Using NAV with Docker for development

Docker is a lightweight “virtualization” framework for creating isolated environments, useful both in development and production. For more information on Docker visit their homepage or read the documentation.

Installing Docker and docker-compose

Docker has updated documentation on how to install it for most Linux distributions *.


To avoid having to use sudo with docker commands, it is recommended to add your user to the docker group. You may need to relogin for it to take effect.

Building the Docker image

First you will need to obtain the NAV source code.

The source contains a configuration file for Docker Compose to build a suite of containers for PostgreSQL, Graphite and NAV itself. Simply run this command to build and run everything:

docker-compose up


The first time you run this would be the perfect time to grab some coffee (and maybe redecorate your living room), as the initial build may take a while.

Using the container(s)

The Docker Compose specificiation creates these containers (called “services” in Docker Compose lingo):


This container runs the NAV backend processes and cron jobs. It also runs the “sass-watcher” job, which will watch *.scss files for modifications and recompile NAV’s CSS when changes do occur.


This container runs the Django development server to serve NAV’s web-based user interface. By default, Docker Compose will expose this web service on port 80 on the host system, i.e. at http://localhost/


This runs a bog standard Postgres image from the Docker Hub, to serve as NAV’s main data store.


This runs both carbon-cache backend and a graphite-web frontend, for NAV’s storage and retrieval of time-series data. By default, Docker Compose will expose the web service on port 8000 on the host system, i.e. http://localhost:8000/


This container will watch the doc/ directory for changes and initiate a rebuild of the NAV documentation whenever the documentation source files are modified. The built documentation should normally be browseable via the web service at http://localhost/doc/

Accessing internals of running containers

If need be, you can access the internals of the running containers (to control NAV daemons using the nav command, adjust the running config, or whatever) by running a bash shell inside the container, like so (for the nav container):

docker-compose exec nav /bin/bash

Manually restarting the web server

To manually restart the web server, all you need is:

docker-compose restart web

Rebuilding the NAV code from scratch

A complete rebuild of the NAV code can be initiated by:

docker-compose restart nav

Rebuilding the containers

If you are switching between branches, though, you may need to rebuild the images the containers are based on (as different development branches may have different requirements, and therefore different Dockerfiles). Stop the existing containers and run this:

docker-compose build

Controlling processes inside the nav container

The main nav container uses supervisord to control multiple processes. While the nav command can be used to control individual NAV services, supervisorctl can be used to control other processes used within the development environment:


This is the regular system cron daemon, responsible for running recurring NAV tasks.


This is a one-time supervisor task to start all of NAV when the container starts.


This is a process that monitors the python/nav/web/sass/ subdirectory for changes, and re-runs python build_sass (i.e. rebuilding all the SASS-based stylesheets) on changes.

The individual logs of these program are typically found inside the nav container in the /var/log/supervisor/ directory. The NAV process logs themselves are placed inside the /tmp/ directory inside the nav container.

Controlling log levels and configuration

The log levels of various parts of NAV are controlled through the config file /etc/nav/logging.conf inside the containers.

The nav and web containers share a common configuration volume named nav_config. This volume should persist even between rebuilds of the containers themselves. If you want NAV to install a completely new set of config files from scratch, you may need to manually trash this volume using the -v option to the docker-compose down command.

Overriding the compose services

If you need to override certain aspects of the Docker Compose service definitions for your own purposes during development, you can usually do so without patching the docker-compose.yml file. You can “patch” the definitions via Docker Compose’s override mechanism: Simply add a docker-compose.override.yml to the top-level source directory.

Preventing NAV backend services from starting at container startup

You can add the environment variable NONAVSTART=1 to prevent the backend daemons from being started at the nav container startup time (allowing for complete manual control of daemons, by entering the container using exec, as documented above). This can be done by adding something akin to this:

version: '2'
      - NONAVSTART=1

The same technique can be used to insert your own environment into the web container.

Happy hacking!