I want to run R Shiny on AWS using Docker. Here’s how to do it.

In part 2, I’ll demonstrate how to get a custom domain and make the URL look clean.

Useful background reading

If you’re already comfortable with Docker, skip to the next section.

  1. Great Simple tutorial on using Docker and Flask: Short and sweet.
  2. Docker for Beginners: Verbose and lengthy. Excellent introduction. Walks you through all the jargon. Well written. Teaches how to use AWS.
  3. Using Docker and Shiny: This person builds their own Shiny image on top of base R. Teaches you how to publish an R Shiny docker app without using DockerHub. Doesn’t teach AWS integration.
  4. rocker/shiny on DockerHub: a pre-defined Docker image that runs Shiny directly.
  5. stackoverflow on how to use rocker/shiny: Misses a few key concepts, which I’ll clarify.
  6. copy vs add on docker: fyi
  7. launching google cloud with shiny docker
  8. launching shiny apps on aws - Ger Inberg

Test Docker Locally

Piecing these readings together, I realized that rocker/shiny is all you need to launch a Shiny app. (If you need to install your own packages, you’ll need to create your own Dockerfile/image. But for a very basic app, rocker/shiny is all you need.) These steps might not work with your work’s proxy. How to launch a Shiny app using Docker:

  • Download Docker for Mac.
  • package your R shiny app into a folder, let’s call it /app
  • cd into the directory above where /app lives. E.g., cd into somedir.
  • Run the following command: docker run --rm -p 3838:3838 -v $PWD/app:/srv/shiny-server/ -v $PWD/log/shinylog/:/var/log/shiny-server/ rocker/shiny
  • Go to localhost:3838 in your browser and see your app. Have fun!
  • Stop your container: docker kill $(docker ps -q)
  • Your directory somedir will now have a new log file:

What the command is doing

Let’s break down this command:

docker run --rm -p 3838:3838 -v $PWD/app:/srv/shiny-server/ -v $PWD/log/shinylog/:/var/log/shiny-server/ rocker/shiny
  • docker run ... rocker/shiny will pull the rocker/shiny image from Dockerhub and launch it.
  • -rm will tear down the image after the instances is destroyed, making the image temporary.
  • -p 3838:3838 will expose the Docker port 3838 to your localhost:3838.
  • -v $PWD/app:/srv/shiny-server/ will mount your directory app (that’s in your present working directory) to Docker’s directory /srv/shiny-server/.
  • -v $PWD/log/shinylog/:/var/log/shiny-server/ will create a new directory called /log/shinylog in your present working directory and mount it to Docker’s /var/log/shiny-server. This will enable log files to be read back to your host directory that are being created inside of Docker as you interact with the app.

I chose to use Docker’s mounting in this example. If you don’t mount, you could copy the app into the Docker image using a Dockerfile. Mounting lets Docker read directly from the host OS. If you choose not to mount and instead copy /app into the Docker image, then you could just package the entire Docker image up to Dockerhub. See this tutorial on how to do that.

Multiple apps on same docker container

If you change the mount to $PWD/app:/srv/shiny-server/app, as in the following:

docker run --rm -p 3838:3838 -v $PWD/app:/srv/shiny-server/app -v $PWD/log/shinylog/:/var/log/shiny-server/ rocker/shiny

Then when you go to localhost:3838 you’ll see the Shiny Server landing page. Then you can travel to localhost:3838/app to see your app live. Adding mounts would allow you to have multiple apps in the same Docker container.


  1. Create Ubuntu AWS instance as listed in step 1 here: TowardsDataScience. I did ubuntu image.
  2. ssh in using pem key, following instnrucitons here. Basically, ssh -i /path/to/key.pem ubuntu@PUBLICDNS ec2-18-111-123-123.us-east-2.compute.amazonaws.com
  3. sudo -i
  4. snap install docker
  5. docker pull rocker/shiny (takes a few minutes)
  6. mkdir app
  7. vim app/app.R and copy in your app. (Git clone it, upload, stp, whatever. Just get your app into the ~/app/ folder. Get your data where it needs to be, too.)
  8. sudo docker run --rm -p 3838:3838 -v $PWD/app:/srv/shiny-server/app -v $PWD/log/shinylog/:/var/log/shiny-server/ rocker/shiny

Now go to ec2-18-111-123-123.us-east-2.compute.amazonaws.com:3838/app to view your app. That’s it!

Here I have mine hosted at 443 (not 3838), which I’ll explore in part 2.

Next: For tips on how to convert that beastly URL into a custom domain (and hide the 3838 port number), see part 2.