvious.

Docker brings concerns that were previously the responsibility of an organization’s operations department and makes them a first class part of the software development lifecycle. Now your infrastructure can be maintained as source code, built as part of your CI cycle and continuously deployed, just like the software that runs inside it.

Docker also provides docker index, an online repository of docker images.  Anyone can create an image and add it to the index and there are already images for almost any piece of infrastructure you can imagine. Say you want to use RabbitMQ, all you have to do is grab a handy RabbitMQ images such as and run it like this:

docker run -d -p 5672:5672 -p 55672:55672 tutum/rabbitmq

The –p flag maps ports between the image and the host.

Let’s look at an example. I’m going to show you how to create a docker image for the Mono development environment and have it built and hosted on the docker index. Then I’m going to build a local docker image for a simple ‘hello world’ console application that I can run on my Ubuntu box.

First we need to create a Docker file for our Mono environment. I’m going to use the Mono debian packages from directhex. These are maintained by the official Debian/Ubuntu Mono team and are the recommended way of installing the latest Mono versions on Ubuntu.

Here’s the Dockerfile:

# monoxide mono-devel package on Ubuntu 13.10

FROM ubuntu:13.10
MAINTAINER Mike Hadlow <>

RUN sudo DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive apt-get install -y -q software-properties-common
RUN sudo add-apt-repository ppa:directhex/monoxide -y
RUN sudo apt-get update
RUN sudo DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive apt-get install -y -q mono-devel

Notice the first line (after the comments) that reads, ‘FROM  ubuntu:13.10’. This specifies the parent image for this Dockerfile. This is the official docker Ubuntu image from the index. When I build this Dockerfile, that image will be automatically downloaded and used as the starting point for my image.

But I don’t want to build this image locally. Docker provide a build server linked to the docker index. All you have to do is create a public GitHub repository containing your dockerfile, then link the repository to your profile on docker index. You can read the documentation for the details.

The GitHub repository for my Mono image is at Notice how the Docker file is in the root of the repository. That’s the default location, but you can have multiple files in sub-directories if you want to support many images from a single repository.

Now any time I push a change of my Dockerfile to GitHub, the docker build system will automatically build the image and update the docker index. You can see image listed here:

I can now grab my image and run it interactively like this:

$ sudo docker pull mikehadlow/ubuntu-monoxide-mono-devel
Pulling repository mikehadlow/ubuntu-monoxide-mono-devel
f259e029fcdd: Download complete
511136ea3c5a: Download complete
1c7f181e78b9: Download complete
9f676bd305a4: Download complete
ce647670fde1: Download complete
d6c54574173f: Download complete
6bcad8583de3: Download complete
e82d34a742ff: Download complete

$ sudo docker run -i mikehadlow/ubuntu-monoxide-mono-devel /bin/bash
mono --version
Mono JIT compiler version 3.2.8 (Debian 3.2.8+dfsg-1~pre1)
Copyright (C) 2002-2014 Novell, Inc, Xamarin Inc and Contributors.
TLS: __thread
SIGSEGV: altstack
Notifications: epoll
Architecture: amd64
Disabled: none
Misc: softdebug
LLVM: supported, not enabled.
GC: sgen

Next let’s create a new local Dockerfile that compiles a simple ‘hello world’ program, and then runs it when we run the image. You can follow along with these steps. All you need is a Ubuntu machine with Docker installed.

First here’s our ‘hello world’, save this code in a file named hello.cs:

using System;

namespace Mike.MonoTest
public class Program
public static void Main()
Console.WriteLine("Hello World");

Next we’ll create our Dockerfile. Copy this code into a file called ‘Dockerfile’:


FROM mikehadlow/ubuntu-monoxide-mono-devel

ADD . /src

RUN mcs /src/hello.cs
CMD ["mono", "/src/hello.exe"]

Once again, notice the ‘FROM’ line. This time we’re telling Docker to start with our mono image. The next line ‘ADD . /src’, tells Docker to copy the contents of the current directory (the one containing our Dockerfile) into a root directory named ‘src’ in the container. Now our hello.cs file is at /src/hello.cs in the container, so we can compile it with the mono C# compiler, mcs, which is the line ‘RUN mcs /src/hello.cs’. Now we will have the executable, hello.exe, in the src directory. The line ‘CMD [“mono”, “/src/hello.exe”]’ tells Docker what we want to happen when the container is run: just execute our hello.exe program.

As an aside, this exercise highlights some questions around what best practice should be with Docker. We could have done this in several different ways. Should we build our software independently of the Docker build in some CI environment, or does it make sense to do it this way, with the Docker build as a step in our CI process? Do we want to rebuild our container for every commit to our software, or do we want the running container to pull the latest from our build output? Initially I’m quite attracted to the idea of building the image as part of the CI but I expect that we’ll have to wait a while for best practice to evolve.

Anyway, for now let’s manually build our image:

$ sudo docker build -t hello .
Uploading context 1.684 MB
Uploading context
Step 0 : FROM mikehadlow/ubuntu-monoxide-mono-devel
---> f259e029fcdd
Step 1 : ADD . /src
---> 6075dee41003
Step 2 : RUN mcs /src/hello.cs
---> Running in 60a3582ab6a3
---> 0e102c1e4f26
Step 3 : CMD ["mono", "/src/hello.exe"]
---> Running in 3f75e540219a
---> 1150949428b2
Successfully built 1150949428b2
Removing intermediate container 88d2d28f12ab
Removing intermediate container 60a3582ab6a3
Removing intermediate container 3f75e540219a

You can see Docker executing each build step in turn and storing the intermediate result until the final image is created. Because we used the tag (-t) option and named our image ‘hello’, we can see it when we list all the docker images:

$ sudo docker images
hello latest 1150949428b2 10 seconds ago 396.4 MB
mikehadlow/ubuntu-monoxide-mono-devel latest f259e029fcdd 24 hours ago 394.7 MB
ubuntu 13.10 9f676bd305a4 8 weeks ago 178 MB
ubuntu saucy 9f676bd305a4 8 weeks ago 178 MB

Now let’s run our image. The first time we do this Docker will create a container and run it. Each subsequent run will reuse that container:

$ sudo docker run hello
Hello World

And that’s it.

Imagine that instead of our little hello.exe, this image contained our web application, or maybe a service in some distributed software. In order to deploy it, we’d simply ask Docker to run it on any server we like; development, test, production, or on many servers in a web farm. This is an incredibly powerful way of doing consistent repeatable deployments.

To reiterate, I think Docker is a game changer for large server side software. It’s one of the most exciting developments to have emerged this year and definitely worth your time to check out.


Steve said...

Two ways you can approach new builds and VM instances.

1. Build an image for mono (sans C# build and docker RUN statement), then build an image for running the build / running (with the option of building separate images for building and running applications)
2. Use the -v and -volumes-from options executing a "docker run" command

These two options seem to becoming common in certain NodeJS applications I've been going through.

Neil said...

that seems amazing, kind of like a layer below chef, puppet and vagrant? So could you run an mvc4 app if you could get it to run under mono?