Running containers on Windows

There has been a lot of work lately that has gone into bringing Docker containers to the Windows platform.  Docker has been working closely with Microsoft to bring containers to Windows and just announced the availability of Docker on Windows at the latest ignite conference.   So, in this post we will go from 0 to your first Windows container.

This post covers some details about how to get up and running via the Docker app and also manually with some basic Powershell commands.  If you just want things to work as quickly as possible I would suggest the Docker app method, otherwise if you are interested in learning what is happening behind the scenes, you should try the Powershell method.

The prerequisites are basically Windows 10 Anniversary and its required components; which consist of the Docker app if you want to configure it through its GUI or the Windows container feature, and Hyper-V if you want to configure your environment manually.

Configure via Docker app

This is by far the easier of the two methods.  This recent blog post has very good instructions and installation steps which I will step through in this post, adding a few pieces of info that helped me out when going through the installation and configuration process.

After you install the Win 10 Anniversary update, go grab the latest beta version of the Docker Engine, via the Docker for Windows project.  NOTE: THIS METHOD WILL NOT WORK IF YOU DON’T USE BETA 26 OR LATER.  To check, open your Docker app version by clicking on the tray icon and clicking “About Docker” and make sure it says -beta26 or higher.

about docker

After you go through the installation process, you should be able to run Docker containers.  You should also now have access to other Docker tools, including docker-comopse and docker-machine.  To test that things are working run the following command.

docker run hello-world

If the run command worked you are most of the way there.  By default, the Docker engine will be configured to use the Linux based VM to drive its containers.  If you run “docker version” you can see that your Docker server (daemon) is using Linux.

docker version

In order to get things working via Windows, select the option “Switch to Windows containers” in the Docker tray icon.

switch to windows containers

Now run “docker version” again and check what Server architecture is being used.

docker version

As you can see, your system should now be configured to use Windows containers.  Now you can try pulling a Windows based container.

docker pull microsoft/nanoserver

If the pull worked, you are are all set.  There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that the Docker app abstracts but if you want to try enabling Windows support yourself manually, see the instructions below.

Configure with Powershell

If you want to try out Windows native containers without the latest Docker beta check out this guide.  The basic steps are to:

  • Enable the Windows container feature
  • Enable the Hyper-V feature
  • Install Docker client and server

To enable the Windows container feature from the CLI, run the following command from and elevated (admin) Powershell prompt.

Enable-WindowsOptionalFeature -Online -FeatureName containers -All

To enable the Hyper-V feature from the CLI, run the following command from the same elevated prompt.

Enable-WindowsOptionalFeature -Online -FeatureName Microsoft-Hyper-V -All

After you enable Hyper-V you will need to reboot your machine. From the command line the command is “Restart-Computer -Force”.

After the reboot, you will need to either install the Docker engine manually, or just use the Docker app.  Since I have already demonstrated the Docker app method above, here we will just install the Docker engine.  It’s also worth mentioning that if you are using the Docker app method or have used it previously, these commands have been run already so the features should be turned on already, simplifying the process.

The following will download the engine.

Invoke-WebRequest "" -OutFile "$env:TEMP\" -UseBasicParsing

Expand the zip into the Program Files path.

Expand-Archive -Path "$env:TEMP\" -DestinationPath $env:ProgramFiles

Add the Docker engine to the path.

[Environment]::SetEnvironmentVariable("Path", $env:Path + ";C:\Program Files\Docker", [EnvironmentVariableTarget]::Machine)

Set up Docker to be run as a service.

dockerd --register-service

Finally, start the service.

Start-Service Docker

Then you can try pulling your docker image, as above.

docker pull microsoft/nanoserver

There are some drawback to this method, especially in a dev based environment.

The Powershell method involves a lot of manual effort, especially on a local machine where you just want to test things out quickly.  Obviously the install/config process could be scripted out but that solution isn’t idea for most users.  Another drawback is that you have to manually manage which version of Docker is installed, this method does not update the version automatically.  Using a managed app also installs and manages versions of the other Docker productivity tools, like compose and machine, that make interacting with and managing containers a lot easier.

I can see the Powershell installation method being leveraged in a configuration management scenario or where a specific version of Docker should be deployed on a server.  Servers typically don’t need the other tools and should be pinned at specific version numbers to avoid instability issues and to make sure there aren’t other programs that could potentially cause issues.

While the Docker app is still in beta and the Windows container management component of it is still new, I would still definitely recommend it as a solution.  The app is still in beta but I haven’t had any issues with it yet, outside of a few edge cases and it just makes the Docker experience so much smoother, especially for devs and other folks that are new to Docker who don’t want to muck around the system.

Check out the Docker for Windows forums if you run into any issues.

Josh Reichardt

Josh is the creator of this blog, a system administrator and a contributor to other technology communities such as /r/sysadmin and Ops School. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.