Introducing Experimental Distributed Application Bundles

Jun 20 2016

The built-in orchestration features announced today with Docker 1.12 will revolutionize how IT teams build, ship and run containerized apps. With Docker 1.12, developers and ops now share a set of simple and powerful APIs, tools, and formats for building agile delivery pipelines that ship software from development through CI to production in the cloud with Docker for AWS and Azure.

To facilitate that revolution, we’re introducing Distributed Application Bundles—an experimental open file format for bundling up all the artifacts required to ship and deploy multi-container apps: a DAB contains a description of all the services required to run the application and details images to use, ports to expose, and the networks used to link services.

Once you start using the service feature to run replicated, distributed, and load balanced services on Docker 1.12 swarms (or if you’ve used Docker Compose for deployments in the past), you’ll probably realize that starting and stopping individual containers is not that efficient. What matters is reliably deploying apps, and that requires orchestrating the deployment and linking of many containers representing databases, queue systems, and app containers potentially built from several different codebases.

The Distributed Application Bundle (DAB) helps you do that. Developers and CI systems can build and test containerized apps and then wrap all the app artifacts into stable .dab files. Ops teams can take those .dab artifacts and deploy exactly what the developers intended and what the CI systems tested, again and again, with zero variability.

Developers can use Docker Compose 1.8 to create DABs from docker-compose.yml files and ops can use Docker 1.12 to deploy apps by creating stacks of services from DABs.

To create a DAB, a developer or CI system uses Compose to package up an app:

$ docker-compose build
$ docker-compose push
$ docker-compose bundle
Wrote bundle to example.dab

The ops team can then deploy the DAB on Docker 1.12:

$ docker deploy example
Loading bundle from example.dab
Creating network app-network
Creating service example-db
Creating service example-web

Dockerfiles and Docker images are good analogies for understanding the usefulness of DABs: A Docker image can be created from a Dockerfile and then deployed millions of times with the exact same outcome because the image contains all libraries and dependencies required for it to run. In the same way, an app described with a docker-compose.yml file can now be bundled into a DAB and the DAB deployed repeatedly with a predictable outcome.

The example above shows how a single docker-compose.yml file can be packaged into a bundle. The DAB format is fully independent of Docker and Docker Compose, and can be used to package non-dockerized software. DABs can also be used to package multiple codebases, each with their own docker-compose.yml file, into a single bundle describing a complex stack. This is potentially useful for bundling micro-service deployments and could make them easier to configure and deploy.

In addition to making deployments stable and repeatable, DABs also take away the tedium of creating many individual services comprising a complex app. This makes them a convenient abstraction on top of the service concept introduced in Docker 1.12.

DAB is a JSON-based format. Here’s a very simple example representing an app consisting of a database and a web-frontend:

  "services": {
    "db": {
      "Image": "[email protected]:f76245b04ddbcebab5bb6c28e76947f49222c99fec4aadb0bb1c24821a9e83ef",
      "Networks": [
    "web": {
      "Image": "gordon-the-turtle/[email protected]:df16d85fba95eef19d2d53f1ee5367c22aa4956fab0977ed9a187d69ec15dab0",
      "Networks": [
  "version": "0.1"

Specifying the images is optional but highly recommended to make the DAB a fully stable deployment artifact. Check out the documentation for all the details on DABs and stacks.

We’re excited about the experimental distributed application bundle format, and we’re looking forward to seeing how you’ll use it in your software delivery pipelines. If you’re building developer tools, CI/CD tools or other components for shipping software, we’d love to get in touch and see how we can help you integrate support. You can contribute issues and improvements on the Docker and Compose repos and discuss the file format on the Docker Forums.


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