Developing React Inside Docker

Clean up after your mess

Published June 16, 2020 #javascript #howto #docker #transient

Can we build a node application without installing node locally? We sure can! Lets walk through the process.

First make sure that docker is installed. This is handy if you are working on a remote server for example.


Then lets start building out the Dockerfile that we will use.

  1. mkdir testapp
  2. cd testapp
  3. Create a Dockerfile.initial that has node:14 in it.
  4. Start up the container with


FROM node:14


CMD bash

This is going to download the node:14 docker image, and start a shell.

Lets build and start it a temporary container that has our new directory mounted in there and run the npx create-react-app . command, which will generate the new app.

docker build . -f Dockerfile.initial -t testapp
docker run -it --rm -v ${PWD}/testapp:/app  testapp npx create-react-app .

Once this is done, you should see a basic create-react-app generated folder in your local testapp directory. We need to adjust some permissions here since it’s probably owned by root.

sudo chown -R ${USER} testapp

Revel in our generated node_modules!

$ ls -l testapp/
total 472
drwxr-xr-x 1 wschenk root  25562 Jun 16 06:08 node_modules
-rw-r--r-- 1 wschenk root    739 Jun 16 06:08 package.json
drwxr-xr-x 1 wschenk root    132 Jun 16 06:07 public
-rw-r--r-- 1 wschenk root   2884 Jun 16 06:07
drwxr-xr-x 1 wschenk root    156 Jun 16 06:07 src
-rw-r--r-- 1 wschenk root 471966 Jun 16 06:08 yarn.lock

I hate node_modules so lets delete it.

$ rm -rf node_modules

Setting up for development

If you keep the node_modules directory around you may have some cross platform issues. node_modules directory may contain native code, which would be built against the libraries inside of the docker container. If you are running the same OS as what’s inside of the container – Linux – then you can have these co-mingle, but if you are on OSX this is potentially a pain.

What we are going to do is use a docker volume to hide all of this away so we never need to see it and worry about it poluting our machine. Make sure you’ve deleted that terrible folder!

Lets create a testapp/Dockerfile to run the app itself out of the local directory:

FROM node:14


COPY package.json yarn.lock /app/

RUN yarn install


CMD bash
  1. First we copy over package.json and yarn.lock into /app. If these files ever change, we will rerun all of the following steps when building the container.
  2. Run yarn install to install the local node_modules
  3. Expose port 3000 which is the development server port.
  4. We’ll create a docker volume to hide the mess away.

And create a script that will build and start up the container easily, called

#!/usr/bin/env bash

docker build . -f Dockerfile -t testapp && \
docker run -it --rm -v ${PWD}:/app -v testapp_nodemodules:/app/node_modules --network host testapp $@

Now lets fire up a development server using

$ bash yarn start

And edit testapp/src/App.js, make a change, and revel in the automatic reloading!

Adding a library

Kill the server with C-c. Lets go through the process of adding a library.

$ bash yarn add
$ bash yarn start

In the first step, you see things get downloaded from the internet. If you look at your package.json file after it will be updated with the dependancy. The second time we run the script it will notice that package.json changed and rerun yarn install, but since we have mounted node_modules in a volume it doesn’t need to pull anything more from the internet.

Lets edit our App.js file to use the new component to make sure that it works.

import React from 'react';
import Globe from '';

import './App.css';

function App() {
    // Gen random data
    const N = 300;
    const gData = [...Array(N).keys()].map(() => ({
        lat: (Math.random() - 0.5) * 180,
        lng: (Math.random() - 0.5) * 360,
        size: Math.random() / 3,
        color: ['red', 'white', 'blue', 'green'][Math.round(Math.random() * 3)]

    return (

export default App;

After a few seconds you should see the basic globe demo appear in your browser. Love that globe.


This is done simply by

bash yarn build


The container that we use is temporary, and gets cleaned up after you exit out. But we still have the docker image and docker volume floating around – node_modules is always out to get you! – so we’ll need to clean that up after. You can delete this with:

docker image rm testapp
docker volume rm testapp_nodemodules

The next time you run this will all get recreated.

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All we need is the binary

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