Up until this point in the guide, you've built Linux binaries. This section describes how you can support other operating systems, and architectures, using multi-platform builds via emulation and cross-compilation.

The easiest way to get started with building for multiple platforms is using emulation. With emulation, you can build your app to multiple architectures without having to make any changes to your Dockerfile. All you need to do is to pass the --platform flag to the build command, specifying the OS and architecture you want to build for.

The following command builds the server image for the linux/arm/v7 platform:

$ docker build --target=server --platform=linux/arm/v7 .

You can also use emulation to produce outputs for multiple platforms at once. However, the default build driver doesn't support concurrent multi-platform builds. So first, you need to switch to a different builder, that uses a driver which supports concurrent multi-platform builds.

To switch to using a different driver, you're going to need to use the Docker Buildx. Buildx is the next generation build client, and it provides a similar user experience to the regular docker build command that you’re used to, while supporting additional features.

Buildx setup

Buildx comes pre-bundled with Docker Desktop, and you can invoke this build client using the docker buildx command. No need for any additional setup. If you installed Docker Engine manually, you may need to install the Buildx plugin separately. See Install Docker Engine for instructions.

Verify that the Buildx client is installed on your system, and that you’re able to run it:

$ docker buildx version v0.10.3 79e156beb11f697f06ac67fa1fb958e4762c0fab

Next, create a builder that uses the docker-container. Run the following docker buildx create command:

$ docker buildx create --driver=docker-container --name=container

This creates a new builder with the name container. You can list available builders with docker buildx ls.

$ docker buildx ls
NAME/NODE           DRIVER/ENDPOINT               STATUS
container           docker-container
  container_0       unix:///var/run/docker.sock   inactive
default *           docker
  default           default                       running
desktop-linux       docker
  desktop-linux     desktop-linux                 running

The status for the new container builder is inactive. That's fine - it's because you haven't started using it yet.

Build using emulation

To run multi-platform builds with Buildx, invoke the docker buildx build command, and pass it the same arguments as you did to the regular docker build command before. Only this time, also add:

  • --builder=container to select the new builder
  • --platform=linux/amd64,linux/arm/v7,linux/arm64/v8 to build for multiple architectures at once
$ docker buildx build \
    --target=binaries \
    --output=bin \
    --builder=container \
    --platform=linux/amd64,linux/arm64,linux/arm/v7 .

This command uses emulation to run the same build four times, once for each platform. The build results are exported to a bin directory.

├── linux_amd64
│   ├── client
│   └── server
├── linux_arm64
│   ├── client
│   └── server
└── linux_arm_v7
    ├── client
    └── server

When you build using a builder that supports multi-platform builds, the builder runs all of the build steps under emulation for each platform that you specify. Effectively forking the build into two concurrent processes.

Build pipelines using emulation

There are, however, a few downsides to running multi-platform builds using emulation:

  • If you tried running the command above, you may have noticed that it took a long time to finish. Emulation can be much slower than native execution for CPU-intensive tasks.
  • Emulation only works when the architecture is supported by the base image you’re using. The example in this guide uses the Alpine Linux version of the golang image, which means you can only build Linux images this way, for a limited set of CPU architectures, without having to change the base image.

As an alternative to emulation, the next step explores cross-compilation. Cross-compiling makes multi-platform builds much faster and versatile.

Build using cross-compilation

Using cross-compilation means leveraging the capabilities of a compiler to build for multiple platforms, without the need for emulation.

The first thing you'll need to do is pinning the builder to use the node’s native architecture as the build platform. This is to prevent emulation. Then, from the node's native architecture, the builder cross-compiles the application to a number of other target platforms.

Platform build arguments

This approach involves using a few pre-defined build arguments that you have access to in your Docker builds: BUILDPLATFORM and TARGETPLATFORM (and derivatives, like TARGETOS). These build arguments reflect the values you pass to the --platform flag.

For example, if you invoke a build with --platform=linux/amd64, then the build arguments resolve to:

  • TARGETPLATFORM=linux/amd64
  • TARGETOS=linux
  • TARGETARCH=amd64

When you pass more than one value to the platform flag, build stages that use the pre-defined platform arguments are forked automatically for each platform. This is in contrast to builds running under emulation, where the entire build pipeline runs per platform.

Build pipelines using cross-compilation

Update the Dockerfile

To build the app using the cross-compilation technique, update the Dockerfile as follows:

  • Add --platform=$BUILDPLATFORM to the FROM instruction for the initial base stage, pinning the platform of the golang image to match the architecture of the host machine.
  • Add ARG instructions for the Go compilation stages, making the TARGETOS and TARGETARCH build arguments available to the commands in this stage.
  • Set the GOOS and GOARCH environment variables to the values of TARGETOS and TARGETARCH. The Go compiler uses these variables to do cross-compilation.
  # syntax=docker/dockerfile:1
- FROM golang:${GO_VERSION}-alpine AS base
+ FROM --platform=$BUILDPLATFORM golang:${GO_VERSION}-alpine AS base
  WORKDIR /src
  RUN --mount=type=cache,target=/go/pkg/mod \
      --mount=type=bind,source=go.mod,target=go.mod \
      --mount=type=bind,source=go.sum,target=go.sum \
      go mod download -x

  FROM base AS build-client
  RUN --mount=type=cache,target=/go/pkg/mod \
      --mount=type=bind,target=. \
-     go build -o /bin/client ./cmd/client
+     GOOS=${TARGETOS} GOARCH=${TARGETARCH} go build -o /bin/client ./cmd/client

  FROM base AS build-server
  RUN --mount=type=cache,target=/go/pkg/mod \
      --mount=type=bind,target=. \
-     go build -o /bin/server ./cmd/server
+     GOOS=${TARGETOS} GOARCH=${TARGETARCH} go build -o /bin/server ./cmd/server

  FROM scratch AS client
  COPY --from=build-client /bin/client /bin/
  ENTRYPOINT [ "/bin/client" ]

  FROM scratch AS server
  COPY --from=build-server /bin/server /bin/
  ENTRYPOINT [ "/bin/server" ]

  FROM scratch AS binaries
  COPY --from=build-client /bin/client /
  COPY --from=build-server /bin/server /

  FROM golangci/golangci-lint:${GOLANGCI_LINT_VERSION} as lint
  WORKDIR /test
  RUN --mount=type=bind,target=. \
      golangci-lint run

The only thing left to do now is to run the actual build. To run a multi-platform build, set the --platform option, and specify a CSV string of the OS and architectures that you want to build for. The following command illustrates how to build, and export, binaries for Mac (ARM64), Windows, and Linux:

$ docker buildx build \
  --target=binaries \
  --output=bin \
  --builder=container \
  --platform=darwin/arm64,windows/amd64,linux/amd64 .

When the build finishes, you’ll find client and server binaries for all of the selected platforms in the bin directory:

├── darwin_arm64
│   ├── client
│   └── server
├── linux_amd64
│   ├── client
│   └── server
└── windows_amd64
    ├── client
    └── server


This section has demonstrated how you can get started with multi-platform builds using emulation and cross-compilation.

Related information:

You may also want to consider checking out xx - Dockerfile cross-compilation helpersopen_in_new. xx is a Docker image containing utility scripts that make cross-compiling with Docker builds easier.

Next steps

This section is the final part of the Build with Docker guide. The following page contains some pointers for where to go next.