Enable live updates in Nginx Docker container

July 30, 2015

Running nginx from Docker is a piece of cake and hosting local files are equally easy. But there’s one catch if you’re using boot2docker, at least on a Mac: live updates are not working. Changes on local files are not reflected in nginx immediately, but a container restart is required. This post describes how to work around this limitation.

Some googling quickly reveals that the reason is a known incompatibility between VirtualBox and sendfile. The workaround is to disable sendfile in nginx configuration, which is done by adding sendfile off directive to nginx’s server config section.

The probably easiest way to do this is overriding the container’s default.conf file (contains nginx server config) by a custom one. Store following file as app-nginx.conf in a working directory of your choice.

server {
    listen       80;
    server_name  localhost;

    location / {
        root   /usr/share/nginx/html;
        index  index.html;

    sendfile    off;

Note that sendfile off is part of the configuration to work around the live update issue.

To test if everything works fine, let’s create an index.html file in app subdirectoy, like that one

    <h1>Hello from Docker</h1>

Now we can start the nginx container. I put in a wrapper script. It needs to be executed from the directory containing app-nginx.conf file and app subdirectoy.

docker run -v $(pwd)/app:/usr/share/nginx/html -v $(pwd)/app-nginx.conf:/etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf -p 8080:80 --rm nginx

The important part is the second volume mapping. It maps our app-nginx.conf file as nginx’s default.conf and therefore overrides default server config.

Now browse to (or whatever your boot2docker IP is) and you’ll see a friendly Hello from Docker. Change the text in index.html file, reload page in Browser and tadaaa, live update.


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