The marmelab blog

Npm (or Yarn) Install within a Docker Container, the Right Way

Published on 8 February 2017 by Jonathan Petitcolas with tags tutorial docker js

Docker

Working as a web agency (or more specifically at marmelab, as an innovation workshop), we have to deal with several different customers and projects. Each of these projects has its own set of technologies, and sometimes, their own version requirements. Installing concurrently all these heterogeneous components would be a nightmare.

Fortunately, Docker exists. Docker containers are a kind of very lightweight virtual machines (to put is simply for this post). They have a lot of advantages, the best one being probably the Docker repository. It provides a wide range of ready-to-use components. Whether you need a WordPress or a Golang server, you can simply download the related Docker image, and you are ready to go.

Setting Up a Node Server with Docker

For instance, if we want to develop with Node.js, we can simply download the official Node.js image and use it as following:

docker run -it --rm -v "$PWD":/app -w /app node:7 node index.js

This command instantiates a container using the node:7 already configured image. It maps the current working directory ($PWD) to the /app container folder, and launches the command node index.js. The --rm option means Docker should delete the container once its command is executed. And the -it flag aims to map standard container input and output with the host ones.

With a single container, this method may be just fine. Yet, if we deal with several containers (a PostGreSQL database for instance), it would be easier to use docker-compose to specify how they link to each other. Docker-compose configuration is stored in YAML format:

# /docker-compose.yml
version: '2'

services:
    db:
        # which image should we retrieve from Docker repository?
        image: postgres

        # configure database access based on environment variables
        environment:
            - POSTGRES_USER=username
            - POSTGRES_PASSWORD=password

    node:
        image: node:7
        working_dir: /app
        command: "node index.js"

        # map host project folder to /app container folder
        volumes:
            - .:/app

        # which port should be accessible from the outside?
        expose:
            - "3000"

        # start container once `db` service is up
        depends_on:
            - db

        # `db` and `node` should be able to communicate
        links:
            - db

If we run docker-compose up, it starts two containers, one for PostGreSQL and one for Node. Your architecture is now done, and every new developer on your project would then be able to bootstrap their whole environment in a couple of minutes, with exact required versions. Really exciting isn’t it?

Fixing Container Created Files Permissions Issues

Now, let’s suppose we don’t have npm installed on our host machine. Bootstrapping our project requires to install all Node dependencies we declared in our package.json file. So, we would need to execute a command on our node container, using the run command provided by docker-compose.

docker-compose run --rm --no-deps node bash -ci 'npm install'

Note the --no-deps argument, which prevents to start db service in this case.

This command would work fine. Yet, if we check node_modules file permissions, we would get an unpleasantly surprise:

ls -al node_modules

total 3184
drwxrwxrwx 784 root root 32768 Jan 26 17:47 .
drwxr-xr-x  19 root root  4096 Jan 26 17:46 ..
drwxr-xr-x   3 root root  4096 Jan 26 17:47 abab
drwxr-xr-x   2 root root  4096 Jan 26 17:47 abbrev
drwxr-xr-x   3 root root  4096 Jan 26 17:47 accepts
drwxr-xr-x   5 root root  4096 Jan 26 17:47 acorn

As you can notice, all files created from Docker container are created as root user. These permissions issues are not really terrible on local environment (we can just sudo after all). But on a CI server, when a PR merge triggers the removal of the branch folder, we would face some troubles. CI low-privileged agent would never be able to remove root folders.

There is no easy solution to this problem. One way is to specify the user option on our node service with host user and group id (as already mentionned in “Seamlessly Run Composer On HHVM Inside Docker: Introducing make-docker-command” post):

services:
    node:
        user: "${UID}:${GID}"

docker-compose would replace automatically variables from its configuration file using environment ones. Hence, we would just need to export both UID and GID variables before calling our docker-compose run command. To ease our future dependencies installation, we can use a Makefile task:

export $UID = $(id -u)
export $GID = $(id -g)

install:
    docker-compose run --rm --no-deps node bash -ci 'npm install'

The id -u (or -g) retrieves current user (and group respectively) ids. We export them to put them in current environment, and so to transmit them to the docker container.

Now, if we want to install our JavaScript dependencies with correct file permissions, we would just need to launch following command:

# remove previous dependencies mess
sudo rm -Rf node_modules/

# install them the correct way
make install

If you check file permissions, they all should be fine now.

ls -al node_modules

total 3184
drwxrwxrwx 784 jpetitcolas jpetitcolas 32768 Jan 26 17:47 .
drwxr-xr-x  19 jpetitcolas jpetitcolas  4096 Jan 26 17:46 ..
drwxr-xr-x   3 jpetitcolas jpetitcolas  4096 Jan 26 17:47 abab
drwxr-xr-x   2 jpetitcolas jpetitcolas  4096 Jan 26 17:47 abbrev
drwxr-xr-x   3 jpetitcolas jpetitcolas  4096 Jan 26 17:47 accepts
drwxr-xr-x   5 jpetitcolas jpetitcolas  4096 Jan 26 17:47 acorn

Installing Dependencies From Private GitHub Repository

Everything worked fine… until we wanted to use a private GitHub repository. In this case, npm would simply fail to authenticate on GitHub, providing us a 401 error message.

Sharing Local SSH Key with Docker Container

So, we would need to share our SSH credentials with our container. The simplest solution would be to map our ~/.ssh folder within the container. Yet, I am not really confortable to share my own personal key, even within a private container. Fortunately, a better solution exists: SSH agent forwarding. It allows to use local SSH keys even while being connected on other machines.

To enable SSH forwarding within our container, we just need to map SSH authentication socket path (SSH_AUTH_SOCK environment variable) to /ssh_agent, and to specify this folder as our container SSH_AUTH_SOCK path:

services:
    node:
        volumes:
            - $(SSH_AUTH_SOCK):/ssh_agent
        environment:
            - SSH_AUTH_SOCK=/ssh_agent

Before trying to install our private repository, we are going to test our SSH connection to GitHub:

docker-compose run --rm --no-deps node bash -ci 'ssh -T [email protected]'

Our container still refuses our request, with the following error message:

No user exists for uid 1000

Creating a Dummy User for SSH Connection

Indeed, we mapped our container user to our host UUID (1000), yet our container has no user with such an id. A solution is to instantiate a fresh new container from main node image as root. It would then allow us to create a dummy user with expected UUID and to execute our ssh command correctly:

docker run --rm -it \
    -v `pwd`:/app \
    -v $(SSH_AUTH_SOCK):/ssh_agent \
    -e SSH_AUTH_SOCK=/ssh_agent \
    -e USER_ID=$USER_ID \
    node bash -ci " \
        useradd -u $USER_ID dummy && \
        mkdir -p /home/dummy/.ssh && \
        chown -R dummy /home/dummy && \
        su dummy -c 'ssh -T [email protected]' \
    "

This command looks intimidating, but we simply create a user with our host UUID, create a folder required by ssh, set correct permissions on it, and execute our test ssh command. When ran, this command displays another error:

Host key verification failed.

Disabling Host Key Verification

Not an issue: just disable host key verification for GitHub, adding a .ssh/config file as following:

docker run --rm -it \
    -v `pwd`:/app \
    -v $(SSH_AUTH_SOCK):/ssh_agent \
    -e SSH_AUTH_SOCK=/ssh_agent \
    -e USER_ID=$USER_ID \
    node bash -ci " \
        [...]
        cat /app/docker/node/ssh_config > /home/dummy/.ssh/config && \
        su dummy -c 'ssh -T [email protected]' \
    "

And the new ssh_config file:

Host github.com
    StrictHostKeyChecking no

If we run another time the above command, we should then get a success message:

Hi jpetitcolas! You’ve successfully authenticated, but GitHub does not provide shell access.

Npm Install a Private Repository From Docker Container

Finally! We are now almost done. If we try to replace the ssh -T command by npm install, we would get an error because the ~/.npm folder doesn’t exist. Just add its creation to previous command, which would become finally:

docker run --rm -it \
    -v `pwd`:/app \
    -v $(SSH_AUTH_SOCK):/ssh_agent \
    -e SSH_AUTH_SOCK=/ssh_agent \
    -e USER_ID=$USER_ID \
    node bash -ci " \
        useradd -u $USER_ID dummy && \
        mkdir -p /home/dummy/.ssh /home/dummy/.npm && \
        chown -R dummy /home/dummy && \
        cat /app/docker/node/ssh_config > /home/dummy/.ssh/config && \
        su dummy -c 'npm install' \
    "

And now, your private dependency should also be installed correctly.

What About Yarn?

yarn is often promoted as a fully compatible npm clone on steroids. Our own experience proved this is not exactly the case. And here again, there are some subtle differences. First, we need to specify the user to our ssh_config file. It then becomes:

Host github.com
    StrictHostKeyChecking no
    User git

Moreover, we had to change the way we declared our dependency in our package.json file:

-    "my-repository": "MyCompany/my-repository#develop",
+    "my-repository": "ssh://github.com/MyCompany/my-repository#develop",

Indeed, without the ssh:// protocol, yarn doesn’t seem to understand it should clone it over SSH.

The solution proposed here is far from trivial, yet we were not able to find another solution. If a developer reading this post has an easier way, please, tell us! :)

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