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Docker Swarm vs Docker Compose: Which One to Choose?

In the ever-evolving world of containerization, Docker has become a household name. It simplifies the process of deploying applications by using containers. Docker offers two essential tools: Docker Swarm and Docker Compose, each designed to streamline the management of containers.

While all this appears confusing, server experts at Supportfly make working with Docker very easy. Our Docker Consulting services make sure you use Docker the right way.

In this blog, we’ll discuss Docker swarm vs Docker compose in detail. We will be explaining their differences in a simple way to help you make an informed decision for your containerized applications.

What is Docker Compose?

Docker Compose is like a magic wand for developers. It allows you to define and manage multi-container applications in a single file, known as docker-compose.yml. This file contains all the configuration details for your application’s services, networks, and volumes. With Docker Compose, you can start, stop, and scale your applications using a single command. It’s perfect for local development and testing.

What is Docker Compose used for?

Docker Compose is like a magic wand for people who work with lots of computer programs at once. Imagine you have a bunch of different apps that all need to work together, like a website, a database, and other special tools. Docker Compose helps you set up and manage all of these apps at the same time.

You write down how these apps should work together in a special file called docker-compose.yml. This file includes details like what each app does, how they talk to each other, and where they store important data.

Here’s why Docker Compose is so great:

  • Easy Setup: You can easily define how your apps should work together in a simple file.
  • Managing Many Apps: It’s perfect for handling apps that depend on each other. For example, a website might need a database to store information. Docker Compose makes sure they work well together.
  • Consistent Environments: It helps everyone on a team use the same setup. Whether you’re developing, testing, or putting things live, Docker Compose ensures that everyone is on the same page.
  • Simple Commands: Starting all your apps is as easy as saying “go” with one simple command. And stopping them is just as easy.
  • Scaling Services: If you need more of a certain app (like having multiple copies of a website to handle lots of visitors), Docker Compose can do that too.
  • Making Apps Talk: It handles how apps talk to each other. It’s like making sure all the phones in a huge office can call each other without any issues.
  • Setting Things Up Differently: Sometimes, your apps need to behave differently depending on where they are, like on a developer’s computer versus on a live server. Docker Compose helps you set these differences easily.

In short, Docker Compose makes working with lots of apps feel as easy as pie by taking care of all the complicated stuff behind the scenes.

Also Check: Our check our blog post on docker exec format error

Advantages of Docker Compose

  • Simplicity: Docker Compose simplifies the process of managing multiple containers by defining them in one file. This means you don’t have to remember complicated commands.
  • Isolation: Containers are isolated, meaning changes in one container won’t affect others, ensuring your applications are secure.
  • Ease of Use: Its user-friendly commands make it perfect for developers who want to create, test, and deploy applications quickly.

What is Docker Swarm?

Docker Swarm, on the other hand, is like a team of experts working together seamlessly. It’s Docker’s native orchestration tool, allowing you to create and manage a cluster of Docker nodes. This cluster acts as a single virtual system, providing high availability and load balancing for your applications. Docker Swarm is excellent for large-scale deployments and production environments.

Also Read: Our blog post on docker overlay2 cleanup

What is Docker Swarm used for?

Docker Swarm is like a smart manager for computer programs. Imagine you have lots of little workers (which are like small computer programs) that need to work together. Docker Swarm helps organize these workers efficiently.

Here’s what Docker Swarm does in simple terms:

  • Teamwork: It gathers many workers (programs) and organizes them into a united team, so they can work together smoothly.
  • Planning Work: Docker Swarm figures out which worker should do which task. It ensures that the tasks are balanced and that no one is overworked.
  • Growing or Shrinking: If the workload increases (more tasks) or decreases (fewer tasks), Docker Swarm can easily adjust the number of workers, making the team bigger or smaller.
  • Sharing the Load: When people want to use the workers (access a website, for example), Docker Swarm makes sure the workload is shared evenly. It’s like making sure everyone gets a fair turn.
  • Staying Strong: If one worker gets tired or stops working (like a computer crashing), Docker Swarm quickly finds another worker to take its place. This way, the work keeps going without interruptions.
  • Keeping Secrets: Docker Swarm also ensures that the workers can talk to each other securely, like passing secret messages that only they can understand. It makes sure that the information they share is safe.
  • Easy Management: Docker Swarm makes it easy for the boss (you) to manage the team. You can tell the team what to do using simple commands that everyone understands.

Advantages of Docker Swarm

  • Scalability: Swarm enables your applications to scale horizontally, meaning you can add more containers to handle increased loads effortlessly.
  • High Availability: It ensures your applications are always available, even if some containers or nodes fail.
  • Security: Swarm offers built-in security features, allowing you to protect your applications and data.

Read More: About docker ps

What are Docker Swarm nodes?

Docker Swarm nodes are the individual machines, either physical or virtual, that are part of a Docker Swarm cluster. In the context of Docker Swarm, a node is any machine that has the Docker engine installed and is participating in the cluster. These nodes work together to deploy and manage services as defined in the Swarm.

Here are the main types of Docker Swarm nodes:

Manager Nodes

  • Manager nodes are responsible for the orchestration and management of the Swarm cluster. They maintain the cluster state, schedule services, and handle scaling and updates. Manager nodes also enforce desired service states and respond to events in the cluster.
  • A Swarm cluster can have multiple manager nodes to ensure high availability and fault tolerance. If one manager node fails, the others can continue managing the cluster.

Worker Nodes

  • Worker nodes are responsible for running the tasks (containers) that make up the services deployed in the Swarm. They execute the workload distributed by the manager nodes.
  • Worker nodes do not participate in the management decisions of the Swarm cluster. They are essentially worker bees, executing tasks as directed by the manager nodes.

Nodes in a Docker Swarm cluster communicate with each other to distribute tasks, maintain the cluster state, and ensure that services are running according to the desired specifications. This distributed nature of nodes allows Swarm to provide high availability, fault tolerance, and scalability for containerized applications.

Check Out: Our blog post on docker cleanup

Docker Swarm vs Docker Compose: Similarities

Both these tools help manage these containers, but they do different jobs. Here are some ways they are similar:

  • Handling Many Apps: Both Docker Compose and Docker Swarm can manage applications made up of lots of these little containers that work together.
  • Using Simple Files: They both use special files (called YAML files) to understand how to set up and run these applications. These files list what apps are needed, what they do, and how they should talk to each other.
  • Commands through a Computer Language: You can control them using commands in a computer language called CLI (Command Line Interface). This means people who understand these commands can use them easily.

Docker Swarm vs Docker Compose: Differences

Docker Swarm and Docker Compose are two tools that help manage applications made up of many smaller parts called containers. Here’s how they’re different:


  • Docker Compose: It’s like a helper for developers. It’s used for making and testing applications on one computer. Think of it like drawing a plan for a small house.
  • Docker Swarm: It’s like a manager for big, important projects. It’s used for running applications not just on one computer, but on many computers working together. It ensures these applications keep running smoothly, even if some computers stop working.


  • Docker Compose: Works on one computer only. Good for small to medium-sized projects.
  • Docker Swarm: Works on many computers together. Best for large projects that need a lot of computers working as a team.


  • Docker Compose: Can make more copies of an application, but only on the same computer.
  • Docker Swarm: Can make more copies of an application across many computers. It’s like having more workers join the team when there’s lots of work to do.

High Availability and Fault Tolerance

  • Docker Compose: Doesn’t have special features to handle when things go wrong.
  • Docker Swarm: Can fix problems automatically. If one computer breaks, it moves the work to another computer so the application keeps running.

Load Balancing

  • Docker Compose: Doesn’t balance the work between containers.
  • Docker Swarm: Makes sure each container does an equal amount of work, like making sure everyone gets a fair share of the work.

Load Balancing

  • Docker Compose: Managed using special commands just for Compose (like telling it to start or stop applications).
  • Docker Swarm: Also uses special commands, but different ones, to manage applications across many computers.

Use Cases

  • Docker Compose: Good for testing and small projects where everything runs on one computer.
  • Docker Swarm: Best for big projects that need many computers to work together, especially for important applications that need to be available all the time.

Also Check: Our blog post on docker clear cache

Docker Swarm vs Docker Compose

AspectDocker SwarmDocker Compose
PurposeManages big, important projects. Used for running applications on many computers. Ensures high availability and fault tolerance.Assists developers in making and testing applications on a single computer. Suitable for smaller projects.
ScopeWorks on many computers together. Best for large projects with multiple computers working as a team.Works on a single computer only. Suitable for small to medium-sized projects.
ScalingCan create copies of an application across many computers. Scales horizontally across multiple nodes.Can create more copies of an application, but only on the same computer. Scales vertically on a single node.
High Availability & Fault ToleranceCan automatically handle problems, redistributing work if a computer fails to keep applications running.Lacks special features to handle failures or provide high availability.
Load BalancingEnsures an equal distribution of work among containers, balancing the workload.Doesn’t provide load balancing features.
ManagingRequires specific commands to manage applications across many computers.Managed using specific commands tailored for Compose.
Use CasesBest suited for large projects, ensuring high availability, scalability, and load balancing, especially in production environments.Ideal for local development and simpler projects, primarily on a single computer.
Ideal Use CaseComplex applications and large-scale deployments, such as enterprise-level applications.Smaller to medium-sized applications and local development by developers.

Choosing the Right Tool: Docker Swarm vs Docker Compose

For Simpler Projects and Local Development, where you need an easy way to manage a few containers on your local machine, Docker Compose is the ideal choice. Its straightforward setup and user-friendly interface make it perfect for developers working on small to medium-sized applications.

For Complex Applications and Large-scale Deployments, especially in production environments where you need to ensure high availability, load balancing, and scalability, Docker Swarm shines. Its ability to manage clusters of containers across multiple nodes makes it the preferred choice for enterprise-level applications.


Both Docker Swarm and Docker Compose are powerful tools, each serving different purposes in the world of containerization. When deciding between the two, consider the scale and complexity of your project. This Docker swarm vs Docker compose comparison will help you choose what’s right for you. For smaller projects and local development, Docker Compose offers simplicity and ease of use. For larger, production-grade applications needing scalability and high availability, Docker Swarm is the go-to option. 

By understanding the strengths of each tool, you can harness the full potential of Docker for your specific use case, ensuring your applications run smoothly in the containerized world. If you still face trouble using Docker, you can contact our support team by clicking here. Our certified Docker consultants will help you.

Docker Swarm vs Docker Compose FAQs

What is the difference between Docker compose and swarm stack?

The Docker swarm vs Docker compose compariosn tells us all the differences. Deploying applications in Docker Swarm and Docker Compose follows a similar approach, but their underlying infrastructure sets them apart. It’s akin to choosing between a centralized storage system (Docker Compose) and a distributed network (Docker Swarm).

Docker swarm vs Docker compose, which is better?

Both these are good in their own way. It all depends on your usage and preferences. Keep your usage priorities straight when doing a Docker swarm vs Docker compose comparison.