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Airstack/Core: Docker Base Container

Airstack/Core is a powerful, lightweight base image for
Docker containers.

It's being developed as part of the Airstack
framework but is perfectly suitable as a general purpose Docker base container.

Airstack is an opinionated devops framework for building modern, scalable app
clusters out of lightweight microservices. It aims to make developing and
deploying distributed apps as fun and painless as possible for both developers
and devops. Airstack/Core can be used independently of other Airstack tools.

Core Services

Airstack/Core is meant to always be extended to provide additional services:
NodeJS, Ruby, PostgreSQL, Redis, etc.

Airstack/Core provides the following core services:

  • Distro independent package and configuration standards
  • JSON templating for service config defaults and runtime overrides
  • Service initialization
    • starting, stopping, monitoring, dependency management, etc.
  • Networking
    • firewall configuration
    • container discovery
  • Logging
  • SSH
  • POSIX scripting library
    • package installation
    • error handling
  • Lua scripting library
  • Test framework

Airstack/Core services are guaranteed to be available in all Airstack/Core compatible
containers regardless of the underlying operating system.


Airstack/Core is designed with
Unix and
microservice architecture
principles in mind.

While an Airstack/Core based container can run anything supported by the underlying
OS, Airstack/Core aims to advance the state-of-the-art by encouraging "single purpose"
containers in a microservice architecture. A container should only run a few
core services (logging, networking, monitoring, etc.) and one main service:
e.g. an app's NodeJS HTTP API. Services like datastore backends, background
workers, image processing nodes, etc. should all be run in separate containers.

Traditionally, microservice architectures are hard to develop due to all of the
development dependencies. A developer on her laptop needs to independently
start PostgreSQL, Redis, Memcached, several apps for responding to different
HTTP requests, one or more background workers, and so on. Then a watcher daemon
needs to run to restart or reload each service on code change. By using Virtual
Machines and containers, each service can be safely run in its own environment.
Airstack/Core's microservice design philosophies help ensure the overhead of each
container is as small as possible. The Airstack tools make it easy to
orchestrate and run all the services in development, test, and production

Airstack/Core's design philosophy is akin to
convention over configuration. In other words, there's one "best way" to do
things. But there's also a well documented, lower level API when needed.

For developers, Airstack/Core makes all the hard devops choices so the developer can
focus on app development. For devops, Airstack/Core provides best practices, a clear
mental model, and predictable patterns so the devop can focus on mission
critical infrastructure decisions.

Design Concerns

  • Microservice architecture
  • Small image disk footprint: <200MB
  • Small memory + cpu footprint of core services
  • Short lived processes for non-daemon scripts
  • Common tools across distros
  • Opinionated micro framework vs universal swiss army knife
  • Intuitive, simple mental model
  • Aggressively opinionated best practices for core services
  • Clear separation of framework vs underlying tools
  • 80/20 rule
    • super simple for 80% use cases
    • easily extensible for 20% use cases
  • Support 12 factor apps and stateful applications

Design Decisions

There are a few open debates in the devops world that were taken into careful
consideration when building Airstack/Core:

  • Init System
    • Airstack/Core uses runit in favor of systemd
    • runit is a lightweight init system ideal for containers
    • See docs/
  • Containers vs Virtual Machines
    • Airstack/Core currently builds Docker containers
    • Airstack/Core is an abstraction layer that will support VMs in the future
  • Security of Docker
    • Airstack/Core enforces security best practices for containers
    • See docs/
  • Unix Tools vs Go
    • Many existing devop tools are being rewritten in golang
    • Airstack/Core uses existing unix tools when possible
    • Pros:
      • Better adherence to Unix principles
      • Smaller memory footprint
        • go programs typically use a minimum of 10MB due to the VM
      • Stability and simplicity
    • Cons:
      • Existing tools limit Airstack/Core to fewer base OS's
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