Deploying RethinkDB applications with Docker using Dokku

Dokku is a simple application deployment system built on Docker. It gives you a Heroku-like PaaS environment on your own Linux system, enabling you to deploy your applications with git. Dokku automatically configures the proper application runtime environment, installs all of the necessary dependencies, and runs each application in its own isolated container. You can easily run Dokku on your own server or an inexpensive Linux VPS.

The RethinkDB Dokku plugin, created by Stuart Bentley, lets developers create containerized RethinkDB instances for their Dokku-deployed apps. I’ve found that Dokku is a really convenient way to share my RethinkDB demos while I’m prototyping without having to manually deploy and configure each one. In this short tutorial, I’ll show you how you can set up Dokku and install the plugin on a Digital Ocean droplet.

Set up a Digital Ocean droplet

If you want to set up Dokku somewhere other than Digital Ocean, you can use the Dokku project’s official install script to get it running on any conventional Ubuntu 14.04 system.

Digital Ocean provides a selection of base images that make it easy to create new droplets that come with specific applications or development stacks. Dokku is among the applications that Digital Ocean supports out of the box. When you create a new droplet, simply select the Dokku image from the Applications tab.

You can configure the droplet with the size, region, and hostname of your choice. Be sure to add an SSH key—it will be used later to identify you when you deploy to the system.

After Digital Ocean finishes creating the new droplet, navigate to the droplet’s IP address in your browser. The server will display a Dokku configuration panel. The page will prompt you for a public key and a hostname. The key that you selected during droplet creation will automatically appear in the public key field. In the hostname box, you can either put in a domain or the IP address of the droplet.

If you use an IP address, Dokku will simply assign a unique port to each of your deployed applications. If you configure Dokku with a domain, it will automatically create a virtual host configuration with a subdomain for each application that you deploy. For example, if you set as the hostname, an app called demo1 will be available at After you fill in the form, click the Finish Setup button to complete the Dokku configuration.

If you chose to use a domain, you also have to set up corresponding DNS records. In your DNS configuration system, add two A records—one for the domain itself and a wildcard record for the subdomains. Both records should use the IP address of your droplet.

A   *

Install the RethinkDB Dokku plugin

The next step is installing the plugin. Use ssh to log into the droplet as root. After logging into the system, navigate to the Dokku plugin folder:

$ cd /var/lib/dokku/plugins

Inside of the Dokku plugin folder, use the git clone command to obtain the plugin repository and put it in a subdirectory called rethinkdb. When the repository finishes downloading, use the dokku plugins-install command to install the plugin.

$ git clone rethinkdb
$ dokku plugins-install

Configure your application for deployment

Before you deploy an application, you will need to use Dokku to set up a linked RethinkDB container. While you are logged into the droplet as root, use the following command to set up a new RethinkDB instance:

$ dokku rethinkdb:create myapp

You can replace myapp with the name that you want to use for your application. When you deploy an application, Dokku will automatically link it with the RethinkDB container that has the same name. Now that you have created a RethinkDB container, it is time to deploy your first application.

Dokku supports a number of different programming languages and development stacks. It uses certain files in the project root directory to determine what dependencies to install and how to run the application. For a Ruby demo that I built with Sinatra, all I needed was a Gemfile and a For a node.js application built with Express, I used a package.json that included the dependencies and a start script.

You can also optionally use a Heroku-style Procfile to specify how to start the app. Dokku is largely compatible with Heroku, so you can refer to the Heroku docs to see what you need to do for other programming language stacks.

In the source code for your application, you will need to specify the host and port of the RethinkDB instance in the linked container. The RethinkDB Dokku plugin exposes those through environment variables called RDB_HOST and RDB_PORT. In my Ruby application, for example, I used the following code to connect to the database:

DBHOST = ENV["RDB_HOST"] || "localhost"
DBPORT = ENV["RDB_PORT"] || 28015

conn = r.connect :host => DBHOST, :port => DBPORT

After you finish configuring your application so that it will run in Dokku, be sure to commit your changes to your local git repository. To deploy the application, you will need to create a new remote:

$ git remote add dokku

In the example above, use the domain or IP address of the droplet. Replace the word myapp with the name of your application. The name should match the one that you used when you created the RethinkDB container earlier.

Deploy your application

When you are ready to deploy the application, simply push to dokku:

$ git push dokku master

When you push the application, Dokku will automatically create a new container for it on the droplet, install the necessary dependencies, and start running the application. After the deployment process is complete, you will see the address in your output. If you used an IP address, it will just be the IP and port. If you used a domain, it will be a subdomain like Visit the site in a web browser to see if it worked correctly.

If your application didn’t start correctly, you can log into the droplet to troubleshoot. Use the following command to see the logs emitted by the deploy process:

$ dokku logs myapp

Replace myapp with the name that you used for your application. That command will show you the log output, which should help you determine if there were any errors. If you want to delete the deployed application, perform the following command:

$ dokku delete myapp

You can type dokku help to see the full list of available commands. I also recommend looking at the advanced usage examples for the RethinkDB Dokku plugin to learn about other capabilities that it provides. You can, for example, expose the web console for a specific containerized RethinkDB instance through a public port on the host.

Although the initial setup process is a little bit involved, Dokku makes it extremely easy to deploy and run your RethinkDB applications. Be sure to check out our example projects if you are looking for a sample RethinkDB application to try deploying with Dokku.

For additional information about using Dokku with RethinkDB, check out: