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Docker, .NET Core and (NuGet) Dependencies

Recently, I wanted to try out the new .NET Core together with a Docker container. However, coming from programing .NET applications for the regular .NET Framework, there were some obstacles I encountered. This one is about NuGet packages.

The Goal

The goal is to have a .NET Core console application with some NuGet dependencies running in a Docker container.

I’ll be using Visual Studio 2015 (Community Edition) for this article but you also use any other IDE that supports .NET Core projects. As such, I’ll try to minimize the dependency on Visual Studio in this article.

To better understand how a .NET Core application integrates with Docker, I will not use the Docker Tools for Visual Studio. While they work, they add a lot of “magic” to the build process. And this magic makes it hard to understand what’s going on.

Download the Example Code

To keep the article brief, I’ll just explain the important parts.

You can find the complete source code on my GitHub:

Note that you can examine the commits to see how the example evolves like this article.

The Program

The program I’m going to write is very simple:

using System;
using Newtonsoft.Json;

namespace DockerCoreConsoleTest
    public class Program
        public static void Main()
                $"Hello, Docker and {typeof(JsonConvert).FullName}!"

It just uses .NET Core and the Newtonsoft.Json NuGet package as dependency.

Building with Visual Studio

Building the application in Visual Studio is pretty straight forward.

  1. Make sure you have installed the .NET Core Visual Studio Tooling installed.
  2. Create a new .NET Core Console Application project/solution called DockerCoreConsoleTest.
  3. Use NuGet to add Newtonsoft.Json to the project.
  4. Copy the code from above into your Program.cs
  5. Run the program

You should see the following output:

Hello, Docker and Newtonsoft.Json.JsonConvert!

If you run into any troubles, go and checkout the example code.

Running in Docker

So far, so good. Now lets execute this program in a Docker container.

Note: If you haven’t installed Docker yet, you can download it here.

For this, we’ll use the following Dockerfile:

FROM microsoft/dotnet:1.0.0-core
COPY bin/Debug/netcoreapp1.0/ /app/
ENTRYPOINT ["dotnet", "DockerCoreConsoleTest.dll"]

Then build the Docker image with:

docker build -t dockercoreconsoletest .

Then run the Docker image with:

docker run dockercoreconsoletest

This will give you this result:

Error: assembly specified in the dependencies manifest was not found 
-- package: 'Newtonsoft.Json', version: '9.0.1', path: 'lib/netstandard1.0/Newtonsoft.Json.dll'

Not what one would expect.

The Problem(s)

The problem here is that – unlike .NET projects for the regular .NET Framework – the build process for a .NET Core project (dotnet build) does not copy any dependencies into the output folder.

If you look into bin\Debug\netcoreapp1.0 you’ll find no Newtonsoft.Json.dll file there.

There’s a second problem (or more an inconvenience). The Dockerfile contains the following line:

COPY bin/Debug/netcoreapp1.0/ /app/

This line depends on the build configuration that’s being used. If you’d build a Release build, the Dockerfile wouldn’t work anymore.

The Solution

In .NET Core projects you use the dotnet publish command to gather all dependencies in one directory (default is bin/CONFIG/netcoreapp1.0/publish).

So, running this command fixes the first problem. But it can also fix the second problem.

First, we can add the following lines to the project’s project.json file:

"publishOptions": {
  "include": [

Now, when running dotnet publish, the Dockerfile will be copied to the publish directory as well.

This also means that we can change the COPY directive in the Dockerfile to:

COPY . /app/

This way, the Dockerfile independent of the build configuration.

We could go one step further and actually build the docker image as part of the publish process. To do this, add the following lines to the project’s project.json file:

"scripts": {
  "postpublish": [
    "docker build -t dockercoreconsoletest %publish:OutputPath%"

Two notes one this:

  1. I have not found a suitable variable (like %publish:OutputPath%) yet that could be used for the docker label (-t). So, for the time being, the label has to be hard-coded here.
  2. Building a docker image as part of publish process may not be for everyone. I like the idea mainly because I haven’t come across any (relevant) downsides of doing this.

Wrapping Things Up

You can now run:

# dotnet publish
# docker run dockercoreconsoletest

This will give you the expected output:

Hello, Docker and Newtonsoft.Json.JsonConvert!

This is my first shot at Docker and .NET Core. If you find any error or have suggestions for improvements, please leave them in the comments below.

Alternative Solution: Using dotnet:latest as base image

There’s another solution to the problem(s) described in this article. This solution is less “clean”, in my opinion, but I thought I mention it anyways.

In the Dockerfile, instead of using microsoft/dotnet:1.0.0-core as base image, one could use microsoft/dotnet:latest. This will give the Docker container access to dotnet build (whereas the -core base image just contains dotnet someapplication.dll).

You may then build the .NET Core application from within the container with a Dockerfile like this:

FROM microsoft/dotnet:latest
COPY . /app

RUN ["dotnet", "restore"]
RUN ["dotnet", "build"]

ENTRYPOINT ["dotnet", "run"]

This approach has some disadvantages:

  1. The container in general will be bigger than the solution proposed in the rest of the article.
  2. You need to copy all source code into the container (and it will stay there).

    • Depending on how you execute docker build, this container may even contain the build output of configurations that you don’t intend to run (e.g. bin/Debug when actually running a release build).
    • Removing the source code after building the application (or having lots of RUN directives in general) may be inefficient in regard to Docker’s container layering system and Build Cache.
  3. Running dotnet restore will re-download all NuGet dependencies every time the container image is built. This will increase the build time and cause unnecessary network traffic – especially if the application is built often as part of some continuous integration process.

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