[erlang-questions] erlang in docker from scratch

Peter Morgan <>
Sun Mar 27 17:01:46 CEST 2016

TLDR;  I package each release in a docker container - until recently using “FROM debian” (or other distribution of choice) for each one, resulting in at least a ~125MB footprint. I have written a sample (https://github.com/shortishly/erlang-in-docker-from-scratch) application which automatically includes dynamic library dependencies from ERTS packaged in a docker container “FROM scratch” with a minimal footprint of around 17MB.

When packaging an application as a Docker container it is too easy to just be lazy and put "FROM debian" (other distributions are available, replace “debian" with your distribution of choice). For sure it is going to work, but you have just included dozens of libraries and binaries that your application just does not need. An image that could be tens of megabytes is now at least several hundred – we are building containers not virtual machines here!

One of the things I like about Go is that typical application binaries are small with no runtime dependencies. Fewer dependencies mean less patching and security headaches. The less friction in the CI build cycle, the better. Go achieves this by having statically linked applications meaning that just one binary is necessary in ADD, and they are typically built from scratch (etcd as a good example):

FROM scratch
ADD etcd /
ADD etcdctl /
EXPOSE 4001 7001 2379 2380
ENTRYPOINT ["/etcd”]

Assuming Linux and docker is already running - clone and build https://github.com/shortishly/erlang-in-docker-from-scratch repository, which contains a minimal erlang application that builds a release into the _rel directory (more detail with a slightly more Mac centric commands are https://blog.shortishly.com/2016/03/erlang-in-docker-from-scratch/):

git clone https://github.com/shortishly/erlang-in-docker-from-scratch.git eidfs
cd eidfs

At the end of make a standard erlang release for the eidfs application is now present in the _rel directory. To make it run inside a scratch container we need to include any runtime dependencies too - this is where mkimage comes in:


The ./bin/mkimage script copies in any dynamic libraries that ERTS needs to run the erlang release:

'/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libc.so.6' -> '_rel/eidfs/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libc.so.6'
'/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libdl.so.2' -> '_rel/eidfs/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libdl.so.2'
'/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libm.so.6' -> '_rel/eidfs/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libm.so.6'
'/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libpthread.so.0' -> '_rel/eidfs/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libpthread.so.0'
'/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/librt.so.1' -> '_rel/eidfs/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/librt.so.1'
'/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libtinfo.so.5' -> '_rel/eidfs/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libtinfo.so.5'
'/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libutil.so.1' -> '_rel/eidfs/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libutil.so.1'
'/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libz.so.1' -> '_rel/eidfs/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libz.so.1'

It also copies /bin/sh so that we can run the release too. We can build a docker image for the release using the following command:

docker build --build-arg REL_NAME=$(bin/release_name) --build-arg ERTS_VSN=$(bin/system_version) --pull=true --no-cache=true --force-rm=true -t $(bin/release_name):$(bin/version) .

The $(bin/release_name), $(bin/system_version) and $(bin/version) are short escripts that respond with the release name, system ERTS version and the application version respectively.

"docker images" and look at the size of the resultant container:

REPOSITORY      TAG                IMAGE ID            CREATED             SIZE
eidfs                      0.0.1               6748931f94e4     4 seconds ago       16.74 MB

We have a docker packaged erlang release in ~17MB. Lets run it:

docker run --name $(bin/release_name) -d  $(bin/release_name):$(bin/version)

Check the logs using docker logs $(bin/release_name) and you will see the usual application startup messages from SASL.

You might notice that the ENTRYPOINT used in the Dockerfile directly invokes erlexec. I have done this to reduce dependencies further so that the release, ERTS dynamic libraries, and /bin/bash only are present in the container.

FROM scratch
MAINTAINER Peter Morgan <>


ENV BINDIR /erts-${ERTS_VSN}/bin
ENV BOOT /releases/1/${REL_NAME}

ENV CONFIG /releases/${REL_VSN}/sys.config
ENV ARGS_FILE /releases/${REL_VSN}/vm.args


ENTRYPOINT  exec ${BINDIR}/erlexec -boot_var /lib -boot ${BOOT} -noinput -config ${CONFIG} -args_file ${ARGS_FILE}

ADD _rel/${REL_NAME}/ /

Much of the above is completely boilerplate, perhaps a erlang.mk “bootstrap-docker” makes sense? Or are people using other/better methods to package applications in Docker that I have missed?


More information about the erlang-questions mailing list