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Kubernetes vs. Docker: What Does it Really Mean?

Difference between Docker and Kubernetes

Docker is a containerization platform, and Kubernetes is a container orchestrator for container platforms like Docker.

This post aims to clear up some common confusion surrounding Kubernetes and Docker, and explain what people really mean when they talk about “Docker vs. Kubernetes.”

What is Docker?

Docker is currently the most popular container platform.

What is Docker used for?

When most people talk about Docker they are talking about Docker Engine, the runtime that allows you to build and run containers. But before you can run a Docker container they must be built, starting with a Docker File.

What is a Docker file?

The Docker File defines everything needed to run the image including the OS network specifications, and file locations. Now that you have a Docker file, you can build a Docker Image which is the portable, static component that gets run on the Docker Engine. And if you don’t want to start from scratch Docker even has a service called Docker Hub, where you can store and share images.

What is Kubernetes used for?

Kubernetes is the container orchestrator that was developed at Google which has been donated to the CNCF and is now open source. It has the advantage of leveraging Google’s years of expertise in container management. It is a comprehensive system for automating deployment, scheduling and scaling of containerized applications, and supports many containerization tools such as Docker.

Kubernetes or Docker: Which Should You Adopt?

You've probably run into discussions of Kubernetes and Docker that position them as rivals offering the same basic functionality, with the implication that you would normally choose one or the other. By now, however, it should be clear that they are not rivals in any real way, and that their core technologies are, for the most part, complementary.

What then are your choices when it comes to Kubernetes and Docker? What happens if you do choose to use only one and not the other?

Difference between Docker and Kubernetes

It's pretty common to compare Kubernetes and Docker, however, a better comparison is Kubernetes vs Docker Swarm.

  • Docker Swarm is orchestration technology similar to Kubernetes. Docker Swarm is naturally tightly integrated within the Docker ecosystem and focuses on the clustering of Docker containers.

  • A major difference between Docker and Kubernetes is that Docker runs on a single node, whereas Kubernetes is designed to run across a cluster.

  • Another difference between Kubernetes and Docker is that Docker can be used without Kubernetes, whereas Kubernetes needs a container runtime in order to orchestrate.

  • Since its initial release in 2015, Kubernetes has been widely adopted, and at this point, has become the de facto standard for container management and orchestration. Kubernetes provides an infrastructure-level framework for orchestrating containers at scale, and for managing user interaction with them.

  • In much the same way, Docker has become the standard for container development and deployment. Docker provides a platform for developing, deploying, and running containers at a much more basic, nuts-and-bolts level. It is the ground on which the Kubernetes framework sits.

What's the best choice, then?

That's not a trick question. The answer is the obvious one: both.

The truth is that although Kubernetes can use other container sources and runtimes, it is designed to work well with Docker, and much of Kubernetes' documentation was written with Docker in mind. The most basic Kubernetes use case is Kubernetes + Docker, and Kubernetes includes Docker-centric tools such as Kompose, which converts Docker Compose commands and settings so they can be used by Kubernetes.

For its part, Docker has embraced Kubernetes, and has, in fact, offered its own integrated Kubernetes distribution. The sale of Docker Enterprise to Mirantis in late 2019 (along with Docker's own renewed focus on developer-oriented tools) even more sharply emphasized Docker's reliance on Kubernetes and other container infrastructure providers. This is underscored by Mirantis' stated intention to phase out Docker Swarm and establish Kubernetes as the default orchestration tool for Docker Enterprise.

The bottom line is that Kubernetes and Docker are both industry standards in their respective core areas of expertise, and together they provide a well-integrated platform for container management, deployment, and orchestration at scale. It was never really a question of Kubernetes vs Docker; it was always Kubernetes and Docker, and today this is even more true.

Hope you find it useful to read.

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