Docker Training

This tutorial will provide you with an introduction to Docker. It is split into two parts. First, there is an introduction to using the Docker command line to run a workflow. Next, we will have you create and run your very own Dockerfile.

Exercise 1

The Docker CLI is a command-line tool with a whole library of commands for interacting with Docker. This exercise will get you familiar with the docker run command, which is used for running containers.

Part A - Running Containers

In this section you will try running a basic container called whalesay. Refer to the part A readings if you need a refresher on the content taught in the training.

Run whalesay with the following command:

docker run docker/whalesay cowsay hello

This will result in an ASCII whale saying hello!

docker run docker/whalesay cowsay "hello"
< hello >
                    ##        .            
              ## ## ##       ==            
           ## ## ## ##      ===            
       /""""""""""""""""___/ ===        
  ~~~ {~~ ~~~~ ~~~ ~~~~ ~~ ~ /  ===- ~~~   
       \______ o          __/            
        \    \        __/             

Now try getting the whale to say “Hello [your name]!”.

Part B - Exploring Containers

We will now try running a container with Samtools installed to convert a SAM file to a BAM file. Refer to the part B readings if you need a refresher on the content taught in the training.

Sharing data between host and container

Here we will map the /root/bcc2020-training/data on the host machine to /data on the container. Then we will confirm that the files in /root/bcc2020-training/data are available on the container.

Run the container in interactive mode with the folder mounted:

docker run -v /root/bcc2020-training/data:/data -it

Now that we are inside the samtools container, list the contents of the /data directory:

ls /data

You should see many files, including mini.bam. We will be using this file in the next section.

Now exit the container by typing exit.

Convert a SAM file to a BAM file with the samtools container

Run the following command will convert our SAM file (/root/bcc2020-training/data/mini.sam) into a BAM file and store it to /root/bcc2020-training/data/mini.bam:

docker run -v /root/bcc2020-training/data:/data samtools view -S -b /data/mini.sam -o /data/mini.bam

Run the following command to confirm that the file is now on the host machine at /root/bcc2020-training/data:

ls /root/bcc2020-training/data

Note that the file will look like gibberish if you attempt to open it, since it is a binary file.

Exercise 2

This exercise will have you writing, building, and running your own Dockerfile.

Part A - Writing your first Dockerfile

A Dockerfile is used to describe how to create images. Using the Dockerfile for BWA as a guideline, create a Dockerfile for tabix by updating the existing Dockerfile.

BWA Dockerfile (Example) - /root/bcc2020-training/docker-training/exercise2/bwa-example/Dockerfile

Tabix Dockerfile (Edit this) - /root/bcc2020-training/docker-training/exercise2/Dockerfile


  • Both Dockerfiles use the same base image.

  • Tabix also uses apt for installation.

See the solutions folder for the answer to this exercise.

Once you’ve created the Dockerfile, it is time to build it. Change into the /root/bcc2020-training/docker-training/exercise2 directory and then run the following command.

docker image build -t tabix .

The period means to use the current directory as the build context. The command will look at the build context location for the Dockerfile by default.

Your Docker image has now been built! The next step is to try running the Docker image.

Part B - Try out your new container

First we must determine the image ID of the image we just created. Run the following command and look for the image called tabix. Copy the content from the Image ID column.

docker image ls

Now that we know the ID of the image, we can create a running container. Let’s print out the tabix help message to confirm that the container can be run.

docker run [image id] tabix

You can also run the container by referencing the image name and tag.

docker run tabix:latest tabix

You should see the help message from tabix. Congratulations! You have successfully created and ran your first Dockerfile.


There are readings to help with the exercises. Refer here for any questions you may have before asking for help.

Exercise 1

Part A Readings

Whalesay is a program that given some text, will print out an ASCII whale that is saying the text. It is based on a program called cowsay.

The docker run command is used to create a running container based on a Docker image. You can read more about the run command from their official documentation.

Part B Readings

There are two useful concepts needed for this section.

  • Running containers interactively

  • Sharing data between host and container

Running containers interactively

To run the container interactively, use the flags -i -t.

-i : keeps STDIN open for interactive use

-t : allocated a terminal

Run the following command to enter the container:

docker run -it

Now that we are inside the container, let’s confirm that samtools is installed. Try invoking samtools by displaying help:

samtools --help

You should see the samtools help printed to the screen. Now exit the container by typing exit.

Sharing data between host and container

With the run command, we can pass along the -v flag to map a folder on the host machine to a folder on the container.

In this example, /root/bcc2020-training/data is on the host machine and /data is on the container:

docker run -v /root/bcc2020-training/data:/data samtools