Working with Docker APIs

Docker’s popularity is due to its simplicity. Most developers can cover quite a bit of ground just with build, push & run commands. But there could be times when you need to start looking beyond CLI commands. For instance, I was working with a customer who was trying to hook up their monitoring tool to Docker Engine to enhance productivity of their ops team. This hook is typically to pull status and stats of docker components and report / alert on them. The way monitoring tool would achieve this is by tapping into APIs provided by Docker Engine. Yes, Docker Engine does provide REST HTTP APIs which can be invoked by any language / runtime with HTTP support (that’s how Docker client works with Docker Engine). Docker even has SDKs for Go and Python. For this post I will be focus on how you can access these APIs using HTTP for both Linux and Windows hosts. Finally we will look at how to access APIs for Docker Enterprise deployments.

Accessing APIs with Linux Hosts

For Linux, Docker daemon listens by default on a socket – /var/run/docker.sock. So using our good old friend CURL here’s the command that you can execute locally to get the list of all containers (equivalent of docker ps)

curl --unix-socket /var/run/docker.sock -H "Content-Type: application/json" -X GET http:/containers/json

But how about accessing the API remotely? Well simple you need to expose a docker endpoint beyond socket using the -H flag for docker service. Link shows you how to configure the same. With that configuration in place you can fire CURL again but this time access the IP rather than the socket.

curl -k  -H "Content-Type: application/json" -X GET

So can just anyone access these APIs remotely? Is there an option to restrict or secure access to APIs? The answer is yes. Docker supports certificate based authentication wherein only authorized clients (possessing cert obtained from authorized CA) can communicate to Docker engine. This article covers required steps in detail to configure certs. Once configuration is done you can use below curl command to access Docker APIs.

curl -k --cert cert.pem --cacert ca.pem --key key.pem

Accessing APIs with Windows Hosts

Unlike Linux which uses sockets, Windows uses pipes. Once you install Docker and run the pipelist command you should see ‘docker_engine’ in the pipelist. You can access this pipe using custom C# code or use Docker.DotNet NuGet Package. Below is a sample code with Docker.DotNet library to retrieve list of containers using ‘docker_engine’ pipe.

DockerClient client = new DockerClientConfiguration(new Uri("npipe://./pipe/docker_engine")).CreateClient();

var containerList = client.Containers.ListContainersAsync(new ContainersListParameters());

foreach (var container in containerList.Result)

In addition, similar to Linux you can use the -H option to allow for TCP connections and also configure certs to secure connection. You can do this via config file, environment variables or just command line as shown below. You can refer to this article for securing Docker Engine with TLS on Windows. Once configured you can use Docker.DotNet to invoke Docker APIs.

dockerd -H npipe:// -H --tlsverify --tlscacert=C:\ProgramData\docker\daemoncerts\ca.pem --tlscert=C:\ProgramData\docker\daemoncerts\cert.pem --tlskey=C:\ProgramData\docker\daemoncerts\key.pem --register-service

Accessing APIs with Docker Enterprise Edition

So far we have invoked APIs for a standalone community docker engine but Docker has other enterprise offerings including Docker Enterprise Edition (EE). If you are not familiar with it check out my post to create a single node test environment. Universal Control Plane (UCP) part of Docker EE provides a set of APIs which you can interact with. Also unlike standalone engines, Docker UCP is secure by default. So to connect to UCP you would need to pass username password credentials or use certs from the client bundle both of which are shown below. With credentials you retrieve an AUTHTOKEN and pass that token for subsequent requests to gain access.

#Accessing UCP APIs via Creds
AUTHTOKEN=$(curl --insecure -s -X POST -d "{ \"username\":\"admin\",\"password\":\"Password123\" }" "" | awk -F ':' '{print    $2}' | tr -d '"{}')

curl -k -H  "content-type: application/json" -H "Authorization: Bearer $AUTHTOKEN" -X GET 

#Accessing UCP APIs via Client Bundle
curl -k --cert cert.pem --cacert ca.pem --key key.pem 

Hope this helps in extend your automation and monitoring tools to Docker!


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