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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

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Pi-Hole Docker

I’ve been trying to get a hang of Docker off late, but not making much headway. I work best when I have a task to work towards so all this reading up isn’t getting anywhere. Initially I thought I’d try and do Docker for everything I need to do, but that seemed pointless. I don’t really need the “overhead” of Docker in my life – it’s just an extra layer to keep track of and tweak, and so I didn’t feel like setting up any task for myself with Docker. If I can run a web server directly on one of my VMs, why bother with putting it in a container instead. Of course I can see the use of Docker for developers etc., but I am not a developer/ too much of a luddite/ too old for this $hit I guess. 

As of now I use Docker containers like throwaway VMs. If I need to try out something, rather than snapshot my VM and do the thing I want to do and then revert snapshot nowadays I’ll just run a container and do what I want to in that and then throw it. Easy peasy. 

Today I thought I’d take a stab at using Docker for Pi-Hole. Yes, I could just use Pi-Hole on my Raspberry Pi4 directly, but putting it in a container seemed interesting. I’ve got this new Pi 4 that I setup last week and I am thinking I’ll keep it “clean” and not install much stuff to it directly. By using containers I can do just that. I guess it’s because at the back of my head I have a feeling the Pi 4 could die any time due to over-heating and I’d rather have all the apps & config I run on it kept separate so if things go bad I can easily redo stuff. One advantage of using Docker is that I can keep all my config and data in one place and simply map it into the container at the location the running program wants things to be at, so I don’t have to keep track of many locations. 

Anyways, enough talk. Pi-Hole has a GitHub repo with it’s Docker stuff. There’s a Docker-compose example as well as a script to run the container manually. What I am about to post here is based on that with some modifications for my environment, so there’s nothing new or fancy here …

First thing is that I decided to go with a macvlan network. This too is something I learnt from the Pi-Hole Docker documentation. You see, typically your Docker containers are bridged – i.e. they run in an isolated network behind the host running the containers, and only whatever ports you decide to forward on are passed in to this network. It’s exactly like how all the machines in your home network are behind a router and have their own private IP space independent of the Internet, but you can selectively port forward from the public IP of the router to machines in your network. 

The alternatives to bridged more are host mode, wherein the container has the IP of the host and all its ports; or macvlan mode, wherein the container appears as a separate device on your network. (It’s sort of like how in something like Hyper-V you can have a VM to be on an “external” network – it appears as a device connected to the same network as the host and has its own IP address etc). I like this latter idea, maybe coz it ties into my tendency to use a container as a VM. :) In the specific case of Pi-Hole in Docker going the macvlan has an advantage in that the Pi-Hole can act like a DHCP server and send out broadcasts as it is on the network like any other device, and not hidden behind the machine running the container. 

So first things first, I created a macvlan network for myself. This also requires you to specify your network subnet and gateway because remember Docker assigns all its containers IP addresses and so you need to tell Docker to assign an IP address from such and such network. In my case I am not really going to let Docker assign an IP address later because I’ll just specify one manually, but the network create command expects a range when making a macvlan network so I oblige it (replace the $SUBNET and $GATEWAY variables below with your environment details, the subnet has to be in the CIDR notation e.g. 192.168.1.0/24). I have to also specify which device on the Raspberry Pi the macvlan network will connect to so I do that via the -o parent switch. And finally I give it an unimaginative name my_macvlan_network

Next thing is to create some volumes to store data. I could go with bind mounts or volumes – the latter is where Docker manages the volumes. I chose to go with volumes. Docker will store all these volumes at /var/lib/docker/volumes/ so that’s the only location I need to backup. From the GitHub repo I saw it expects two locations, so I created two volumes for use later on.

Lastly here’s the docker run command, based on the one found on GitHub:

Again, replace all the variables with appropriate info for your environment. These lines may be of interest as they map the network and volumes I created earlier into the container, and also specify a static IP like I said I’d do. 

Everything else is from the official instructions, with the exception of --cap-add=NET_ADMIN which I have to do to give the container additional capabilities (required if you plan on running it as a DHCP server). 

That’s it, now I’ll have Pi-Hole running at $IP

Here’s everything together in case it helps (I have this in a shell script actually with the variables defined so I can re-run the script if needed; Docker won’t create the volumes and networks again if they already exist):

Now this is a cool feature of Docker. After running the above I can run this command to set the admin password: 

What’s cool about this is that I am simply running a command in the container as if it were a program on my machine. For some reason I find that awesome. You are encapsulating an entire container as a single command. What the above does is that it runs the pihole -a -p command in the container called pihole. This command prompts me for an admin username, and since I have the -it switch added to the exec command it tells Docker that I want an interactive session and that it should map STDIN and STDOUT of the container to my host and thus show me the output and let me type and pass in some input. So cool! 

Pi-Hole Docker by rakhesh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.