Book Review: Docker Containers: Build and Deploy with Kubernetes, Flannel, Cockpit, and Atomic

I’m slowly working my way through the list of Docker publications that I stacked my tablet with when IBM restarted its subscription to Safari Books Online. One of these was Docker Containers: Build and Deploy with Kubernetes, Flannel, Cockpit, and Atomic by Christopher Negus. The last two projects in the title are a clue to the underlying theme of the book. Cockpit and Atomic being Red Hat projects, this is really a guide to doing containers the Red Hat way. This I was expecting – they do employ the author after all. What really disappointed me was that the four technologies cited in the title occupied so little of the book’s content. Of the 18 chapters, there was one on Super Privileged Containers (an Atomic concept), one on Cockpit, two on Kubernetes, and one paragraph on Flannel. Hardly comprehensive coverage!

The first part of the book covers the basic concepts, setting up an OS and a private registry. This reminded me of one key fact that I’d forgotten: that Red Hat ships its own Docker distribution. One of the Red Hat specific features is the ability to specify multiple default registries (with Red Hat placing their own registry ahead of Docker Hub in the default search order). This is at odds with Docker’s view that the image name (including registry host) should be a unique identifier. Personally, I would side with Red Hat on this one. I suspect many customers will be using their own private registries and would prefer to be able to specify ‘myimage’ and have it resolve against the correct image in the local registry for the environment.

The bulk of the content is in the second part that covers building, running and working with individual containers. There were a few errors that crept in to this section. For example, the author suggests that setting the environment variable HOST on a container somehow magically mount the host filesystem (it’s actually used to tell Atomic where the host filesystem is mounted). He also states incorrectly more than once that removing files introduced in one layer in a subsequent layer will reduce the size of the image. In general though, it provides a good coverage of working with containers. I picked up a few interesting command options that I wasn’t aware of. For example, ‘-a’ on a ‘pull’ to retrieve all of the images for a repository, the fact that you can use ‘inspect’ on images as well as containers, and a couple of commands that had previously escaped me completely: ‘rename’ and ‘wait’. There was also some useful information on the use of Docker with SELinux.

The third part covers Super Privileged Containers in Atomic (the way in which Atomic extends the basic capability of the OS via containerized tools) and management of Docker hosts and containers through the Cockpit browser based administration tool. The fourth part then covers the basic concepts of Kubernetes and the steps for setting up an ‘all-in-one’ environment and a cluster. These steps seem destined to be out-of-date before the ink is dried and the space would have been better spent covering the concepts in more depth and talking about usage scenarios.

The final part seems a little out of place. One chapter covers best practices for developing containers. The cynic in me suspects this may have just been an opportunity to introduce some OpenShift content. It certainly glosses over the entirety of Machine, Compose and Swarm in just a single section. Then there is a closing chapter looking at some example Dockerfiles.

All-in-all, the book offers a good introduction to the topic of Docker, particularly if you are looking to deploy on Fedora, RHEL or CentOS. Look elsewhere though if you really want to get to grips with Kubernetes.

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