Docker and private modules

To install private npm packages in a Docker container, you will need to use Docker's build-time variables.

Background: runtime variables

You cannot install private npm packages in a Docker container using only runtime variables. Consider the following Dockerfile:

FROM node

COPY package.json package.json  
RUN npm install

# Add your source files
COPY . .  
CMD npm start

Which will use the official Node.js image, copy the package.json into our container, installs dependencies, copies the source files and runs the start command as specified in the package.json.

In order to install private packages, you may think that we could just add a line before we run npm install, using the ENV parameter:

ENV NPM_TOKEN=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000

However, this doesn't work as you would expect, because you want the npm install to occur when you run docker build, and in this instance, ENV variables aren't used, they are set for runtime only.

Instead of run-time variables, you must use a different way of passing environment variables to Docker, available since Docker 1.9: the ARG parameter.

Create and check in a project-specific .npmrc file

A complete example that will allow you to use --build-arg to pass in your NPM_TOKEN requires adding a .npmrc file to the project.

Use a project-specific .npmrc file with a variable for your token to securely authenticate your Docker image with npm.

  1. In the root directory of your project, create a custom .npmrc file with the following contents:


    Note: that you are specifying a literal value of ${NPM_TOKEN}. The npm cli will replace this value with the contents of the NPM_TOKEN environment variable. Do not put a token in this file.

  2. Check in the .npmrc file.

Update the Dockerfile

The Dockerfile that takes advantage of this has a few more lines in it than the earlier example that allows us to use the .npmrc file and the ARG parameter:

FROM node

COPY .npmrc .npmrc  
COPY package.json package.json  
RUN npm install  
RUN rm -f .npmrc

# Add your source files
COPY . .  
CMD npm start

This adds the expected ARG NPM_TOKEN, but also copies the .npmrc file, and removes it when npm install completes.

Build the Docker image

To build the image using the above Dockerfile and the npm authentication token, you can run the following command. Note the . at the end to give docker build the current directory as an argument.

docker build --build-arg NPM_TOKEN=${NPM_TOKEN} .

This will build the Docker image with the current NPM_TOKEN environment variable, so you can run npm install inside your container as the current logged-in user.

Note: Even if you delete the .npmrc file, it will be kept in the commit history. To clean your secrets entirely, make sure to squash them.

Note: You may commit the .npmrc file under a different name, e.g. .npmrc.docker to prevent local build from using it.

Note: You may need to specify a working directory different from the default / otherwise some frameworks like Angular will fail.

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