Docker Hosting for ASP.NET Core

February 20, 2017
Containers positioned side-by-side

The containerization trend has been growing for a while now in the industry. The idea is to “containerize” (or package) any application into a well-defined container. This allows the same packaged application to be deployed to run on any infrastructure.

In other words, placing your application in a container allows you to run the exact same “image” wherever you want. That could be:

  • Amazon AWS
  • Azure
  • Heroku
  • On-premise self-hosting
  • Local development environments

In the .NET ecosystem, ASP.NET Core applications are well-suited to take advantage of this movement. This post explores how to get started running ASP.NET Core applications in Docker containers.

Environment setup for Docker

  • Ensure that Hyper-V is enabled on your computer
  • Install Docker for Windows
  • Enable the Containers Windows feature

Environment setup for .NET core

Do at least one these steps:

  • Install Visual Studio 2015 (and apply Visual Studio 2015 Update 3)
  • Install the .NET Core 1.1 SDK

Creating the application

Now let’s create a basic ASP.NET Core application. We’ll use this application as the deploy target for Docker below.

mkdir app
cd app
dotnet new -t web

Building the application

To build the application, we’ll need to restore the packages referenced in the project.json file.

dotnet restore

After the packages are restored, we can build the application.

dotnet build

Running the application

To run the application:

dotnet run

This should show output similar to the following:

Project app (.NETCoreApp,Version=v1.0) was previously compiled. Skipping compilation.
 Hosting environment: Production
 Content root path: c:\PROJECTS\docker-aspnet-core-examples\app
 Now listening on: http://localhost:5000Application started.
 Press Ctrl+C to shut down.

As indicated, the application will be available at http://localhost:5000.

Creating the Dockerfile

Now that we have an application, let’s move it into a Docker container.

To do this, create a file named Dockerfile. Include Dockerfile in the publishOptions of the project.json file.

 "publishOptions": {
   "include": [

Publishing the application

Before moving on to hosting the application in Docker, we first need to publish the application.

dotnet publish

This publishes the application and all of its dependencies into a single directory for deployment.

Hosting in Docker

Kestrel is a cross-platform HTTP server. We’ll use that to host the ASP.NET Core application in each of the Docker configurations below.

Hosting in Linux

The first Docker configuration we’ll examine is hosting the application in Linux. We’ll use the ASP.NET Core Docker Image as the base image for the Docker container.

Place the following contents into Dockerfile:

FROM microsoft/aspnetcore:1.0
ENTRYPOINT ["dotnet", "app.dll"]
ARG source=.
COPY $source .

Then we need to re-publish the application (to place the Dockerfile alongside the published application).

dotnet publish

Next, build a Docker image containing the application.

docker build bin\Debug\netcoreapp1.0\publish -t apponlinux

If this is the first time you’ve made a container based on microsoft/aspnetcore:1.0, that base container will be downloaded. After that, a specific image will be created.

You can see the container by running the docker images command:

apponlinux latest 9d9bf2fce243 4 seconds ago 289 MB

Now that we have an image, let’s start the container.

docker run -it --name linuxcontainer -d -p 85:80 apponlinux

That command starts an instance (named linuxcontainer) of the apponlinux image we created earlier. It also proxies port 80 on the instance to port 85 locally.

You can see a list of running containers using the docker ps command.

4e68b9721bd1 apponlinux "dotnet app.dll" 6 seconds ago Up 5 seconds>80/tcp linuxcontainer

The application will be available at http://localhost:85/.

When you’re done with the container, you can stop it using the docker stop command.

docker stop linuxcontainer

Hosting in Windows

When running on a Windows host, Docker can also host Windows containers. To do this, first switch your Docker instance to run Windows containers.

For Windows hosting, Windows Nano Server is a good target. Windows Nano Server is a stripped down version of Windows Server. It has a much smaller footprint (than Windows Server Core) and is designed for cloud and DevOps scenarios.

In order to switch from Linux to Windows Nano Server, only two changes need to be made to the Dockerfile:

  • The FROM line changed to point to a different base image
  • Adding the ASPNETCORE_URLS environment variable

When complete, the Dockerfile will have the following content:

FROM microsoft/dotnet:nanoserver
ENTRYPOINT ["dotnet", "app.dll"]
ARG source=.WORKDIR /app
COPY $source .

Other than those changes, the steps are the same (with some names changed to keep the images and containers unique).

dotnet publish
docker build bin\Debug\netcoreapp1.0\publish -t apponnanodocker run -it --name nanocontainer -d -p 85:80 apponnano

Ideally, at this point you’d be able to access the application at http://localhost:85. Unfortunately, at the moment there is a bug with Windows 10 that prevents that. So, you’ll need to lookup the IP address of the container and access it that way.

To do this, use the docker inspect command to find the IP address.

docker inspect -f "{{ .NetworkSettings.Networks.nat.IPAddress }}" nanocontainer

Then you’ll be able to access the application at that IP address (on port 80).

What’s next?

It’s not recommended to run Kestrel as your frontline web server. So, the next step would be to place a reverse proxy in front of your application.

But that’s the topic for another day…