Kubernetes and Docker: What are their main differences?

This feature comparison shows the differences between two top DevOps platforms, Kubernetes & Docker.

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Enterprise businesses love containers and microservices. This is particularly true if you have adopted DevOps and CI/CD solutions, or are looking to be more agile in a world that is ever-growingly competitive.

Kubernetes, Docker and other containerization tools rise to the top of the list. These DevOps tools may be on different paths, but Kubernetes or Docker are at the forefront of containerization. It’s likely that you already have, will, or will use either one of them.

Companies benefit from containers by providing:

  • Agile app development and deployment
  • CI/CD
  • Software for DevOps
  • Observability
  • Cloud and OS portability
  • Management that is application-centric
  • True resource isolation

Which DevOps tool is better suited for your company’s needs and your DevOps workflow, Kubernetes or Docker? Let’s see.

What are Kubernetes?

Kubernetes, an open-source container orchestration platform, makes it possible for you to automate, scale and manage your containerized applications. Kubernetes, originally developed by Google, is now maintained and supported by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

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Kubernetes is about large-scale containerized deployments, not just one-off ones. Kubernetes is able to be deployed on a cluster or third-party cloud provider of bare metal servers. It works with a controller that manages the resources of the nodes in the cluster. A cluster can contain a controller with one node, or a controller with up to 5,000 nodes. However, it is not optimized to handle more that 500 nodes.

Kubernetes once used Docker to run its runtime engine. Kubernetes now supports containerd and Podman runtime engines.

What is Docker?

Docker can be used to deploy a single container on a host, or to clusters called Docker Swarms. Docker can be used to deploy larger containers. However, Docker can also deploy clusters of Docker nodes to run containerized microservices and applications at scale.

Docker’s learning curve is significantly lower than Kubernetes. Docker is the best way to get started in the world of containers. Then, move on to Kubernetes.

Comparison of Kubernetes and Docker: Head-to-head

Container management

Kubernetes, Docker and Docker can be used to deploy and manage container instances. Kubernetes works by default as a cluster of nodes that can scale the containerized application as required. Docker, a container runtime engine, is equally at home in deploying one container to a single node and full-stack apps to a cluster (called Docker Swarm).

Docker’s primary focus is on developing, sharing, and running individual containers. Kubernetes, on the other hand, is focused on containerized apps at scale.

Nodes and controllers

Docker does not require you to deploy controllers or nodes. However, if your goal is to use Docker Swarm you will need to deploy a controller as well as multiple nodes.

Kubernetes requires the use of nodes and controllers. These nodes and controllers can be hosted in your data center by third-party cloud vendors such as AWS and Azure, Google Cloud and Rackspace, or off-the-shelf server.

Developer tools

Kubernetes, Docker and other tools are available to help you develop containerized applications. Both DevOps solutions rely on image registries, such as those hosted at Docker Hub. They use JSON-formatted manifests for containerized applications and portable design. Kubernetes and Docker provide command-line tools for development. There are also a variety of third-party GUI tools.

Kubernetes or Docker can be integrated with your existing development tools such as your favorite IDEs or versioning systems like git.

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Both Kubernetes (and Docker) can use clusters. The difference is that Kubernetes needs a cluster while a Docker Swarm optional. This is also the main difference between Kubernetes & Docker: Kubernetes scales much faster and larger than Docker.

Persistent volumes

There are many chances that a containerized app will need to rely on stored data when it is deployed. Kubernetes and Docker have the ability to make use of persistent volume. These volumes store data outside of containers so that in the event of a container being destroyed, data can be saved in a persistent volume.

It is possible to share data among containers using persistent volumes. You could, for example, deploy a MySQL container with a persistent volume to allow multiple containers to connect to the database.

Containers and pods

Docker deploys containers. These containers are containerized microservices and applications. Kubernetes wraps containers in pods. These pods are a higher-level structure that can hold multiple containers sharing the same resources. It is important to not place too many containers in a single pod. This could result in wasted resources.

Docker does not work with pods but it is possible for full-stack applications to be deployed using individual, interconnected containers.

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Networking is an area where Docker shines. Docker makes it easy to deploy containers and make them accessible from any network.


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