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Running Docker container on Google Compute Engine

September 21, 2021

Google Compute Engine(GCE) is a high-end compute service that allows developers to create and run virtual machines on the underlying secure and reliable infrastructure of Google. Using GCE takes advantage of the complex computing capabilities and heavy workload without acquiring them physically.

Docker allows the encapsulation of an application and its modules into a single independent package. This practice enables you to run the application on any platform without the need for further configurations of the deployment environment.

Table of content

Project Objective

In this article, the reader will be walked through creating a Flask application, creating a Docker-based container from the application and deploying the container to a virtual machine on Google.

By the end of the article, the reader should understand the procedure and the skills to execute them efficiently.


A reader will need the following to follow along with this tutorial.

  1. A suitable text editor. I prefer VS Code.
  2. Basic Python skills.
  3. An understanding of the Flask Framework.
  4. Docker software running.

Creating the Flask app

The initial step is creating the Flask application to be used for the project. I chose Flask because it’s easy to understand, simple, and it does not require any special tools to work with.

Next, initiate the process of creating your application by running this command that installs Flask.

pip install Flask

In the next step, create two files. The first file is named requirements.txt and app.py to hold the libraries and dependencies of the project. The app.py is the driver code of the application.

Add the following code to the app.py file:

from Flask import Flask, render_template
import Flask
app = Flask(__name__)
# Index route
def index():
   return render_template('index.html')
if __name__ == '__main__':

Create a new directory and call it templates. This directory will contain the view files rendered on webpage user interface. In the folder, create a new file named index.html, then add the snippet below:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
   <meta charset="UTF-8">
   <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=edge">
   <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">
   <link rel="stylesheet" href="https://maxcdn.bootstrapcdn.com/bootstrap/3.3.7/css/bootstrap.min.css">
   <div class="container">
   <div class="jumbotron text-center">
   <p>TIn this article, the reader will be walked through creating a Flask application, creating a docker based container out of the article and deploying the Docker container to Google Compute Engine. By the end of the article, the reder should have an understanding of the procedure and the skills to execute them effecinstly.</p>

Dockerizing the application

Dockerization involves encapsulating the application and the modules it requires to run, into one unit. The newly created unit can now be configured to run anywhere without the need to run new installations.

To set up our container, we begin with creating a new file called dockerfile. The file specifies the commands to be executed once the application is uploaded to the platform. First, add the snippets below to the Dockerfile.

FROM python:3.8
# specify the current wd
WORKDIR /user/src/app

# migrate all local files in the computer to the remote container
ENV APP /app
COPY . ./

# Use pip to install the project requirements
RUN python-pip install Flask gunicorn

# Run the web server upon startup with eight threads 
CMD exe gunicorn --bind :$PORT --workers 1 --threads 8 --timeout 0 app:app

Now that we have successfully created our Dockerfile, we need to make the file executable by running the command below in the terminal.

chmod +x Dockerfile

Building the Container Image

We will build and publish our container image to Google Container Registry(GCR). The container image masks the application and its requirements into a single container to run on GCE.

Since we intend to use the gcloud command-line tool, we need to open up the console, and upon prompt, we allow the cloud shell application to access the API key.

Authorize use of API key

To create the container, run the command below:

gcloud builds submit --tag gcr.io/PROJECT-ID/sectionapp

You need to provide a tag to associate with the container image. For our case, I called mine sectionapp.

Creating a docker image Image Created

Configure a firewall rule

We will set up a firewall to allow traffic through a specific port. In our case, the port is 8080.

On the sidebar, head over to the networking tab ⇾ VPC network ⇾ select firewall. Then, click on CREATE FIREWALL BUTTON.

  • Name : allow-http-8080
  • Targets: Specified target tags
  • Target tags: http-server-8080
  • Source-ip:
  • TCP: 8080

Select firewall

Creating the GCE VM instance.

From the sidebar menu in the console, go to COMPUTE ⇾ Compute Engine ⇾ VM instances, then click CREATE INSTANCE.

Creating a virtual machine instance

  • Name : section-instance
  • Machine configuration(Series): N1
  • Machine configuration(Machine type): f1-micro
  • Boot Disk: Debian GNU/Linux 10 (buster)
  • Click the Management, security, disks, networking, sole tenancy link to expand the available options.
  • Click on the Networking tab.
  • For Network tags, enter HTTP-server-8080 that we set up in the firewall creation.

To check for the running instances associated with this project, execute the command below:

gcloud compute instances list

Running instances

Working in the Google VM

Next, we need to log into the virtual machine to install our application and its modules. So we will use another gcloud command as below:

gcloud compute ssh section-instance --zone us-central1-a

Note that we specify the instance name and the zone as well. Then, when prompted to create an ssh key, strike the enter key to go with the defaults.

Next, we will update the system package list by running the command:

sudo apt-update

Next, as this project runs on the Flask, we will need pip to install Flask using the command:

apt install python3-pip 

Uploading the container to the VM

Use CTRL+D to log out of the VM. Next, we need to copy our application files into the virtual machine using the secure copy command.

gcloud computer scp --recursive section section-instance: --zone us-central1-a

Deploying the container to GCE

I prefer deploying my containers to the VM instance from the Google Cloud Platform Console using the gcloud command-line tool with the command:

gcloud compute instances create-with-container section-instance --container-image gcr.io/PROJECT-ID/sectionapp

In the command above, ensure you replace the PROJECT-ID with your project-id.

Testing the application

  • In the running instances, we will select the instance we created section instance. - The instance has two IP addresses; an internal IP and an external IP.
  • Copy the external IP address, then run the application on port 8080.
  • Our application runs as shown below:

Now, if we navigate a browser with http://your-external-ip-address/8080 link, we will see our container running below.

App running


In this article, we built a web application from scratch using a Flask. Then, we went ahead and containerized the application using Docker in the Google command line. Finally, we took a step further and deployed the container to a virtual machine using compute engine. In doing so, we are utilizing Google infrastructure to run our application.

Take note that for you to run an application on Google’s platform, you have to provide billing details and once the application is done, shut down the running instances to avoid incurring extra charges.

You can find the code for the Flask application here.

Peer Review Contributions by: Jerim Kaura