Docker FOR Windows vs. Docker ON Windows Server

Posted by Brian Keyes

Apr 11, 2017 9:47:00 AM Docker, Docker Containers, Azure, windows containers

Business demand to use “Docker FOR Windows Server” is ramping up faster than ever. There is a good chance some of your enterprise workloads are Windows-based. How can your business benefit from the introduction of Docker’s solution for Windows intensive environments?

Way back in 2014, Docker and Microsoft joined forces to bring Docker to local Windows Servers and Azure’s cloud offering.  That combination has clearly paid off.  This year at DockerCon17 (in Austin from April 17th to the 20th – hope to see you there!), all of the hands-on labs will be hosted in Microsoft Azure.      

Let me be clear -- in this blog we are going to speaking about Docker FOR Windows, and Docker ON Windows Servers highlighting the differences between the two. Docker FOR Windows has been around for some time – ever since the advent of Docker Toolbox and its predecessor, Boot 2 Docker.  Docker ON Windows entered general availability on September 26, 2016.  It is still kind of confusing.  We’ll use CAPS going forward to make sure it is clear what we’re referring to here.

Docker for Windows .jpg

Docker FOR Windows 

So, what is Docker ON Windows server? Docker ON Windows server is an implementation of Docker that will run on a Windows Server without any Linux components.  It is made to run only Windows-based containers. This contrasts with Docker FOR Windows, which still uses a Linux component for the Docker daemon and runs the same Linux-based containers that we are used to using.          

Docker ON windows .jpg

Docker ON Windows Server 

Some of the key differences between Docker FOR and Docker ON Windows are because of the relative newness of Windows containers.  After all, Docker just recently celebrated its 4th Birthday.  Some of the highlights include the following: 



Docker FOR Windows

Docker ON Windows server 2016


Swarm Supported?



Currently, Docker supports a mixed Windows/Linux Swarm with limitations

Supported container types

Linux based

Windows based

Much larger numbers of Linux based images

Typical image size

Smaller (MBs)

Larger (GBs)

Windows images are generally much larger

Can be a

Swarm manager

In mixed Swarm?


Not at this time


Images available on Docker hub?

Yes, many thousands



Docker engine

Linux Kernel

Windows Kernel and HAL


Container isolation

cgroups and namespaces

Compute Service Layer



In summary, Docker FOR Windows has a promising future without a doubt in the enterprise application environment space.  As the use of Windows containers expands and matures, Microsoft's catalog of docker container images will most certainly continue to grow as well the community of windows container users.


If you want to learn more about the fundamentals of docker containers and images, check out one of our upcoming public courses.

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Posted by Brian Keyes

Brian has over 20 years of experience as a Systems Engineer with a strong background in VMware, storage, networking and security. Brian has worked for variety of US Govt. entities over the years;DOD,NGA,NNSA and others. Currently focused on Docker technologies

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