Using profiles with Compose

Important

From the end of June 2023 Compose V1 won’t be supported anymore and will be removed from all Docker Desktop versions.

Make sure you switch to Compose V2 with the docker compose CLI plugin or by activating the Use Docker Compose V2 setting in Docker Desktop. For more information, see the Evolution of Compose

Profiles help you adjust the Compose application model for various uses and environments by selectively enabling services. This is achieved by assigning each service to zero or more profiles. If unassigned, the service is always started but if assigned, it is only started if the profile is activated.

This allows you to define additional services in a single docker-compose.yml file that should only be started in specific scenarios, for example for debugging or development tasks.

Assigning profiles to services

Services are associated with profiles through the profiles attribute which takes an array of profile names:

version: "3.9"
services:
  frontend:
    image: frontend
    profiles: ["frontend"]

  phpmyadmin:
    image: phpmyadmin
    depends_on:
      - db
    profiles:
      - debug

  backend:
    image: backend

  db:
    image: mysql

Here the services frontend and phpmyadmin are assigned to the profiles frontend and debug respectively and as such are only started when their respective profiles are enabled.

Services without a profiles attribute are always enabled. In this case running docker compose up would only start backend and db.

Valid profiles names follow the regex format of [a-zA-Z0-9][a-zA-Z0-9_.-]+.

Tip

The core services of your application shouldn’t be assigned profiles so they are always enabled and automatically started.

Enable profiles

To enable profiles supply the --profile command-line option or use the COMPOSE_PROFILES environment variable:

$ docker compose --profile debug up
$ COMPOSE_PROFILES=debug docker compose up

The above commands would both start your application with the debug profile enabled. In the example, docker-compose.yml file above, this starts the services backend, db and phpmyadmin.

Enable multiple profiles

Multiple profiles can be specified by passing multiple --profile flags or a comma-separated list for the COMPOSE_PROFILES environment variable:

$ docker compose --profile frontend --profile debug up
$ COMPOSE_PROFILES=frontend,debug docker compose up

Auto-enabling profiles and dependency resolution

When a service with assigned profiles is explicitly targeted on the command line its profiles are enabled automatically so you don’t need to enable them manually. This can be used for one-off services and debugging tools. As an example consider the folowing configuration:

version: "3.9"
services:
  backend:
    image: backend

  db:
    image: mysql

  db-migrations:
    image: backend
    command: myapp migrate
    depends_on:
      - db
    profiles:
      - tools
# Only start backend and db
$ docker compose up -d

# This runs db-migrations (and,if necessary, start db)
# by implicitly enabling the profiles `tools`
$ docker compose run db-migrations

But keep in mind that docker compose only automatically enables the profiles of the services on the command line and not of any dependencies.

This means that any other services the targeted service depends_on should either:

  • Share a common profile
  • Always be enabled, by omitting profiles or having a matching profile enabled explicitly
version: "3.9"
services:
  web:
    image: web

  mock-backend:
    image: backend
    profiles: ["dev"]
    depends_on:
      - db

  db:
    image: mysql
    profiles: ["dev"]

  phpmyadmin:
    image: phpmyadmin
    profiles: ["debug"]
    depends_on:
      - db
# Only start "web"
$ docker compose up -d

# Start mock-backend (and, if necessary, db)
# by implicitly enabling profiles `dev`
$ docker compose up -d mock-backend

# This fails because profiles "dev" is disabled
$ docker compose up phpmyadmin

Although targeting phpmyadmin automatically enables the profiles debug, it doesn’t automatically enable the profiles required by db which is dev.

To fix this you either have to add the debug profile to the db service:

db:
  image: mysql
  profiles: ["debug", "dev"]

or enable a profile of db explicitly:

# Profiles "debug" is enabled automatically by targeting phpmyadmin
$ docker compose --profile dev up phpmyadmin
$ COMPOSE_PROFILES=dev docker compose up phpmyadmin

Reference information

profiles