Building Haskell Apps with Docker.

Posted by Deni Bertovic - 21 December, 2017

In this blog post we will show an example of how we can use Docker to build Haskell applications which we then ship inside Docker images.

We will observe two cases. First, we will explore the case of developing on the same Linux distro that we are using for deployment (eg. FROM ubuntu:16.04), and then we will observe the case where we are not developing on a Linux distro but are still targeting Linux for deployment.

If you are interested to know about Stack's native docker support and the stack image container command we will go over that method as well at the end of the post.

Building and deploying on the same OS/Distro

If we are building the Haskell application on the same Linux distro that we are using for deployment (in this case a Docker image), then it simplifies things quite a bit.

In this scenario we are able to build our Haskell application locally; using stack just like we would normally do; and then just embed the compiled binary into the Docker image.

Let's look at the Makefile we will be using, specifically the build target:

## Build binary and docker images
    @stack build
    @BINARY_PATH=${BINARY_PATH_RELATIVE} docker-compose build

As we can see we are first building the binary locally using stack build and then invoking docker-compose build that will build the final docker image using docker-compose and the provided Dockerfile.

The docker-compose file looks like this:

version: '2'
      context: .
        - BINARY_PATH
    image: fpco/myapp
    command: /opt/myapp/myapp
As we can see from the docker-compose file we are passing in a "build argument" to the Docker build process. Specifically, we are passing in the relative location of the app binary located in .stack-work/path/to/myapp.  Let's look at the Dockerfile to see how this build argument is used.

FROM ubuntu:16.04
RUN mkdir -p /opt/myapp/
WORKDIR /opt/myapp
RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y \
  ca-certificates \
COPY "$BINARY_PATH" /opt/myapp
COPY static /opt/myapp/static
COPY config /opt/myapp/config
CMD ["/opt/myapp/myapp"]

In the Dockerfile we are simply copying .stack-work/path/to/myapp into the desired location inside the Dockerfile.

NOTE: In this example we have to make to sure to apt-get install any libraries that our application might require since the binary that we compiled is not statically linked.

Building on a different OS/Distro

If we are developing on a machine that has a different OS or distro than that which we are deploying to, things get a little more complex, since we are trying to embed dynamically linked libraries into the Docker image. Specifically, we now have to compile our binary inside a Docker container rather than on the host machine.

Previously this was done done one of 2 ways.

  1. Bundling in all the build time dependencies into the final production docker image
  2. Splitting the build process into (that contains all the build time dependencies) and Dockerfile which only has the runtime dependencies and the final binary. This was a rather clunky process that required a helper shell script that would first build the first Docker image. Then it would start a container from that Docker image, fetch the compiled binary, start the second container, embed the binary into it and finally commit it as an image. You can read more about this in the Docker documentation.

Since then, Docker has implemented something called multi stage builds  that simplifies and automates this process.  The benefit of this is approach is that we don't bloat our production images with build tools and build requirements, keeping our image size small.

Docker multi stage builds

In this scenario our Dockerfile looks like this:

FROM fpco/stack-build:lts-9.9 as build
RUN mkdir /opt/build
COPY . /opt/build
RUN cd /opt/build && stack build --system-ghc
FROM ubuntu:16.04
RUN mkdir -p /opt/myapp
WORKDIR /opt/myapp
RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y \
  ca-certificates \
COPY --from=build /opt/build/.stack-work/install/x86_64-linux/lts-9.9/8.0.2/bin .

COPY static /opt/myapp/static
COPY config /opt/myapp/config
CMD ["/opt/myapp/myapp"]

In the Dockerfile we first build our app, making use of the fpco/stack-build:lts-9.9 upstream image. After we have built the image, we have another FROM block that uses the same base image as fpco/stack-build, where we copy the binary from the previous build. This allows us to only ship the final binary, without any build dependencies.


The main concern with the multi stage build example above is that we are not re-using any of Stack's cache capabilities. Instead, we are recompiling the entire project from scratch every time. This is only an issue for local development. For CI, we likely want to have a clean slate on every build anyway.

Using "stack image container"

Stack provides a built in way to build docker images with our app's executables baked in. While this support was available before Docker introduced multi staged builds, it is a bit less flexible compared to the above described methods. However, it requires far less familiarity with docker and should therefore be easier to get started with for most people.

First let's look at the needed changes to stack.yaml that we copied to stack-native.yaml

docker:Docker Carrying Haskell.jpg
  enable: true
    base: "fpco/myapp-base"
    name: "fpco/myapp"
      static/: /opt/app/static
      config/: /opt/app/config

As we can see we're instructing stack to build our executables using docker (which is needed if you're building on a non-Linux platform like OSX or Windows) and then we specify some metadata about the container we want stack to build for us.

We specify the base image, the name of the resulting image and local directories which we have to add to the resulting image. Stack will add the executable for us automatically.

Let's look at our Dockerfile.base which we will use to build our base image.

FROM ubuntu:16:04
RUN mkdir -p /opt/app
WORKDIR /opt/app
RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y \
  ca-certificates \

As we can see it's not much different from our previous Dockerfile, except for the part about copying the resulting binary since stack will take of that for us.

We can build the image using make build-base. And then to build our resulting image we run make build-stack-native.

The above make targets look like this:

## Builds base image used for `stack image container`
    @docker build -t fpco/myapp-base -f Dockerfile.base .

## Builds app using stack-native.yaml
build-stack-native: build-base
    @stack --stack-yaml stack-native.yaml build
    @stack --stack-yaml stack-native.yaml image container

Now to test our image we can run make run-stack-native which looks like this:

## Run container built by `stack image container`
    @docker run -p 3000:3000 -it -w /opt/app \
${IMAGE_NAME} myapp

You can read more about stack image container in the Stack documentation.


In this post we've demonstrated how to build Haskell applications using Docker multi stage builds to produce Docker images without the unnecessary bloat of build dependencies. We also shown an alternative approach using stack image container which produces similarly small docker images but offers a bit less control.

Depending on your project needs you might prefer one method over the other.

The code for the above sample application can be found on Github, and contains bits about process management and permission handling that have been omitted from this post for brevity.

Suggested Reading

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Topics: Haskell, haskell stack, Docker

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