Continuous Delivery with Containers – Azure CLI Command for Creating a Docker Release Pipeline with VSTS Part 1

Posted by Graham Smith on January 30, 20176 Comments (click here to comment)

One of the aims of my blog series on Continuous Delivery with Containers is to try and understand how best to use Visual Studio Team Services with Docker, so I was very interested to learn that Azure CLI 2.0 has a command to create a VSTS deployment pipeline to push Docker images to an Azure Container Registry and then deploy and run them on an Azure Container Service running a DC/OS cluster. Even better, Microsoft have written a tutorial (Continuous Integration and Deployment of Multi-Container Docker Applications to Azure Container Service) on how to use this command.

Whilst I'm somewhat sceptical about using generic scaffolding tooling to create production-ready workloads (I find that the naming conventions used are usually unsuitable for example) there is no doubt that they are great for quickly building proof of concepts and also for learning (what are hopefully!) best practices. It was with this aim that, armed with a large cup of tea, I sat down one afternoon to plough my way through the tutorial. It was a great learning experience, however I went down some blind alleys to get the pipeline working and then ended up doing quite a lot of head scratching (due to my ignorance I hasten to add) to fully understand what had been created.

So in this post I'm writing-up my experience of working through the tutorial with notes that I hope will help anyone else using it. In a follow-up post I'll attempt to document what the az container release create command actually creates and configures. Just a reminder that with this tutorial we're still very much in the Linux container world. Whilst this might be frustrating for those eager to see advanced tutorials based on Windows containers the learning focus here is mostly Docker and VSTS so the fact that the containers are running Linux shouldn't put you off.

On a final note before we get started, I'm using a Windows 10 Professional workstation with the beta version (1.13.0 at the time of writing) of Docker for Windows installed and running.

Getting Started with the Azure CLI

The tutorial requires version 2.0 of Azure CLI which is based on Python. The Azure CLI installation documentation suggests running Azure CLI in Docker but don't go down that path as it's a dead end as far as the tutorial is concerned. Instead follow these installation steps:

  1. Install the latest version of Python from here.
  2. From a command prompt upgrade pip (package management system for Python) using the python -m pip install --upgrade pip command.
  3. Install Azure CLI 2.0 using pip install azure-cli. (If you have previously installed Azure CLI 2.0 you should check for an upgrade using pip install azure-cli --upgrade.)
  4. Check Azure CLI is working using the az command. You should see this:

The next step is to actually log in to the Azure CLI. The process is as follows:

  1. At a command prompt type az login.
  2. Navigate to in a browser.
  3. Supply the one-time authentication code supplied by the az login command.
  4. Complete the authentication process using your Azure credentials.

If you have multiple subscriptions you may need to set the default subscription:

  1. At the command prompt type az account list to show details of all your accounts.
  2. Each account has an isDefault property which will tell you the default account.
  3. If you need to make a change use az account set --subscription <Id> -- you can copy and paste the subscription Id from the accounts list.

Creating the Azure Container Service Cluster with DC/OS

This step is pretty straightforward and the tutorial doesn't need any further explanation. My commands to create the resource group and the ACS cluster were:

Be aware that the az acs create command results in a request to provision 18 cores. This might exceed your quota for a given region, even if you have previously contacted Microsoft Support to request an increase in the total number of cores allowed for your subscription (which you might have to do anyway if you have cores already provisioned). I found that choosing a region where I didn't have any cores provisioned fixed a quotaExceeded exception that I was getting.

For simplicity I used the --generate-ssh-keys option to save having to do this manually. This creates id_rsa and files (ie a private / public key pair) in C:\Users\<username>\.ssh.

A word of warning -- if you are using an Azure subscription with MSDN credits be aware that an ACS cluster will eat your credits at an alarming rate. As of the time of writing this post I've not found a reliable way of turning everything off and turning it back on again with everything fully working (specifically the build agent). Consequently I tend to delete the resource group and the VSTS project when I'm finished using them and then recreate them from scratch when I next need them. If you do this do be aware that if you have multiple Azure subscriptions the az account set --subscription <Id> command to set the default subscription can't be relied upon to be ‘sticky', and you can find yourself creating stuff in a different subscription by mistake.

Working with the Sample Code

The tutorial uses sample code that consists of an Angular.js-based web app (with a Node.js backend) that calls a separate .NET Core application, and these are deployed as two separate services. The problem I found was that the name of the GitHub repo (container-service-dotnet-continuous-integration-multi-container) is extremely long and is used to name some of the artefacts that get created by the Azure CLI container release command. This makes for some very unwieldy names which I found somewhat irksome. You can fix this as follows:

  1. Fork the sample code to your own GitHub account.
  2. Switch to the Settings tab:
  3. Use the Rename option to give the forked repo a more manageable name -- I chose TwoServiceApp.
  4. Clone the repo to your workstation in your preferred way -- for me this involved opening a command prompt at C:\Source\GitHub and running git clone

At this point it's probably a good idea to get the sample app working locally which will help with understanding how multi-container Docker deployments work. If you want to examine the source code then Visual Studio Code is an ideal tool for the job. To run the application the first step is to build the .NET Core component. At a command prompt at the root of the application run the following command:

This runs docker-compose with a specific .yml file, and executes the instructions at the ci-build node. The really neat thing about this command is that it uses a Docker container to build the .NET Core app (service-b), which means your workstation doesn't need the .NET Core to be installed for this to work. Looking at the key parts of the file:

  • image: microsoft/dotnet:1.0.0-preview2.1-sdk -- this specifies that this particular Microsoft official Docker image for .NET Core on Linux should be used.
  • volumes: -- ./service-b:/src -- this causes the local service-b folder on your workstation to be ‘mirrored' to a folder named src in the container that will be created from the microsoft/dotnet:1.0.0-preview2.1-sdk image.
  • working_dir: /src -- set the working directory in the container to src.
  • command: /bin/bash -c "dotnet restore && dotnet publish -c Release -o bin ." -- this is the command to build and publish service-b.

Because the service-b folder on your workstation is mirrored to the src folder in the running container the result of the build command is copied from the container to your workstation. Pretty nifty!

To actually run the application now run this command:

By convention docker-compose will look for a docker-compose.yml file so there is no need to specify it. On examining docker-compose.yml it should be pretty easy to see what's going on -- three services (service-a, service-b and mycache) are specified and service-a and service-b are built according to their respective Dockerfile instructions. Both service-a and service-b containers are set to listen on port 80 at runtime and in addition service-a is accessible to the host (ie your workstation) on port 8080. Consequently, you should be able to navigate to http://localhost:8080 in your browser and see the app running.

Creating the Deployment Pipeline

This step is straightforward and the tutorial doesn't need any further explanation. One extra step I included was to create an Azure Container Registry instance in the same resource group used to create the Azure Container Service. Despite repeated attempts, for some reason I couldn't create this at the command line so ended up creating it through the portal. The command though should look similar to this:

To facilitate easy teardown I also created a dedicated project in VSTS called TwoServiceApp. The command to create the pipeline (GitHub token made up of course) was then as follows:

This command results in the creation of build and release definitions in VSTS (along with other supporting items) and a deploy of the image to a Dev environment.

Viewing the Application

To view the application as deployed to the Dev environment you need to launch the DC/OS dashboard. The tutorial instructions are easy to follow, however you might get tripped-up by the instructions for configuring Pageant since the instructions direct you to "Launch PuttyGen and load the private SSH key used to create the ACS cluster (%homepath%\id_rsa)". On my machine at least the id_rsa file was created at %homepath%\.ssh\id_rsa rather than %homepath%\id_rsa. If you persist with the instructions you eventually end up running the application in the Dev environment, but if like me you are new to cluster technologies such as DC/OS it all feels like some kind of sorcery.

A final observation here is that the configuration to launch the DC/OS dashboard requires your browser's proxy to be set. This knocked-out the Internet connection for all my other browser tabs, and was the cause of alarm for a few seconds when I realised that the tab I was using to edit my WordPress blog wouldn't save. If you launched the DC/OS dashboard from the command line (using az acs dcos browse --name TwoServiceAppAcs --resource-group TwoServiceAppRg) you need to use CTRL+C from the command line to close the session. In an emergency head over to Windows Settings > Network & Internet > Proxy to reset things back to normal.

Until Next Time

That concludes the write-up of my notes for use with the Continuous Integration and Deployment of Multi-Container Docker Applications to Azure Container Service tutorial. If you work through the tutorial and have any further tips that might be of use please do post in the comments.

In the next post I'll start to document what the what the az container release create command actually creates and configures.

Cheers -- Graham

  • virasana

    Great walkthrough! I have verified the above steps to be working, without issues. Many Thanks.

    • Glad you found the post helpful virasana!

      Cheers – Graham

  • Daniel Quijada

    as soon as I execute the command to configure the pipeline for my project it gives me an error saying:
    az container: error: argument subcommand: invalid choice: release

    was this changed in the latest cli version?

    • Hi Daniel

      It’s a while since I was working on this however looking at the documentation it looks like things have changed. The tutorial seems to have gone as well so looks like this command might have been retired.

      Please do post back if you get to the bottom of this!

      Cheers – Graham

      • Daniel Quijada

        No luck with any of this. I tried tweeting some people at microsoft to see if there is a new way to do it, but no one answered back. So I checked out your other tutorial and followed that instead.