When do you need a private docker registry?

This posting is meant to clarify what a docker registry is and in which case it is advantageous to run your own private registry for your container-based workflow.

A docker registry – what was that again?

A registry is a vital building block in the docker ecosystem. The registry acts as a central content delivery and storage service for Docker images. Every docker registry follows the same structure for namespaces github once made popular.


That makes sense because every docker image is based on a file named Dockerfile which is essentially just sourcecode managed in a version controlled repository.

The best known registry is the public docker hub. For your private registry a lightweight yet scalable reference implementation exits. It provides a standardized REST API to integrate the registry in your private docker environment.

Why do I need my own private registry?

In an environment which depends on containerized applications, every packaging and deployment workflow consists of building and shipping docker images from development to production. Given the fact that docker enables very short development cycles, you can imagine that a registry does not only contain very volatile data, but also receives lots of inbound traffic while simultaneously serving multiple clients with outbound image transfers. Availability, access control and performance are the three main benefits a private registry provides.

Are there any prior requirements?

Yes, there is at least one big requirement: You need to have a well defined continuous integration workflow. Without that, your registry will turn into a messy heap of low quality or even hazardous container images. Chances are good that these images can compromise your systems leading to a maintenance nightmare.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, because the same is true with every other software project which has not been through quality control. The difference is that containers are such a powerful abstraction compared to conventional software deployment artifacts, that much more harm can be done than before. Just think about a basic three-tier web application. Maybe you install them using docker-compose up and it starts the database, the middleware and the frontend(s) all at once including inter-container networking and data volume management. This is awesome! But it hides a lot of the inherent complexity of this stack which makes it harder to „peel the onion“ of layers and components when an error occurs.

Let me give you a common workflow example:
In a continuous integration (CI) workflow, a commit on your version control system may trigger a docker build on your CI server which pushes a new docker image to your registry which in turn gets consumed by one or more client nodes where the new container gets executed. This may happen in only a few seconds since the Dockerfile had been committed to version control.

Of course everybody could build docker images on their own computers before deploying them or even build the image directly on the target system. But when it comes to CI and automated workflows, you most certainly want a trusted place where images are built following your company’s policies. Now you can enforce automated quality control and integrity checks.

Some examples are:

  • Checking the size of the container
  • Execute automated security checks
  • Do complex regression tests
  • Quality assurance
  • Keeping track of build histories and versions

All this should be done before pushing the image on your registry server.

More than just a data store

Besides the functional requirements, your registry also has to meet your company’s requirements for availability, security and trust. Examples are:

  • Service Authentication and Authorization
  • Fine grained access control for groups and/or individuals
  • Proper transport security (TLS/SSL)
  • Logging
  • Service monitoring for availability, performance and integrity

A public registry such as the abovementioned docker hub provides a foundation of publicly available open-source images. However, for your company’s private images, a private registry is the way to go. The reason why should be obvious by now.

Various Solutions

The easiest but maybe not the best solution is to run the reference implementation of the docker registry and integrate it with your CI processes. Afterwards you can tick the „done“-checkbox on your todo list.

If your needs exceed this basic approach, you should have a look at the various open source and commercial alternatives for image hosting. All the varieties of modern computing are possible like PaaS, on-premise and everything in between.

On awesome-docker, a curated list of resources for all things related to docker, you can find various options for hosting your private docker registry.

If you feel the need for support to get started, don’t hesitate to contact us at info@sitesitter.de