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Introduction to Kubernetes: How to Deploy a Node.js Docker App

While container technology has existed for years, Docker really took it mainstream. A lot of companies and developers now use containers to ship their apps. Docker provides an easy to use interface to work with containers.

However, for any non-trivial application, you will not be deploying “one container”, but rather a group of containers on multiple hosts. In this article, we’ll take a look at Kubernetes, an open-source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications.

Prerequisites: This article assumes some familiarity with Docker. If you need a refresher, check out Understanding Docker, Containers and Safer Software Delivery.

What Problem Does Kubernetes Solve?

With Docker, you have simple commands like docker run or docker stop to start/stop a container respectively. Unlike these simple commands that let you do operations on a single container, there is no docker deploy command to push new images to a group of hosts.

Many tools have appeared in recent times to solve this problem of “container orchestration”; popular ones being Mesos, Docker Swarm (now part of the Docker engine), Nomad, and Kubernetes. All of them come with their pros and cons but, arguably, Kubernetes has the most mileage at this point.

Kubernetes (also referred to as ‘k8s’) provides powerful abstractions that completely decouple application operations such as deployments and scaling from underlying infrastructure operations. So, with Kubernetes, you do not work with individual hosts or virtual machines on which to run you code, but rather Kubernetes sees the underlying infrastructure as a sea of compute on which to put containers.

Kubernetes Concepts

Kubernetes has a client/server architecture. Kubernetes server runs on your cluster (a group of hosts) on which you will deploy your application. And you typically interact with the cluster using a client, such as the kubectl CLI.


A pod is the basic unit that Kubernetes deals with, a group of containers. If there are two or more containers that always need to work together, and should be on the same machine, make them a pod. A pod is a useful abstraction and there was even a proposal to make them a first class docker object.


A node is a physical or virtual machine, running Kubernetes, onto which pods can be scheduled.


A label is a key/value pair that is used to identify a resource. You could label all your pods serving production traffic with “role=production”, for example.


Selections let you search/filter resources by labels. Following on from the previous example, to get all production pods your selector would be “role=production”.


A service defines a set of pods (typically selected by a “selector”) and a means by which to access them, such as single stable IP address and corresponding DNS name.

Deploy a Node.js App on GKE using Kubernetes

Now, that we are aware of basic Kubernetes concepts, let’s see it in action by deploying a Node.js application on Google Container Engine (referred to as GKE). You’ll need a Google Cloud Platform account for the same (Google provides a free trial with $300 credit).

1. Install Google Cloud SDK and Kubernetes Client

kubectl is the command line interface for running commands against Kubernetes clusters. You can install it as a part of Google Cloud SDK. After Google Cloud SDK installs, run the following command to install kubectl:

$ gcloud components install kubectl

or brew install kubectl if you are on Mac. To verify the installation run kubectl version.

You’ll also need to setup the Google cloud SDK with credentials for your Google cloud account. Just run gcloud init and follow the instructions.

2. Create a GCP project

All Google Cloud Platform resources are created under a project, so create one from the web UI.

Set the default project ID while working with CLI by running:

gcloud config set project {PROJECT_ID}

3. Create a Docker Image of your application

Here is the application that we’ll be working with: express-hello-world. You can see in the Dockerfile that we are using an existing Node.js image from dockerhub. Now, we’ll build our application image by running:

$ docker build -t hello-world-image . 

Run the app locally by running:

docker run --name hello-world -p 3000:3000 hello-world-image

If you visit localhost:3000 you should get the response.

4. Create a cluster

Now we’ll create a cluster with three instances (virtual machines), on which we’ll deploy our application. You can do it from the fairly intuitive web UI by going to container engine page or by running this command:

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