Using Secrets with Docker

Docker services can access environment variables and secret files like other kinds of services at run time. However, because of the way that Docker builds work, you won’t have access to environment variables and secret files as usual at build time.


Before going into how to use your environment variables and secret files for Docker builds, you should know that using secrets with Docker can result in your image containing sensitive information. Although we store your images securely, Docker registries should be treated like code repositories: it’s best practice to not store secrets in them. You should avoid using secrets in your Docker builds to eliminate the chance of accidentally storing sensitive material.

That being said, some build processes require credentials to access private resources, for example. For these, it’s best to use secret files.

Secret Files in Docker Builds

The best way to use secrets in your Docker build is with secret files. Unlike build args, secret mounts aren’t persisted in your built image.

Secret files in Docker builds make use of secret mounts which are available with Dockerfile syntax v1.2. At the top of your Dockerfile, add

# syntax = docker/dockerfile:1.2

Then, add --mount=type=secret,id=FILENAME,dst=/etc/secrets/FILENAME to your run RUN instructions, replacing FILENAME with the name of your secret file. If your filename contains non-alphanumeric characters, replace them with _ for the id= part. For example, if you have a secret file named .env, then using

RUN --mount=type=secret,id=_env,dst=/etc/secrets/.env cat /etc/secrets/.env

will print the content of .env in your build. You can make use of multiple secret files by adding more --mount=type=secret,....

The --mount=type=secret,... needs to be included for every instruction that requires the secret file.

Read more about Docker secrets and secret mounts in the Docker Docs.

Building Images with Secrets Locally

To build images locally with Dockerfiles that make use of secrets, you need to have a recent version of Docker installed. When you run docker build, ensure that BuildKit is enabled with the DOCKER_BUILDKIT=1 and pass in secrets using the --secret argument like so:

DOCKER_BUILDKIT=1 docker build --secret id=FILENAME,src=LOCAL_FILENAME ...

FILENAME is the same as the ID from --mount=type=secret,id=FILENAME,... in your Dockerfile and LOCAL_FILENAME is an appropriate secret file located on your build host.

Read more about Docker secrets and secret mounts in the Docker Docs.

Environment Variables in Docker Builds

Docker doesn’t provide a way to pass in environment variables to a build. It does, however, provide build args. Render injects your service’s environment variables as build args with the same keys and values. You can make use of build args in your Dockerfile using the ARG instruction.

ARG instructions are saved in the built Docker image. For this reason, we recommend against using them for secrets in single-stage builds. Consider using secret files instead for build-time secrets.