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Shan Desai
Shan Desai

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No Setup Development: Productivity Experience with Docker

Why I stopped worrying about setting up environments!

If Stanley Kubrick were a Software Engineer, he would have named this post

Dr. Nosetup: How I Stopped Worrying About Setting Up and Love the Development

(I'll see myself out with that pun!)

I tried contributing to an open-source project without actually setting up the
complete programming language tools, and it felt like worth documenting.

Problem: So much to download, and setup before getting to work

I tried sending a feature to the node-red GitHub Repository with a new TOML configuration node.

However, I didn't want to taint (pardon me for using the word) my personal laptop by installing
node.js and npm.

One particular reason being, is that I have less time now to continue with Web Development stuff,
and node.js isn't my preferred language anyways. I want my host laptop to be as minimal as possible.

But I wanted to send the feature patch upstream because I was in the zone.

Solution: Docker encapsulated Environment

Since I have been heavily using docker for a while now, I asked myself

  1. What do I need to send a patch upstream?

A: Only relevant files

  1. Does docker provide me a node.js environment?

A: Yes, certainly it does. Not just node.js but for all possible programming languages

  1. How do I avoid doing manual copy-paste labour for files between the container and my laptop?

A: Volume-Mounts. Any changes within the containe get reflected back to the host laptop and vice-versa

Setting it Up!

All I really needed was docker on my machine and we are ready to go!


  1. clone the repository to dedicated directory on my host laptop

  2. Visit Docker Hub and find the node-js Image repository

  3. Find the Long-Term-Support (LTS) version image tag. In my case it was 16.15.0

So we almost have everything we want!


Remember that Docker Containers are their own ephemeral worlds all together.

If the containers are designed to with root users, your files may change ownership, or might have
different owners. You could check this using ls -la in your directory.

I really want to avoid such scenarios, such ownership issues might affect your filesystem as well as
the upstream code. But no issues, docker CLI provides way to control the user and group settings
before bringing the container up.

It is also worth mentioning that, the container environments also produce files that should be not be
reflected in your commits upstream. In the case of node-red the package-lock.json is a file created
within the container that will be mapped to the host machine.

It might be wise to keep such files into .gitignore as well as .dockerignore files within the development
repository to avoid accidently committing them upstream or bringing them within the container.

Docker CLI

$ # assuming your are in the development repository
$ docker run -it --name=node-red-TOML \
     -u $(id -u):$(id -g) \
     -v $(pwd):/usr/src/app \
     -p 1880:1880 \
     node:16.15.0 \
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The -u parameter maps your current user id and group to the container, avoiding any root ownership

The -v parameter is the volume mount that will map the codebase to the /usr/src/app directory in the

There you have it ! A node-js environment without having to download and setup the tool on the host!

You can now code everything with ease with your Editor of your choice with the container running.

Any changes, either on the host or within the container will be reflected to your editor.

Just make sure to run the execution commands in the container.


This worked out well for me! I was able to get the codebase up and running in no time, without having to
worry about incompatibility issues.

Changes made in my editor (new files, refactored files) are available in the container to use and execute.

Running the commands within the container makes it easier to know what happens and all of this is ephemeral
so I don't have to do a lot of cleanup afterwards.

Just remove the container and commit the code!

On a side-note, the feature patch upstream wasn't required by the core team :(, but I could use the
same development environment pattern to create a node-red-contrib node. So nothing does to waste!

Hope this helps, get in touch if you would like to provide some suggestions, criticisms!

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