Docker Swarm is a container orchestration tool that enables the management and deployment of containerized applications at scale.

What is Docker Swarm?

Docker Swarm is a container orchestration tool that enables the management and deployment of containerized applications at scale.

It allows users to create and manage a cluster of Docker hosts, known as a Swarm, and deploy applications across the cluster seamlessly.

Docker Swarm provides a simple yet powerful solution for automating the deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications in production environments.


  • Simplicity: Docker Swarm offers a straightforward setup and management experience, making it accessible to developers and operations teams.

  • Scalability: With Docker Swarm, you can easily scale your applications horizontally by adding or removing nodes from the cluster.

  • High Availability: Docker Swarm provides built-in high availability features, ensuring that applications remain accessible even in the event of node failures.

  • Resource Efficiency: Docker Swarm optimizes resource utilization by efficiently scheduling and distributing tasks across nodes in the cluster.

  • Cost-effectiveness: Docker Swarm helps reduce infrastructure costs by enabling the efficient use of resources and supporting dynamic scaling based on demand.

Key Concepts

A Docker Swarm is a group of Docker nodes that work together. Some nodes act as managers to handle membership and tasks, while others act as workers to run services. Each node can be a manager, a worker, or both.

When you create a service in a swarm, you specify its desired state, including the number of replicas you want, the network and storage resources it needs, and which ports it should use. Swarm makes sure the service stays in that state. For example, if a worker goes down, Docker Swarm automatically moves its tasks to other nodes. A task is just a running container that's part of a swarm service and is managed by a manager, not on its own.

Swarm services have an advantage over standalone containers because you can change their settings, like which networks or volumes they're connected to, without restarting them manually. Swarm updates the configuration, stops old tasks, and starts new ones to match.

Even when Docker is in Swarm mode, you can still run standalone containers and swarm services on any host in the swarm. However, only swarm managers can control the swarm, while Docker daemons can manage standalone containers. Daemons can be managers, workers, or both in a swarm.

Just like you can use Docker Compose to set up containers, you can use Docker Swarm to define and run stacks of swarm services.


A Docker host refers to a physical or virtual machine (e.g., a server or a cloud instance) on which the Docker Engine is installed and running.

The term "host" is not specific to Swarm but rather the entire Docker ecosystem (see the Node vs. Host FAQ below).


A node is an instance of the Docker engine participating in the swarm. You can run one or more nodes on a single host.

The term "node" is Swarm specific (see Node vs Host FAQ below).


A cluster is a group of Docker hosts (2 or more) running together as a single virtual host.


Manager nodes are responsible for managing and coordinating the activities of a Docker Swarm cluster, including service deployment, task distribution, fault tolerance, and security.


Worker nodes are responsible for executing tasks and communicating with the Swarm manager to receive task assignments, report their status, and request updates.


Services are the primary unit of work in Docker Swarm. They define an application's desired state, including the number of replicas, networking configuration, and resource constraints.


Tasks represent individual service instances running on a worker node. Docker Swarm manages the distribution and execution of tasks across the cluster.


Docker Swarm uses overlay networks to facilitate communication between services running on different nodes in the cluster. Overlay networks provide transparent network connectivity and support load balancing and service discovery.


Volumes in Docker Swarm enable persistent storage for containerized applications. They allow data to be shared and preserved across container restarts or redeployments.

Deploying and Scaling Services

Service Deployment

You can deploy services to Docker Swarm using Docker Compose files (ex: docker stack deploy --compose-file compose.yaml stack_name) or the Docker CLI. Services define the desired state of an application, including the number of replicas and resource constraints.

Scaling Services

Docker Swarm makes it easy to scale services horizontally by adjusting the number of replicas. You can scale services up or down based on demand to meet performance and capacity requirements. (ex: docker service scale stack_name=5)

Rolling Updates

Docker Swarm allows you to apply rolling updates easily (ex: docker service update --image myapp:lastest stack_name). If the update fails, the deployment will halt. Rolling updates ensure applications can maintain high availability.

Networking and Storage in Swarm

Overlay Networking

Docker Swarm uses overlay networks to enable communication between services running on different nodes in the cluster. Overlay networks provide a transparent and efficient way to connect containers across the Swarm.

Volume Management

Docker Swarm supports volume management for persistent storage in containerized applications. Volumes allow data to be shared and preserved across container restarts or redeployments, ensuring data integrity and availability.

Frequently Asked Docker Swarm Questions

Can Docker Swarm be used with Compose?

Yes. You can use the --compose-file flag to have Docker Swarm deploy a Docker Compose stack.

docker stack deploy --compose-file compose.yaml stack_name

Node vs Host

A Docker host refers to a physical or virtual machine (e.g., a server or a cloud instance) on which the Docker Engine is installed and running.

A Docker node refers to a member in a swarm mode cluster. Every Swarm node must be a Docker host, but not every Docker host is necessarily a member of a swarm cluster.

Docker Swarm vs Docker Compose

Docker Swarm and Docker Compose are tools provided by Docker for managing containers, but they serve different purposes and operate at different levels of abstraction.

  1. Docker Swarm:

    • Docker Swarm is a container orchestration tool for deploying and managing a cluster of Docker hosts. It enables you to create a cluster of Docker hosts and deploy containers across them, providing features like scaling, load balancing, service discovery, and rolling updates.

    • Swarm operates at the level of entire clusters, allowing you to manage multiple Docker hosts as a single entity.

    • Swarm is designed for production environments where high availability, scalability, and resilience are critical.

    • Swarm supports declarative service definitions, meaning you specify the desired state of your services, and Swarm works to maintain that state.

    • Swarm includes built-in support for service discovery and load balancing.

  2. Docker Compose:

    • Docker Compose is a tool for defining and running multi-container Docker applications. It allows you to define the services, networks, and volumes for your application in a single YAML file, known as a compose.yaml file.

    • Compose is typically used for development and testing environments where you must spin up multiple containers that work together as part of your application stack.

    • It operates at the level of individual applications or projects, allowing you to define the relationships between containers within a single application.

    • Compose is lighter and simpler to use than Swarm, making it ideal for local development and testing workflows.

    • While Compose can run on a single host, it does not provide the same level of scalability and fault tolerance as Swarm.

Docker Swarm is a container orchestration tool for managing clusters of Docker hosts in production environments, while Docker Compose is a tool for defining and running multi-container Docker applications, primarily used in development and testing environments.

Docker Swarm vs Kubernetes

Docker Swarm and Kubernetes are both container orchestration platforms, but they have different architectures, features, and use cases. Here are some key differences between Docker Swarm and Kubernetes:

  1. Architecture:

    • Docker Swarm is built into the Docker Engine, providing a simple and easy-to-use clustering solution for Docker containers. It uses a manager-worker architecture, where manager nodes control the cluster and schedule workloads onto worker nodes.

    • Kubernetes, on the other hand, has a more complex architecture consisting of several components such as the API server, scheduler, controller manager, and etcd for maintaining cluster state. It follows a master-node architecture, with a control plane (master) managing one or more worker nodes.

  2. Scalability and Features:

    • Kubernetes is known for its scalability and extensive feature set, including advanced scheduling, service discovery, load balancing, rolling updates, auto-scaling, and more. It is designed to manage large-scale production environments with thousands of containers.

    • Docker Swarm is simpler and lighter than Kubernetes, making it easier to set up and manage for smaller-scale deployments. It provides basic features for container orchestration but may lack some of the advanced capabilities Kubernetes offers.

  3. Ecosystem and Community:

    • Kubernetes has a larger and more mature ecosystem, and it is widely adopted in the industry. A vibrant community supports it and has a rich set of third-party tools and integrations.

    • Docker Swarm has a smaller ecosystem than Kubernetes, with fewer third-party tools and integrations available. However, it benefits from tight integration with Docker tools and workflows, making it more approachable for users already familiar with Docker.

  4. Ease of Use:

    • Docker Swarm is designed to be easy to set up and use, especially for users already familiar with Docker. It provides a simple and intuitive user interface for managing container clusters.

    • Kubernetes has a steeper learning curve than Docker Swarm, but it offers more flexibility and control over container orchestration. It may require more effort to set up and manage, particularly for users new to Kubernetes concepts.

Docker Swarm is a simpler and more lightweight container orchestration solution suitable for smaller-scale deployments and users already familiar with Docker, while Kubernetes is a more powerful and feature-rich platform designed for large-scale production environments with complex requirements. The choice between Docker Swarm and Kubernetes depends on factors such as the size and complexity of your deployment, your familiarity with Docker and Kubernetes, and your specific use case requirements.

Last updated