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A complete guide to Laravel Sail

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The Truman Show

Truman continues to steer his wrecked sailboat towards the infinitely receding horizon. All is calm until we see the bow of the boat suddenly strike a huge, blue wall, knocking Truman off his feet. Truman recovers and clambers across the deck to the bow of the boat. Looming above him out of the sea is a cyclorama of colossal dimensions. The sky he has been sailing towards is nothing but a painted backdrop. (Andrew M. Niccol, The Truman Show)

On December 8 2020, Taylor Otwell announced the launch of Laravel Sail, a development environment based on Docker, along with a large overhaul of Laravel's documentation:

The announcement caused a wave of excitement across the community, as a lot of people identified the new environment as an opportunity to finally get into Docker. But it also left some confusion in its wake, as Sail isn't exactly a guide to becoming a Docker expert, and it introduces an approach to development that is quite different from its predecessors.

This post is about what to expect from Laravel Sail, how it works and how to make the most of it. It is also a plea to developers to break away from it, in favour of their own, tailored solution.

But before we get there, we need to take a look under the deck, starting with a high-level explanation of what Sail is.

In this post

What is Laravel Sail?

Sail is Laravel's latest development environment. It is the most recent addition to an already long list featuring official solutions like Homestead and Valet on the one hand, and community efforts like Laragon, Laradock, Takeout and Vessel on the other (according to the GitHub repository, Sail is largely inspired by the latter).

Laravel Sail is based on Docker, a technology leveraging containers to essentially package up applications so they can run quickly and easily on any operating system.

The future of Sail appears to be bright, as the Laravel documentation immediately featured it as the preferred way to instal and run Laravel projects locally, a spot that Homestead and Valet had occupied for a long time.

How does it compare to its predecessors?

As a refresher, Homestead is a Vagrant box (a virtual machine) featuring everything most Laravel applications need. That includes essential components like PHP, MySQL and a web server (Nginx), but also other technologies like PostgreSQL, Redis or Memcached.

Valet, on the other hand, is a lightweight environment for macOS focussed on performance. It relies on a local installation of PHP instead of a virtual machine, and is intended to be used alongside other services like DBngin or Takeout to manage other dependencies like databases.

While Homestead and Valet look quite different on paper, they promote the same general approach to local development, which is also shared by most of the aforementioned solutions: they try to be one-size-fits-all environments for Laravel projects and aim at managing them all under one roof.

Sail's approach is different, in that the instructions to build the development environment come with the project's source code. Instead of relying on the presence of a third-party solution like Homestead on the developer's machine, Docker will read the set of instructions and build the corresponding environment from scratch.

In other words, the application comes with batteries included and a single command will spin up and configure its dependencies. It will work regardless of the developer's operating system, so long as Docker is installed on it.

Laravel Sail introduces the notion of a bespoke development environment for the application, which, in my opinion, is the technology's real kicker.

While this approach is a major departure from traditional solutions, Sail still bears some resemblance to them around the tools it comes with, some of which are essential, others not.

Let's review the most important ones and how they are implemented.

How does it work?

From here on, it will be easier to follow along with a fresh installation of Laravel, although the files I refer to always point to the official GitHub repository. If you've got a little bit of time, go follow the instructions for your operating system now and come back once you've successfully run ./vendor/bin/sail up – I'll take it from there.

While Sail allows us to pick the services we're interested in when creating a new Laravel application, by default it is composed of three main components – PHP, MySQL and Redis. As per the documentation, the whole setup gravitates around two files – docker-compose.yml (located at the root of the project after a fresh installation) and the sail script (under vendor/bin).

The docker-compose.yml file

As mentioned already, Laravel Sail is based on Docker, which is a technology leveraging containers. The rule of thumb is that each container should only run one process, which roughly translates to each container running a single piece of software. Applying this rule to the above setup means we'll need a container for PHP, one for MySQL, and a third one for Redis.

These containers make up your application, and for it to function properly, they need to be orchestrated. There are several ways to do this, but Laravel Sail relies on Docker Compose for the job, which is the preferred solution for local setups.

Docker Compose expects us to describe the various components of our application in a docker-compose.yml file, in YAML format. If you open the one at the root of the project, you will see a version parameter at the top, followed by a services section containing a list of components comprising the ones I've just mentioned – laravel.test, mysql and redis (and some other ones I'll briefly cover later).

I'll describe the mysql, redis and laravel.test services in that order, as the two first ones are simpler than the last.

The mysql service

As the name suggests, the mysql service handles the MySQL database:

    image: 'mysql/mysql-server:8.0'
        - '${FORWARD_DB_PORT:-3306}:3306'
        MYSQL_ROOT_HOST: "%"
        - 'sailmysql:/var/lib/mysql'
        - sail
        test: ["CMD", "mysqladmin", "ping", "-p${DB_PASSWORD}"]
        retries: 3
        timeout: 5s

The image parameter indicates which image should be used for this container. An easy way to understand the difference between images and containers is to borrow from Object-Oriented Programming concepts – an image is akin to a class and a container to an instance of that class.

Here, we specify that we want to use the tag 8.0 of the mysql/mysql-server image, corresponding to MySQL Server version 8.0. By default, images are downloaded from Docker Hub, which is the largest Docker image registry. Have a look at the page for MySQL Server – most images come with simple documentation explaining how to use them.

The ports section allows us to map local ports to container ports, following the local:container notation. In the code snippet above, the value of the FORWARD_DB_PORT environment variable (or 3306 if that value is empty) is mapped to the container's 3306 port. This is mostly useful to connect third-party software to the database, like MySQL Workbench or Sequel Ace (the setup would also work without it).

environments is where we define environment variables for the container. Here, most of them receive the value of existing environment variables, which are loaded from the .env file at the root of the project – docker-compose.yml automatically detects and imports the content of this file. For instance, in the MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: '${DB_PASSWORD}' line, the container's MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD environment variable will receive the value of DB_PASSWORD from the .env file.

volumes is to declare some of the container's files or folders as volumes, either by mapping specific local files or folders to them or by letting Docker deal with it.

Here, a single Docker-managed volume is defined: sailmysql. This type of volume must be declared in a separate volumes section, at the same level as services. We can find it at the bottom of the docker-compose.yml file:

        driver: local
        driver: local
        driver: local

The sailmysql volume is mapped to the container's /var/lib/mysql folder, which is where the MySQL data is stored. This volume ensures that the data is persisted even when the container is destroyed, which is the case when we run the ./vendor/bin/sail down command.

The networks section allows us to specify which internal networks the container should be available on. Here, all services are connected to the same sail network, which is also defined at the bottom of docker-compose.yml, in the networks section above the volumes one:

        driver: bridge

Finally, healthcheck is a way to indicate which conditions need to be true for the service to be ready, as opposed to just be started. I'll get back to this soon.

The redis service

The redis service is very similar to the mysql one:

    image: 'redis:alpine'
        - '${FORWARD_REDIS_PORT:-6379}:6379'
        - 'sailredis:/data'
        - sail
        test: ["CMD", "redis-cli", "ping"]
        retries: 3
        timeout: 5s

We pull the alpine tag of the official image for Redis (Alpine is a lightweight Linux distribution) and we define which port to forward. We then declare a volume to persist the data, connect the container to the sail network, and define the health check to perform to ensure the service is ready.

The laravel.test service

The laravel.test service is slightly more complex:

        context: ./vendor/laravel/sail/runtimes/8.0
        dockerfile: Dockerfile
            WWWGROUP: '${WWWGROUP}'
    image: sail-8.0/app
        - 'host.docker.internal:host-gateway'
        - '${APP_PORT:-80}:80'
        WWWUSER: '${WWWUSER}'
        LARAVEL_SAIL: 1
        XDEBUG_CONFIG: '${SAIL_XDEBUG_CONFIG:-client_host=host.docker.internal}'
        - '.:/var/www/html'
        - sail
        - mysql
        - redis
        - meilisearch
        - selenium

For starters, the name is a bit confusing, but this service is the one handling PHP (i.e. the one serving the Laravel application).

Next, it has a build section that we haven't seen before, which points to the Dockerfile that is present under the vendor/laravel/sail/runtimes/8.0 folder.

Dockerfiles are text documents containing instructions to build images. Instead of using an existing image as-is from Docker Hub, the Laravel team described their own in a Dockerfile. The first time we run the ./vendor/bin/sail up command, we build that image and create a container based on it.

Open the Dockerfile and take a look at the first line:

FROM ubuntu:21.04

This means that the tag 21.04 of Ubuntu's image is used as a starting point for the custom image; the rest of the file is essentially a list of instructions to build upon it, installing everything a standard Laravel application needs. That includes PHP, various extensions, and other packages like Git or Supervisor, as well as Composer.

The end of the file also deserves a quick explanation:

COPY start-container /usr/local/bin/start-container
COPY supervisord.conf /etc/supervisor/conf.d/supervisord.conf
COPY php.ini /etc/php/8.0/cli/conf.d/99-sail.ini
RUN chmod +x /usr/local/bin/start-container


ENTRYPOINT ["start-container"]

We can see that a bunch of local files are copied over to the container:

  • the php.ini file is some custom configuration for PHP;
  • the supervisord.conf file is a configuration file for Supervisor, a process manager here responsible for starting the PHP process;
  • the start-container file is a Bash script that will do a few things every time the container starts, because it is defined as the container's ENTRYPOINT. We can see that it's made executable by the RUN chmod +x instruction;
  • finally, EXPOSE 8000 doesn't do anything, apart from informing the reader that this container listens on the specified port at runtime (which actually seems wrong here, since the application is served on port 80, not 8000).

Other things are happening in this Dockerfile, but the above is the gist of it. Note that this one pertains to PHP 8.0, but Laravel Sail also supports other versions whose Dockerfiles you can point to from the laravel.test service in docker-compose.yml, instead of that of PHP 8.0.

Bringing our attention back to docker-compose.yml, we can see that there is an extra_hosts section we haven't encountered before. I won't get into too much detail, but it's here to ensure Xdebug runs smoothly across operating systems.

The service also has a depends_on section containing the list of services that should be available before the Laravel application starts. Here, we need MySQL, Redis, Meilisearch and Selenium to be up and running first to avoid connection errors.

This is where the health checks described earlier are useful. By default, depends_on will wait for the specified services to be started, which doesn't necessarily mean they are ready. By specifying on which conditions these services are deemed ready, we ensure they are in the required state prior to starting the Laravel application.

The rest of the settings should be familiar by now, so I'll skip them.

The meilisearch, mailhog and selenium services

These are the smaller services I referred to earlier; they are already documented here, here and here. The point is they work the same way as the other ones: they pull existing images from Docker Hub and use them as-is, with minimal configuration.

The sail script

If you followed Laravel's installation instructions earlier, you must have run the following command at some point:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail up

The sail file that we call here is a Bash script whose function is to present a user-friendly interface to interact with Sail, saving us the pain to run and remember sometimes long-winded Docker commands.

Let's open it now for closer inspection (don't worry if you're not familiar with Bash – it's pretty straightforward).

We can ignore the whole first part of the file and focus on the big if statement which starts like this:

if [ $# -gt 0 ]; then
    # Proxy PHP commands to the "php" binary on the application container...
    if [ "$1" == "php" ]; then
        # ...

In plain English, the $# -gt 0 bit translates to "if the number of arguments is greater than 0", meaning whenever we call the sail script with arguments, the execution will enter that if statement.

In other words, when we run the ./vendor/bin/sail up command, we call the sail script with the up argument, and the execution gets inside the big if statement where it looks for a condition matching the up argument. Since there is none, the script goes all the way down to the end of the big if, in the sort of catch-all else we can find there:

# Pass unknown commands to the "docker-compose" binary...
    docker compose "$@"

The comment already tells us what's going on – the script passes the up argument on to the docker-compose binary. In other words, when we run ./vendor/bin/sail up we actually run docker-compose up, which is the standard Docker Compose command to start the containers for the services listed in docker-compose.yml.

This command downloads the corresponding images once if necessary, and builds the Laravel image based on the Dockerfile we talked about earlier.

Give it a try! Run ./vendor/bin/sail up first, then docker compose up – they do the same thing.

Let's now look at a more complicated example, one involving Composer, which is among the packages installed by the application's Dockerfile. But before we do that, let's start Sail in detached mode to run the containers in the background:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail up -d

The sail script allows us to run Composer commands, e.g.:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail composer --version

The above calls the sail script with composer and --version as arguments, meaning the execution will enter that big if statement again.

Let's look for the condition dealing with Composer:

# ...
# Proxy Composer commands to the "composer" binary on the application container...
elif [ "$1" == "composer" ]; then
    shift 1

    if [ "$EXEC" == "yes" ]; then
        docker-compose exec \
            -u sail \
            "$APP_SERVICE" \
            composer "$@"
    # ...

The first line of the condition starts with shift, which is a Bash built-in that skips as many arguments as the number it is followed by. In this case, shift 1 skips the composer argument, making --version the new first argument. The program then makes sure that Sail is running, before executing a weird command split over four lines, which I break down below:

docker-compose exec \
    -u sail \
    "$APP_SERVICE" \
    composer "$@"

exec is the way Docker Compose allows us to execute commands on a container which is already running. -u is an option indicating which user we want to execute the command as, and $APP_SERVICE is the container on which we want to run it all. Here, its value is laravel.test, which is the service's name in docker-compose.yml as explained in a previous section. It is followed by the command we want to run once we're in the container, namely composer followed by all the script's arguments. These now only comprise --version, since we've skipped the first argument.

In other words, when we run:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail composer --version

The command that is executed behind the scenes is the following:

$ docker compose exec -u sail "laravel.test" composer "--version"

It would be quite cumbersome to type this kind of command every single time; that's why the sail script provides shortcuts for them, making the user experience much smoother.

Have a look at the rest of the smaller if statements inside the big one to see what else is covered – you'll see that the same principle is always more or less applied.

There are a few other features available out of the box (like making local containers public), but we've now covered the substance of what Laravel Sail currently offers. While this is a pretty good start already, it is somewhat limited, even for a basic application.

The good news is that the Laravel team is aware of this, and built the environment with extension in mind:

Since Sail is just Docker, you are free to customize nearly everything about it. (The Laravel documentation)

Let's see what that means in practice.

Extending Laravel Sail

The code covered in this section is also available as a GitHub repository you can refer to at any moment.

We're going to explore three ways to extend Laravel Sail, using MongoDB as a test subject. But before we proceed, let's make sure we get our hands on as many configuration files as possible.

The only thing we've got access to initially is the docker-compose.yml file, but we can publish more assets with the following command, which will create a new docker folder at the root of the project:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail artisan sail:publish

We'll get back to those in a minute; for the time being, let's try and instal the Laravel MongoDB package, which will make it easy to use MongoDB with our favourite framework:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail composer require jenssegers/mongodb

Unfortunately, Composer is complaining about some missing extension:

- mongodb/mongodb[dev-master, 1.10.0, ..., v1.10.x-dev] require ext-mongodb ^1.11.0 -> it is missing from your system. Install or enable PHP's mongodb extension.

Let's fix this!

Installing extra extensions

Earlier in this post, we talked about the way Sail uses Dockerfiles to build images matching Laravel's requirements for various PHP versions. These files were published with the command we ran at the beginning of this section – all we need to do is edit them to add the extensions we need, and to rebuild the corresponding images.

Many extensions are available out of the box and we can list them with the following command:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail php -m

MongoDB is not part of them; to add it, open the docker/8.0/Dockerfile file and spot the RUN instruction installing the various packages:

RUN apt-get update \
    && apt-get install -y gnupg gosu curl ca-certificates zip unzip git supervisor sqlite3 libcap2-bin libpng-dev python2 \
    && mkdir -p ~/.gnupg \
    && chmod 600 ~/.gnupg \
    && echo "disable-ipv6" >> ~/.gnupg/dirmngr.conf \
    && apt-key adv --homedir ~/.gnupg --keyserver hkp://keyserver.ubuntu.com:80 --recv-keys E5267A6C \
    && apt-key adv --homedir ~/.gnupg --keyserver hkp://keyserver.ubuntu.com:80 --recv-keys C300EE8C \
    && echo "deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/ondrej/php/ubuntu hirsute main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/ppa_ondrej_php.list \
    && apt-get update \
    && apt-get install -y php8.0-cli php8.0-dev \
        php8.0-pgsql php8.0-sqlite3 php8.0-gd \
        php8.0-curl php8.0-memcached \
        php8.0-imap php8.0-mysql php8.0-mbstring \
        php8.0-xml php8.0-zip php8.0-bcmath php8.0-soap \
        php8.0-intl php8.0-readline php8.0-pcov \
        php8.0-msgpack php8.0-igbinary php8.0-ldap \
        php8.0-redis php8.0-swoole php8.0-xdebug \
    && php -r "readfile('http://getcomposer.org/installer');" | php -- --install-dir=/usr/bin/ --filename=composer \
    && curl -sL https://deb.nodesource.com/setup_$NODE_VERSION.x | bash - \
    && apt-get install -y nodejs \
    && npm install -g npm \
    && curl -sS https://dl.yarnpkg.com/debian/pubkey.gpg | apt-key add - \
    && echo "deb https://dl.yarnpkg.com/debian/ stable main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/yarn.list \
    && apt-get update \
    && apt-get install -y yarn \
    && apt-get install -y mysql-client \
    && apt-get install -y postgresql-client \
    && apt-get -y autoremove \
    && apt-get clean \
    && rm -rf /var/lib/apt/lists/* /tmp/* /var/tmp/*

It's easy to identify the block related to PHP extensions since they all start with php8.0. Add the MongoDB extension at the end of the list:

php8.0-redis php8.0-swoole php8.0-xdebug php8.0-mongodb \

You can see the detail of available PHP extensions for Ubuntu 21.04 here.

Save the file and run the following command:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail build

This will go through all the services listed in docker-compose.yml and build the corresponding images if they have changed, including the laravel.test service's, whose Dockerfile we've just updated.

Once it's done, start the containers again:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail up -d

The command will detect that the image corresponding to the laravel.test service has changed, and recreate the container:

laravel-sail-extended_mailhog_1 is up-to-date
laravel-sail-extended_meilisearch_1 is up-to-date
Recreating laravel-sail-extended_laravel.test_1 ... done

That's it! The MongoDB extension for PHP is now installed and enabled. We've only done it for the PHP 8.0 image, but you can apply the same process to other PHP versions by updating their own Dockerfile, with the right extension name (e.g. php7.4-mongodb).

We can now safely import the Laravel MongoDB package:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail composer require jenssegers/mongodb

Next up: adding a Docker service for MongoDB.

Adding new services

MongoDB is essentially another database, meaning the corresponding service will be very similar to that of MySQL and Redis. A quick search on Docker Hub reveals that there is an official image for it, which we are going to use.

Its documentation contains an example configuration for Docker Compose, which we can copy and adjust to our needs. Open docker-compose.yml and add the following service at the bottom, after the other ones:

    image: 'mongo:4.4'
    restart: always
        - 'sailmongo:/data/db'
        - sail

The changes I've made are the following: first, I specified the tag 4.4 of the mongo image. If you don't specify one, Docker Compose will pull the latest tag by default, which is not a good practice since it will refer to different versions of MongoDB over time, as new releases are available. The introduction of breaking changes could create instability in your Docker setup, so it's better to target a specific version, ideally matching the production one.

Then, I declared a MONGO_INITDB_DATABASE environment variable for the container to create a database with the corresponding name at start-up, and I matched the value of each environment variable to one coming from the .env file (we'll come back to those in a minute).

I also added a volumes section, mounting a Docker-managed volume in the container's /data/db folder. The same principle as MySQL and Redis here applies – if you don't persist the data on your local machine, it will be lost every time the MongoDB container is destroyed. In other words, as the MongoDB data is stored in the container's /data/db folder, we persist that folder locally using a volume.

As this volume doesn't exist yet, we need to declare it at the bottom of docker-compose.yml, after the other ones:

        driver: local
        driver: local
        driver: local
        driver: local

Finally, I added the networks section to ensure the service is on the same network as the others.

We can now configure Laravel MongoDB as per the package's instructions. Open config/database.php and add the following database connection:

'mongodb' => [
    'driver' => 'mongodb',
    'host' => env('DB_HOST'),
    'port' => env('DB_PORT'),
    'database' => env('DB_DATABASE'),
    'username' => env('DB_USERNAME'),
    'password' => env('DB_PASSWORD'),
    'options' => [
        'database' => env('DB_AUTHENTICATION_DATABASE', 'admin'),

Open the .env file at the root of the project and change the database values as follows:


The above makes MongoDB the main database connection. In a real case scenario, you might want to make it a secondary database like Redis, but for demonstration purposes, this will do.

DB_HOST is the name of the MongoDB service from docker-compose.yml. Behind the scenes, Docker Compose resolves the service's name to the container's IP on the networks it manages (in our case, that's the single sail network defined at the end of docker-compose.yml).

DB_PORT is the port MongoDB is available on, which is 27017 by default, as per the image's description.

We're ready for a test! Run the following command again:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail up -d

It will download MongoDB's image, create the new volume and start the new container, which will also create the laravel_sail database:

➜  ./vendor/bin/sail up -d
Pulling mongo (mongo:4.4)...
4.4: Pulling from library/mongo
7b1a6ab2e44d: Pull complete
90eb44ebc60b: Pull complete

Let's make sure of that by running Laravel's default migrations:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail artisan migrate

We can push the test further by updating the User model so it extends Laravel MongoDB's Authenticable model:


namespace App\Models;

use Illuminate\Contracts\Auth\MustVerifyEmail;
use Illuminate\Database\Eloquent\Factories\HasFactory;
use Illuminate\Notifications\Notifiable;
use Jenssegers\Mongodb\Auth\User as Authenticatable;
use Laravel\Sanctum\HasApiTokens;

class User extends Authenticatable
    // ...

Use Tinker to try and create a model:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail tinker

Psy Shell v0.10.5 (PHP 8.0.0 — cli) by Justin Hileman
>>> \App\Models\User::factory()->create();

Great! Our MongoDB integration is functional.

We can keep interacting with it using Tinker and Eloquent, but oftentimes it is useful to have direct access to the database, through third-party software or via a command-line interface such as the Mongo shell.

Let's add the latter to our setup.

Custom sail commands

The good news is the Mongo shell is already available, as long as we know the right formula to summon it. Here it is, along with some extra commands to log into the database and list the users (run the first command from the project's root):

$ docker-compose exec mongo mongo

MongoDB shell version v4.4.10
connecting to: mongodb://
Implicit session: session { "id" : UUID("be711959-a359-4d1f-8fd4-9af7bad42c23") }
MongoDB server version: 4.4.10
Welcome to the MongoDB shell.
For interactive help, type "help".
For more comprehensive documentation, see
Questions? Try the MongoDB Developer Community Forums
> use admin
switched to db admin
> db.auth("root", "root")
> use laravel_sail
switched to db laravel_sail
> db.users.find()

The docker-compose exec mongo mongo command should look familiar – earlier in the article, we looked at what the sail script does behind the scenes, which mostly consists of translating simple sail commands into more complex docker-compose ones. Here, we're telling the docker-compose binary to execute the mongo command on the mongo container.

To be fair, this command isn't too bad and we could easily remember it; but for consistency, it would be nice to have a simpler sail equivalent, like the following:

$ ./vendor/bin/sail mongo

To achieve this we'd need to complete the sail script somehow, but as it is located inside the vendor folder – which is created by Composer – we cannot update it directly. We need a way to build upon it without modifying it, which I've summarised below:

  1. make a copy of the sail script at the root of the project;
  2. replace the content of its big if statement with custom conditions;
  3. if none of the custom conditions matches the current arguments, pass them on to the original sail script.

If we take a closer look at the sail file with ls -al, we can see that it's a symbolic link to the vendor/laravel/sail/bin/sail file:

➜  ls -al vendor/bin
total 0
drwxr-xr-x   8 yannick  staff   256 26 Nov 10:37 .
drwxr-xr-x  48 yannick  staff  1536 26 Nov 12:24 ..
lrwxr-xr-x   1 yannick  staff    24 26 Nov 10:36 sail -> ../laravel/sail/bin/sail

Copy that file and paste it at the root of our project:

$ cp vendor/laravel/sail/bin/sail .

Open the new copy and replace the content of its big if with the following, leaving the rest as-is:

if [ $# -gt 0 ]; then
    # Initiate a Mongo shell terminal session within the "mongo" container...
    if [ "$1" == "mongo" ]; then

        if [ "$EXEC" == "yes" ]; then
            docker-compose exec mongo mongo

    # Pass unknown commands to the original "sail" script...
        ./vendor/bin/sail "$@"

In the above code, we removed all the if...else conditions inside the big if and added one of our own, which runs the command we used earlier to access the Mongo shell if the value of the script's first argument is mongo. If it's not, the execution will hit the last else statement and call the original sail script with all the arguments.

You can try this out now – save the file and run the following command:

$ ./sail mongo

It should open a Mongo shell session in your terminal.

Try another command, to make sure the original sail script is taking over when it's supposed to:

$ ./sail artisan

The Artisan menu should display.

That's it! If you need more commands, you can add them as new if...else conditions inside the big if of the copy of the sail script at the root of the project.

It works exactly the same way, except that you now need to run ./sail instead of ./vendor/bin/sail (or update your Bash alias if you created one as suggested in the documentation).

We are now running a fully functional instance of MongoDB as part of our Docker setup, nicely integrated with Laravel Sail. But MongoDB is a mere example here – you can do the same with pretty much any technology you'd like to use.

Go take a look now! Most major actors have Docker images – official or maintained by the community – with easy-to-follow instructions. In most cases, you'll have a local instance of the software running in minutes.

There are probably many more things we could do to customise Laravel Sail, but the three methods described above should get you a long way already.

At this stage, you may be thinking that Laravel's new environment has a lot going for it, maybe even more so than you initially thought. Yet, the point of this article is to move away from it...

So where am I going with this?

Why not use Takeout?

While reading this section, it may have occurred to you that existing solutions like Takeout support MongoDB out of the box. While using Sail in conjunction with some other technology is possible and would make up for some of its current limitations, relying on Takeout would reintroduce a third-party dependency to our setup. Instead of just using Docker, we would now expect everyone in the team to also instal and configure Takeout on their machine.

Sail opens the way to having the whole development environment handled by a single docker-compose.yml file that is part of the codebase. My opinion is that if we go down that path, we should embrace it all the way and make Docker the only third-party dependency.

That is not to say Takeout has no utility whatsoever; it makes a lot of sense to circumvent some performance issues that we will talk about later in this article.

What's wrong with Laravel Sail anyway?

If you made it this far, you're probably wondering what's wrong with Laravel Sail, now that it's clear how far we can push it.

As it stands, it's a pretty decent solution. In an earlier version of this article, I was pointing to a whole list of issues which have now largely been solved. So why not use it?

Let me break it to you right now: once you know and understand everything I've explained in the previous sections, you don't need Laravel Sail anymore.

That's right – you can take that knowledge and walk away.

But before I elaborate on this, let's review some remaining pain points of Sail, even though I expect the Laravel team to address most of them sooner rather than later.

The first one concerns the custom sail commands: while it's possible to extend the sail script as demonstrated above, the process is a bit ugly and somewhat hacky. Sail's maintainers could fix this with an explicit Bash extension point allowing users to add their own shortcuts, or by publishing the sail script along with the other files.

Second, the Laravel application is served by PHP's development server. I won't go into too much detail here, but as mentioned earlier, Supervisor manages the PHP process in the laravel.test container. This line is where Supervisor runs the php artisan serve command, which starts PHP's development server under the hood.

The point here is that the environment doesn't use a proper web server (e.g. Nginx), which means we can't easily have local domain names, nor bring HTTPS to the setup. This may be fine for quick prototyping, but more elaborate development will most likely need those.

The last issue belongs to a separate category, as it relates to Docker overall and not Laravel Sail specifically. It should be carefully considered before going down the Docker path and deserves a section of its own.

The whale in the cabin

The one major caveat that appears to be absent from the conversation so far relates to performance. While this shouldn't affect Linux users, if you run Docker Desktop on your system you will most likely experience long execution times, especially on macOS (it seems that using WSL 2 on Windows can mitigate the slowness).

While HTTP response times have improved a great deal, running local commands like Yarn or Composer is still very slow. You've probably experienced it yourself while going through this tutorial, when we installed the Laravel MongoDB package with Composer, for instance.

I won't go into too much detail here, but the reason essentially comes from the host's underlying filesystem, which does not perform well around mounted local directories. As we've seen, this is how Laravel Sail gets the application's source code in the Laravel application's container.

This is where an approach like Takeout's makes sense, as instead of running PHP from a Docker container, they expect developers to run it on their local machine (e.g. via Valet), all the while providing instances of services like MySQL or MongoDB, thus offering convenience without sacrificing performance. But from the moment you choose to run PHP via a Docker container (like Sail does), the added value of Takeout decreases, in my opinion.

There are strategies to mitigate these performance issues, but the Laravel documentation doesn't mention them, let alone that performance might be degraded at all, which I find surprising.

That being said, you might be comfortable enough with performance as it is; I, for one, have been OK with it for years, even though I use Docker Desktop on macOS. The bottom line is that this aspect should be carefully considered before moving your whole setup to a solution running PHP in a container, be it Laravel Sail or something else.

But once you've made that decision, and whether or not the other issues are eventually addressed, the main idea of this article remains the same.

You don't need Laravel Sail

If you're considering building anything substantial using Laravel Sail as your development environment, sooner or later you will have to extend it. You'll find yourself fumbling around the Dockerfiles and eventually writing your own; you'll have to add some services to docker-compose.yml, and maybe throw in a few custom Bash commands.

Once you get there, there's one question you should ask yourself:

What's stopping me from building my own setup?

The answer is nothing. Once you feel comfortable extending Laravel Sail, you already have the knowledge required to build your own environment.

Think about it: the docker-compose.yml file is not specific to Laravel Sail, that's just how Docker Compose works. The same goes for Dockerfiles – they are standard Docker stuff. The Bash layer? That's all there is to it – some Bash code, and as you can see, it's not that complicated.

So why artificially restrain yourself within the constraints of Sail?

And more importantly: why limit yourself to using Docker in the context of Laravel?

Your application may start as a monolith, but it might not always be. Perhaps you've got a separate frontend, and you use Laravel as the API layer. In that case, you might want your development environment to manage them both; to run them simultaneously so they interact with each other like they do on a staging environment or in production.

If your whole application is a monorepo, your Docker configuration and Bash script could be at the root of the project, and you could have your frontend and backend applications in separate subfolders, e.g. src.

The corresponding tree view would look something like this:

├── bash-script
├── docker-compose.yml
└── src/
    ├── backend/
    │   └── Dockerfile
    └── frontend/
        └── Dockerfile

The docker-compose.yml file would declare two services – one for the backend and one for the frontend – both pointing to their respective Dockerfile.

If the backend and the frontend live in different repositories, you could create a third one, containing your Docker development environment exclusively. Just git-ignore the src folder and complete your Bash script so that it pulls both application repositories into it, using the same commands you would normally run by hand.

Even if your project is a Laravel monolith, this kind of structure is already cleaner than mixing up development-related files with the rest of the source code. Moreover, if your application grows bigger and needs other components besides Laravel, you're already in a good position to support them.

Once you've made the effort to understand Laravel Sail to extend it, nothing's stopping you from building your own development environments, whether or not Laravel is part of the equation. That's right, you can build bespoke Docker-based environments for anything.

And if Laravel is part of the stack, nothing prevents you from reusing Sail's Dockerfiles if you're not comfortable writing your own yet; after all, they are already optimised for Laravel. Likewise, you can draw inspiration from Sail's docker-compose.yml file if that helps.


Don't get me wrong – Sail has a lot going for it, and I am glad to see an established actor such as Laravel push forward the adoption of Docker for local development.

We love our frameworks because they offer guidelines to achieve desired results in a way we know to be efficient and battle-tested, and it's only natural that they also seek to provide the environment that will allow their users to build upon them. But one thing that Sail incidentally shows us is that this doesn't have to be part of the framework's mandate anymore.

Much like Truman's sailboat helps him overcome his fear of the sea and takes him to the edges of the artificial world he lives in, Sail reveals both the confines of Laravel and a way to escape from them.

You may feel that Sail is more than enough for your needs today, or that you're not yet ready to go on your own. That's fine. But Laravel will always be limited by its monolithic nature, and as you grow as a developer, the day will come where your Laravel application will be but a single component of a larger system, for which Sail won't be enough anymore. Eventually, your small sailboat will bump into a painted backdrop.

If you'd like to explore this further but feel like you need more guidance, I've published a series on the subject that should get you going. It requires no prior knowledge of Docker and covers web servers, HTTPS, domain names and many other things. It doesn't have all the answers but will get you to a place where you can find your own.

What you do next is entirely up to you; just know that there's a whole world out there, waiting for you.

Truman hesitates. Perhaps he cannot go through with it after all. The camera slowly zooms into Truman's face.

TRUMAN: "In case I don't see you – good afternoon, good evening and good night."

He steps through the door and is gone.


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Last updated by osteel on :: [ laravel docker sail ]