Building Small Containers for Kubernetes

The first step to deploying any app to Kubernetes, is to bundle the app in a container. There are several official, and community-backed container images for various languages and distros, and most of these containers can be really large, or sometimes contain overheads your app may never need/use.

Thanks to Docker, you can easily create container images in a few steps; specify a base image, add your app-specific changes, and build your container.

FROM golang:alpine


ADD . /app


ENTRYPOINT ["/app/run"]

We specified a base image (Linux alpine in this case), set the working directory to be used in the container, exposed a network port, and an entry point, which will start the app in the container. With the Dockerfile set, we can build the container.

$ docker build myapp .

While the above process is pretty straight forward, there are some issues to put into consideration. Using the default images can lead to large container images, security vulnerabilities, and memory overheads.

Let’s flesh out a sample app

We’ll write a simple app in Go, that exposes a single HTTP route that returns a string when hit. We will build a Docker image from it.

package main

import (

func main() {
	r := http.NewServeMux()
	r.HandleFunc("/api/", func(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
		fmt.Fprintf(w, "Hello From Go!")
	s := &http.Server{
		Addr:        ":8080",
		Handler:     r,
		ReadTimeout: 10 * time.Second,
	fmt.Println("Starting server on port 8080")

Let’s build the Docker image with our app. First, we need to create a Dockerfile.

FROM golang:latest

RUN mkdir /app
ADD . /app/
RUN go build -o myapp .

CMD ["/app/myapp"]

Build the image.

PS: Replace tag with anything of choice: /appname

$ docker build -t codehakase/goapp .

That’s it! We just Dockerized a simple Go app. Let’s take a look at the image we just built. docker images list

For a simple Go app, the image is over 700 megabytes. The Go binary itself is probably a few megabytes in size, and the additional overhead is wasted space, and can also be a hiding place for bugs and security vulnerabilities.

What is taking up so much space? In this scenario, the container needs Go installed, along with all the dependencies Go relies on, and all of this sits on top of a Debian or Linux distro.

There are two ways to reduce container image sizes, actually three of which the third is more often used in the Go community:

  1. Using Small Base Images
  2. The Builder Pattern
  3. Using Empty Images

Using small base images are the easiest way to reduce container image size. The stack/language in use probably provides an official image that’s much smaller than the default image.

Let’s update the Dockerfile to use a small base image. We’re going to use golang:alpine in this case.

FROM golang:alpine

RUN mkdir /app
ADD . /app/
RUN go build -o myapp .

CMD ["/app/myapp"]

Rebuild image.

$ docker build -t codehakase/goapp .

With the update to the Dockerfile, our image is now smaller compared to the previous image. using small base images

This image size if still quite large, and we can even go smaller using the Builder Pattern. Since we’re using a compiled language (Go) in this example, in the builder pattern, we should note that compiled languages often requires tools that are not necessarily needed to run the code. These tools are mostly for building and compiling to a binary. With the builder pattern, we can remove these tools in the final container.

To use the Builder pattern in our existing example, we’ll compile our code in a container, and then use the compiled code to package the final container, without all the required tools.

FROM golang:alpine AS main-env
RUN mkdir /app
ADD . /app/
RUN cd /app && go build -o myapp

FROM alpine
COPY --from=main-env /app/myapp /app


We updated the Dockerfile to use the builder pattern. First, it builds and compiles the app in the alpine container and name the step main-env, and then copies the binary from the previous step to the new container.

Rebuild the multistage Dockerfile.

$ docker build -t codehakase/goapp .

The result of the build is a new container which is just a little over 10 megabytes. builder pattern

Remember the first image we built that was over 700 megabytes? We’ve been able to cut that down to 10.7 megabytes using the builder pattern.

We can still reduce this number a bit, by making use of scratch (empty) images. What’s a scratch image? It’s a special docker image that’s empty. To use this, we need to first build our app outside the docker environment and add the compiled binary to the container.

$ go build -o myapp .

We’ll update the Dockerfile to add the binary to a scratch image.

FROM scratch
ADD myapp /
CMD ["/myapp"]

Let’s build this image and see how large it turns out. scratch image

We got it down to 6.5 megabytes, cool! Let’s try running our container to test our app.

$ docker run -it codehakase/goapp

You may get an error like this:

Reason for this error, is the Go binary is looking for libraries on the OS its running on, since the scratch image is empty, there are no libraries to look in. We need to modify the build command to statically compile our Go app:

$ GO_ENABLED=0 GOOS=linux go build -a -installsuffix cgo -o myapp .

Rebuild with docker build -t codehakase/goapp, and run the our container again, forwarding the port on the container to our machine:

$ docker run -it -p 8080:8080 codehakase/goapp
  Starting server on port 8080

Navigate to http://localhost:8080/api to test the response from the app.


The goal of this article was to explain how to reduce container sizes specifically for Go apps. With smaller containers, you have more performance, as building your containers say in a CI environment is going to be faster, pushing your built images to a container registry will take less amount of time, and most importantly pulling these containers to your distributed kubernetes clusters will be faster, as smaller containers are less likely to delay a deployment for a new cluster.

If you have any suggestions or comments, leave a comment below or ping @codehakase


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