Docker Healthchecks

While looking for ways to improve our service-startup in docker-compose I stumbled upon a nice feature introduced with Docker 1.12, which lets images expose a command to check that the created container is still working properly.

HEALTHCHECK --interval=5s --timeout=5s --start-period=15s --retries=5 CMD curl http://localhost:8080 || exit 1

The above line configures a healthcheck for a HTTP service running on localhost:8080 inside the container. This check does a HTTP GET request every 5 seconds (--interval). If the check passes, the status of the container will be set to healthy. If it fails, it will try again 5 times (—retries) and then set the health-status to unhealthy.

Services that take longer to start up (like most Java based applications) are given a grace-period (--start-period) in which healthcheck failures don’t count to the retry-limit until either the period is over or the healthcheck has passed at least once.

Healthchecks with docker run

Let’s say, we have a simple Postgres container that we want to monitor. The official image doesn’t support this feature by default, but luckily the docker run command has all the options discussed above exposed as command-line flags:

--health-cmd string
	Command to run to check health

--health-interval duration
	Time between running the check (ms|s|m|h) (default 0s)

--health-retries int
	Consecutive failures needed to report unhealthy

--health-start-period duration
	Start period for the container to initialize before starting
	health-retries countdown (ms|s|m|h) (default 0s)

--health-timeout duration
	Maximum time to allow one check to run (ms|s|m|h) (default

Taking our Postgres container as an example, you can add healthchecks like this:

docker run --rm \
  -e POSTGRES_DB=testdb \
  -e PGDATA=/var/lib/postgresql/data/pgdata \
  -v $PWD/postgres_data:/var/lib/postgresql/data/pgdata \
  --health-cmd "pg_isready -U postgres" \
  --health-interval 5s \

If you now inspect the global docker events you can see lots of container exec_start and container health_status entries:

2017-09-02T19:14:00.033560520+02:00 container exec_create: /bin/sh -c pg_isready -U postgres 015f289346c02e3ac131948f39e0ca044a41641b9b41c23951862806db888c29 (image=postgres:9.6, name=pedantic_heisenberg)

2017-09-02T19:14:00.033701347+02:00 container exec_start: /bin/sh -c pg_isready -U postgres 015f289346c02e3ac131948f39e0ca044a41641b9b41c23951862806db888c29 (image=postgres:9.6, name=pedantic_heisenberg)

2017-09-02T19:14:00.165324872+02:00 container health_status: healthy 015f289346c02e3ac131948f39e0ca044a41641b9b41c23951862806db888c29 (image=postgres:9.6, name=pedantic_heisenberg)

2017-09-02T19:14:05.170512928+02:00 container exec_create: /bin/sh -c pg_isready -U postgres 015f289346c02e3ac131948f39e0ca044a41641b9b41c23951862806db888c29 (image=postgres:9.6, name=pedantic_heisenberg)

You can also see the healthiness of each running container in the output of docker ps:

CONTAINER ID  IMAGE         COMMAND                 CREATED        STATUS                   PORTS     NAMES
015f289346c0  postgres:9.6  "docker-entrypoint..."  5 minutes ago  Up 5 minutes (healthy)   5432/tcp  pedantic_heisenberg

It is also available through docker inspect:

$ docker inspect 015f289346c0 | jq '.[0].State.Health.Status'

Doing healthchecks in docker-compose

Getting back to my original use-case, healthchecks are also supported within docker-compose (since version 2.1 of the configuration file format):

version: '2.1'

		image: postgres:9.6
			test: ["CMD", "pg_isready", "-U", "postgres"]
			interval: 5s
			retries: 10
			start_period: 10s
			timeout: 2s
		# ...
				condition: service_healthy

In the example above, the service “app” will wait for the db-service to be healthy before starting up. Normally, it would only wait until the container has been launched.

Sadly, the condition option within depends_on has been removed with version 3 (See docker-compose (version 3): depends_on contains an invalid type, it should be an array for details).

According to this comment by shin- the reason behind this is that Docker seems to be slowly deprecating docker-compose in favour of docker stack and for that a unified approach is preferred.

What about docker-compose and v3?

If you cannot easily migrate up to docker stacks but need a way to start a service only if another service has reported that it’s ready, there are currently only some workarounds available. As described in the official documentation (Controlling startup order in Compose) you should use some kind of wrapper script to wait for a resource to become available within your own container.

Personally, I will most likely take a look at docker stack next as I want to play around with the new secrets manager in Docker Swarm anyway 😊