Distributed Application Bundles (Tour Around Docker 1.12 Series)

The new Swarm bundled in Docker 1.12+ is a vast improvement compared to the old orchestration and scheduling. There is no more the need to run a separate set of Swarm containers (it is bundled in Docker Engine), failover strategies are much more reliable, service discovery is baked in, the new networking works like a charm, and so on. The list of features and improvements is quite big. If you haven’t had a chance to give it a spin, please read the Docker Swarm Introduction and Integrating Proxy With Docker Swarm.

In those articles we used commands to run Docker services inside the Swarm cluster. If you are like me, you are probably used to the simplicity Docker Compose provides. Instead trying to memorize commands with all the arguments required for running services, you probably specified everything as Docker Compose files and run containers with a simple docker-compose up -d command. After all, that is much more convenient than docker service create followed by an endless number of arguments. My brain does not have the capacity to memorize all of them.

When I started “playing” with the new Swarm, my first impression was this is great, followed by I don’t want to memorize different arguments for all of my services. I want my Compose files back into the game.

One of the significant changes is that container management has changed from client (Docker Compose) to server side (Docker Service). As a result, Docker Compose has become obsolete (at least when containers are deployed using Docker Service). It will stay as a preferable way to run containers in a single server environment but not much more. So, what should we do with all those docker-compose.yml files we created?

The good news is we can use Distributed Application Bundles or dab files as a substitute for docker service command line arguments. The bad news is… Let’s keep them for the end and explore the good parts first.

We’ll start by creating a demo Swarm cluster composed of Docker machines.

Environment Setup

The examples that follow assume that you have Docker Machine version v0.8+ that includes Docker Engine v1.12+. The easiest way to get them is through Docker Toolbox.

If you are a Windows user, please run all the examples from Git Bash (installed through Docker Toolbox).

I won’t go into details of the environment setup. It is the same as explained in the Docker Swarm Introduction article. We’ll set up three nodes that they will form a Swarm cluster.

The examples that follow use Docker Experimental features. Please consult the documentation how to enable them.

docker-machine create -d virtualbox node-1

docker-machine create -d virtualbox node-2

docker-machine create -d virtualbox node-3

eval $(docker-machine env node-1)

docker swarm init \
    --advertise-addr $(docker-machine ip node-1) \
    --listen-addr $(docker-machine ip node-1):2377

TOKEN=$(docker swarm join-token -q worker)

eval $(docker-machine env node-2)

docker swarm join --token $TOKEN $(docker-machine ip node-1):2377

eval $(docker-machine env node-3)

docker swarm join --token $TOKEN $(docker-machine ip node-1):2377
Docker Swarm cluster with three nodes

Docker Swarm cluster with three nodes

Now that we have the Swarm cluster, we can deploy a service using a dab file.

Deploying Services Using Distributed Application Bundles (DAB)

Instead creating networks and Docker services by specifying an endless amount of arguments, we’ll use a dab file. Think of it as a Swarm equivalent of Docker Compose. By Swarm, I mean docker swarm, docker service and other goodies that came with version 1.12+ (not the old Swarm running as a separate container).

Instead trying to figure out the details of the new format for specifying services, we’ll create it from a docker-compose.yml file.

Let’s start by checking out the code of a demo service.

git clone https://github.com/vfarcic/go-demo.git

cd go-demo

cat docker-compose.yml

The last command output the Docker Compose project definition. It is as follows.

version: '2'


    image: vfarcic/go-demo
      - 8080

    image: mongo

As you can see, it is a very simple project. It consists of two services. The app service is the backend that exposes an API. It uses the second service (db) to store and retrieve data. The app target exposes port 8080 that will serve as an entry point to its API.

Converting this Docker Compose definition into a bundle is a two step process. First, we need to pull the images. The creation of the bundle will evaluate them and, together with the contents of the docker-compose.yml file, output a dab file.

Let’s try it out.

eval $(docker-machine env node-1)

docker-compose pull

docker-compose bundle

Now that the process is finished, let’s take a look at the result.

cat godemo.dab

The output is as follows.

  "Services": {
    "app": {
      "Image": "vfarcic/go-demo@sha256:f7436796b1cd6812ba63ea82c6523a5164ae7f8a3c05daa9e4ac4bd78341d709",
      "Networks": [
      "Ports": [
          "Port": 8080,
          "Protocol": "tcp"
    "db": {
      "Image": "mongo@sha256:e599c71179c2bbe0eab56a7809d4a8d42ddcb625b32a7a665dc35bf5d3b0f7c4",
      "Networks": [
  "Version": "0.1"

The godemo.dab file we just created is pretty straightforward. It consists of two services that match those from the docker-compose.yml file. Each of them specifies the image that is defined with the hashes of those we pulled. Images are followed by the default network that will surround the services and the ports that should be opened.

There are, at least, two problems with this output. First of all, there is no need to open any ports. Instead, we should have a reverse proxy that will redirect all request to the service. The new Docker Swarm networking makes integration with a proxy easy and we should exploit that. Please read the Integrating Proxy With Docker Swarm article for more info on the role of a proxy inside a Swarm cluster.

The second issue is that we did not specify any constraints. Deploying unconstrained services to the cluster can quickly turn into a disaster.

A better, yet still very simple Compose definition can be seen in the docker-compose-swarm.yml file. Its content is as follows.

version: '2'


    image: vfarcic/go-demo
    mem_limit: 250m

    image: mongo
    mem_limit: 500m

As you can see, we removed the port and added a mem_limit constraint. It’s, still, a very simple Compose file.

Let’s create a new bundle output.

docker-compose -f docker-compose-swarm.yml bundle

The output of the bundle command is as follows.

WARNING: Unsupported key 'mem_limit' in services.app - ignoring
WARNING: Unsupported key 'mem_limit' in services.db - ignoring
Wrote bundle to godemo.dab

Now we are coming to the first bad news. The current bundle format is very limiting. We can use it for very simple scenarios. As soon as we specify anything more complex we are faced with a warning. In this case, the memory limit was ignored.

Let’s leave this limitation aside (for now) and try to deploy the new bundle.

docker deploy godemo

The output of the deploy command is as follows.

Loading bundle from godemo.dab
Creating network godemo_default
Creating service godemo_app
Creating service godemo_db

Both the network and the service were created. We can confirm that by listing all services.

docker stack ps godemo

You should see that the stack consists of two services, each of them deployed somewhere inside the three nodes cluster, and with the current state set to running. If the state is anything else, please wait a few moments until containers are pulled and re-run the command.

However, we are still faced with the missing features. Our memory limit was ignored, and we are yet to create an external network proxy and attach the app service to it.

We can fix those shortcomings by executing the service update command. For example, we can create the proxy network manually and add the container to it. We can also use the service update command to set the memory limit. However, if we start doing all that, we would, probably, be better of without the bundle in the first place.

What To Do Now?

Before you go off and completely discard the bundle, please note that it is in the experimental stage. That was just the taste of what is to come. We can expect significant improvements and full support for all the features Swarm has to offer.

The question is what to do today. There are several paths we can take. One is to wait for the bundle to get out of the experimental stage and (hopefully) support all the features Docker Swarm has to offer. The other approach is to use the Whaleprint project. It looks like a mixture of a dab file with additional features (e.g. constraints) and the approach Terraform uses. It is a very promising project. But, just like the bundle, it is still in its infancy.

I hope this article gave you a preview of the direction the new Swarm is taking. The bundle is under development, and we can expect it to become a reliable alternative to deploying services to the cluster. Please do not get discouraged by its lack of features but think of it as a blueprint of what is to come.

For now, I recommend you to keep an open eye on the Distributed Application Bundle and wait until it matures. In the meantime, operate the Swarm cluster through the commands or give the Whaleprint project a try.

The next one will be dedicated to zero-downtime deployments with Docker Swarm.

The DevOps 2.1 Toolkit: Docker Swarm

The DevOps 2.1 Toolkit: Docker SwarmIf you liked this article, you might be interested in The DevOps 2.1 Toolkit: Docker Swarm book. Unlike the previous title in the series (The DevOps 2.0 Toolkit: Automating the Continuous Deployment Pipeline with Containerized Microservices) that provided a general overlook of some of the latest DevOps practices and tools, this book is dedicated entirely to Docker Swarm and the processes and tools we might need to build, test, deploy, and monitor services running inside a cluster.

You can get a copy from Amazon.com (and the other worldwide sites) or LeanPub. It is also available as The DevOps Toolkit Series bundle.

Give the book a try and let me know what you think.

13 thoughts on “Distributed Application Bundles (Tour Around Docker 1.12 Series)

  1. Pingback: Distributed Application Bundles (Tour Around Docker 1.12 Series) – HGW XX/7

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  4. Pascal Andy (@_pascalandy)

    Thank you SO MUCH for explain what is going on with compose files. I was wondering for 2-3 weeks now.

    I have to admit that I’m not happy to learn compose v2 is not supported natively by Swarm.
    Do you confirm compose v2 will never be supported by Swarm in the future ?


    Also, we have write our stack in compose v2 and have to convert them into *.dab files ? Something sound wrong here. Cheers!

    1. Viktor Farcic Post author

      As far as I know, there are no plans to support Compose v2 directly. The new Swarm is quite a big change of how things work.

      I must admit that I was also disappointed at first. However, once I understood how the new Swarm works, the reasoning for the DAB format, and the future plans, I must say that I agree with the decision.

      Soon we’ll see extension of the DAB format and much better conversion from Compose.

      The new Swarm is something truly new and in its infancy. In the next couple of months, we’ll see many improvements and new features. It is, yet, nowhere near where it is planned to be. That does not mean that it is not great (it is) but that there is still work to do.

      1. Pascal Andy (@_pascalandy)

        I agree too. I was probably too exited to move my infra into Swarm!

        I guess I’ll wait and continue managing my containers without an orchestration system for a while.

        Love your blog, one of the best around Docker stuff.


        1. Jaapjan Tinbergen

          As a request, could you also dive a little into how you deal with private repositories in a swarm enviroment with different nodes that must pull?

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  7. Mark van Lent

    Is it correct that the “docker deploy” command is currently an experimental feature? It seems like it is not available in Docker 1.12.0, build 8eab29e. (Or I’m doing something wrong, which is also entirely possible. šŸ™‚ )

  8. jamshid (@jamshid)

    Another thanks! I hope docker promotes this article as it explains what’s going on with compose much more clearly and directly than they have.

    I’m still disappointed that working compose + swarm deployments don’t work docker 1.12 swarm, and we have to wait for another release to get that functionality, but hopefully it’s getting better.


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