Oct 30, 2020 - Steve Azzopardi    

Caching Docker images to reduce the number of calls to DockerHub from your CI/CD infrastructure

Docker announced it will be rate-limiting the number of pull requests to the service in its free plan. We share strategies to mitigate the impact of the new pull request limits for users and customers that are managing their own GitLab instance.

On Aug. 24, 2020, Docker announced changes to its subscription model and a move to consumption-based limits. These rate limits for Docker pulls of container images go into effect on Nov. 1, 2020. For pull requests by anonymous users, this limit is now 100 pull requests per six hours; authenticated users have a limit of 200 pull requests per six hours.

As members of the global DevOps community, we have all come to rely on Docker as an integral part of CI/CD processes. So it is with no surprise that at GitLab, we have heard from several community members and customers seeking guidance on how the Docker rate limit change may affect their production CI/CD workflows.

Use a registry mirror

You can use the Registry Mirror feature to the number of image pull requests generated against DockerHub. When the mirror is configured and GitLab Runner instructs Docker to pull images, Docker will check the mirror first; if it's the first time the image is being pulled, a connection will be made to DockerHub. Subsequent pulls of that image will then use your mirror instead of connecting to DockerHub. More details on how it works can be found here.

If you are a user or customer on GitLab SaaS

For Shared Runners on GitLab.com we utilize Google's Docker Hub images mirror. This means that GitLab.com Shared Runner users' CI jobs won't be affected by the new pull policy. We will continue to monitor the impact of the changes once they go into effect at Docker.

If you self-host GitLab Runners

First of all, check if your cloud or hosting provider doesn't already provide an image Registry Mirror. If they do, it will be probably the easiest and most performant option. If for any reason a hosted Registry Mirror can't be used the administrator can install their own DockerHub mirror.

Start the registry mirror

Please follow the instructions in the GitLab documentation:

  1. Log in to a dedicated machine where the container registry proxy will be running
  2. Make sure that Docker Engine is installed on that machine
  3. Create a new container registry:

    docker run -d -p 6000:5000 \
        -e REGISTRY_PROXY_REMOTEURL=https://registry-1.docker.io \
        --restart always \
        --name registry registry:2

    You can modify the port number (6000) to expose the registry on a different port. This will start the server with http. If you want to turn on TLS (https) follow the official documentation.

  4. Check the IP address of the server:

    hostname --ip-address

    You should preferably choose the private networking IP address. The private networking is usually the fastest solution for internal communication between machines of a single provider (DigitalOcean, AWS, Azure, etc.) Typically the use of a private network is not accounted for in your monthly bandwidth limit.

  5. Docker registry will be accessible under MY_REGISTRY_IP:6000

Configure Docker to use it

The final part is to have the dockerd process configured so that it uses your mirror when docker pull runs.


Either pass the --registry-mirror option when starting the Docker daemon dockerd manually, or edit /etc/docker/daemon.json and add the registry-mirrors key and value, to make the change persistent.

  "registry-mirrors": ["http://registry-mirror.example.com"]

docker+machine executor

Update the GitLab Runner configuration file config.toml to specify engine-registry-mirror inside of MachineOptions settings.

Docker-in-Docker to build Docker images

There are different ways to achieve this, and it depends on your configuration. An extensive list can be found in our documentation.

Verify that it is working

Make sure that Docker is configured to use the mirror

If you run docker info where dockerd is configured to use the mirror you should see the following in the output:

 Registry Mirrors:

Check registry catalog

The Docker registry API can show you which repository it has cached locally.

Given that we ran docker pull node for the first time with dockerd configured to use the mirror we can see it by listing the repositories.

curl http://registry-mirror.example.com/v2/_catalog


Check registry logs

When you are pulling images you should see logs coming through about the request information by running docker logs registry, where registry is the name of the container running the mirror.

time="2020-10-30T14:02:13.488906601Z" level=info msg="response completed" go.version=go1.11.2 http.request.host="" http.request.id=8e2bfd60-db3f-49a3-a18f-94092aefddf9 http.request.method=GET http.request.remoteaddr="" http.request.uri="/v2/library/node/blobs/sha256:8c322550c0ed629d78d29d5c56e9f980f1a35b5f5892644848cd35cd5abed9f4" http.request.useragent="docker/19.03.13 go/go1.13.15 git-commit/4484c46d9d kernel/4.19.76-linuxkit os/linux arch/amd64 UpstreamClient(Docker-Client/19.03.13 \(darwin\))" http.response.contenttype="application/octet-stream" http.response.duration=6.344575711s http.response.status=200 http.response.written=34803188 - - [30/Oct/2020:14:02:07 +0000] "GET /v2/library/node/blobs/sha256:8c322550c0ed629d78d29d5c56e9f980f1a35b5f5892644848cd35cd5abed9f4 HTTP/1.1" 200 34803188 "" "docker/19.03.13 go/go1.13.15 git-commit/4484c46d9d kernel/4.19.76-linuxkit os/linux arch/amd64 UpstreamClient(Docker-Client/19.03.13 \\(darwin\\))"
time="2020-10-30T14:02:13.635694443Z" level=info msg="Adding new scheduler entry for library/node@sha256:8c322550c0ed629d78d29d5c56e9f980f1a35b5f5892644848cd35cd5abed9f4 with ttl=167h59m59.999996574s" go.version=go1.11.2 instance.id=f49c8505-e91b-4089-a746-100de0adaa08 service=registry version=v2.7.1 - - [30/Oct/2020:14:02:25 +0000] "GET /v2/_catalog HTTP/1.1" 200 34 "" "curl/7.64.1"
time="2020-10-30T14:02:25.954586396Z" level=info msg="response completed" go.version=go1.11.2 http.request.host="" http.request.id=f9698414-e22c-4d26-8ef5-c24d0923b18b http.request.method=GET http.request.remoteaddr="" http.request.uri="/v2/_catalog" http.request.useragent="curl/7.64.1" http.response.contenttype="application/json; charset=utf-8" http.response.duration=1.117686ms http.response.status=200 http.response.written=34

Alternatives to DockerHub mirrors

Setting up a Docker registry mirror can also increase your infrastructure costs. With the DockerHub rate limits it might be useful to authenticate pulls instead of having your rate limit increased or no rate limit at all (depending on your subscription).

There are different ways to authenticate with DockerHub on Gitlab CI and it's documented in detail. A few examples:

  1. DOCKER_AUTH_CONFIG variable provided.
  2. config.json file placed in $HOME/.docker directory of the user running GitLab Runner process.
  3. Run docker login if you are using Docker-in-Docker workflow.

In summary

As you can see, there are several ways you can adapt to the new Docker Hub limits and we encourage our users to choose the right one for their organization's needs. Along with the options described in this post, there's also the option of staying within the GitLab ecosystem using the GitLab Container Proxy, which will soon be available to Core users.

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