Docker workdir

Hello. In this tutorial, we will talk about docker workdir. Docker workdir allows users to set the working directory of a Docker container at runtime, simplifying the organization, management, and debugging of containerized applications.

1. What is Docker?

Docker is an open-source platform used for the containerization of applications. It allows developers to package their applications along with their dependencies, libraries, and other necessary components into a single container that can run reliably and consistently on any platform. The containerization technology provided by Docker ensures that the application behaves the same way regardless of the underlying infrastructure. Some benefits of Docker are:

  • Portability: Docker containers can run on any platform, regardless of the underlying infrastructure. This makes it easy to move applications between development, testing, and production environments.
  • Scalability: Docker allows you to quickly and easily scale your application by adding or removing containers as needed, without having to make changes to the underlying infrastructure.
  • Isolation: Docker provides a high level of isolation between applications, ensuring that each container runs independently of others, without interfering with each other.
  • Efficiency: Docker containers are lightweight and efficient, consuming fewer resources than traditional virtual machines. This allows you to run more applications on the same hardware.
  • Consistency: Docker ensures that applications behave the same way across different environments, making it easier to test and deploy new versions of your application.
  • Security: Docker provides built-in security features that help protect your applications from external threats. Docker containers are isolated from each other and the underlying infrastructure, reducing the risk of attacks.

Overall, Docker provides a powerful platform for building, testing, and deploying applications that is both efficient and reliable.

1.1 What is Docker used for?

It is used for –

  • For environment replication, while the code runs locally on the machine.
  • For numerous deployment phases i.e. Dev/Test/QA.
  • For version control and distributing the application’s OS within a team.

1.2 Basic Docker Terminology?

  • Image: Representation of Docker container i.e. a JAR or WAR file in Java.
  • Container: Runtime of Docker i.e. a deployed and running Docker image. For example, an executable Spring Boot jar.
  • Engine: The code that manages, creates, and runs the Docker containers.
  • Hub: A public developer’s registry to distribute their code.
  • Repository: A collection of Docker-related images i.e. different versions of the same application.

1.3 Setting up Docker

If someone needs to go through the Docker installation, please watch this video.

2. Docker Workdir

In Docker, the WORKDIR instruction is used to set the working directory for any subsequent instructions in the Dockerfile. The WORKDIR instruction takes one argument, which is the path to the directory that you want to set as the working directory. When you set the working directory using WORKDIR, any subsequent instructions in the Dockerfile will be executed in that directory. For example, if you have a RUN instruction that needs to execute a command on a file in a specific directory, you can use the WORKDIR instruction to change the working directory to that directory before running the command. Overall, the WORKDIR instruction is an important part of creating well-organized and portable Docker images that can be easily reused in different environments.

2.1 Setting Docker Workdir

2.1.1 Using Dockerfile

In Docker, you can set the working directory for a container using the WORKDIR instruction in a Dockerfile. A Dockerfile is a text document that contains a set of instructions for building a Docker image. It is essentially a recipe for building a containerized application. The WORKDIR instruction sets the working directory for any subsequent RUN, CMD, ENTRYPOINT, COPY, and ADD instructions. Here is an example of how to set the working directory to /app in a Dockerfile:

Example Dockerfile

# Base image
FROM someimage:latest

# Set the working directory to /app

# Copy the contents of the current directory to /app
COPY . /app

# Run a command in the /app directory
RUN some-command

In this example, the WORKDIR instruction sets the working directory to /app, and any subsequent instructions will be executed in that directory. The COPY instruction then copies the contents of the current directory to /app, and the RUN instruction runs a command in the /app directory. Setting the working directory with WORKDIR can help organize your Dockerfile, avoid conflicts with file paths, and ensure that your Docker image is more reusable across different environments.

Using the WORKDIR instruction in Dockerfiles can help improve the maintainability, portability, and security of your Docker images. It can also make your Dockerfiles easier to read and understand, especially when dealing with complex multi-stage builds or when working with large projects that require multiple related instructions.

2.1.2 Using command line variables

You can set the working directory for a Docker container at runtime using the -w or --workdir flag when running the docker run command. Here is an example syntax for setting the working directory to /app when running a Docker container:

Command syntax 1

docker run -w /app some-image some-command

In this example, some-image is the name of the Docker image, and some-command is the command to be executed in the container. The -w flag specifies the working directory for the container to be /app. Alternatively, you can also use the --workdir flag instead of -w.

Command syntax 2

docker run --workdir /app some-image some-command

2.2 Benefits of Docker Workdir

Here are the benefits of using Docker WORKDIR instructions:

  • Organizing your Dockerfile: By setting the working directory with `WORKDIR`, you can organize your Dockerfile and make it easier to read and understand. You can group-related instructions and specify the working directory for each group.
  • Avoiding conflicts with file paths: If you don’t set the working directory in your Dockerfile, you may run into conflicts with file paths when running commands. By setting the working directory with `WORKDIR`, you ensure that any file paths in subsequent commands are relative to the working directory.
  • Reusability: Setting the `WORKDIR` ensures that your Docker image is more reusable across different environments, as it specifies the correct working directory for the container.
  • Avoiding permissions issues: Some Docker images run commands as a non-root user by default, which can cause permissions issues when writing to certain directories. By setting the `WORKDIR`, you can ensure that any commands that write to the file system do so in the correct directory with the correct permissions.

2.3 Usecases of Docker Workdir

The “workdir” in Docker is used to specify the working directory for a Docker container at runtime. When a container starts, it will start in the specified working directory. Here are some use cases for Docker “workdir”:

  • Build context: When building Docker images, you can specify the “workdir” to define the context for the build. This can help in organizing and separating the build files from other files in the container.
  • Application deployments: You can specify the “workdir” to define the location of your application code in the container. This can help in managing the application code and dependencies separately from the rest of the container.
  • Data storage: You can use “workdir” to define the location of data files in the container. This can be useful when working with databases or other types of data that need to persist between container runs.
  • Debugging: If you need to debug a running container, you can use “workdir” to define the location of the debugging tools and files. This can help in troubleshooting issues with the container or the application running inside it.

Overall, “workdir” is a useful feature in Docker that can help in organizing and managing files and applications within a container. That concludes this tutorial, and I hope that it provided you with the information you were seeking. Enjoy your learning journey, and don’t forget to share!

3. Conclusion

In conclusion, “workdir” in Docker is a useful feature that enables users to specify the working directory for a Docker container at runtime. This can be particularly helpful when building Docker images, deploying applications, managing data storage, and debugging. By defining the “workdir” in a Docker container, users can organize and separate files, manage application code and dependencies, persist data, and troubleshoot issues with the container or the application running inside it. Overall, the “workdir” feature in Docker can significantly improve the efficiency and flexibility of containerized applications. Its benefits include improved organization and separation of files, simplified application deployment, easier data management, and streamlined debugging. As Docker continues to evolve, the “workdir” feature will likely remain an essential tool for developers, system administrators, and other users who rely on Docker containers.


An experience full-stack engineer well versed with Core Java, Spring/Springboot, MVC, Security, AOP, Frontend (Angular & React), and cloud technologies (such as AWS, GCP, Jenkins, Docker, K8).
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Back to top button