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Building Docker Images

Now that we are relatively comfortable with running Docker, we can look at some advanced Docker topics, such as:

  • Building our own Docker images from the Dockerfile
  • Modify an existing Dockerfile and create a new image
  • Push an image to a Registry


Clone our example repository with pre-written Dockerfiles From your CodeSpace, we are going to copy a second GitHub repository onto our VM. If you are working locally, make sure that you change directories away from any other Git repository that you may have been working in.

$ cd /workspaces

$ git clone

$ cd intro2docker/

Writing a Dockerfile


Dockerfile must be capitalized. It does not have a file extension.

Create a file called Dockerfile, and add content to it as described below, e.g.

$ touch Dockerfile

Formatting in the Dockerfile

We use a code line escape character \ to allow single line scripts to be written on multiple lines in the Dockerfile.

We also use the double characters && which essentially mean “if true, then do this” while executing the code. The && can come at the beginning of a line or the end when used with \.

The Dockerfile contains Instructions: a series of commands that Docker executes during the creation and execution of a container.


The only command that can come before a FROM statement is ARG

ARG can be used to set arguments for later in the build, e.g.,




A valid Dockerfile must start with a FROM statement which initializes a new build stage and sets the base image for subsequent layers.

We’ll start by specifying our base image, using the FROM statement

FROM ubuntu:latest

If you are building on an arm64 or Windows system you can also give the optional --platform flag, e.g.,

FROM --platform=linux/amd64 ubuntu:latest
When to use a multi-stage build pattern?

Docker has the ability to build container images from one image, and run that "builder" image from a second "base" image, in what is called a "builder pattern".

Build patterns are useful if you're compiling code from (proprietary) source code and only want to feature the binary code as an executed function in the container at run time.

Build patterns can greatly reduce the size of your container.

You can use multiple FROM commands as build stages. The AS statement follows the image:tag as a psuedo argument.

# build stage
FROM golang:latest AS build-env
WORKDIR /go/src/app
ADD . /go/src/app
RUN go mod init
RUN cd /go/src/app && go build -o hello

# final stage
FROM alpine:latest
COPY --from=build-env /go/src/app /app/


You can create labels which are then tagged as JSON metadata to the image

LABEL author="your-name" 
LABEL email="your@email-address"
LABEL version="v1.0"
LABEL description="This is your first Dockerfile"
LABEL date_created="2022-05-13"

You can also add labels to a container when it is run:

$ docker run --label description="this label came later" ubuntu:latest

$ docker ps -a

$ docker inspect ###


Different than the docker run command is the RUN build function. RUN is used to create new layers atop the "base image"

Here, we are going to install some games and programs into our base image:

RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y fortune cowsay lolcat

Here we've installed fortune cowsay and lolcat as new programs into our base image.

Best practices for building new layers

Ever time you use the `RUN` command it is a good idea to use the `apt-get update` or `apt update` command to make sure your layer is up-to-date. This can become a problem though if you have a very large container with a large number of `RUN` layers.


In our new container, we need to change and update some of the environment flags. We can do this using the ENV command

ENV PATH=/usr/games:${PATH}


Here we are adding the /usr/games directory to the PATH so that when we run the new container it will find our newly installed game commands

We are also updating the "locales" to set the language of the container.


The COPY command will copy files from the directory where Dockerfile is kept into the new image. You must specify where to copy the files or directories

COPY . /app
When to use COPY vs ADD

COPY is more basic and is good for files

ADD has some extra features like .tar extraction and URL support


The CMD command is used to run software in your image. In general use the ["command"] syntax:

CMD ["executable", "parameter1", "parameter2"]


ENTRYPOINT works similarly to CMD but is designed to allow you to run your container as an executable.

ENTRYPOINT fortune | cowsay | lolcat

The default ENTRYPOINT of most images is /bin/sh -c which executes a shell command.

ENTRYPOINT supports both the ENTRYPOINT ["command"] syntax and the ENTRYPOINT command syntax

What is the difference in the ENTRYPOINT and CMD

The CMD instruction is used to define what is execute when the container is run.

The ENTRYPOINT instruction cannot be overridden, instead it is appended to when a new command is given to the docker run container:tag new-cmd statement

the executable is defined with ENTRYPOINT, while CMD specifies the default parameter


Most containers are run as root meaning that they have super-user privileges within themselves

Typically, a new user is necessary in a container that is used interactively or may be run on a remote system.

During the build of the container, you can create a new user with the adduser command and set up a /home/ directory for them. This new user would have something like 1000:1000 uid:gid permissions without sudo privileges.

As a last step, the container is run as the new USER, e.g.,



RUN useradd ubuntu && \
    chown -R ubuntu:ubuntu /home/ubuntu

USER ubuntu


You can open ports using the EXPOSE command.


The above command will expose port 8888.


Running multiple containers using the same port is not trivial and would require the usage of a web server such as [NGINX]( However, you can have multiple containers interact with each other using [Docker Compose](

Summary of Instructions

Instruction Command Description
ARG Sets environmental variables during image building
FROM Instructs to use a specific Docker image
LABEL Adds metadata to the image
RUN Executes a specific command
ENV Sets environmental variables
COPY Copies a file from a specified location to the image
CMD Sets a command to be executed when running a container
ENTRYPOINT Configures and run a container as an executable
USER Used to set User specific information
EXPOSE exposes a specific port