Oluwaseun Raphael Afolayan Developer and digital growth hacker. Saving the world one paragraph at a time. Aspiring ethical hacker and a WordPress evangelist.

Containerizing a simple Django application with Docker and Docker Compose

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Containerizing a simple Django application with Docker and Docker compose

If you’ve been coding for a while now, you probably have heard of Docker or more fancy terms like containers. This article introduces you to the concept of containerization with Docker while guiding you to containerize a simple Django web application. At the end of this topic, you should be familiar with the following:

  • Virtualization
  • Containerization (using Docker)
  • Docker
  • Writing a Dockerfile
  • Docker compose
  • Setting up a Django app in a docker environment using a Dockerfile and docker-compose


To follow along with this tutorial, it is recommended to have the following installed on your computer:

  • Git / GitHub
  • Visual Studio Code (or any text editor of your choice)
  • Working knowledge of Django

Understanding virtualization

Traditionally, if you were to deploy a web application to a server hosting service provider like DigitalOcean or Linode, you would need to set up a virtual machine or a virtual computer where you would then transfer your written code either via git, FTP, or other means. This process is known as virtualization.

As time went on, a lot of developers began to see the downside of this process as it was more expensive (considering the time spent when making changes to accommodate a change in the operating system). Developers wanted a way to unify development and production environments which is where the idea of containerization came about.

What are containers and why are they super cool?

A container, when put in simple terms houses a development environment, i.e your application along with only the dependencies it needs to run.

Containers enable you as a developer to package an application with its dependencies and move them from one computing environment to another without many breaking changes.

Because containerization is relatively more portable, scalable, and efficient, platforms like Docker are becoming a popular choice for developing applications day by day.

Introducing Docker

Docker is a toolbox developed to enable you to create, manage, and run applications using containers. It allows developers to easily pack, ship, and run any application as a portable, self-sufficient, and lightweight container, which can run almost anywhere.

Installing Docker

To get started with setting up Docker on your computer, it’s recommended to follow the official documentation for your respective host OS. Windows users can make use of docker after installing Docker Desktop for windows. Linux and OSX users can install Docker for Linux and Docker for Mac respectively.

Setting up our application

For this tutorial, I have set up a starter repository containing the source code of an in-development polling application written in Django. As we go further into this walkthrough, we will set up a Dockerfile to outline instructions for the container in which our application will be run and then a docker-compose.yml file to simplify our work-flow.

On a computer with git installed, navigate to a folder of your choice e.g /desktop, and clone the starter files from its GitHub repository by running:

git clone https://github.com/theafolayan/django-docker-starter.git

Once that is successful, navigate to the project’s root folder and open in VSCode by running:

cd django-docker-starter && code .

The structure of the downloaded project should look similar to this when open in VSCode:

In this directory, create a case sensitive file named Dockerfile without any extensions. This Dockerfile is where your Docker container configurations are specified. It’s basically a file where you write a set of instructions for your container to run each time it’s booted i.e each time you run the docker build command.

Next, create a requirements.txt file where all dependencies needed for our application will be listed. This file will be used in the Dockerfile, later on, to note which dependencies it should install in our container.

In the requirements.txt file, add Django version 3.1.2 as a dependency like in the example below and hit save:


What is a Dockerfile?

The idea of writing a Dockerfile may seem a bit complex to you, but keep in mind that it is only a written recipe for crafting custom Docker images. A Dockerfile would naturally contain the following:

  1. A base image on top of which you want to build your own image. Think of this as another image that serves as the foundation of your own container. This could be an operating system, a programming language (in our case, Python), or a framework
  2. Packages and required utilities to be installed in the Docker image
  3. Scripts and files to be copied onto the Docker image. This is usually the source code of your application

When reading or writing a Dockerfile, it’s handy to keep the following in mind:

  • Lines containing instructions start with their respective keyword, for example, RUN, FROM, COPY, WORKDIR, etc.
  • Lines containing comments start with the # symbol. Such lines are removed before the Dockerfile instructions are executed

Writing our Dockerfile

Our Django app is going to sit on the official python Docker image.

In the Dockerfile, write the following instructions and hit save:

#Tells Docker to use the official python 3 image from dockerhub as a base image
FROM python:3
# Sets an environmental variable that ensures output from python is sent straight to the terminal without buffering it first
# Sets the container's working directory to /app
# Copies all files from our local project into the container
ADD ./app
# runs the pip install command for all packages listed in the requirements.txt file
RUN pip install -r requirements.txt

Understanding Docker Compose

Docker Compose is a great development tool that lets you define and run applications that need multiple services running.

Docker Compose typically uses a docker-compose.yml file to configure services that your application will use and by running docker compose up , you are able to create and start these services from your configuration file. In most typical web applications, these services composed of a web server (such as Nginx) and a database (PostgreSQL, for example). In this example, our application makes use of an SQLite database so there’s no need to set up an external database service like Postgres.

In order to make use of the features that Docker Compose provides us, create a docker-compose.yml file in the same root folder as your Dockerfile and add the following code in it:

version: '3.8'
       build: .
       command: python manage.py runserver localhost:8000
           - 8000:8000

The content of the docker-compose.yml file is explained line by line below:

version: '3'

This tells Docker what version of docker-compose should be used to run our file. At the time of writing this article, the latest version available is “3.8”, generally, the syntax should remain virtually the same for the next couple of versions if you are reading this in a future time.

Once the docker-compose file has been set up, open up a terminal, and run the docker-compose up command to build and serve your application. Next, head over to localhost:8000 on your browser to see your containerized Django application in action.

You should get a screen similar to this when you open up localhost:8000 in your browser

If you want to shut down the container, open a new terminal and run docker-compose down.


So far, we have covered a lot in this walkthrough, we got started by getting familiar with virtualization, containerization, and other Docker related terms. Next, we learned what a Dockerfile is as well as how to create one in order to containerize a Django app. Finally, we set up docker-compose through a docker-compose.yml file to configure the services that our application would use.

While there’s no single right way to use Docker in a Django application, It’s good practice to make use of the official guidelines listed below in order to ensure your applications are as secure as possible. You can check out the repo containing the fully containerized app here on GitHub.
More resources:


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Oluwaseun Raphael Afolayan Developer and digital growth hacker. Saving the world one paragraph at a time. Aspiring ethical hacker and a WordPress evangelist.

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