Getting Started with Docker and Django

John John (304)
15 minutes

This guide shows you how to set up a Django application and development environment using Docker.

Note: The previous version of this guide was written before Docker for Mac was available. I've recently updated the guide using Docker 17.06.

Posted in these interests:
h/docker12 guides
h/python67 guides
h/django6 guides

Open a shell (using an application like Terminal or iTerm), and run the following command:

docker run -it ubuntu:16.04 bash

Let's take a look at what this command does.

The docker run command lets you start a container from an image. In this case, you are creating a container from the ubuntu:16.04 image. This is the ubuntu image with the 16.04 tag.

Each Docker container should run a single process. So the docker run command lets you specify a single command to run inside of the container. In our case, we are going to run a bash shell. So we've specified the command to run as bash. Since we are running a bash shell we are going to want to allocate a pseudo-TTY and keep STDIN open. This is why we've added the options -it to the run command.

After running this command you should see something like this:


This is the bash shell running inside of the container you just created from the ubuntu image. You can run ps to see which processes are running in this container.

root@69129699ac86:/# ps
  PID TTY          TIME CMD
    1 ?        00:00:00 bash
   18 ?        00:00:00 ps

Type exit to close the shell. Now you can run docker ps to see which containers are currently running. You should find that there are no running containers. But if you run docker ps -a you'll see all containers including the one you just stopped. Since the containers are designed to run a single process, once that process is finished the container stops.

Take a look at the fields displayed by docker ps -a. Two important fields are CONTAINER ID and NAMES. If you want to interact with your containers you'll need to know the name or id.

If you want to start this container back up you can do so with docker start -ai <container id>. Since the COMMAND associated with this container is bash we need to attach STDIN, STDOUT, and STDERR, hence the -ai options.

Theoretically we could run our container in the background. If our command was something else, say python runserver, we would likely want to run our container in the background. In this case we would be able to see our container running when we type docker ps. If we want to run a command on an existing container we will use the docker exec command. The exec command offers familiar options, so if we wanted to open a shell in our django container we could type docker exec -it <container id> bash.

For our Django app we're going to build a custom Django image. There is a lot to learn about Docker images in the future, so you should definitely read up on them when you're ready.

For this demo, you'll want to create a directory to store all of your files. I've created a directory called ~/repos/django-docker. You can do this with:

mkdir -p ~/repos/django-docker

and go to this directory:

cd ~/repos/django-docker

Now create a file in this directory called Dockerfile.

touch Dockerfile

Then edit this file in your favorite editor. Add the following to Dockerfile:

FROM python:3.6


RUN mkdir /code


ADD requirements.txt /code/

RUN pip install -r requirements.txt

ADD . /code/

Check out the Dockerfile reference for more information about how to build a Dockerfile.

The requirements.txt file contains the python modules necessary to run your application. In this case when need to install Django and psycopg2 (postgres + python). The Dockerfile we created in the previous step will install these required modules.

touch requirements.txt

And open this file to edit. Add the following:

touch docker-compose.yml

And open this file to edit. Add the following:

version: '3.3'

    image: postgres
    build: .
    command: python runserver
      - .:/code
      - "8000:8000"
      - db

See the compose file reference for more info.

You'll need to use the docker-compose run command to start your Django project. Of course, if you've already got a project started this step is unnecessary, but it may still be helpful to read through.

In your docker-compose.yml file, we've specified the command we want to run as python runserver This is the command that will be run when we bring up our container using docker-compose up. But before we can get to that point, we actually need a Django project. To do this we'll need to run a command against our web service using docker-compose run.

docker-compose run web startproject composeexample .

Django's database settings are in the file located in your primary app directory - composeexample/ Go ahead and open this file to edit.

Search for DATABASES and ensure the configuration looks like this:

    'default': {
        'ENGINE': 'django.db.backends.postgresql_psycopg2',
        'NAME': 'postgres',
        'USER': 'postgres',
        'HOST': 'db',
        'PORT': 5432,

Notice the hostname. If you look back at your docker-compose file, this is the name of the database service we're creating. When we use docker compose to start up our services, a default network is created and our containers are able to reach each other on this network. Moreover, they are able to reach each other using a hostname that is identical to the service name.

At this point we're ready to take a look at our empty application. Run docker-compose up to start the Django server.

docker-compose up

At this, you'll be able to view your site in the browser using http://localhost:8000.

Running tests is fairly straight forward. You can run a basic test using the docker-compose run command.

docker-compose run web python test

But what if you want to automate the test? I was recently inspired to automate a test in my deploy script. So when running my deployment script, I would first spin up a docker container, run tests, and if the tests pass I can continue with the deployment. Otherwise, we stop and fix the issues.

I created a simple test script:


python test --noinput 2> /var/log/test.log 1> /dev/null

if [ $? -ne 0 ]; then
    cat /var/log/test.log
    exit 1

And then in my deployment script I added the following:

docker-compose run --rm web ./bin/

if [ $? -ne 0 ]; then
        echo "Tests did not pass! Fix it."
        exit 1

The --rm flag removes the containers immediately after they stop.

John John (304)

In this short guide, we'll learn how to install Docker Engine on any platform. Before we begin, we should make the distinction between Docker Engine (Enterprise) and Docker Engine (Community).