Building Rancher Catalog Templates

Gray Calendar Icon Published: January 14, 2016
Gray Calendar Icon Updated: November 13, 2019

Last month we introduced a new application catalog in the latest versions of Rancher. The Rancher Catalog provides an easy to use interface that simplifies deploying Docker-based applications. Using a catalog entry it becomes simple to deploy complex applications such as Elasticsearch, Jenkins, Hadoop, as well as tools like etcd and zookeeper, storage services like GlusterFS, and databases like MongoDB. Already, companies like Sysdig and others have provided easy to use templates for deploying their services using Docker. By selecting an entry in the catalog and answering a few questions allows a user to customize deployments without having to edit a YAML file or using the command line to deploy a custom compose file. In this article I’ll walk through how to use the new catalog function, as well as how to build your own templates and deploy them to a private catalog. In this month’s Rancher online meetup, we’ll be diving into this topic in even more detail.

Under the hood

Rancher Catalog is a standalone service that is integrated into the Rancher UI. The application templates are built on top of docker-compose.yml files and augmented by the rancher-compose.yml files. Compose files can be modified by defining configuration questions in the rancher-compose.yml which ask the user for information at the time of deployment that then modifies the docker-compose file with the injected configuration changes. The application templates are versioned and maintained in a Git repository. This makes it easy to track and approve updates to the application catalog. Rancher provides a public catalog with common application offerings that we host in GitHub. You can also deploy a custom catalog in the settings tab and point Rancher to your own alternate Git repository. custom

Building application templates

We follow a common pattern when building out new applications, that we are continuing to refine as we get feedback from users. In this post, I’d like to share some of the best practices we’ve learned about building catalog items. When building applications in the catalog, we make heavy use of Rancher’s Metadata Service, DNS discovery and sidekick containers. If you’re not familiar with sidekics, they are containers that are scheduled and deployed together with your primary container as part of a Rancher service. We use these tools to build services following the basic ideas below. You can read more about sidekicks in our docs.

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse!

When we start developing a catalog item we try to begin with an official image hosted on Docker Hub by the software developer. We have found it best to use these images as it allows us to leverage the existing work that goes into updating new versions of the application as they are released. The key, however is customizing these standard images with your own configurations.

Use data volume sidekick containers.

Typical we design the services in an application stack using three containers, one for data volumes, one for configuration and one for the application itself. The data volume sidekick container holds all of the data. When upgrading the service, Rancher will not delete the data volume container (as long as nothing about the data volume container changed). All of the containers in the service will share the common set of volumes from this container through a docker volumes_from directive.

Use configuration sidekicks.

This type of container provides a lot of the magic. From this container we can inject new init scripts and configuration files. You can have multiple sidekick containers managing configuration, if you have multiple configuration roles. The files and configuration are passed to the application through the data volume container or directly from volumes in the sidekick configuration container. The Rancher Glusterfs catalog entry is a good example of how to use this technique. Take a look at the compose file below: glusterfs-server: image: rancher/glusterfs:v0.1.3 cap_add: - SYS_ADMIN volumes_from: - glusterfs-data labels: io.rancher.container.hostname_override: container_name io.rancher.sidekicks: glusterfs-peer,glusterfs-data,glusterfs-volume-create command: "glusterd -p /var/run/ -N" glusterfs-peer: image: rancher/glusterfs:v0.1.3 net: 'container:glusterfs-server' volumes_from: - glusterfs-data labels: io.rancher.container.hostname_override: container_name command: /opt/rancher/ glusterfs-data: image: rancher/glusterfs:v0.1.3 command: /bin/true volumes: - /var/run labels: io.rancher.container.hostname_override: container_name io.rancher.container.start_once: true glusterfs-volume-create: image: rancher/glusterfs:v0.1.3 command: /opt/rancher/ net: 'container:glusterfs-server' volumes_from: - glusterfs-data labels: io.rancher.container.hostname_override: container_name io.rancher.container.start_once: true There is a lot going on there, so lets just focus on the sidekicks. You can see that glusterfs-server has three sidekicks one for data, one to handle peer probing, and one to handle volume creation. The peer probe and volume creation containers are both configuration containers and serve unique non-overlapping roles in the creation of the stack. Also, the volume create container is only needed on the initial configuration steps. Once it is started it stops and no longer consumes resources.

One process / function per container.

In the most common case we deploy the app, configuration and data containers. In some cases though, running the app and getting it into a usable state requires additional steps. Take GlusterFS as an example. As new Gluster server containers come up they need to peer probe into the cluster. To handle new containers joining, we created a container that monitors metadata and does peer probing. This peer probing container sits alongside the standard data and configuration sidekicks. The catalog is a powerful feature in Rancher, making it easier for teams to deploy commonly used applications. To get started building your own catalog, you can follow the docs here and be up and running with a catalog of your own applications. If your looking for examples to follow, take a look at the templates in the official arancher-catalog on GitHub. Next week we’ll be demonstrating how to build these stacks on our monthly online meetup. Please join us to get a hands-on overview.

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