Preventing Race Conditions Between Containers in ‘Dockerized’ MEAN Applications

Eliminate potential race conditions between the MongoDB data Docker container and the Node.js web-application container in a ‘Dockerized’ MEAN application.

MEAN.JS Dockerized

Introduction

The MEAN stack is a has gained enormous popularity as a reliable and scalable full-stack JavaScript solution. MEAN web application’s have four main components, MongoDB, Express, AngularJS, and Node.js. MEAN web-applications often includes other components, such as Mongoose, Passport, Twitter Bootstrap, Yoeman, Grunt or Gulp, and Bower. The two most popular ready-made MEAN application templates are MEAN.io from Linnovate, and MEAN.JS. Both of these offer a ready-made application framework for building MEAN applications.

Docker has also gained enormous popularity. According to Docker, Docker is an open platform, which enables developers and sysadmins apps to be quickly assembled from components. ‘Dockerized’ apps are completely portable and can run anywhere.

Docker is an ideal solution for MEAN applications. Being a full-stack JavaScript solution, MEAN applications are based on a multi-tier architecture. The MEAN application’s data tier contains the MongoDB noSQL database. The application tier (logic tier) contains Node.js and Express. The application tier can also contain other components, such as Mongoose, a Node.js Object Document Mapper (ODM) for MongoDB, and Passport, an authentication middleware for Node.js. Lastly, the presentation tier (front end) has client-side tools, such as AngularJS and Twitter Bootstrap.

Using Docker, we can ‘Dockerize’ or containerize each tier of a MEAN application, mirroring the physical architecture we would deploy a MEAN application to, in a Production environment. Just as we would always run a separate database server or servers for MongoDB, we can isolate MongoDB into a Docker container. Likewise, we can isolate the Node.js web server, along with the rest of the components (Mongoose, Express, Passport) on the application and presentation tiers, into a Docker container. We can easily add more containers, for more functionality, such as load-balancing and reverse-proxies (nginx), and caching (Redis and Memcached).

The MEAN.JS project has been very progressive in implementing Docker, to offer a more realistic environment for development and testing. An additional tool that the MEAN.JS project has implemented, to automate the creation of multiple Docker containers, is Fig. The tool, Fig, provides quick, automated creation of multiple, linked Docker containers.

Using Docker and Fig, a Developer can pull down ready-made base containers from Docker Hub, configure the containers as part of a multi-tier application environment, deploy our MEAN application components to the containers, and start the applications, all with a short list of commands.

MEAN.JS Dockerized
Note, I said development and test, not production. To extend Docker and Fig to production, you can use tools such as Flocker. Flocker, by ClusterHQ, can scale the single-host Fig environment to multiple containers on multiple machines (hosts).

MEAN Dockerized

Race Conditions

Docker containers have a very fast start-up time, compared to other technologies, such as VMs (virtual machines). However, based on their contents, containers take varying amounts of time to fully start-up. In most multi-tier applications, there is a required start-up sequence for components (tiers, servers, applications). For example, in a database-driven application, like a MEAN application, you should make sure the MongoDB database server is up and running, before starting the application. Although this is obvious, it becomes harder to guarantee the order in which components will start-up, when you leverage an asynchronous, automated, continuous delivery solution like Docker with Fig.

When component dependencies are not met because another container is not fully started, we can refer to this as race condition. I have found with most multi-container MEAN application, the slower starting MongoDB data container prevents the quicker-starting Node.js web-application container from properly starting the MEAN application. In other words, the application crashes.

Fixing Race Conditions with MEAN.JS Applications

In order to eliminate race conditions, we need to script our start-up sequence to guarantee the order in which components will start, ensuring the overall application starts correctly. Specifically in this post, we will eliminate the potential race condition between the MongoDB data container (db_1) and the Node.js web-application container (web_1). At the same time, we will fix a small error with the existing MEAN.JS project, that prevents proper start-up of the ‘dockerized’ container MEAN.JS application.

Race Condition with Docker

 

Download and Build MEAN.JS App

Clone the meanjs/mean repository, and install npm and bower packages.

git clone https://github.com/meanjs/mean.git
cd mean
npm install
bower install

Modify MEAN.JS App

  1. Add fig_start.sh start-up script to root of mean project.
  2. Modify the Dockerfile, replace CMD["grunt"] with CMD /bin/sh /home/mean/wait_mongo_start.sh
  3. Optional, add wait_mongo_start.sh clean-up script to root of mean project.

Fix Existing Issue with MEAN.JS App When Using Docker and Fig

The existing MEAN.JS application references localhost in the development configuration (config/env/development.js). The development configuration is the one used by the MEAN.JS application, at start-up. The MongoDB data container (db_1) is not running on localhost, it is running on a IP address, assigned my Docker. To discover the IP address, we must reference an environment variable (DB_1_PORT_27017_TCP_ADDR), created by Docker, within the Node.js web-application container (web_1).

  1. Modify the config/env/development.js file, add var DB_HOST = process.env.DB_1_PORT_27017_TCP_ADDR || 'localhost';
  2. Modify the config/env/development.js file, change db: 'mongodb://localhost/mean-dev', to db: 'mongodb://' + DB_HOST + '/mean-dev',

Start the Application

Start the application using Fig commands or using the clean-up/start-up script (sh fig_start.sh).

  1. Run fig build && fig up
  2. Alternately, run sh fig_start.sh

The Details…

The CMD command is the last step in the Dockerfile.The CMD command sets the wait_mongo_start.sh script to execute in the Node.js web-application container (web_1) when the container starts. This script prevents the grunt command from running, until nc (or netcat) succeeds at connecting to the IP address and port of mongod, the primary daemon process for the MongoDB system, on the MongoDB data container (db_1). The script uses a 3-second polling interval, which can be modified if necessary.

#!/bin/sh

polling_interval=3

# optional, view db_1 container-related env vars
#env | grep DB_1 | sort

echo "wait for mongo to start first..."

# wait until mongo is running in db_1 container
until nc -z $DB_1_PORT_27017_TCP_ADDR $DB_1_PORT_27017_TCP_PORT
do
 echo "waiting for $polling_interval seconds..."
 sleep $polling_interval
done

# start node app
grunt

The environment variables referenced in the script are created in the Node.js web-application container (web_1), automatically, by Docker. They are shown in the screen grab, below. You can discover these variables by uncommenting the env | grep DB_1 | sort line, above.

Docker Environment Variables Relating to DB_1

Docker Environment Variables Relating to DB_1

The Dockerfile modification is highlighted below.

#FROM dockerfile/nodejs

MAINTAINER Matthias Luebken, matthias@catalyst-zero.com

WORKDIR /home/mean

# Install Mean.JS Prerequisites
RUN npm install -g grunt-cli
RUN npm install -g bower

# Install Mean.JS packages
ADD package.json /home/mean/package.json
RUN npm install

# Manually trigger bower. Why doesn't this work via npm install?
ADD .bowerrc /home/mean/.bowerrc
ADD bower.json /home/mean/bower.json
RUN bower install --config.interactive=false --allow-root

# Make everything available for start
ADD . /home/mean

# Currently only works for development
ENV NODE_ENV development

# Port 3000 for server
# Port 35729 for livereload
EXPOSE 3000 35729

CMD /bin/sh /home/mean/wait_mongo_start.sh

The config/env/development.js modifications are highlighted below (abridged code).

'use strict';

// used when building application using fig and Docker
var DB_HOST = process.env.DB_1_PORT_27017_TCP_ADDR || 'localhost';

module.exports = {
	db: 'mongodb://' + DB_HOST + '/mean-dev',
	log: {
		// Can specify one of 'combined', 'common', 'dev', 'short', 'tiny'
		format: 'dev',
		// Stream defaults to process.stdout
		// Uncomment to enable logging to a log on the file system
		options: {
			//stream: 'access.log'
		}
	},
        ...

The fig_start.sh file is optional and not part of the solution for the race condition. Instead of repeating multiple commands, I prefer running a single script, which can execute the commands, consistently. Note, commands in this script remove ALL ‘Exited’ containers and untagged (<none>) images.

#!/bin/sh

# remove all exited containers
echo "Removing all 'Exited' containers..."
docker rm -f $(docker ps --filter 'status=Exited' -a) > /dev/null 2>&1

# remove all  images
echo "Removing all untagged images..."
docker rmi $(docker images | grep "^" | awk "{print $3}") > /dev/null 2>&1

# build and start containers with fig
fig build && fig up

MEAN Application Start-Up Screen Grabs

Below are screen grabs showing the MEAN.JS application starting up, both before and after the changes were implemented.

Start Script Cleaning Up Docker Images and Containers and Running Fig

Start Script Cleaning Up Docker Images and Containers and Running Fig

MongoDB Cannot Connect on localhost

MongoDB Cannot Connect on localhost

MEAN Application Waiting for MongoDB to Start, Currently at 70%...

MEAN Application Waiting for MongoDB to Start, Currently at 70%…

Connected to MongoDB on Correct IP Address and Grunt Running

Connected to MongoDB on Correct IP Address and Grunt Running

MEAN.JS Docker Containers Created

MEAN.JS Docker Containers Created

MEAN Application Successfully Running in Docker Containers

MEAN Application Successfully Running in Docker Containers

New Article Created with MEAN Application

New Article Created with MEAN Application

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  1. DockerとFigでMEAN環境を構築する | 自由帳

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