Fragment – Running Multiple Services, such as Jupyter Notebooks and a Postgres Database, in a Single Docker Container

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been fettling the build scripts for the TM351 VM, which typically uses vagrant to build a VirtualBox VM from a set of shell scripts, so they can be used to build a single Docker container that runs all the TM351 services, specifically Jupyter notebooks, OpenRefine, PostgreSQL and MongoDB.

Docker containers are typically constructed to a run a single service, with compositions of containers wired together using Docker Compose to create applications that deliver, or rely on, more than one running service. For example, in a previous post (Setting up a Containerised Desktop API server (MySQL + Apache / PHP 5) for the ergast Motor Racing Data API) I showed how to set up a couple of containers to work together, one running a MySQL database server, the other an http service that provided an API to the database.

So how to run multiple services in the same container? Docs on the Docker website suggest using supervisord to run multiple services in a single container, so here’s a fragment on how I’ve done that from my TM351 build.

To begin with, I’ve built the container up as a tiered set of containers, in a similar way to the way the stack of opinionated Jupyter notebook Docker containers are constructed:

#Define a stub to identify the images in this image stack

# minimal
## Define a minimal container, eg a basic Linux container
## using whatever flavour of Linux we prefer
docker build --rm -t ${IMAGESTUB}-minimal-test ./minimal

# base
## The base container installs core packages
## The intention is to define a common build environment
## populated with packages likely to be common to many courses
docker build --rm --build-arg BASE=${IMAGESTUB}-minimal-test -t ${IMAGESTUB}-base-test ./base


One of the things I’ve done to try to generalise the build steps is allow the name a base container to be used to bootstrap a new one by passing the name of the base image in via an optional variable (in the above case, --build-arg BASE=${IMAGESTUB}-minimal-test). Each Dockerfile in a build step directory uses the following construction to work out which image to use as the FROM basis:

#Set ARG values using --build-arg =
#Each ARG value can also have a default value
ARG BASE=psychemedia/ou-tm351-base-test

Using the same approach, I have used separate build tiers for the following components:

  • jupyter base: minimal Jupyter notebook install;
  • jupyter custom: add some customisation onto a pre-existing Jupyter notebook install;
  • openrefine: add the OpenRefine application; (note, we could just use BASE=ubuntu to create this a simple, standalone OpenRefine container);
  • postgres: create a seeded PostgreSQL database; note, this could be split into two: a base postgres tier and then a customisation that adds users, creates and seed databases etc;
  • mongodb: add in a seeded mongo database; again, the seeding could be added as an extra tier on a minimal database tier;
  • topup: a tier to add in anything I’ve missed without having to go back to rebuild from an earlier step…

The intention behind splitting out these tiers is that we might want to have a battle hardened OU postgres tier, for example, that could be shared between different courses. Alternatively, we might want to have tiers offering customisations for specific presentations of a course, whilst reusing several other fixed tiers intended to last out the life of the course.

By the by, it can be quite handy to poke inside an image once you’ve created it to check that everything is in the right place:

#Explore inside animage by entering it with a shell command
docker run -it --entrypoint=/bin/bash psychemedia/ou-tm351-jupyter-base-test -i

Once the services are in place, I add a final layer to the container that ensures supervisord is available and set up with an appropriate supervisord.conf configuration file:

#Final tier Dockerfile
ARG BASE=psychemedia/testpieces

USER root
RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y supervisor

RUN mkdir -p /openrefine_projects  && chown oustudent:100 /openrefine_projects
VOLUME /openrefine_projects

RUN mkdir -p /notebooks  && chown oustudent:100 /notebooks
VOLUME /notebooks

RUN mkdir -p /var/log/supervisor
COPY monolithic_container_supervisord.conf /etc/supervisor/conf.d/supervisord.conf


CMD ["/usr/bin/supervisord"]

The supervisord.conf file is defined as follows:

##We can check running processes under supervisord with: supervisorctl

#The HOME envt needs setting to the correct USER
#otherwise jupyter throws: [Errno 13] Permission denied: '/root/.local'

#Note the auth is a bit ropey on this atm!
command=/usr/local/bin/jupyter notebook --port=8888 --ip= --y --log-level=WARN --no-browser --allow-root --NotebookApp.password= --NotebookApp.token=
#The directory we want to start in
#(replaces jupyter notebook parameter: --notebook-dir=/notebooks)

command=/usr/lib/postgresql/9.5/bin/postgres -D /var/lib/postgresql/9.5/main -c config_file=/etc/postgresql/9.5/main/postgresql.conf

command=/usr/bin/mongod --dbpath=/var/lib/mongodb --port=27351

command=/opt/openrefine-3.0-beta/refine -p 3334 -i -d /vagrant/openrefine_projects

One thing I need to do better is to find a way to stage the construction of the supervisord.conf file, bearing in mind that multiple tiers may relate to the same servicel for example, I have a jupyter-base tier to create a minimal Jupyter notebook server and then a jupyter-base-custom tier that adds in specific customisations, such as branding and course related notebook extensions.

When the final container is built, the supervisord command is run and the multiple services started.

One other thing to note: we’re hoping to run TM351 environments on an internal OpenStack cluster. The current cluster only allows students to expose a single port, and port 80 at that, from the VM (IP addresses are in scant supply, and network security lockdowns are in place all over the place). The current VM exposes at least two http services: Jupyter notebooks and OpenRefine, so we need a proxy in place if we are to expose them both via a single port. Helpfully, the nbserverproxy Jupyter extension (as described in Exposing Multiple Services Via a Single http Port Using Jupyter nbserverproxy), allows us to do just that. One thing to note, though – I had to enable it via the same user that launches the notebook server in the suoervisord.conf settings:

##Dockerfile fragment

RUN $PIP install nbserverproxy

USER oustudent
RUN jupyter serverextension enable --py nbserverproxy
USER root

To run the VM, I can call something like:

docker run -p 8899:8888 -d psychemedia/tm351dockermonotest

and then to access the additional services, I can browse to e.g. localhost:8899/proxy/3334/ to see the OpenRefine application.

PS in case you’re wondering why I syndicated this through RBloggers too, the same recipe will work if you’re using Jupyter notebooks with an R kernel, rather than the default IPython one.

Embedded Audio Players in Jupyter Notebooks Running IRKernel

For ref, when running IRkernel Jupyter R notebooks, media objects can be embedded by making use of the shiny::tags function, that can return HTML elements with appropriate MIME types, and are renderable using _repr_html machinery (h/t @flying-sheep):

For example:

PS By the by, I notice the existence of another R kernel for Jupyter notebooks, JuniperKernel. An advantage of this over IRkernel is that it supports xwidgets, a C++ widget implementation for Jupyter notebooks akin to ipywidgets. (As far as I know, there isn’t a widget implementation for IRkernel, although maybe something can be finessed using shiny::tags and other bits of shiny machinery? ) Although I could install JuniperKernel on my Mac, I had some issues getting it to work that I haven’t had a chance to explore yet, so I don’t yet have a widgets demo…

PS having to save an audio file to then load back into the player may be a faff; that said, it looks like there may be a route to using a data URI? Not tried this yet; if you have a short reproducible demo that works, please share via the comments:-)

First Class R Support in Binder / Binderhub – Shiny Apps As Well as R-Kernels and RStudio

I notice from the binder-examples/r repo that Binderhub now appears to offer all sorts of R goodness out of the can, if you specify a particular R build.

From the same repo root, you can get:

And from previously, here’s a workaround for displaying R/HTMLwidgets in a Jupyter notebook.

OpenRefine is also available from a simple URL – – courtesy of betatim/openrefineder:

Perhaps it’s time for me to try to get my head round what the Jupyter notebook proxy handlers are doing…

PS see also Scripted Forms for a simple markdown script way of building interactive Jupyter widget powered UIs.

Generative Assessment Creation

It’s coming round to that time of year where we have to create the assessment material for courses with an October start date. In many cases, we reuse question forms from previous presentations but change the specific details. If a question is suitably defined, then large parts of this process could be automated.

In the OU, automated question / answer option randomisation is used to provide iCMAs (interactive computer marked assessments) via the student VLE using OpenMark. As well as purely text based questions, questions can include tables or images as part of the question.

One way of supporting such question types is to manually create a set of answer options, perhaps with linked media assets, and then allow randomisation of them.

Another way is to define the question in a generative way so that the correct and incorrect answers are automatically generated.(This seems to be one of those use cases for why ‘everyone should learn to code’;-)

Pinching screenshots from an (old?) OpenMark tutorial, we can see how a dynamically generated question might be defined. For example, create a set of variables:

and then generate a templated question, and student feedback generator, around them:

Packages also exist for creating generative questions/answers more generally. For example, the R exams package allows you to define question/answer templates in Rmd and then generate questions and solutions in a variety of output document formats.

You can also write templates that include the creation of graphical assets such as charts:


Via my feeds over the weekend, I noticed that this package now also supports the creation of more general diagrams created from a TikZ diagram template. For example, logic diagrams:

Or automata diagrams:

(You can see more exam templates here:

As I’m still on a “we can do everything in Jupyter” kick, one of the things I’ve explored is various IPython/notebook magics that support diagram creation. At the moment, these are just generic magics that allow you to write TikZ diagrams, for example, that make use of various TikZ packages:

One the to do list is to create some example magics that template different question types.

I’m not sure if OpenCreate is following a similar model? (I seem to have lost access permissions again…)

FWIW, I’ve also started looking at my show’n’tell notebooks again, trying to get them working in Azure notebooks. (OU staff should be able to log in to using credentials.) For the moment, I’m depositing them at, although some tidying may happen at some point. There are also several more basic demo notebooks I need to put together (e.g. on creating charts and using interactive widgets, digital humanities demos, R demos and (if they work!) polyglot R and python notebook demos, etc.). To use the notebooks interactively, log in and clone the library into your own user space.

R HTMLWidgets in Jupyter Notebooks

A quick note for displaying R htmlwidgets in Jupyter notebooks without requiring pandoc – there may be a more native way but this acts as a workaround in the meantime if not:


m = leaflet() %>% addTiles()
saveWidget(m, 'demo.html', selfcontained = FALSE)
display_html('<iframe src="demo.html"></iframe>')

PS and from the other side, using reticulate for Python powered Shiny apps.

Generating Text From An R DataFrame using PyTracery, Pandas and Reticulate

In a couple of recent posts (Textualisation With Tracery and Database Reporting 2.0 and More Tinkering With PyTracery) I’ve started exploring various ways of using the pytracery port of the tracery story generation tool to generate variety of texts from Python pandas data frames.

For my F1DataJunkie tinkerings I’ve been using R + SQL as the base languages, with some hardcoded Rdata2text constructions for rendering text from R dataframes (example).

Whilst there is a basic port of tracery to R, I want to make use of the various extensions I’ve been doodling with to pytracery, so it seemed like a good opportunity to start exploring the R reticulate package.

It was a bit of a faff trying to get things to work the first time, so here on some notes on what I had to consider to get a trivial demo working in my RStudio/Rmd/knitr environment.

Python Environment

My first attempt was to use python blocks in an Rmd document:

import sys

but R insisted on using the base Python path on my Mac that was not the path I wanted to use… The fix turned out to be setting the engine…

```{python, engine.path ='/Users/f1dj/anaconda3/bin/python' }
import sys

This could also be done via a setting: opts_chunk$set(engine.path = '/Users/f1dj/anaconda3/bin/python')

One of the problems with this approach is that a Python environment is created for each chunk – so you can’t easily carry state over from one Python chunk to another.

So I had a look at a workaround using reticulate instead.

Calling pytracery from R using reticulate

The solution I think I’m going for is to put Python code into a file, call that into R, then pass an R dataframe as an argument to a called Python function and gett a response back into R as an R dataframe.

For example, here’s a simple python test file:

import tracery
from tracery.modifiers import base_english
import pandas as pd

def pandas_row_mapper(row, rules, root,  modifiers=base_english):
    ''' Function to parse single row of dataframe '''

    for k in row:
        rules[k] = str(row[k])
        grammar = tracery.Grammar(rules)
        if modifiers is not None:
            if isinstance(modifiers,list):
                for modifier in modifiers:

    return grammar.flatten(root)

def pandas_tracery(df, rules, root, modifiers=base_english):
  return df.apply(lambda row: pandas_row_mapper(row, rules, root, modifiers), axis=1)

def pdt_inspect(df):

def pdt_test1(df):
  return type(df)

def pdt_demo(df):
  return pandas_tracery(df, _demo_rules, "#origin#",  modifiers=base_english)

#Create example rule to apply to each row of dataframe
_demo_rules = {'origin': "#code# was placed #position#!",
         'position': "#pos.uppercase#"}

We can access a python environment using reticulate:


#Show conda environments

#Use a particular, name conda environment
use_condaenv(condaenv='anaconda3', required=T)

#Check the availability of a particular module in the environment

Now we can load in the python file – and the functions it defines – and then call one of the  loaded Python functions.

Note that I seemed to have to force the casting of the R dataframe to a python/pandas dataframe using r_to_py(), although I’d expected the type mapping to be handled automatically? (Perhaps there is a setting somewhere?)

df1=data.frame(code=c('Jo','Sam'), pos=c('first','Second'))
df1$result = pdt_demo(r_to_py(df1, convert=T))

Jo	first	Jo was placed FIRST!
Sam	Second	Sam was placed SECOND!

(Note: I also spotted a gotcha – things don’t work so well if you define an R column name called name… )

So now I can start looking at converting sports reporting tropes like these:

into tracery story models I can call using my pandas/pytracery hacks:-)

PS here’s a quick demo of inlining Python code:


#Go into python shell - this persists
#Access R variables with r.

#Return to R shell

#Access Python variable with py$

Sketch – Data Trivia

A bit more tinkering with F1 data from the ergast db, this time trying to generating trivia / facts around races.

The facts are identified using SQL queries:

#starts for a team
q=paste0('SELECT d.code, COUNT(code) AS startsforteam, AS name FROM drivers d JOIN races r JOIN results rs JOIN constructors c WHERE c.constructorId=rs.constructorId AND d.driverId=rs.driverId AND r.raceId=rs.raceId AND d.code IN (',driversThisYear_str,') ',upto,' GROUP BY d.code, HAVING (startsforteam+1) % 50 = 0')
startsTeammod50=dbGetQuery(ergastdb, q)

#looking for poles to date modulo 5 
q=paste0('SELECT d.code, COUNT(code) AS poles FROM drivers d JOIN qualifying q JOIN races r WHERE r.raceId=q.raceId AND d.code IN (',driversThisYear_str,') AND d.driverId=q.driverId AND q.position=1',upto,' GROUP BY code HAVING poles>1 AND (poles+1) % 5 = 0')
lookingpolesmod5=dbGetQuery(ergastdb, q)

Some of the queries also embed query fragments, which I intend to develop further…

upto=paste0(' AND (year<',year,' OR (year=',year,' AND round<',round,')) ')

I'm using knitr to generate Github flavoured markdown (gfm) from my Rmd docs – here’s part of the header:

    variant: gfm

The following recipe then takes results from the trivia queries and spiels the output:

if (nrow(startsTeammod50)>0) {
  for (row in 1:nrow(startsTeammod50)) {
    text = '- `r startsTeammod50[row, "code"]` is looking for their `r toOrdinal(startsTeammod50[row, "startsforteam"]+1)` start for `r startsTeammod50[row, "name"]`'

if (nrow(lookingpolesmod5)>0) {
  for (row in 1:nrow(lookingpolesmod5)) {
    text = '- `r lookingpolesmod5[row, "code"]` is looking for their `r toOrdinal(lookingpolesmod5[row, "poles"]+1)` ever pole position'

We then get outputs of the form:

  • BOT is looking for their 100th race start
  • HAM is looking for their 100th start for Mercedes

See more example outputs here: Bahrain F1 2018 – Race Trivia.

This is another recipe I need to work up a little further and add to Wrangling F1 Data With R.