Docker for the build agent

July 4, 2019

Here’s a conversation I made up:

Hey Chris, could you create me a devops pipeline so I can build my .NET Core 2.2 app? I’ll need the SDK installed so I can run dotnet build.

Chris: Sure, I’ll get right on that.

Hey Chris, uh, I need to build my app with .NET Core 3.0-preview1234, could you also make sure that’s on the build agent?

Chris: 2.2 won’t work for you anymore? Ok…

Hey Chris, so they recently made this awesome addition and I want the latest SDK, could you just make it so I can install whatever SDK I want?

Chris: Of course, I’ll create a ‘install SDK’ build task! Then you won’t need to keep asking me!

So, Chris… I need you to create a build agent with WSL installed, so that I can install cmake, clang-3.9, libicu-dev, uuid-dev, libcurl4-openssl-dev, zlib1g-dev, libkrb5-dev, and wget. I want to use CoreRT to build binaries for running on Linux.

Chris: You know that the Windows Server 2016 build agents don’t support WSL, so I’ll need to create a new Windows Server 2019 build agent pool and setup the WSL installation with all those tools by running some apt-get commands. If they aren’t in the default WSL distro, I’ll just add a custom apt source and pull them from there. But what if someone else wants on a different version of /usr/bin/clang or some other tool on the install? Would you like me to create multiple instances of WSL with different packages installed?

Ok, so I made all that up, but it might be based on real life events. What if we could change Chris’s response to each of those questions with, “Why don’t you use docker? It’s already installed on all the build agents.”

Wouldn’t that be nice?

What are Docker containers you ask? Let me tell you since you won’t click the previous link. Just imagine that it’s a zip file with an app inside that is stored in a container registry, which is just a fancy word for a URL with the name and version. You can use Dockerfiles and docker build to create new containers (read: packaged applications) with your favorite apps or tools, or you can use containers that other people made to run their software (docker run). It’s convenient for a build pipeline that wants to have all the tools available and easily accessible, but not interfering with one another.

Here is an example:

λ docker run -it --workdir=/app /bin/sh -c "dotnet new console && dotnet run"
Getting ready...
The template "Console Application" was created successfully.

Processing post-creation actions...
Running 'dotnet restore' on /app/app.csproj...
  Restore completed in 140.23 ms for /app/app.csproj.

Restore succeeded.

Hello World!

In practice, you might want to run docker with the -v flag to mount volumes. For example, your devops pipeline downloads the latest source code or build artifacts, then you docker run -v $(pwd):/blah some-container command-to-run /blah. This way, you run the application with the files from the host system rather than just what’s in the container. Docker is also a handy way to set up a dev environment.