An intro to the Docker Stats API

June 22 Bullet_white By Mark Bullet_white Posted in Examples Bullet_white Comments Comments

If I was teaching Server Health 101, I'd start with four key metrics:

  • CPU Usage
  • Memory Usage
  • Network I/O
  • Disk Utilization

The approach for fetching these metrics on Linux hosts is tried-and-true (hint: look in the /proc folder). However, I was curious about Docker Containers: where do I access these critical metrics? What tools does Docker provide? Are there any gotchas?

Read on for what I found.

Where are container metrics accessed on the host?

Under-the-hood, Docker Containers (and all Linux-based containers), are based on control groups. Control groups (cgroups) isolate the resource usage (CPU, memory, disk I/O, and network) for a collection of processes.

Remember how I mentioned system resource metrics for hosts are found under the /proc folder? Well, for cgroups, they are found under /sys/fs/cgroup.

For example, if I wanted to fetch the memory metrics for a running container, I'd first fetch the long-form container ID (docker ps --no-trunc), then look for its metrics under /sys/fs/cgroup/memory/docker/(id).

Here's some truncated example output for a cgroup's memory metrics:

$ sudo cat /sys/fs/cgroup/memory/docker/10b0fb69677ef5e42cd8dc817b452e179104145a0216b6cb010c8ac0a9351208/memory.stat
total_cache 110592
total_rss 211771392
total_rss_huge 174063616

total_rss is the memory used, so my container is using 202 MB of memory.

You can fetch memory, CPU, and disk IO metrics from the /sys/fs/cgroup pseudo files, but what about network activity? Well, network metrics aren't accessible under this pseudo file system. Getting access to this, is well, more complicated.

Rather than fetching network metrics through involved means, lets jump to the Docker Stats API. It provides an easier way.

The Docker Stats API

Starting with Docker 1.5, there are two handy ways to view stats on your containers. This approach makes it much easier to fetch metrics than reading from /sys/cgroups or jumping through hoops to read network metrics.

Command Line

docker stats, with the name/ids of containers, will render a handy top-like display of key metrics. For example, if I'm running an Elasticsearch container named - you guessed it - "elasticsearch", I'd run docker stats elasticsearch and see a constantly updating display in my terminal:

CONTAINER           CPU %               MEM USAGE/LIMIT       MEM %               NET I/O
elasticsearch       0.75%               202.2 MiB/1.958 GiB   10.09%              9.937 KiB/10.11 KiB

Boom! There's CPU, Memory, and Network metrics. The only thing I'm missing is disk activity.

Lets look at the Docker Remote API for that.

API Endpoint

Many more metrics are available by fetching metrics from the Docker Remote API directly via GET /container/(id)/stats. This handy endpoint encapsulates all of the key health metrics (cpu, memory, disk io, and network io) for a single container.

How about some example code for fetching disk metrics since those aren't rendered via docker stats? I'll use the Ruby Excon gem to connect to the Docker socket, fetch metrics for a container, and exit:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby

# Pass the container name as an argument

require 'excon'
require 'json'

def streamer
  lambda do |chunk, remaining_bytes, total_bytes|
    stats = JSON.parse(chunk)
    puts stats["blkio_stats"]["io_service_bytes_recursive"]

connection ='unix:///', socket: '/var/run/docker.sock')
connection.request(method: :get, path: "/containers/#{ARGV[0]}/stats", response_block: streamer)

Here's what we get for disk activity:


Looks like our short lived container has only read 3.62MB of data.

Now, a couple of gotchas here:

  • Streaming: When you connect to the Docker API stats endpoint, it will start streaming stats every second. Don't fret - this is going to disappear. In the near-future, you'll be able to fetch a non-streaming version of container stats via GET /container/(id)/stats?stream=false.
  • Counters, not rates: Many of the metrics you fetch via the Docker API are incrementing counters. This includes the disk io metrics. It's not the rate of activity (ex: disk writes/min). In a full implementation of Docker stats monitoring, you'd likely want to convert these to rates. I've left that to you :).

A sample monitoring script

I threw together a sample script that reports metrics via everyone's favorite metrics protocol, StatsD so you can easily view charts of container metrics. You'll need to have Ruby installed on the host.

On your host running Docker:

1Grab the script:


2I'll use Scout to quickly get up and running as it supports StatsD:

curl -Sso;
sudo /bin/bash ./ YOUR_ACCOUNT_KEY_HERE

3 Make the script executable:

chmod +x container_monitor.rb

4 Run the script:


5 Start a container:

docker run -it ubuntu /bin/bash

6 Execute a few commands within the container, and watch the metrics flow in Scout!



Whether using Docker or another Linux-based container system, containers use cgroups under-the-hood. Memory, CPU, and Disk IO metrics are accessible in the pseudo file system location /sys/fs/cgroup. Grabbing network starts is more involved.

Docker conveniently encapsulates fetching container stats via the docker stats command. You can also fetch more detailed streaming metrics via the remote API.

Also see

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