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Migrating from Docker to Machine

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This document contains some general guidelines and considerations to make when moving from the Docker executor to machine, or vice versa.


Occasionally, the Docker executor isn’t quite the right fit for your builds. This can include a lack of memory or requiring more dedicated CPU power. Moving to a dedicated virtual machine can help alleviate some of these issues, but changing out an executor is not as easy as replacing a few lines of configuration. There are some other considerations to make, such as the tools and libraries required to be installed for your application and tests.

Pre-installed software

The most up to date list of pre-installed software can be found on the image builder page. You can also visit the Discuss page for more information.

Additional packages can be installed with sudo apt-get install <package>. If the package in question is not found, sudo apt-get update may be required before installing it.

Running docker containers on machine

Machine executors come installed with Docker, which can be used to run your application within a container rather than installing additional dependencies. Note, it is recommended this is done with a customer Docker image rather than a CircleCI convenience image, which are built under the assumption they will be used with the Docker executor and may be tricky to work around. Since each machine executor environment is a dedicated virtual machine, commands to run background containers can be used is normal.

Note: if you have Docker Layer Caching (DLC) enabled for your account, machine executors can utilize this to cache your image layers for subsequent runs.

Why use docker executors at all?

While machine executors do offer twice the memory and a more isolated environment, there is some additional overhead regarding spin up time, and, depending on the approach taken for running the application, more time is taken to install the required dependencies or pull your Docker image. The Docker executor will also cache as many layers as possible from your image during spin-up, as opposed to the machine executor, where DLC will need to be enabled.

All executors have their pros and cons, which have been laid out here to help decide which is right for your pipelines.

Further reading

We have more details on each specific executor here, which includes links to specific memory and vCPU allocation details, as well as how to implement each one in your own configuration.

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