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Developing Stacks

Although there are many Appsody stacks to choose from, you might want to create an entirely new stack or alter some aspects of an existing stack to match your development needs or standards.

Start developing a stack

Create your own stack using the Appsody CLI

The quickest way to create a new stack is to use the appsody stack create command, which creates a new stack by copying an existing stack. By default, the new stack is based on the starter stack. For example, to create a new stack named my-stack, in a new directory, use this command:

appsody stack create my-stack

Modify an existing stack using the Appsody CLI

If you want to use a different stack as the basis for your new stack, use the --copy flag to specify the stack that you want to use as the starting point. You can use appsody list to see the available stacks. For example, to create a new stack, called my-stack, based on the Node.js Express stack use this command:

appsody stack create my-stack --copy incubator/nodejs-express

Define the stack behavior

The stack.yaml file in the top level directory defines the different attributes of the stack including the template that the stack should use by default. The stack.yaml should be the first thing you define when developing your stack. See the following example:

name: Sample Application Stack        # concise one line name for the stack
version: 0.1.0                        # version of the stack
description: sample stack description # free form text explaining more about the capabilities of this stack and various templates
license: Apache-2.0                   # license for the stack
language: nodejs                      # programming language the stack uses
maintainers:                          # list of maintainer(s) details
  - name: John Smith
    email: example@example.com
    github-id: jsmith
default-template: my-template-1       # name of default template

Define the stack image

The stack image contains common capabilities that can be used by all templates. For example, the nodejs-express stack image provides health endpoints and Prometheus metrics so that developers do not need to implement them.

Stack environment variables

Stack creators configure environment variables in Dockerfile-stack to specify the commands for running, debugging, and testing the application. The Appsody controller inspects these environment variables and then drives the expected behavior for the developer during local development.

  • Handling File mounts - During local development, the application code is held on the local file system and is mounted in the running container for the stack. Stack creators configure the APPSODY_MOUNTS enivronment variable to specify a list of mount paths to achieve this behavior.

  • Monitoring file changes - Stack creators configure the many APPSODY_WATCH environment variables in Dockerfile-stack to specify which files are monitored for changes and how to reflect those changes in the running application.

  • Managing dependencies - Appsody enables the caching of any installed dependencies across runs to accelerate local development. Caching is achieved by creating one or more volumes independent of a specific container instance and then mounting them every time the appsody container is started. Stack creators configure the APPSODY_DEPS environment variable to specify a list of the directories to be cached.

File permissions

If you want to protect some of the files in your stack from being changed by a user, set file permissions accordingly. For example, one of your dependencies might be vital for security reasons and should not be modified.

To preserve file permissions on Windows, you must include RUN chmod commands on specified files in your Dockerfile.

IDE Considerations

Sometimes, a template might need dependencies or other assets that come from the stack image. In this case, include a script that can be called when the appsody init command is run to ensure that the user's local development environment is correctly configured. Otherwise, when a user starts developing in their IDE and the dependencies or assets are missing, the IDE reports multiple errors.

The following example is taken from the Kitura stack:

# Create local copy of package dependencies to enable building and code
# completion while developing locally.
set -e

# Current directory is .appsody-init, which is a child of the user's
# project directory, so we copy the dependencies to a .appsody directory
# one level up.
cp -R -p ./deps ../.appsody

In this example, dependencies exist in a folder called deps and are copied into the project directory with a cp command.


You must provide a valid license when developing a stack, such as Apache 2.0.

Create your project templates

When you create your stack, include a simple template to get users started, such as a "Hello World!". Each stack should specify a default template that is used to initialize a project when a template is not specified with the appsody init command. Specify your default template in the stack.yaml file. A stack can have multiple templates. Each template might represent a different class of starter application that uses the stack technology components.

If you include a capability that applies to all of your templates, consider including that capability in the stack image instead.

Application build and deployment

Stack creators must provide a Dockerfile that defines how to build the container image for the Appsody application, including capabilities from the stack and the developer's application.

The Appsody CLI uses the Dockerfile to create the application container image when the appsody build command is run.

Stack creators also provide a template deployment manifest file that the Appsody CLI uses to support deployments to Kubernetes or Knative platforms. This manifest file is image/config/app-deploy.yaml, which is used by the Appsody Operator.

Next steps

Packaging allows a stack developer to build all the components of a stack and enables the stack to be used via Appsody CLI commands. The packaging process typically involves: building the stack container image, creating archive files for each template, and configuring a local Appsody repository. For more information, see Packaging Stacks.

Advanced Topics

Stack variables

Often in a stack, there are common values that are used across the image and template. It can be laborious to manually go through a stack and make changes to the values in every place they occur, especially if they change frequently, such as the version number. Stack creators can declare values in their stack.yaml file and use variables to refer to them throughout the stack; values can be changed in one place and always remain in sync.

Variables are converted into their values before a stack is packaged. To use variables in your stack, wrap your stack variables with {{.stack}}.

Example usage:

This is {{.stack.name}}, running version: {{.stack.version}}.

Do not use stack variables in a readme file.

Built-in stack variables

The variables that stack creators can use to access stack values are:

Variable Value
.stack.id The stack name from the stack path.
.stack.name The name value from stack.yaml.
.stack.description The description value from stack.yaml.
.stack.created The timestamp of when the stack was packaged.
.stack.tag The tag value from Docker image.
.stack.maintainers The maintainers list from stack.yaml.
.stack.version The version value from stack.yaml.
.stack.semver.major The version major value from stack.yaml.
.stack.semver.minor The version minor value from stack.yaml.
.stack.semver.patch The version patch value from stack.yaml.
.stack.semver.majorminor The version major and minor values from stack.yaml.
.stack.image.namespace The image-namespace from user defined image-namespace flag, default is dev.local.

Custom stack variables

If you want to use your own custom variables, you can declare a templating-data map in your stack.yaml. This map can contain only key: value pairs.

  variable1: value1
  variable2: value2
  variable3: value3

Example usage:

This is {{.stack.variable1}}, this is {{.stack.variable2}} and this is {{.stack.variable3}}.

Custom variables must begin with an alphanumeric character.

Setting stack requirements

You might modify a stack to restrict a user to a specific version, or range of versions, for a given technology. With the Appsody CLI, you can enforce version restrictions only when using Docker, Buildah, and the Appsody CLI.

To set a requirement, use the following format in the stack.yaml:

name: <stack-name>
version: 0.1.0
   docker-version: ">= 17.09.0"
   appsody-version: "0.2.7 - 0.4.10"
   buildah-version: "<= 1.10.0"

For a full list of version comparisons that the CLI supports, see SemVer: Basic Comparisons.

When a project that uses the stack is initialized, the CLI checks whether the user meets the stack requirements. If the requirements are not met, the user cannot use the stack.