Introducing ComposeECS

The DevOps team here at Space Ape have just open-sourced a small Ruby gem that provides a mechanism to convert Docker Compose specifications to AWS EC2 Container Service task definitions – we’ve called it ComposeECS.

We run the majority of our infrastructure on AWS, using source-controlled CloudFormation templates to manage each of our stacks. Over time we’ve built up a toolchain to help us manage changes to our CloudFormation stacks known internally as ApeStack which incorporates CFNDSL and our internal conventions and processes.

Toward the end of 2015 we started to build out a new platform that would support deployments of containerised applications where it made sense. As heavy users of AWS, EC2 Container Service (ECS) was the obvious choice for running containers in the cloud. The potential advantages of deep integration with AWS services like ELB and IAM have significant implications when it comes to integrating the new platform with our existing stack.

As a team, we are huge fans of specifying configuration in YAML. It’s then perhaps no surprise that we much prefer the syntax of Docker Compose definitions over the JSON-based ECS task definitions. We wanted to be able to specify our task definitions in YAML alongside our CloudFormation templates. Furthermore, we wanted to construct ECS services and their supporting infrastructure with a single command. To this end, we wrote ComposeECS.

ComposeECS reads any Docker Compose file and translates supported attributes(including volume definitions) into an equivalent ECS task definition JSON – sanity-checking your attributes and ensuring compatibility with the ECS task definition specification as it does so. The advantages ComposeECS provides include:

  • Container definitions are more readable and therefore easier to maintain.
  • Docker Compose definitions written to run in our local Docker environment now run on ECS with little modification.
  • Unlike services translated with the ECS-CLI, which supports Docker Compose deployment, our services are CloudFormation-managed whilst still taking advantage of the Docker Compose syntax.

We’re very pleased with ComposeECS. However, it is but one of many hurdles on the path to a production-ready Space Ape container platform. For us, many questions remain around service discovery; efficient and reliable deployment; injection of configuration; handling scale and how to effectively monitor our cluster. We look forward to sharing more from our journey.

If you’re interested in integrating ComposeECS into your toolchain, or contributing, head over to the project Github page.