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Dockerfile Deployment


Introduced in 0.3.15

While Dokku normally defaults to using heroku buildpacks for deployment, you can also use docker's native Dockerfile system to define a container.


Dockerfile support is considered a Power User feature. By using Dockerfile-based deployment, you agree that you will not have the same comfort as that enjoyed by Buildpack users, and Dokku features may work differently. Differences between the two systems will be documented here.

To use a dockerfile for deployment, commit a valid Dockerfile to the root of your repository and push the repository to your Dokku installation. If this file is detected, Dokku will default to using it to construct containers except in the following two cases:

  • The application has a BUILDPACK_URL environment variable set via the dokku config:set command or in a committed .env file. In this case, Dokku will use your specified buildpack.
  • The application has a .buildpacks file in the root of the repository. In this case, Dokku will use your specified buildpack(s).

Switching from Buildpack deployments

If an application was previously deployed via Buildpacks, the following commands should be run before a Dockerfile deploy will succeed:

dokku config:unset --no-restart node-js-app DOKKU_PROXY_PORT_MAP

Build-time Configuration Variables

For security reasons - and as per docker recommendations - Dockerfile-based deploys have variables available only during runtime.

For users that require customization in the build phase, you may use build arguments via the docker-options plugin:

dokku docker-options:add node-js-app build '--build-arg NODE_ENV=production'

Once set, the Dockerfile usage would be as follows:

FROM debian:jessie

# set the argument default
ARG NODE_ENV=production

# use the argument

You may also set the argument as an environment variable

FROM debian:jessie

# set the argument default
ARG NODE_ENV=production

# assign it to an environment variable
# we can wrap the variable in brackets

# or omit them completely

# use the argument

Customizing the run command

By default no arguments are passed to docker run when deploying the container and the CMD or ENTRYPOINT defined in the Dockerfile are executed. You can take advantage of docker ability of overriding the CMD or passing parameters to your ENTRYPOINT setting $DOKKU_DOCKERFILE_START_CMD. Let's say for example you are deploying a base nodejs image, with the following ENTRYPOINT:


You can do:

dokku config:set node-js-app DOKKU_DOCKERFILE_START_CMD="--harmony server.js"

To tell docker what to run.

Setting $DOKKU_DOCKERFILE_CACHE_BUILD to true or false will enable or disable docker's image layer cache. Lastly, for more granular build control, you may also pass any docker build option to docker, by setting $DOKKU_DOCKER_BUILD_OPTS.

Procfiles and Multiple Processes


Introduced in 0.5.0

You can also customize the run command using a Procfile, much like you would on Heroku or with a buildpack deployed app. The Procfile should contain one or more lines defining process types and associated commands. When you deploy your app a Docker image will be built, the Procfile will be extracted from the image (it must be in the folder defined in your Dockerfile as WORKDIR or /app) and the commands in it will be passed to docker run to start your process(es). Here's an example Procfile:

web: bin/
worker: bin/

And Dockerfile:

FROM debian:jessie
COPY . ./
CMD ["bin/"]

When you deploy this app the web process will automatically be scaled to 1 and your Docker container will be started basically using the command docker run bin/ If you want to also run a worker container for this app, you can run dokku ps:scale worker=1 and a new container will be started by running docker run bin/ (the actual docker run commands are a bit more complex, but this is the basic idea). If you use an ENTRYPOINT in your Dockerfile, the lines in your Procfile will be passed as arguments to the ENTRYPOINT script instead of being executed.

Exposed ports

See the port management documentation.