Using FastAI Docker images with the FastAI course materials on your local disk.

September 19, 2020.

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Back to the Docker section.

There are Docker images for FastAI now! I was really interested in this, because I have been an aspirational FastAI student up to now. My biggest problem – the Python installs. I talk about this more in the end – a motivation section.

This post will describe how to use the new FastAI Docker images to run the notebooks for the FastAI course, as well as your Python code from your local disk instead of in the container, so you do not have to commit as a new image after every save. This distinction may not matter at all to you at the moment. That’s okay!

The tutorial is presented from the Ubuntu OS viewpoint. I hope that it can translate to other OS’s though.

I’ll explain a few options along the way too. The post does not assume you know much, if anything, about Docker. All Docker commands you will need, will be given. The links below will be introduced in the text, but are also listed below for easy reference.



Install Docker.

First, install Docker if you have not already. Here’s the Download page from Docker.

Install NVIDIA Drivers.

Next, you need to install the NVIDIA drivers. Here’s the current information from NVIDIA. This process is a lot faster than it used to be; it took me about 10-15 minutes, including a mistake I made.

I’m not going to go in-depth into GPUs because I myself am a newbie. Tim Dettmers’ Blog has a lot of information on this topic, and I talk about the GPUs I use in the motivation section.

Enable GPUs via NVIDIA-Docker or Docker.

The instructions from FastAI’s Docker containers repository mention installing NVIDIA-Docker.

I learned from Twitter that one can also enable NVIDIA GPUs from the base Docker package, but following the instructions looks an awful like installing NVIDIA-Docker. In any event, either option does not take much time on Ubuntu / Debian.

Clone repository for this post.

Then, for this post I created a very small GitHub repository, amy-tabb/fastai-docker-example. It has a Dockerfile, a folder with a python script in it for testing, a directory build-from-pytorch-image, a README, license, and a .gitignore.

Go to where ever you want this project to live, and clone the repository. Since I use the terminal and am on Ubuntu, for me this is

git clone

I’m going to change directory into the new fastai-docker-example directory,

cd fastai-docker-example

Docker build!

First, let’s take a look at that Dockerfile. For people new to Docker, there are two ways to create Docker images: the Dockerfile-and-build, and the command-line-and-commit route. We will use the Dockerfile method in this post, and only mention the second a few times.


FROM fastdotai/fastai:2020-10-02

RUN useradd fastai-user 

RUN apt-get update 

RUN apt-get -y install nano\
   graphviz \

RUN pip uninstall -y pillow

RUN pip install pillow 
RUN pip install kaggle \
    dtreeviz \

RUN pip install waterfallcharts

WORKDIR /home/

RUN echo '#!/bin/bash\njupyter notebook --ip= --no-browser' >>

WORKDIR /home/fastai-user/

USER fastai-user

ENV HOME "/home/fastai-user"

Explanations (Understanding this section is not key to getting everything running):

Ok, so we’re going to build this Docker image locally. I will select an image name fastai-local, but really this is up to you.

From within the fastai-docker-example directory,

docker build -t fastai-local .

(Note: I always run docker with sudo prefixed each time. You may not depending on your configuration.)


Run testing programs and a Jupyter notebook.

Time to do some essential testing before going further. Let’s run this thing.

First off, a very basic test, assuming a tag of fastai-local.

docker run -it fastai-local bash

Ok, all this does is launch your Docker image, making it a container, in interactive mode (-it). You should have a bash terminal. You can look around at the file structure, or exit out of it.

Okay, now I’m going to throw all the needed items in there and I will explain them.

docker run -it -p 8888:8888 --gpus all --ipc=host -v $PWD:/home/fastai-user fastai-local bash

Once in the terminal, you can type nvidia-smi. Is it giving you expected output?


Figure 1. Output of nvidia-smi for two GPUs. In this setup, I only use GPU 1 in the docker container.

Since you bind-mounted, when you take a look at the directory contents, they are the contents of the local disk at $PWD. So from the container, you should be seeing something like:

fastai-user@ea40d26a227b:~$ ls -a
.  ..  .git  .gitignore  Dockerfile  LICENSE  testing

If you go up in the directory structure (cd ..), you are in the container’s directory structure. Go down, and you are outside of the image’s directory structure (as it was created in the build step) and in your local machine’s directory structure. Is this weird? Yes.

Python script.

Because of all this, you can run scripts from the local disk like this one:

import torch
from import *
from fastai.metrics import error_rate

print("Is cuda available?", torch.cuda.is_available())

print("Is cuDNN version:", torch.backends.cudnn.version())

print("cuDNN enabled? ", torch.backends.cudnn.enabled)

x = torch.rand(5, 3)

This is a little test that tries to import some libraries and check if cuda is available, and outputs the cuDNN version. You can run it from the testing folder.

python3 testing/

Obviously, you can write more involved and interesting things all on your local machine, all while the container is up and running.

Launch Jupyter notebook.

While here, you can also launch a Jupyter notebook (assuming only exposing a port for networking…):

jupyter notebook --ip=

There will be some warnings about there being no browser, ok, you can also do

jupyter notebook --ip= --no-browser

The default port for Jupyter notebooks is 8888. If you’ve chosen a different port for the Docker container, you need to use the flag --port=8889 or whatever port number you have when you launch the Jupyter notebook.

or use the convenience script,

sh ../

if you used the --networking host option,

jupyter notebook

The net result is the same: you’re offered several links. In my terminal, I typically right-click one of the URLs and ‘open link’ to see a directory structure with ‘Jupyter’ on the left top corner.

Ok, from the terminal, Ctrl-C, kill the notbook, and type exit to kill the container.

Docker run modes.

I will not go into this in detail since this tutorial uses Docker in interactive mode (the -it flag). However, you can directly run programs without multiple steps as follows:

docker run -p 8888:8888 --gpus '"device=1"' --ipc=host -v $PWD:/home/fastai-user fastai-local python3 testing/
Is cuda available? True
Is cuDNN version: 7603
cuDNN enabled?  True
tensor([[0.0248, 0.7735, 0.0954],
        [0.9509, 0.0247, 0.6945],
        [0.0116, 0.5573, 0.1870],
        [0.1349, 0.6840, 0.8420],
        [0.6088, 0.8092, 0.7516]])

fastai/docker-containers has more examples of this.

Variations on --gpus all.

On one of my machines, I have an old GPU that I am using for display, and then a new one that PyTorch supports for the deep learning work. So I only want Docker to use the newer GPU, which is GPU number 1 when I run nvidia-smi outside of the Docker container.


docker run -it -p 8888:8888 --gpus '"device=1"' --ipc=host -v $PWD:/home/fastai-user fastai-local

is the command I run. Again, the NVIDIA-Docker site has many other variations if you need to specify your GPUs differently.

Options on –ipc flag.

So if you don’t want to use the --ipc flag for whatever reason, you can also use the shared memory size flag --shm-size.

An example using the shared memory size flag, Docker docs (have to search for the string),

docker run -it -p 8888:8888 --gpus '"device=1"' --shm-size="10000m" -v $PWD:/home/fastai-user fastai-local bash

Monitoring GPU stats.

A very helpful troubleshooting tool is to use some of the options from nvidia-smi.

For instance, nvidia-smi dmon allows you to monitor the GPU while processes are running to determine what potential problems are.

nvidia-smi dmon output

Figure 2. Output of nvidia-smi dmon --id 1 in a two GPU setting, but only monitoring for GPU with ID = 1. Every second, the power use, temperature, shared memory use percentage and memory use percentages are output.

Clone FastAI book and Jupyter notebooks.

The way this tutorial is set up is that you will clone the FastAI course into the fastai-dir folder. Then, you can launch the Docker image and manipulate the materials any way you like, make notes and copies, etc., and the course materials’ last state will be on your local disk and not in the container.

Clone! (Again, assuming we are within the fastai-docker-example directory):

git clone fastai-dir

Once you have cloned, then run your image however it works for you. For example:

docker run -it -p 8888:8888 --gpus all --ipc=host -v $PWD:/home/fastai-user fastai-local

Then, launch a Jupyter notebook, and navigate to the course notebooks, and try to run them. Happy learning at the 2020 version of the course!

sh ../

Illustration of Jupyter notebook structure

Figure 3. Jupyter notebook structure within fastai-dir. This first chapter of the book is 01_intro.ipynb. Start there! For versions of the notebooks without the book test, look at the clean folder.

Motivation for using Docker containers and/or running the course locally.

In the current FastAI course (2020), the suggestion is to run everything in the cloud. And this is generally a good idea and to the best of my knowledge it works well. But I wanted to work locally, and use Docker images.

As mentioned above, I have been fighting the Python install method and virtual environment business in python. By now, I’ve been programming off (but more on) in C++ for 20 years, and while I understood perfectly well the mechanics of programming in a new language (python), I didn’t understand how to get the python library installs to work, and fix it when it went wonky, and test it. Besides, all of those pip and conda runs took FOREVER.

xkcd comic about python environments

In comparison, I have some experience with Docker, which started with getting code to someone who works with medical data and cannot move it, which led to this two-year-old tutorial. So I knew if I could get things set up in a Docker image, I would have a better chance of getting a reproducible environment I could move from computer to computer, without mysteries about why it is working on one and not another.

I’ll give a few other reasons why someone would want to do so:

And finally, the easiest use case for using Docker is not having to alter installations for different operating systems.

What about hardware? I used an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti (an up-to-the-task card) in one computer, and then tested with a NVIDIA Quadro P1000 in another (baby card). I was running Ubuntu 18.04 on both computers.

For a deep dive into selecting GPUs, Tim Dettmers’ Blog has had posts that people have been referring to for three years, and he has a fresh post that is not yet a month old (linked).

Onward to page 2! Docker-centrric details of this tutorial.

Onward to page 3! Notes for running the FastAI 2020 Jupyter notebooks.

Comments or feedback? Please open an issue on GitHub or catch up with me on Twitter.

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