Before you begin

In this tutorial will learn how to use and the difference between ADD and COPY Docker build commands. A Linux machine and Docker will be required to follow this tutorial.

Common ADD and COPY capability

These commands allow you to copy files from your host to your image. Example:

# Dockerfile

COPY /tmp
ADD /tmp

Previous commands are copying to the temp directory on the image:

$ docker run -it testing_add_copy ls -la /tmp
total 12
drwxrwxrwt  2 root root 4096 Oct  3 09:53 .
drwxr-xr-x 35 root root 4096 Oct  3 09:53 ..
-rwxrwxr-x  1 root root  415 Oct  3 09:53

If you need to copy files from your host to a container rather than to an image you can read the following post: How to copy files to or from a Docker container.

Differences between ADD and COPY

ADD command has two extra capabilities:

  1. Automatic TAR extraction.
     # Dockerfile
     ADD scripts.tar.gz /tmp

    tar file will only be unpacked if its compression is a recognized compression format (identity, gzip, bzip2 or xz).

  2. Fetch files from remote URLs.
     # Dockerfile
     ADD /tmp

When to use COPY as a best practice

Following Best practices for writing Dockerfiles we should use add only when tar extraction capability is needed otherwise is better to use copy for the following reasons:

  • Wording is more clear.
  • TAR extraction and remote URL support sometimes are not obvious.
  • Fetching files and delete them needs an extra layer. To prevent that is recommended to use wget or curl instead.

Finally, make sure to use a .dockerignore file to define a better build context.