Installing CKAN with Docker Compose

This chapter is a tutorial on how to install the latest CKAN (master or any stable version) with Docker Compose. The scenario shown here is one of many possible scenarios and environments in which CKAN can be used with Docker.

This chapter aims to provide a simple, yet fully customizable deployment - easier to configure than a source install, more customizable than a package install.

The discussed setup can be useful as a development / staging environment; additional care has to be taken to use this setup in production.


Some design decisions are opinionated (see notes), which does not mean that the alternatives are any worse. Some decisions may or may not be suitable for production scenarios, e.g. the use of CKAN master. Notably, this tutorial does not use Docker Swarm; additional steps may need to be taken to adapt the setup to use Docker Swarm.

1. Environment

This tutorial was tested on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. The hosts can be local environments or cloud VMs. It is assumed that the user has direct access (via terminal / ssh) to the systems and root permissions.

  1. Storage

Using a cloud based VM, external storage volumes are cheaper than VMs and easy to backup. In our use case, we use a cloud based VM with 16 GB storage, have mounted a 100 GB btrfs-formatted external storage volume, and symlinked /var/lib/docker to the external volume. This allows us to store the bulky and/or precious cargo – Docker images, Docker data volumes containing the CKAN databases, filestore, and config – on a cheaper service. On the other hand, a snapshotting filesystem like btrfs is ideal for rolling backups. The same cost consideration might apply to other cloud-based providers.


This setup stores data in named volumes, mapped to folder locations which can be networked or local storage. An alternative would be to re-write docker-compose.yml to map local storage directly, bypassing named volumes. Both solutions will save data to a specified location.

Further reading: Docker Volumes.

  1. Docker

Docker is installed system-wide following the official Docker CE installation guidelines.

To verify a successful Docker installation, run docker run hello-world. docker version should output versions for client and server.

  1. Docker Compose

Docker Compose is installed system-wide following the official Docker Compose installation guidelines. Alternatively, Docker Compose can be installed inside a virtualenv, which would be entirely separate from the virtualenv used inside the CKAN container, and would need to be activated before running Docker Compose commands.

To verify a successful Docker Compose installation, run docker-compose version.

  1. CKAN source

Clone CKAN into a directory of your choice:

cd /path/to/my/projects
git clone

This will use the latest CKAN master, which may not be stable enough for production use. To use a stable version, checkout the respective tag, e.g.:

git checkout tags/ckan-2.9.11

2. Build Docker images

In this step we will build the Docker images and create Docker data volumes with user-defined, sensitive settings (e.g. database passwords).

  1. Sensitive settings and environment variables

Copy contrib/docker/.env.template to contrib/docker/.env and follow instructions within to set passwords and other sensitive or user-defined variables. The defaults will work fine in a development environment on Linux. For Windows and OSX, the CKAN_SITE_URL must be updated.


Related reading:

  1. Build the images

Inside the CKAN directory:

cd contrib/docker
docker-compose up -d --build

For the remainder of this chapter, we assume that docker-compose commands are all run inside contrib/docker, where docker-compose.yml and .env are located.

On first runs, the postgres container could need longer to initialize the database cluster than the ckan container will wait for. This time span depends heavily on available system resources. If the CKAN logs show problems connecting to the database, restart the ckan container a few times:

docker-compose restart ckan
docker ps | grep ckan
docker-compose logs -f ckan


Earlier versions of used to wait and ping the db container using detailed db credentials (host, port, user, password). While this delay sometimes worked, it also obfuscated other possible problems. However, the db cluster needs to initialize only once, and starts up quickly in subsequent runs. This setup chose the very opinionated option of doing away with the delay altogether in favour of failing early.

After this step, CKAN should be running at CKAN_SITE_URL.

There should be five containers running (docker ps):

  • ckan: CKAN with standard extensions
  • db: CKAN’s database, later also running CKAN’s datastore database
  • redis: A pre-built Redis image.
  • solr: A pre-built SolR image set up for CKAN.
  • datapusher: A pre-built CKAN Datapusher image.

There should be four named Docker volumes (docker volume ls | grep docker). They will be prefixed with the Docker Compose project name (default: docker or value of host environment variable COMPOSE_PROJECT_NAME.)

  • docker_ckan_config: home of production.ini
  • docker_ckan_home: home of ckan venv and source, later also additional CKAN extensions
  • docker_ckan_storage: home of CKAN’s filestore (resource files)
  • docker_pg_data: home of the database files for CKAN’s default and datastore databases

The location of these named volumes needs to be backed up in a production environment. To migrate CKAN data between different hosts, simply transfer the content of the named volumes. A detailed use case of data transfer will be discussed in step 5.

  1. Convenience: paths to named volumes

The files inside named volumes reside on a long-ish path on the host. Purely for convenience, we’ll define environment variables for these paths. We’ll use a prefix VOL_ to avoid overriding variables in docker-compose.yml.:

# Find the path to a named volume
docker volume inspect docker_ckan_home | jq -c '.[] | .Mountpoint'
# "/var/lib/docker/volumes/docker_ckan_config/_data"

export VOL_CKAN_HOME=`docker volume inspect docker_ckan_home | jq -r -c '.[] | .Mountpoint'`

export VOL_CKAN_CONFIG=`docker volume inspect docker_ckan_config | jq -r -c '.[] | .Mountpoint'`

export VOL_CKAN_STORAGE=`docker volume inspect docker_ckan_storage | jq -r -c '.[] | .Mountpoint'`

We won’t need to access files inside docker_pg_data directly, so we’ll skip creating the shortcut. As shown further below, we can use psql from inside the ckan container to run commands against the database and import / export files from $VOL_CKAN_HOME.

3. Datastore and datapusher

The datastore database and user are created when the db container is first started, however we need to do some additional configuration before enabling the datastore and datapusher settings in the production.ini.

  1. Configure datastore database

With running CKAN containers, execute the built-in setup script against the db container:

docker exec ckan /usr/local/bin/ckan -c /etc/ckan/production.ini datastore set-permissions | docker exec -i db psql -U ckan

The script pipes in the output of paster ckan set-permissions - however, as this output can change in future versions of CKAN, we set the permissions directly. The effect of this script is persisted in the named volume docker_pg_data.


We re-use the already privileged default user of the CKAN database as read/write user for the datastore. The database user (ckan) is hard-coded, the password is supplied through the``.env`` variable POSTGRES_PASSWORD. A new user datastore_ro is created (and also hard-coded) as readonly user with password DATASTORE_READONLY_USER. Hard-coding the database table and usernames allows to prepare the set-permissions SQL script, while not exposing sensitive information to the world outside the Docker host environment.

After this step, the datastore database is ready to be enabled in the production.ini.

  1. Enable datastore and datapusher in production.ini

Edit the production.ini (note: requires sudo):

sudo vim $VOL_CKAN_CONFIG/production.ini

Add datastore datapusher to ckan.plugins and enable the datapusher option ckan.datapusher.formats.

The remaining settings required for datastore and datapusher are already taken care of:

  • ckan.storage_path (/var/lib/ckan) is hard-coded in, docker-compose.yml and CKAN’s Dockerfile. This path is hard-coded as it remains internal to the containers, and changing it would have no effect on the host system.
  • ckan.datastore.write_url = postgresql://ckan:POSTGRES_PASSWORD@db/datastore and ckan.datastore.read_url = postgresql://datastore:DATASTORE_READONLY_PASSWORD@db/datastore are provided by docker-compose.yml.

Restart the ckan container to apply changes to the production.ini:

docker-compose restart ckan

Now the datastore API should return content when visiting:


4. Create CKAN admin user

With all images up and running, create the CKAN admin user (johndoe in this example):

docker exec -it ckan /usr/local/bin/ckan -c /etc/ckan/production.ini sysadmin add johndoe

Now you should be able to login to the new, empty CKAN. The admin user’s API key will be instrumental in tranferring data from other instances.

5. Migrate data

This section illustrates the data migration from an existing CKAN instance SOURCE_CKAN into our new Docker Compose CKAN instance assuming direct (ssh) access to SOURCE_CKAN.

  1. Transfer resource files

Assuming the CKAN storage directory on SOURCE_CKAN is located at /path/to/files (containing resource files and uploaded images in resources and storage), we’ll simply rsync SOURCE_CKAN’s storage directory into the named volume docker_ckan_storage:

sudo rsync -Pavvr USER@SOURCE_CKAN:/path/to/files/ $VOL_CKAN_STORAGE
  1. Transfer users

Users could be exported using the python package ckanapi, but their password hashes will be excluded. To transfer users preserving their passwords, we need to dump and restore the user table.

On source CKAN host with access to source db ckan_default, export the user table:

pg_dump -h CKAN_DBHOST -P CKAN_DBPORT -U CKAN_DBUSER -a -O -t user -f user.sql ckan_default

On the target host, make user.sql accessible to the source CKAN container. Transfer user.sql into the named volume docker_ckan_home and chown it to the docker user:

rsync -Pavvr user@ckan-source-host:/path/to/user.sql $VOL_CKAN_HOME/venv/src

# $VOL_CKAN_HOME is owned by the user "ckan" (UID 900) as created in the CKAN Dockerfile
sudo ls -l $VOL_CKAN_HOME
# drwxr-xr-x 1 900 900 62 Jul 17 16:13 venv

# Chown user.sql to the owner of $CKAN_HOME (ckan, UID 900)
sudo chown 900:900 $VOL_CKAN_HOME/venv/src/user.sql

Now the file user.sql is accessible from within the ckan container:

docker exec -it ckan /bin/bash -c "export TERM=xterm; exec bash"

ckan@eca111c06788:/$ psql -U ckan -h db -f $CKAN_VENV/src/user.sql
  1. Export and upload groups, orgs, datasets

Using the python package ckanapi we will dump orgs, groups and datasets from the source CKAN instance, then use ckanapi to load the exported data into the target instance. The datapusher will automatically ingest CSV resources into the datastore.

  1. Rebuild search index

Trigger a Solr index rebuild:

docker exec -it ckan /usr/local/bin/ckan-paster --plugin=ckan search-index rebuild -c /etc/ckan/production.ini

6. Add extensions

There are two scenarios to add extensions:

  • Maintainers of production instances need extensions to be part of the ckan image and an easy way to enable them in the production.ini. Automating the installation of existing extensions (without needing to change their source) requires customizing CKAN’s Dockerfile and scripted post-processing of the production.ini.
  • Developers need to read, modify and use version control on the extensions’ source. This adds additional steps to the maintainers’ workflow.

For maintainers, the process is in summary:

  • Run a bash shell inside the running ckan container, download and install extension. Alternatively, add a pip install step for the extension into a custom CKAN Dockerfile.
  • Restart ckan service, read logs.
  1. Download and install extension from inside ckan container into docker_ckan_home volume

The process is very similar to installing extensions in a source install. The only difference is that the installation steps will happen inside the running container, and they will use the virtualenv created inside the ckan image by CKAN’s Dockerfile.

The downloaded and installed files will be persisted in the named volume docker_ckan_home.

In this example we’ll enter the running ckan container to install ckanext-geoview from source, ckanext-showcase from GitHub, and ckanext-envvars from PyPi:

# Enter the running ckan container:
docker exec -it ckan /bin/bash -c "export TERM=xterm; exec bash"

# Inside the running container, activate the virtualenv
source $CKAN_VENV/bin/activate && cd $CKAN_VENV/src/

# Option 1: From source
git clone
cd ckanext-geoview
pip install -r pip-requirements.txt
python install
python develop
cd ..

# Option 2: Pip install from GitHub
pip install -e "git+"

# Option 3: Pip install from PyPi
pip install ckanext-envvars

# exit the ckan container:

Some extensions require database upgrades, often through paster scripts. E.g., ckanext-spatial:

# Enter the running ckan container:
docker exec -it ckan /bin/bash -c "export TERM=xterm; exec bash"

# Inside the running ckan container
source $CKAN_VENV/bin/activate && cd $CKAN_VENV/src/
git clone
cd ckanext-spatial
pip install -r pip-requirements.txt
python install && python develop

# On the host
docker exec -it db psql -U ckan -f 20_postgis_permissions.sql
docker exec -it ckan /usr/local/bin/ckan-paster --plugin=ckanext-spatial spatial initdb -c /etc/ckan/production.ini

sudo vim $VOL_CKAN_CONFIG/production.ini

# Inside production.ini, add to [plugins]:
spatial_metadata spatial_query

ckanext.spatial.search_backend = solr
  1. Modify CKAN config

Follow the respective extension’s instructions to set CKAN config variables:

sudo vim $VOL_CKAN_CONFIG/production.ini


Demonstrate how to set production.ini settings from environment variables using ckanext-envvars.

  1. Reload and debug
docker-compose restart ckan
docker-compose logs ckan
  1. Develop extensions: modify source, install, use version control

While maintainers will prefer to use stable versions of existing extensions, developers of extensions will need access to the extensions’ source, and be able to use version control.

The use of Docker and the inherent encapsulation of files and permissions makes the development of extensions harder than a CKAN source install.

Firstly, the absence of private SSH keys inside Docker containers will make interacting with GitHub a lot harder. On the other hand, two-factor authentication on GitHub breaks BasicAuth (HTTPS, username and password) and requires a “personal access token” in place of the password.

To use version control from inside the Docker container:

  • Clone the HTTPS version of the GitHub repo.
  • On GitHub, create a personal access token with “full control of private repositories”.
  • Copy the token code and use as password when running git push.

Secondly, the persisted extension source at VOL_CKAN_HOME is owned by the CKAN container’s docker user (UID 900) and therefore not writeable to the developer’s host user account by default. There are various workarounds. The extension source can be accessed from both outside and inside the container.

Option 1: Accessing the source from inside the container:

docker exec -it ckan /bin/bash -c "export TERM=xterm; exec bash"
source $CKAN_VENV/bin/activate && cd $CKAN_VENV/src/
# ... work on extensions, use version control ...
# in extension folder:
python install
# ... edit extension settings in production.ini and restart ckan container
sudo vim $VOL_CKAN_CONFIG/production.ini
docker-compose restart ckan

Option 2: Accessing the source from outside the container using sudo:

sudo vim $VOL_CKAN_CONFIG/production.ini
sudo vim $VOL_CKAN_HOME/venv/src/ckanext-datawagovautheme/ckanext/datawagovautheme/templates/package/search.html

Option 3: The Ubuntu package bindfs makes the write-protected volumes accessible to a system user:

sudo apt-get install bindfs
sudo chown -R `whoami`:docker $VOL_CKAN_HOME
sudo bindfs --map=900/`whoami` $VOL_CKAN_HOME ~/VOL_CKAN_HOME

cd ~/VOL_CKAN_HOME/venv/src

# Do this with your own extension fork
# Assumption: the host user running git clone (you) has write access to the repository
git clone

# ... change files, use version control...

Changes in HTML templates and CSS will be visible right away. For changes in code, we’ll need to unmount the directory, change ownership back to the ckan user, and follow the previous steps to python install and pip install -r requirements.txt from within the running container, modify the production.ini and restart the container:

sudo umount ~/VOL_CKAN_HOME
sudo chown -R 900:900 $VOL_CKAN_HOME
# Follow steps a-c


Mounting host folders as volumes instead of using named volumes may result in a simpler development workflow. However, named volumes are Docker’s canonical way to persist data. The steps shown above are only some of several possible approaches.

7. Environment variables

Sensitive settings can be managed in (at least) two ways, either as environment variables, or as Docker secrets. This section illustrates the use of environment variables provided by the Docker Compose .env file.

This section is targeted at CKAN maintainers seeking a deeper understanding of variables, and at CKAN developers seeking to factor out settings as new .env variables.

Variable substitution propagates as follows:

  • .env.template holds the defaults and the usage instructions for variables.
  • The maintainer copies .env from .env.template and modifies it following the instructions.
  • Docker Compose interpolates variables in docker-compose.yml from .env.
  • Docker Compose can pass on these variables to the containers as build time variables (when building the images) and / or as run time variables (when running the containers).
  • has access to all run time variables of the ckan service.
  • injects environment variables (e.g. CKAN_SQLALCHEMY_URL) into the running ckan container, overriding the CKAN config variables from production.ini.

See Configuration Options for a list of environment variables (e.g. CKAN_SQLALCHEMY_URL) which CKAN will accept to override production.ini.

After adding new or changing existing .env variables, locally built images and volumes may need to be dropped and rebuilt. Otherwise, docker will re-use cached images with old or missing variables:

docker-compose down
docker-compose up -d --build

# if that didn't work, try:
docker rmi $(docker images -q -f dangling=true)
docker-compose up -d --build

# if that didn't work, try:
docker rmi $(docker images -q -f dangling=true)
docker volume prune
docker-compose up -d --build


Removing named volumes will destroy data. docker volume prune will delete any volumes not attached to a running(!) container. Backup all data before doing this in a production setting.

8. Steps towards production

As mentioned above, some design decisions may not be suitable for a production setup.

A possible path towards a production-ready environment is:

  • Use the above setup to build docker images.
  • Add and configure extensions.
  • Make sure that no sensitive settings are hard-coded inside the images.
  • Push the images to a docker repository.
  • Create a separate “production” docker-compose.yml which uses the custom built images.
  • Run the “production” docker-compose.yml on the production server with appropriate settings.
  • Transfer production data into the new server as described above using volume orchestration tools or transferring files directly.
  • Bonus: contribute a write-up of working production setups to the CKAN documentation.