Running WebSphere Application Server (full profile) in a Docker container

(updated )


This article describes how to run WebSphere Application Server in a Docker container. We are going to use the developer version of WAS 8.5.5 to create a full profile, but the instructions can easily be adapted to a regular WebSphere version (provided you have an appropriate license) or a different WebSphere 8.x version. Note however that the solution will not work with WAS 7.0 because the installation procedure is completely different.

Creating the Docker image

To create the Docker image, download IBM Installation Manager for Linux x86_64 and use the following Dockerfile, after replacing the -userName and -userPassword arguments with your IBM ID:

FROM centos:centos6

RUN yum install -q -y unzip

ADD agent.installer.linux.gtk.x86_64_*.zip /tmp/

 unzip -qd /tmp/im /tmp/agent.installer.linux.gtk.x86_64_*.zip && \
 /tmp/im/installc \
   -acceptLicense \
   -showProgress \
   -installationDirectory /usr/lib/im \
   -dataLocation /var/im && \
 rm -rf /tmp/agent.installer.linux.gtk.x86_64_*.zip /tmp/im

 REPO= && \
 /usr/lib/im/eclipse/tools/imutilsc saveCredential \
   -url $REPO \
   -userName \
   -userPassword mypassword \
   -secureStorageFile /root/credentials && \
 /usr/lib/im/eclipse/tools/imcl install \ \
   -repositories $REPO \
   -acceptLicense \
   -showProgress \
   -secureStorageFile /root/credentials \
   -sharedResourcesDirectory /var/cache/im \
   -preferences \
   -installationDirectory /usr/lib/was && \
 rm /root/credentials

RUN useradd --system -s /sbin/nologin -d /var/was was

 hostname=$(hostname) && \
 /usr/lib/was/bin/ -create \
   -templatePath /usr/lib/was/profileTemplates/default \
   -profileName default \
   -profilePath /var/was \
   -cellName test -nodeName node1 -serverName server1 \
   -hostName $hostname && \
 echo -n $hostname > /var/was/.hostname && \
 chown -R was:was /var/was

USER was

RUN echo -en '#!/bin/bash\n\
set -e\n\
old_hostname=$(cat /var/was/.hostname)\n\
if [ $old_hostname != $hostname ]; then\n\
  echo "Updating configuration with new hostname..."\n\
  sed -i -e "s/\"$old_hostname\"/\"$hostname\"/" $node_dir/serverindex.xml\n\
  echo $hostname > /var/was/.hostname\n\
if [ ! -e $launch_script ] ||\n\
   [ $node_dir/servers/server1/server.xml -nt $launch_script ]; then\n\
  echo "Generating launch script..."\n\
  /var/was/bin/ server1 -script $launch_script\n\
' > /var/was/bin/ && chmod a+x /var/was/bin/

# Speed up the first start of a new container
RUN /var/was/bin/

RUN echo -en '#!/bin/bash\n\
set -e\n\
echo "Starting server..."\n\
exec /var/was/bin/\n\
' > /var/was/bin/ && chmod a+x /var/was/bin/

CMD ["/var/was/bin/"]

Note that by executing this Dockerfile you accept the license agreement for IBM Installation Manager and WebSphere Application Server for Developers.

Known issues

The execution of the imutilsc may fail with the following error, even though you have specified a valid user name and password:

Cannot connect to the URL.
  - Verify that the URL is correct.
  - Verify that the user name and password are correct.
  - Verify that you can access the network.

The root cause for that is IBM inability to correctly configure its CDN:

$ curl -i
HTTP/1.1 302 Moved Temporarily
Cache-Control: max-age=301
Expires: Tue, 24 Feb 2015 23:14:44 GMT
Content-Type: text/html
Content-Length: 255
epKe-Alive: timeout=10, max=7
Date: Tue, 24 Feb 2015 23:09:43 GMT
Connection: keep-alive

<title>302 Found</title>
<p>The document has moved <a href="">here</a>.</p>
$ curl -I
HTTP/1.1 503 Service Unavailable
Server: AkamaiGHost
Mime-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/html
Content-Length: 177
Expires: Tue, 24 Feb 2015 23:09:52 GMT
Date: Tue, 24 Feb 2015 23:09:52 GMT
Connection: keep-alive


The output of these two commands show that a GET request to the repository URL gets redirected with HTTP status 302, while a HEAD request for the same URL results in a 503 error. The problem is that imutilsc uses a HEAD request and therefore fails. The work around this issue, replace the value of the REPO variable with the location obtained from the 302 response. In the example shown above, this would be

How it works

Here are some more details about the Dockerfile:

  • Only IBM Installation Manager needs to be downloaded before creating the image. The product itself (WebSphere Application Server for Developers 8.5.5) is downloaded by Installation Manager during image creation. Note that this may take a while. The preserveDownloadedArtifacts=false preference instructs Installation Manager to remove the downloaded packages. This reduces the size of the image.

  • The Dockerfile creates a default application server profile that is configured to run as a non-root user. The HTTP port is 9080 and the URL of the admin console is http://...:9060/ibm/console. New containers should typically be created with the following options: -p 9060:9060 -p 9080:9080. Refer to the Port number settings page in the Knowledge Center for a complete list of ports used by WAS. Note that this page doesn’t mention the default port used for remote debugging, which is 7777.

  • To see the WebSphere server logs, use the following command (requires Docker 1.3):

    docker exec <container_id> tail -F /var/was/logs/server1/SystemOut.log
  • Docker assigns a new hostname to every newly created container. This is a problem because the serverindex.xml file in the configuration of the WebSphere profile contains the hostname. That is to say that WebSphere implicitly assumes that the hostname is static and not expected to change after the profile has been created. To overcome this problem the Dockerfile adds a script called to the image. That script is executed before the server is started and (among other things) updates the hostnames in serverindex.xml when necessary.

  • Docker expects the RUN command to run the server process in the foreground (instead of allowing it to detach) and to gracefully stop the server when receiving a TERM signal. WebSphere’s command doesn’t meet these requirements. This issue is solved by using the -script option, which tells to generate a launch script instead of starting the server. This launch script has the desired properties and is used by the RUN command. This has an additional benefit: the command itself takes a significant amount of time (it’s a Java process that reads the configuration and then starts a separate process for the actual WebSphere server) and skipping it reduces the startup time.

    There is however a problem with this approach. The content of the launch script generated by depends on the server configuration, in particular the JVM settings specified in server.xml. When they change, the launch script needs to be regenerated. This can be easily detected and the script added by the Dockerfile is designed to take care of this.

  • The RUN command is a script that first runs and then executes the launch script. In addition to that, is also executed once during the image creation. This will speed up the first start of a new container created from that image, not only because the launch script will already exist, but also because the very first execution of the script typically takes much longer to complete.