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Docker containers wrap a piece of software in a complete filesystem that contains everything needed to run: code, runtime, system tools, system libraries – anything that can be installed on a server. This guarantees that the software will always run the same, regardless of its environment.
Containers running on a single machine share the same operating system kernel; they start instantly and use less RAM. Images are constructed from layered filesystems and share common files, making disk usage and image downloads much more efficient.
Docker containers are based on open standards, enabling containers to run on all major Linux distributions and on Microsoft Windows — and on top of any infrastructure.
Containers isolate applications from one another and the underlying infrastructure, while providing an added layer of protection for the application.
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Docker is a tool designed to make it easier to create, deploy, and run applications by using containers. Containers allow a developer to package up an application with all of the parts it needs, such as libraries and other dependencies, and ship it all out as one package. By doing so, thanks to the container, the developer can rest assured that the application will run on any other Linux machine regardless of any customized settings that machine might have that could differ from the machine used for writing and testing the code.
In a way, Docker is a bit like a virtual machine. But unlike a virtual machine, rather than creating a whole virtual operating system, Docker allows applications to use the same Linux kernel as the system that they’re running on and only requires applications be shipped with things not already running on the host computer. This gives a significant performance boost and reduces the size of the application.
And importantly, Docker is open source. This means that anyone can contribute to Docker and extend it to meet their own needs if they need additional features that aren’t available out of the box.
Docker is a tool that is designed to benefit both developers and system administrators, making it a part of many DevOps (developers + operations) toolchains. For developers, it means that they can focus on writing code without worrying about the system that it will ultimately be running on. It also allows them to get a head start by using one of thousands of programs already designed to run in a Docker container as a part of their application. For operations staff, Docker gives flexibility and potentially reduces the number of systems needed because of its small footprint and lower overhead.
Docker brings security to applications running in a shared environment, but containers by themselves are not an alternative to taking proper security measures.
Dan Walsh, a computer security leader best known for his work on SELinux, gives his perspective on the importance of making sure Docker containers are secure. He also provides a detailed breakdown of security features currently within Docker, and how they function.
A number of companies and organizations are coming together to bring Docker to desktop applications, a feat that could have wide-ranging impacts on end-users. Microsoft is even jumping on board by bringing Docker to their Azure platform, a development that could potentially make integration of Linux applications with Microsoft products easier than ever before.
Docker 1.0 was released on June 9th, during the first day of Dockercon, and it is considered the first release of Docker stable enough for enterprise use. Along with this launch, a new partnership was announced between Docker and the companies behind libcontainer, creating a unified effort toward making libcontainers the default standard for Linux-based containers. The growth of Docker and Linux containers shows no sign of slowing, and with new businesses jumping on the bandwagon on a regular basis, I expect to see a wealth of new developments over the coming year.