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Docker Compose vs Portainer: What are the differences?

Introduction

In this article, we will discuss the key differences between Docker Compose and Portainer, two popular tools used in the deployment and management of Docker containers.

  1. Deployment and Management: Docker Compose is a command-line tool that allows you to define and manage multi-container Docker applications. It uses a YAML file to specify the services, networks, and volumes required for the application. Portainer, on the other hand, is a web-based graphical user interface (GUI) that provides an easy-to-use interface for managing Docker containers, images, networks, and volumes. It allows you to deploy, start, stop, and manage containers without writing complex command-line instructions.

  2. User Interface: Docker Compose relies on a command-line interface (CLI) to define and manage Docker applications. It requires knowledge of YAML syntax and command-line usage. Portainer, on the other hand, provides a user-friendly web-based interface that requires no knowledge of command-line or YAML syntax. It offers an intuitive GUI with point-and-click functionality, making it more accessible to users who are new to Docker.

  3. Scalability: Docker Compose is primarily designed for single host deployments. It allows you to define and manage multiple containers on a single host, but it does not provide built-in support for scalability across multiple hosts. Portainer, on the other hand, provides features for managing multi-host Docker environments. It allows you to easily scale container deployments across multiple hosts, making it suitable for larger deployments.

  4. Advanced Features: Docker Compose provides a wide range of advanced features for defining and managing Docker applications. It supports environment variables, network configurations, volume mapping, dependency management, and more. Portainer, on the other hand, does not provide the same level of advanced features as Docker Compose. While it allows you to manage containers, images, networks, and volumes, it does not offer the same level of flexibility and customization as Docker Compose.

  5. Security: Docker Compose does not provide built-in security features. It does not have user access controls or authentication mechanisms. Portainer, on the other hand, provides advanced security features, including user authentication, role-based access control (RBAC), and support for LDAP and OAuth authentication providers. It allows you to control access to Docker resources based on user roles and permissions.

  6. Community Support and Ecosystem: Docker Compose is a core component of the Docker ecosystem and has strong community support. It is widely adopted and has an active community of developers contributing to its development and maintenance. Portainer, on the other hand, is a separate tool that complements Docker Compose. While it has its own community of users and contributors, it may not have the same level of community support and ecosystem as Docker Compose.

In summary, Docker Compose is a command-line tool used to define and manage Docker applications, while Portainer is a user-friendly web-based GUI for managing Docker containers, images, and networks. Docker Compose provides advanced features and flexibility, but requires knowledge of command-line usage and YAML syntax. Portainer, on the other hand, is easier to use and offers features for multi-host deployments and security, but may lack the same level of flexibility and community support as Docker Compose.

Decisions about Docker Compose and Portainer
Michael Roberts

We develop rapidly with docker-compose orchestrated services, however, for production - we utilise the very best ideas that Kubernetes has to offer: SCALE! We can scale when needed, setting a maximum and minimum level of nodes for each application layer - scaling only when the load balancer needs it. This allowed us to reduce our devops costs by 40% whilst also maintaining an SLA of 99.87%.

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Pros of Docker Compose
Pros of Portainer
  • 123
    Multi-container descriptor
  • 110
    Fast development environment setup
  • 79
    Easy linking of containers
  • 68
    Simple yaml configuration
  • 60
    Easy setup
  • 16
    Yml or yaml format
  • 12
    Use Standard Docker API
  • 8
    Open source
  • 5
    Go from template to application in minutes
  • 5
    Can choose Discovery Backend
  • 4
    Scalable
  • 4
    Easy configuration
  • 4
    Kubernetes integration
  • 3
    Quick and easy
  • 35
    Simple
  • 26
    Great UI
  • 19
    Friendly
  • 12
    Easy to setup, gives a practical interface for Docker
  • 11
    Because it just works, super simple yet powerful
  • 11
    Fully featured
  • 9
    A must for Docker DevOps
  • 7
    Free and opensource
  • 5
    API
  • 5
    It's simple, fast and the support is great
  • 4
    Template Support

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Cons of Docker Compose
Cons of Portainer
  • 9
    Tied to single machine
  • 5
    Still very volatile, changing syntax often
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    What is Docker Compose?

    With Compose, you define a multi-container application in a single file, then spin your application up in a single command which does everything that needs to be done to get it running.

    What is Portainer?

    It is a universal container management tool. It works with Kubernetes, Docker, Docker Swarm and Azure ACI. It allows you to manage containers without needing to know platform-specific code.

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    What are some alternatives to Docker Compose and Portainer?
    Kubernetes
    Kubernetes is an open source orchestration system for Docker containers. It handles scheduling onto nodes in a compute cluster and actively manages workloads to ensure that their state matches the users declared intentions.
    Docker
    The Docker Platform is the industry-leading container platform for continuous, high-velocity innovation, enabling organizations to seamlessly build and share any application — from legacy to what comes next — and securely run them anywhere
    Docker Swarm
    Swarm serves the standard Docker API, so any tool which already communicates with a Docker daemon can use Swarm to transparently scale to multiple hosts: Dokku, Compose, Krane, Deis, DockerUI, Shipyard, Drone, Jenkins... and, of course, the Docker client itself.
    Helm
    Helm is the best way to find, share, and use software built for Kubernetes.
    Ansible
    Ansible is an IT automation tool. It can configure systems, deploy software, and orchestrate more advanced IT tasks such as continuous deployments or zero downtime rolling updates. Ansible’s goals are foremost those of simplicity and maximum ease of use.
    See all alternatives