Jenkins Docker Workflow plugin - A look at inside()


The docker workflow plugin enables leveraging Docker containers for CI/CD workflows in Jenkins. There are two broad patterns one would generally use containers in their CI/CD environment. The first would be as “side car” containers - these are containers which run alongside your tests/other workflow and provide services such as a database server, memory store and such. The second would be as base execution environments for the tests/builds. The documentation for the plugin explains these two patterns and how to achieve either using Jenkins workflow plugin.

The goal of this post is to discuss a bit about how the second workflow works.

How does inside() work?

This is how inside() is implemented by Jenkins, given a docker image, user/image:version:

  1. Start a docker container in daemonized mode from user/image:version passing cat as the command to execute
  2. (1) will ensure that the container stays running since that’s how cat works (waits for input)
  3. Now that the execution environment is ready, the build/test commands are then executed

(1) would roughly translate to the docker command, docker run -t -d user/image:version ... cat and (3) would roughly translate to docker exec -t <docker container id above> .. commands. For the curious, the source code for this is here

inside() and ENTRYPOINT

Let’s say the docker image you specify to inside() defines an entrypoint. What happens then? cat is specified as an argument to the entrypoint. So unless, your entrypoint can execute the cat program successfully, your container will never start successfully. The error in your CI build will be something like: Failed to run top '80e56ee23982149fa484429af94fb70c1f63245bbf4fac265fe0a2f972dc16f5'. Error: 
Error response from daemon: Container 80e56ee23982149fa484429af94fb70c1f63245bbf4fac265fe0a2f972dc16f5 is not running

After (1) above is run, Jenkins runs the equivalent of the docker top command (source code reference) to find out the processes that are running and check if there is a process running the cat command. If there is none or there is an error otherwise, the build is aborted. Hence the above error that it failed to run top inside the container.

Thus, if you are not sure about whether there is an ENTRYPOINT defined or not, we can disable the entrypoint using, --entrypoint=''. Thus, our inside() statement will look something like this:

docker.image('user/image:version').inside("""--entrypoint=''""") {

The above will result in the following docker command for step (1) above:

docker run -d -t --entrypoint='' user/image:version cat


Hopefully this post helps somebody else when you are furiously trying to figure out what’s going on. I know it will certainly help me. To learn about docker’s ENTRYPOINT (and CMD), this post should be useful. Jenkins isn’t my favorite CI solution, but at least I can if I wish to figure out what’s going on since it’s open source.