Overview of docker compose CLI


From July 2023 Compose V1 stopped receiving updates. It's also no longer available in new releases of Docker Desktop.

Compose V2 is included with all currently supported versions of Docker Desktop. For more information, see Migrate to Compose V2.

Docker's documentation refers to and describes Compose V2 functionality.

This page provides the usage information for the docker compose Command.


The new Compose V2, which supports the compose command as part of the Docker CLI, is now available.

Compose V2 integrates compose functions into the Docker platform, continuing to support most of the previous docker-compose features and flags. You can run Compose V2 by replacing the hyphen (-) with a space, using docker compose, instead of docker-compose.

For more information about Docker Compose V2 GA, see the blog post Announcing Compose V2 General Availabilityopen_in_new.

Command options overview and help

You can also see this information by running docker compose --help from the command line.

Usage:  docker compose [OPTIONS] COMMAND

Define and run multi-container applications with Docker.

      --ansi string                Control when to print ANSI control characters ("never"|"always"|"auto") (default "auto")
      --compatibility              Run compose in backward compatibility mode
      --env-file stringArray       Specify an alternate environment file.
  -f, --file stringArray           Compose configuration files
      --parallel int               Control max parallelism, -1 for unlimited (default -1)
      --profile stringArray        Specify a profile to enable
      --project-directory string   Specify an alternate working directory
                                   (default: the path of the, first specified, Compose file)
  -p, --project-name string        Project name

  build       Build or rebuild services
  config      Parse, resolve and render compose file in canonical format
  cp          Copy files/folders between a service container and the local filesystem
  create      Creates containers for a service.
  down        Stop and remove containers, networks
  events      Receive real time events from containers.
  exec        Execute a command in a running container.
  images      List images used by the created containers
  kill        Force stop service containers.
  logs        View output from containers
  ls          List running compose projects
  pause       Pause services
  port        Print the public port for a port binding.
  ps          List containers
  pull        Pull service images
  push        Push service images
  restart     Restart service containers
  rm          Removes stopped service containers
  run         Run a one-off command on a service.
  start       Start services
  stop        Stop services
  top         Display the running processes
  unpause     Unpause services
  up          Create and start containers
  version     Show the Docker Compose version information

Run 'docker compose COMMAND --help' for more information on a command.

You can use Docker Compose binary, docker compose [-f <arg>...] [options] [COMMAND] [ARGS...], to build and manage multiple services in Docker containers.

Use -f to specify name and path of one or more Compose files

Use the -f flag to specify the location of a Compose configuration file.

Specifying multiple Compose files

You can supply multiple -f configuration files. When you supply multiple files, Compose combines them into a single configuration. Compose builds the configuration in the order you supply the files. Subsequent files override and add to their predecessors.

For example, consider this command line:

$ docker compose -f docker-compose.yml -f docker-compose.admin.yml run backup_db

The docker-compose.yml file might specify a webapp service.

  image: examples/web
    - "8000:8000"
    - "/data"

If the docker-compose.admin.yml also specifies this same service, any matching fields override the previous file. New values, add to the webapp service configuration.

  build: .
    - DEBUG=1

When you use multiple Compose files, all paths in the files are relative to the first configuration file specified with -f. You can use the --project-directory option to override this base path.

Use a -f with - (dash) as the filename to read the configuration from stdin. When stdin is used all paths in the configuration are relative to the current working directory.

The -f flag is optional. If you don't provide this flag on the command line, Compose traverses the working directory and its parent directories looking for a docker-compose.yml and a docker-compose.override.yml file. You must supply at least the docker-compose.yml file. If both files are present on the same directory level, Compose combines the two files into a single configuration.

The configuration in the docker-compose.override.yml file is applied over and in addition to the values in the docker-compose.yml file.

Specifying a path to a single Compose file

You can use the -f flag to specify a path to a Compose file that is not located in the current directory, either from the command line or by setting up a COMPOSE_FILE environment variable in your shell or in an environment file.

For an example of using the -f option at the command line, suppose you are running the Compose Rails sampleopen_in_new, and have a docker-compose.yml file in a directory called sandbox/rails. You can use a command like docker compose pull to get the postgres image for the db service from anywhere by using the -f flag as follows: docker compose -f ~/sandbox/rails/docker-compose.yml pull db

Here's the full example:

$ docker compose -f ~/sandbox/rails/docker-compose.yml pull db
Pulling db (postgres:latest)...
latest: Pulling from library/postgres
ef0380f84d05: Pull complete
50cf91dc1db8: Pull complete
d3add4cd115c: Pull complete
467830d8a616: Pull complete
089b9db7dc57: Pull complete
6fba0a36935c: Pull complete
81ef0e73c953: Pull complete
338a6c4894dc: Pull complete
15853f32f67c: Pull complete
044c83d92898: Pull complete
17301519f133: Pull complete
dcca70822752: Pull complete
cecf11b8ccf3: Pull complete
Digest: sha256:1364924c753d5ff7e2260cd34dc4ba05ebd40ee8193391220be0f9901d4e1651
Status: Downloaded newer image for postgres:latest

Use -p to specify a project name

Each configuration has a project name which Compose can set in different ways. The level of precedence (from highest to lowest) for each method is as follows:

  1. The -p command line flag
  2. The COMPOSE_PROJECT_NAME environment variable
  3. The top level name: variable from the config file (or the last name: from a series of config files specified using -f)
  4. The basename of the project directory containing the config file (or containing the first config file specified using -f)
  5. The basename of the current directory if no config file is specified

Project names must contain only lowercase letters, decimal digits, dashes, and underscores, and must begin with a lowercase letter or decimal digit. If the basename of the project directory or current directory violates this constraint, you must use one of the other mechanisms.

Use --profile to specify one or more active profiles

Calling docker compose --profile frontend up will start the services with the profile frontend and services without specified profiles. You can also enable multiple profiles, e.g. with docker compose --profile frontend --profile debug up the profiles frontend and debug will be enabled.

See also Using profiles with Compose and the COMPOSE_PROFILES environment variable.

Set up environment variables

You can set environment variables for various docker compose options, including the -f and -p flags.

For example, the COMPOSE_FILE environment variable relates to the -f flag, and COMPOSE_PROJECT_NAME environment variable relates to the -p flag.

Also, you can set some of these variables in an environment file.

Where to go next