Deploying a Web App, Redis, Postgres and Nginx with Docker

Aijin Yuan (Vince)
8 min readMay 29, 2015

This tutorial introduces how to deploy a web app, Redis, Postgres and Nginx with Docker on the same server. In this tutorial, the web app is a node.js(express) app. We use Redis as a cache store, Postgres as the database, and Nginx as the reverse proxy server. You can get all source code at

Why Docker

Docker is a virtualization technology. The key feature I like most is it provides resource isolation. The traditional way of building a (low-traffic) website is we install the web app, cache, database, Nginx directly on a server. It’s not easy to change the settings or the content a lot, because they are in the same environment. Changing one may impact others. With Docker, we can put each service in a container. It keeps the host server very clean. We can easily create/delete/change/re-create containers.

Install Docker on the host

Docker runs on a 64-bit Linux OS only. If your Linux is 32-bit, you have to re-install the 64-bit version. My original OS was 32-bit CentOS. Now I am using 64-bit Debian 8. The main reason I choose Debian is its distribution size is small and Docker recommends it in Best Practices(it’s ridiculous that almost all examples at use ubuntu). Actually the host’s OS can be different to the container’s OS. I choose Debian instead of 64-bit CentOS because I don’t want to spend any time on the differences. For example, the package management tools on Debian and CentOS are different. One is apt, the other is yum.

Currently, Docker’s official installation on Debian 8 does not work. You need to run the following commands as root. theuser is the user of host OS.

sudo su
curl -sSL | sh
# Add theuser to docker group to run docker as a non-root user
# MUST logout and re-login to let it effective
usermod -aG docker theuser
# Start docker service
systemctl enable docker.service
systemctl start docker.service


cd / git clone

The folder /DockerizingWebAppTutorial contains all we need. mynodeapp is a very simple node.js (express) app. It just reads a number from Redis, and gets a query result from Postgres. There are several Dockerfiles in the dockerfiles folder. We will use them to build images.

Create folders:

cd / && mkdir mydata && cd myata
mkdir redis_data && mkdir postgres_data && mkdir nginx_data
root@pophubserver:/mydata# mkdir log_mynodeapp && mkdir log_nginx

Let’s run the first container.


We use the official Redis image. Run it directly with this command:

docker run -d -v /mydata/redis_data:/data --name myredis --restart=always redis

-v /mydata/redis_data:/data means we mount a folder /mydata/redis_data of the host as a volume /data in a container. Nginx will save dump.rdb at /mydata/redis_data in the host. If we don't mount a volume, Nginx will save dump.rdb in the container. When this container is deleted, dump.rdb will be deleted too. So we should always mount a volume for the important data e.g. database file, logs. --name myredis means we name this container myredis --restart=always means the container will restart after it quits unexpectedly. It also makes the container start automatically after the server reboots.

That command outputs:

$ docker run -d -v /mydata/redis_data:/data --name myredis --restart=always redis
Unable to find image 'redis:latest' locally
latest: Pulling from redis
7a3e804ed6c0: Pull complete
b96d1548a24e: Pull complete
5ba9a5b9710f: Pull complete
37f07aacbfe5: Pull complete
ec7f3a6b5dc6: Pull complete
499b313c4d4e: Pull complete
4416945429c6: Pull complete
0daf71066555: Pull complete
1f86439b265d: Pull complete
9e6288fa06c0: Pull complete
3c083702089f: Pull complete
71cc4c7123fc: Pull complete
91e5e3734476: Pull complete
8d7fb9bd09ab: Pull complete
e6b7cf8bf1b1: Pull complete
96182c1bd121: Pull complete
4b7672067154: Already exists
redis:latest: The image you are pulling has been verified. Important: image verification is a tech preview feature and should not be relied on to provide security.
Digest: sha256:01b59520487a9ada4b8e31558c0580930a4e5f2a565a1cb85b66efe7c6ce810d
Status: Downloaded newer image for redis:latest

It downloads redis:latest image from Docker Hub. Let's check if myredis container is running.

$ docker ps -a
a96b6d2555e9 redis:latest "/ redi 16 minutes ago Up 16 minutes 6379/tcp myredis

We can see myredis is running.

We need to run redis-cli in this container to set a value in Redis.

$ docker exec -i -t myredis bash
root@a96b6d2555e9:/data# redis-cli> set number 1
OK> save
OK> exit
root@a96b6d2555e9:/data# exit


We use the official Postgres image too. Just run it directly.

docker run -d --name mypostgres -e POSTGRES_PASSWORD=postgres -v /mydata/postgres_data:/var/lib/postgresql/data --restart=always postgres

-e POSTGRES_PASSWORD=postgres means we set the environment variable POSTGRES_PASSWORD to postgres.

-v /mydata/postgres_data:/var/lib/postgresql/data means we mount /mydata/postgres_data as a volume. This is very important. It's safe to keep database files in the host.

Create mynodeappdb:

$ docker exec -i -t mypostgres bash
root@11602c44f706:/# psql -U postgres
psql (9.4.2)
Type "help" for help.
postgres=# create database mynodeappdb;
postgres=# \q
root@11602c44f706:/# exit

We can see mypostgres and myredis are running.

$ docker ps -a
11602c44f706 postgres:latest "/docker-entrypoint. About a minute ago Up About a minute 5432/tcp mypostgres
a96b6d2555e9 redis:latest "/ redi 32 minutes ago Up 32 minutes 6379/tcp myredis

Redis client and Postgres client

The Dockerfile for redis client:

FROM debian:7RUN apt-get update \
&& apt-get install -y redis-server \
&& apt-get clean \
&& apt-get autoremove \
&& rm -rf /var/lib/apt/lists/*
RUN service redis-server stop

It’s based on debian:7. It actually installs both redis server and client. But we only need the client. So it stops redis-server.

Build it:

cd /DockerizingWebAppTutorial/dockerfiles/myredisclient
docker build -t myredisclient .

The Dockerfile for Postgres client:

FROM myredisclientRUN apt-get update \
&& apt-get install -y wget \
&& echo 'deb wheezy-pgdg main' >> /etc/apt/sources.list.d/pgdg.list \
&& wget --no-check-certificate --quiet -O - | apt-key add - \
&& apt-get update \
&& apt-get install -y --force-yes postgresql-client \
&& apt-get clean \
&& apt-get autoremove \
&& rm -rf /var/lib/apt/lists/*

It’s based on myredisclient, because our web app needs to access both redis and postgres. The annoying thing is the default postgresql-client in Debian apt is a very old version (pg_dump will not work, because the version does not match the server's version). This Dockerfile installs the latest version (currently 9.4).

Build it

cd /DockerizingWebAppTutorial/dockerfiles/myredispgclient
docker build -t myredispgclient .

We can see there are 5 images in the host.

$ docker images
myredispgclient latest 78b18351c561 6 minutes ago 132.5 MB
myredisclient latest bb2ac4846244 8 minutes ago 87.7 MB
postgres latest 1636d90f0662 2 days ago 214 MB
redis latest 4b7672067154 4 days ago 111 MB
debian 7 b96d1548a24e 9 days ago 84.97 MB


Let’s build a Node.js image. In the Dockerfile for mynodejs image, we install node.js, express, forever and then set NODE_ENV production. In this example, I am not using the latest version.

FROM myredispgclientRUN apt-get update \
&& apt-get install -y --force-yes --no-install-recommends \
apt-transport-https \
build-essential \
curl \
ca-certificates \
git \
lsb-release \
python-all \
rlwrap \
&& apt-get clean \
&& apt-get autoremove \
&& rm -rf /var/lib/apt/lists/*
RUN curl > node.deb \
&& dpkg -i node.deb \
&& rm node.deb
RUN npm install -g express@3.4.7 \
&& npm install -g forever \
&& npm cache clear
ENV NODE_ENV production

Build it.

cd /DockerizingWebAppTutorial/dockerfiles/mynodejs
docker build -t mynodejs .


Then we build an image for mynodeapp. In Dockerfile, we run npm install, and use forever to run the node.js app. We don’t use forever start, because we don’t run it as a daemon (otherwise, the container will quit immediately).

FROM mynodejsCOPY . /src
RUN cd /src && npm install
CMD ["forever", "-l", "/log/forever.log", "-o", "/log/out.log", "-e", "/log/err.log", "/src/app.js"]

Build it

cd /DockerizingWebAppTutorial/mynodeapp
docker build -t mynodeapp .

Actually we can merge these 4 Dockerfiles into one to create one image. I build 4 images for re-using images. For example, if we want to build an image for another node.js app, we can write a Dockerfile based on mynodejs image. If we want to replace node.js with Go, we can write a Dockerfile based on myredispgclient.

The core code of mynodeapp:

var conString;if ('development' == app.get('env')) {
conString = "postgres://vince:@localhost/mynodeappdb"; // Use your db, user and password
} else {
conString = "postgres://postgres:postgres@localhost/mynodeappdb"; // Use your db, user and password
var pgClient = new pg.Client(conString);pgClient.connect(function(err) {
if(err) return console.error('Could not connect to postgres', err);
console.log('Connected to postgres');
var redisClient = redis.createClient(6379, '', {})app.get('/', function(req, res) {
pgClient.query('SELECT NOW() AS "theTime"', function(err1, result) {
redisClient.get("number", function(err2, reply) {
res.render('index', { pgTime: result.rows[0].theTime, number: reply });
}); // Errors Ignored in this example. You should check errors in a real project.
http.createServer(app).listen(app.get('port'), function() {
console.log('Express server listening on port ' + app.get('port'));

There is a problem. We are using localhost or for redis and postgres' host address. It works only when they are installed on the same server. But now they are in different containers. Even if we use --link, we still cannot access them via localhost and We can use the following code to get correct host and port.

var redis_host = process.env.REDIS_PORT_6379_TCP_ADDR || '';
var redis_port = process.env.REDIS_PORT_6379_TCP_PORT || 6379;
var db_host = process.env.POSTGRES_PORT_5432_TCP_ADDR || 'localhost';

REDIS_PORT_6379_TCP_ADDR is created by Docker if you run a container with --link myredis:redis. You can get Postgres user account, password, port from the environment variables too.

Run a container based on mynodeapp image. We also name the container mynodeapp. You can rename it whatever you like.

docker run -d --name mynodeapp --link mypostgres:postgres --link myredis:redis -v /mydata/log_mynodeapp:/log -p 3000:3000 --restart=always mynodeapp

By default, each container is isolated. --link allows a container access another container. --link mypostgres:postgres means we can access mypostgres container with the alias postgres just like localhost for -v /mydata/log_mynodeapp:/log mounts a volume. We want to keep logs in the host. -p 3000:3000 maps host's port 3000 to container's port 3000. It is not mandatory. But with it, we can use curl localhost:3000 in the host to check if mynodeapp container runs correctly.

$ curl localhost:3000
<!DOCTYPE html><html><head><title></title><link rel="stylesheet" href="/stylesheets/style.css"></head><body><H1>mynodeapp</H1><p>Number from Redis: 1</p><p>Time from Postgres: Fri May 29 2015 09:47:54 GMT+0000 (UTC)</p></body></html>

The web app runs correctly in the container.


Now we install Nginx. In the Dockerfile, we make directory /mynodeapp/public. A folder in the host will be mounted here.

FROM nginx# Create folder for static files
RUN mkdir /mynodeapp && mkdir /mynodeapp/public
# copy sslcert files to /etc/nginx/ for https
#COPY mydomain.* /etc/nginx/
# copy conf
COPY nginx-docker.conf /etc/nginx/nginx.conf

In nginx-docker.conf, we use mynodeapp for the server address, because it is linked.

    upstream mynodeapp_upstream {
server mynodeapp:3000;
keepalive 64;

Build the image and run the container.

cd /DockerizingWebAppTutorial/dockerfiles/mynginx
docker build -t mynginx .

Run mynginx container.

docker run -d --name mynginx --link mynodeapp:mynodeapp -v /mydata/nginx_data:/var/cache/nginx -v /mydata/log_nginx:/var/log/nginx -v /DockerizingWebAppTutorial/mynodeapp/public:/mynodeapp/public -p 80:80 -p 443:443 --restart=always mynginx

--link mynodeapp:mynodeapp means we link mynodeapp container to mynginx container. We don't link myredis and mypostgres because mynginx does not access them directly. We also mount 2 folders for logging. -p 443:443 is for https. However, this example does not provide ssl certificate files.

Run curl localhost and curl localhost/stylesheets/style.css to check if mynginx runs correctly.

# curl localhost
<!DOCTYPE html><html><head><title></title><link rel="stylesheet" href="/stylesheets/style.css"></head><body><H1>mynodeapp</H1><p>Number from Redis: 1</p><p>Time from Postgres: Fri May 29 2015 10:12:35 GMT+0000 (UTC)</p></body></html>
root@pophubserver:/DockerizingWebAppTutorial/dockerfiles/mynginx# curl localhost/stylesheets/style.css
body {
padding: 50px;
font: 14px "Lucida Grande", Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;
a {
color: #00B7FF;

Now we finished deploying a web app, Redis, Postgres and Nginx with Docker. It took me a lot of time to really deploy my real app with Docker. Luckily I tested in a VirtualBox VM. I can delete/create images/containers back and forth easily with Docker.

An important part is missing. That’s restoring and backing up database. I will show you in another tutorial. Here are some tips about Docker.

Originally published at on May 29, 2015.



Aijin Yuan (Vince)

iOS/Android/Web developer. UX engineering lead at Grab. Singapore/Hong Kong/Shanghai