Jenkins as code, part 1: Setting up Jenkins in Docker

I hate doing things manually, I really do.

Log into an UI, do some clicks here and there to be able to have something created or configured. It is error prone (you can easily forget something or make a typo) and it is stupid and/or boring (Especially if you need to do this on a routine basis). If you can change something in a UI, then someone is able to change that as well and even do that without you knowing that it is changed (Or viceversa ;-)). So doing things manually is not the way forward and we should focus on automation. Automation is one of the pillars of doing DevOps, so we should always automate things right?

What people do probably not know, Jenkins is a tool that can be fully automated, you only have to know how. (And based on some posts on for example Reddit, I don’t think people knows that this is even possible).

Jenkins as code

So lets dive into, what I would say as: Jenkins as code.

This will basically be a 2 part blog post where we will discuss the following:

  1. This part where we will create a Docker image, containing Jenkins with its configuration files and plugins;
  2. The next part, where we will create a shared library and use that in a Jenkinsfile, with jobs we load via a “specifications” repository;

Before we do anything I just want to remind you that this is just 1 way to achieve a Jenkins as code setup. It does not mean that this is the only or the best way, it is just one way. Just like that there are 1000 ways to go to Rome. Next to that, these blog posts and the code in the Github repository will help you kickstart your own setup and by no means you can just run it on a production environment and blame me if something is not working fine. I am not a groovy expert and I can do some basic things, so don’t expect a new world wonder. During the blog posts I will tell you how I was able to do things, so you can redo it all yourself (and compare it with the code in the Github repository) and build it on your own terms/setup.

In both blog posts, you will see a lot of code and commands popping up. But no worries, all code is available on my Github in repository . So lets start with the first part: Setting up Jenkins.


We will create a Docker image, based on “jenkins/jenkins:lts” Docker image, install Docker and configure it with the configuration-as-code plugin included with several yaml files that are used for configuring Jenkins. And as part of the Github repository, we have a docker-compose.yaml file which we can use to boot our setup.

Lets start with the Dockerfile.

USER root
RUN groupadd docker && \
    curl -fsSL -o && \
    sh && \
    usermod -aG root jenkins && \
    usermod -aG docker jenkins
USER jenkins

Lets discuss this first, the “jenkins/jenkins:lts” Docker image does not contain the docker application, so we need to install that and make sure that the “jenkins” user is part of the “root” and “docker” group. We need Docker in this image, as each Jenkins job will run in its own Docker container.

ENV CASC_JENKINS_CONFIG=/var/jenkins_home/casc

We need set an environment variable named CASC_JENKINS_CONFIG, which we basically tell Jenkins where the configuration-as-code yaml files can be found.

COPY casc/ /var/jenkins_home/casc
COPY plugins.txt /usr/share/jenkins/plugins.txt
RUN /usr/local/bin/ < /usr/share/jenkins/plugins.txt

Then we will copy the contents on the casc directory to the earlier mentioned directory and we place the file with all of our plugins into a specific directory. Then we run the script so we can download and install all the plugins that we need in our setup.

And that is our Dockerfile, easy right? This will allow us to build a Jenkins Docker image, with all of our files and configuration that will lead to an Jenkins environment we want to have. We can deploy this on some host running Docker or even make some additional changes to make it work in Kubernetes.


Lets go to the plugins.txt file, as this one is a bit easier to explain than the casc files.

We need to create a plugins.txt that contains all of the plugins we want to make use, so how do we do that. I manually (oh yes, sorry! :)) started a Jenkins container and followed the installation steps and then I picked several plugins to install during the installation steps. When Jenkins is running and I have finnished nstalling all plugins (don’t forget the “configuration-as-code” plugin), I went to “manage” and then clicked on “Script Console“. There you see an textfield to execute groovy scripts and I used the following script:

def plugins = jenkins.model.Jenkins.instance.getPluginManager().getPlugins()
plugins.each {println "${it.getShortName()}:latest"}

This is a “script” that provides an overview of all plugins that are currenlty installed in Jenkins. I have used the “latest” version of the plugin which is fine for demo purposes, but you could also update the “latest” to ${it.getVersion()}. This will show the actual version of the installed plugin. I would suggest to use the versions in the plugins.txt file. This helps you in the future when someone create’s an PR that it shows you that there is an update in the version of a plugin, which you won’t see when it is using “latest”.

Then you hit the “Run” button and you will see some output appear. Select the output and place that in the plugins.txt file and you are done (I would also sort the contents of the file, so all plugins are order alphabetical).

Configuration as code

Let us first explain how we can get a yaml file. Go to “Manage” and then you will see “Configuration as Code” (And click on it please) in the “System Configuration” lane. There is a button called “Download Configuration” which will download the yaml file and with “View Configuration” you can see the yaml file in your browser. When you have downloaded the yaml configuration file, you can make use of it in your Docker image by placing it in the casc/ directory. I would suggest you split it into seperate files, so you won’t have 1 large file but smaller ones with each a specific set of configuration. For example, create a credentials.yaml file containing all Jenkins credentials. 

But before you commit all your changes, you can also update some values by using environment variables, see the following:

      allowsSignup: false
      enableCaptcha: false
      - id: "${JENKINS_ADMIN_USERNAME:-admin}"
        name: "${JENKINS_ADMIN_NAME:-Administrator}"
        password: "${JENKINS_ADMIN_PASSWORD}"

This piece of the configuration you see now is responsible for creating an admin user. I don’t want to hardcode the username and definitely not the password in this file, so I use environment variables for that. And this is also the case for the credentials that Jenkins use, see the following example of the Jenkins “credentials”:

      - credentials:
          - basicSSHUserPrivateKey:
              scope: GLOBAL
              id: "SSH_GIT_KEY"
              username: "git"
              description: "SSH Credentials for jenkins"
                  privateKey: ${JENKINS_SSH_GIT_KEY}

With the above credential configuration I won’t have to hardcode the SSH Private key in the Docker image, but can use it as an environment variable. Nice right? 🙂

When everything is done via code, we can also already configure the Security Matrix and allowing what user can and most importantly can’t do in Jenkins. As my Jenkins is running on premise and don’t allow traffic from outside the environment, I will allow people to start jobs (if they don’t want to wait on the triggering). So I will allow anonymous people to have read, build and cancel rights for the jobs. Why go for all that trouble for letting people authenticate against some source, so we can see that this person has started or cancelled a job? Most importantly, they can’t change anything unless they know the admin password. (But will be undone when Jenkins is restarted! :))

      - "Job/Build:anonymous"
      - "Job/Cancel:anonymous"
      - "Job/Read:anonymous"
      - "Overall/Administer:admin"
      - "Overall/Read:anonymous"

Now we are able to fully do Jenkins as code, as we will store the yaml files in the casc/ directory which are loaded when Jenkins is started. But when Jenkins is running, we also need to make sure that we will load the jobs from somewhere. We will do this with a “Seed Job“, which you can see in the “dsl-jobs.yaml” file in the casc/ directory in the Github repository.

            git {
                remote { 
                    url "${JENKINS_JOB_DSL_URL}"
                    credentials 'SSH_GIT_KEY' 
                branch '*/main'
        triggers {
            scm('H/15 * * * *')
        steps {
          dsl {

When Jenkins is started, we will automatically create the “Seed all DSL jobs” Jenkins job. And what it does is basically the following (Snippet is incomplete, see for the compete file on Github for full version):

  1. We use the credential ‘SSH_GIT_KEY‘ to checkout the repository mentioned in ${JENKINS_JOB_DSL_URL} (See the docker-compose.yaml file)
  2. We use the ‘main’ branch;
  3. The job is executed every 15 minutes;
  4. In the directory named ${JENKINS_JOB_DSL_PATH} we will find groovy files and if Jenkins has jobs which aren’t configured in these groovy files, we delete the jobs from Jenkins.

Before we finalise the Configuration as code part, we need to discuss one last file (and action). When we have the Jenkins server running, we will run each job in its own Docker container. So the Jenkins server will start a Docker container and do all of its action inside that container and the configuration is what follows:

    - docker:
        name: "docker"
            uri: "${DOCKER_HOST:-unix:///var/run/docker.sock}"
        - connector:
              user: "jenkins"
            bindAllPorts: true
            image: "jenkins/agent:latest"
            privileged: true
              - "TZ=Europe/Amsterdam"
          instanceCapStr: "99"
          labelString: "worker"
          name: "worker"
          remoteFs: "/home/jenkins/agent"

This is also seen in the file “docker.yaml“. Here we have placed 1 template which we named “worker“, with the “jenkins/agent:latest” Docker image. As you know, this is just an example so you can modify this to your needs and use a Docker image that suits your needs. This Docker image should contain all the tools needed to run your jobs, so the “jenkins/agent:latest” might not be fit for your setup. And do know, as the “templates” key is a list, you can add a lot more templates with a unique name, settings and Docker image. For the dockerHost.uri, you will see the usage of a environment variable “DOCKER_HOST“. This is an variable we use in docker-compose.yaml file and if we don’t provide one, the default unix:///var/run/docker.sock is used.

You can go to “manage“, “Systems configuration” and scroll all the way down until you will see “Cloud“. It provides a link and when clicking on it, you’ll get the page where you can configure the “Cloud” configuration. When you make changes, don’t forget to export the yaml file on the “Configuration as Code” page mentioned earlier.

Build and ship it

So far we have discussed some basics on how we get our configuration, so lets build a Docker image. During the rest of this blog post, I will assume you will have the same layout as my Github repository. So lets go to the directory where we have the “Dockerfile“, “plugins.txt“, “docker-compose.yaml” file and the “casc/” directory. Here we will run the docker build command, to build the new Docker image.

cd server
docker build -t jenkins-as-code . --pull

I named it ‘jenkins-as-code‘ which works locally fine and if you want to push it into a Docker registry, you should prefix it with the correct registry name. If you prefix it with a registry or you named it differently, don’t forget to update the docker-compose.yml file with your new name. The –pull is there so if you already have a “jenkins/jenkins:lts” Docker image, you will get the latest one.

I think it is build now, otherwise we will wait a minute before we continue.

sleep 60 🙂

Ok, the Docker image is build and we can start it. If you see the docker-compose.yaml file, you will notice 2 ‘services’.

  1. socat;
  2. jenkins (The one will just build and want to start).

But lets describe the ‘socat‘ service. The ‘socat‘ service is used to make sure that our docker.sock file from our host can be used with Jenkins for starting the agents. If we do this from the Jenkins container itself and not using this ‘socat‘ service, we will get permission denied errors and Jenkins can not start any new Docker container (I am doing on a Mac, I don’t think people running it on Linux hosts will have issues ). 

The Jenkins service has several environment variables set. Before we start everything, we will need to create an environment variable first that contains the content of a private SSH key. I have used the following command for that:

export EXPORTED_PASSWORD=$(cat ~/.ssh/wd_id_rsa)

So this EXPORTED_PASSWORD contains the private SSH key and this one will be used in Jenkins as the SSH_GIT_KEY credential on multiple places. Also worth to mention is the JENKINS_ADMIN_PASSWORD environment variable, this is what is says: The password for the Admin user, so if you want to use something else here is the moment to change it.

We will start it with the following command:

docker compose up -d

I prefer starting it in the background, so that is why I added the -d argument. Once it is booted we open our favourite browser and go to http://localhost:8080 you will see something like the following:

So that is it for now. We started our newly build Docker image containing Jenkins, with the plugins we need in our environment and our own configuration!

We will go into the “Seed All DSL jobs” job with the next part of the blogpost. So stay tuned! 🙂

2nd blog post you can find here.

2 thoughts on “Jenkins as code, part 1: Setting up Jenkins in Docker

  1. Pingback: Jenkins as code, part 2: Setting up the Jenkins job |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s