Big News!  Tilt is joining Docker

Setting Up Docker Compose

Docker Compose helps you define microservice apps that run in multiple containers.

Most Tilt documentation uses Kubernetes to run multiple containers. But there’s also a strong subset of Tilt users who use Docker Compose as their container runtime!

In this guide, we’ll show you how to connect Docker Compose to a Tilt dev environment. This lets you:

  • Organize each Docker Compose service from the Tilt dashboard.

  • Control when and how each service runs.

  • Add live updates in-place for each service.

If you’d like to skip straight to the example code, visit this repo:


The repo contains a complete sample app, a Tiltfile, and a test that uses tilt ci to make sure the app runs successfully.

Getting Started

Create a Tiltfile in the root of your repo:

# point Tilt at the existing docker-compose configuration.

That’s it! Then run:

tilt up

Tilt will pick up your Docker Compose file and start running your services.

Be aware of one important difference between tilt up and docker-compose up: Tilt will leave your services up when it exits. To turn the services down, run:

tilt down

Using Tilt’s docker_build

Tilt automatically uses your build configuration from Docker Compose. You can also use the docker_build function to use Tilt’s updating optimizations. Tilt will find the image name in your docker-compose.yml, and use its own updating strategy instead of the one in the docker-compose.yml file.

Let’s look at a simple example app that runs Redis and a NodeJS-based server with Docker Compose. We’ll use the same example as in this blog post with this Git repo.

First, we create a Dockerfile that sets up a NodeJS environment, adds the NodeJS dependencies, then adds the source code.

FROM node:9-alpine
WORKDIR /var/www/app
ADD package.json .
RUN npm install
ADD . .

Next, we put an image name in our docker-compose.yml file. We’re not going to be pushing this image to a remote registry, so any image name will do. We use

version: "3.9"
    image: redis
    container_name: cache
      - 6379
      - redis
      - 3000:3000
      - REDIS_URL=redis://cache
      - NODE_ENV=development
      - PORT=3000
      sh -c 'node server.js'

Lastly, we need to tell Tilt how to build this image. Here’s our Tiltfile:

docker_build('', '.')

Now, when we run tilt up, Tilt will manage the image builds and re-build every time a file changes.

Using Tilt’s live_update

This works OK. But building a new image on every change can be a drag.

With the live_update option, we can make it a lot faster by updating the container in-place.

Here’s the new Tiltfile:

docker_build('', '.',
  live_update = [
    sync('.', '/var/www/app'),
    run('npm i', trigger='package.json'),

The live_update option is expressed as a sequence of in-place update steps.

  1. The sync step copies your local files into the running container.

  2. The run step re-runs npm i inside the container every time you edit package.json.

  3. The restart_container step restarts the server so that your changes are picked up.

For more info on live_update, check out the reference.

Multiple Compose Files

To use multiple Docker Compose files, simply pass the list of files to your docker_compose function.

docker_compose(["./docker-compose.yml", "./docker-compose.override.yml"])

docker_compose also accepts a blob for any of its config items. You can use this feature to provide overrides for your docker compose setup using inline data from the Tiltfile, for example to take into account config flags:

# Tell Tilt which services to enable debug by passing DEBUG=true to container environment
# run as `tilt up -- --debug a`
cfg = config.parse()
# flatten list; allow --debug a,b,c or --debug a --debug b --debug c
debug_services = [item for sublist in [x.split(',') for x in cfg.get('debug', [])] for item in sublist]
overrides = dict([(svc,{'environment':{'DEBUG': 'true'}}) for svc in debug_services])

docker_compose(["./docker-compose.yml", encode_yaml({'services': overrides})])


Tilt uses Docker Compose to run your services, so you can also use docker-compose to examine state outside Tilt.

Organizing Services

The dc_resource Tiltfile function lets you pass options how your services run:

Labels let you control put services into groups. The example repo contains these labels:

dc_resource('redis', labels=["database"])
dc_resource('app', labels=["server"])

If you have a server that doesn’t need to run in every dev environment, you can tell Tilt not to run it at startup:

dc_resource('storybook', auto_init=False)

For a complete list of options, see the API reference.

Try it Yourself

All the code in this tutorial is available in this repo:


Run it yourself and make changes to see how it works.