Joshua Jebaraj
May 25, 2023

Dockerfile Best Practices

Table of Content:

  1. Introduction
  2. 7 Dockerfile Best Practices
  3. Conclusion

Docker has revolutionized the way applications are packaged and deployed. Docker is the market leader in the containerization industry, with a 27.13% market share.

Dockerfiles are instructions that define how to build a Docker container. Writing a Dockerfile can be straightforward, but some best practices can help you optimize your images for performance, security, and maintainability. 

This article will discuss some of the best practices for writing Dockerfiles.

7 Dockerfile Best Practices

One of the most critical things to get right when using containers to deploy your applications is your Dockerfiles. Dockerfiles are used to instruct Docker on how to build and deploy containers. If they are not well-written or optimized for your needs, it can substantially impact how fast and efficiently you can deploy new versions of your application. 

It can also open up unintended vulnerabilities and loopholes that threat actors can exploit. This can jeopardize the security of your containers.

1. Minimize the Number of Layers in Your Images

Minimizing the number of layers in a Docker image is a crucial best practice for optimizing Docker performance. A new layer is created each time an instruction in the Dockerfile is executed. 

Having too many layers can slow down builds and increase network performance overhead. Combining multiple instructions into a single RUN command can reduce the number of layers and improve your Docker image's performance. This can also help reduce the image size, making it more efficient to store and transport. 

It's important to note that while combining multiple instructions into a single RUN command can benefit performance, balancing this with maintainability and readability is essential. 

If the commands are too complex, splitting them into separate RUN commands may be better for improved readability and easier troubleshooting. 

Finding the right balance between layer optimization and maintainability is key to building efficient and maintainable Docker images.

2. Sort Multi-Line Arguments

Sorting multi-line arguments in a Dockerfile is a good practice for maintaining hygiene and readability. 

When you have multiple arguments for a single command, sorting them alphabetically helps ensure that someone else reading your Dockerfile can easily understand what's happening. This makes troubleshooting issues easier, updating or modifying the Dockerfile, and collaborating with others on your team. 

It's a good practice to ensure consistency across your Dockerfiles and avoid confusion or errors due to unorganized or scattered arguments. By keeping your Dockerfile organized and easy to read, you can increase the efficiency and maintainability of your containerized applications.

3. Leverage the Build Cache

Docker has a built-in cache that helps speed up builds. The cache stores previously built layers, so if a layer hasn't changed, Docker will use the cached layer instead of rebuilding it. This can save a lot of time and bandwidth during builds.

To take advantage of the build cache, you need to ensure that your Dockerfile instructions are ordered in such a way that frequently changing instructions come later in the file. 

For example, if you're copying files into the image, do that after installing dependencies so that the dependencies are cached.

4. Use a Lightweight OS

Using a lightweight OS can significantly improve container performance. Consumer-grade Linux distros like Ubuntu or Debian are not optimized for running containers. Instead, you should use a minimal OS specifically designed to run containers.

Two popular options are Fedora CoreOS and Alpine Linux. They are lightweight and optimized for running containers, making them ideal for Docker use.

5. Avoid Installing Unnecessary Packages

Keeping your Docker images as lightweight as possible is crucial for optimizing your build and deployment times. Installing unnecessary packages can significantly increase your image's size, slowing down your builds and deployments. Before installing any package, it's essential to ask yourself whether your application needs it to run. 

If the package is not essential, then avoid installing it. 

Some packages come with unnecessary dependencies that can expand your image size. By avoiding the installation of unnecessary packages, you can keep your images lightweight, resulting in faster builds and deployments. This saves time and reduces resource consumption, which can lead to cost savings when running your applications at scale. 

Remember, every package you install in your Docker image should serve a specific purpose for your application. Keeping your images clean and minimal will help ensure their efficiency and reliability.

6. Leverage Multi-Stage Builds

Multi-stage builds are a powerful feature of Docker that allows you to split your Dockerfile into multiple stages. 

Each stage can have a different base image, and you can copy files from one stage to another. This lets you optimize your image for different stages of the build process. 

For example, you can have a build stage that installs dependencies and compiles your code and then a runtime stage that only includes the compiled and runtime dependencies.

Multi-stage builds can also improve build concurrency. Since each stage is executed independently, you can build multiple stages concurrently, saving time.

7. Never Store Sensitive Info in a Dockerfile

Storing sensitive information in a Dockerfile is a significant security risk, as it can be easily exposed to anyone with access to your image. This is because Dockerfiles are often stored in version control systems like Git, which multiple developers and other users can access. 

Sensitive information like passwords, API keys, and other secrets should never be stored in your Dockerfile. 

Instead, using Docker secrets or environment variables to store sensitive information is best. Docker secrets are encrypted files that can be securely passed to your container at runtime. 

This allows you to keep your sensitive information separate from your Dockerfile and ensures that it is only accessible by authorized users. On the other hand, environment variables can be set at runtime and are often used to pass configuration information to a container. They can also be encrypted to ensure that sensitive information is kept secure. 

Using these best practices, you can minimize the risk of exposing sensitive information and ensure your Docker containers are secure and reliable.


Writing an efficient and secure Dockerfile is critical to building a reliable and scalable Docker image. By following these best practices, you can optimize your images for performance, security, and maintainability. Remember to keep your images as lightweight as possible, use caching and multi-stage builds, and never store sensitive information in your Dockerfile. With these best practices in mind, you'll be well on your way to building better Docker images.

At we45, we specialize in providing expert Kubernetes security and container security services. We offer various services, including Kubernetes security assessments, container security audits, and custom security solutions tailored to your specific needs. 

Get in touch with us today to learn how we can help you secure your containerized applications and streamline your DevOps processes.