Unique Remote & Local Volume Paths on Docker Machine Containers

With a few lines of code you’ll be managing your files and directories across remote docker-machine hosts and your local machine in no time.

The Problem

Using docker-machine to manage my remote Docker deployments, I was frustrated to find out that volume mount paths in docker-compose.yml are mounted verbatim on the remote host. For example, with a docker-compose.yml such as this:

# docker-compose.yml
- ./local/dir:/path/in/container

The docker-compose command will convert the relative ./local/dir path to its absolute state:/Users/myusername/path/to/project/local/dir and mirror it on the remote server (although it doesn’t populate the files — more on that later). This results in the server containing a /Users/myusername/path/to/project/local/dir path which is not only unsightly, it means that every developer that pushes new container changes will be writing to a different directory on the remote host — which is no bueno indeed!

The Solution

Since I was already using a Makefile to manage my lifecycle this one was pretty easy.

I) In the docker-config.yml change ./local to ${BASE_PATH} :

# docker-compose.yml
- ${BASE_PATH}/dir:/path/in/container

II) In the .env file set LOCAL_PATH and REMOTE_PATH variables, e.g.

# .env
  • You can set LOCAL_PATH and REMOTE_PATH to whatever works for you.
  • I already had the SSH_USER variable set for docker-machine purposes, but you could manually set the remote username if you prefer.

III) In the Makefile set the path depending on if DOCKER_HOST is set or not (it’s set when thedocker-machine has been created via docker-machine create ... and the local environment has been set via eval $(docker-machine env projectname)

# Makefile

… and there you have it! make commands will now use the correct directories!

Syncing Files

So the paths are working but there aren’t any files you say? docker-machine scp to the rescue!

I created this simple “sync” command in the Makefile:

# Makefile
docker-machine scp -d -r $(LOCAL_PATH)/ $(SSH_USER)@$(PROJECT_NAME):$(REMOTE_PATH)
  • -d instructs docker-mahcine to transfer file “deltas” (changed files) instead of all files (uses rsync)
  • -r syncs directories recursively

I also had the PROJECT_NAME path defined in my .env, but you could specify it manually, or maybe you’re using COMPOSE_PROJECT_NAME … whatever works!

Putting It Together

In the Makefile my up command therefore looks like:

# Makefile
$(if $(DOCKER_HOST), make sync,)
@echo "Starting up containers for $(PROJECT_NAME)..."
docker-compose pull
docker-compose up -d --build --remove-orphans

Which copies the files to the server if we’re targeting a remote server (again using $(DOCKER_HOST to see if we’re targeting a remote or not) and then brings up our Docker Containers which now have bind-mounts in a more logical place (in the user’s home directory, in my case).

“Sending it up to the cloud”


Give mea a shout if you have any suggestions or need clarification on any of it.

Obviously this would all be a lot easier if Docker allowed mounting subdirectories of named volumes (a 4+ year-old feature request!) because then we could just do:

# docker-compose.yml
- volumename/dir:/path/in/container
type: none
device: $PWD
o: bind

Of course there’s always the “multiple compose files” way (where you create a docker-compse.yml, docker-compose.override.yml, and any number of other docker-compose.environmentname.yml files, and load them during container initialization by passing the "files” option with a filename, e.g. docker-compose up -f docker-compose.yml -f docker-compose.production.yml, in which volume paths can be overridden, but for this use case I thought it was pretty redundant to redeclare all volumes, I prefer to have everything built from the variables in my .env file to keep it simple and easy to manage later on.

I think this works pretty darn well, what do you think? Let me know in the comments if there’s an alternative way or room for improvement.


Programmer. If I can’t find a solution, I write one. <3/>

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