Docker Machine is one part of the Docker Toolbox which helps you to manage and setup Docker environments. There are drivers for various cloud platforms and virtualization products.

Getting started with Docker Machine on EC2 is straight forward: a brief section of the official documentation covers all command line options and environment variables which are relevant to docker-machine --driver amazonec2 create ....

The required steps are:

  1. Create an new IAM user and attach a Custom Policy to the user
  2. Find out the VPC ID
  3. Create the Docker Machine instance

This guide applies to Docker Machine version 0.5.0 on OS X.

Create an new IAM user and attach a Custom Policy to the user

Login to the AWS console and navigate to Services / IAM / Users.

Create a new user (e.g. docker-machine), note the access key and secret and populate the environment variables:


Then select the user, switch to the Permissions tab and add a new Custom Policy (expand Inline Policy to do so). The following policy was shared by Brandon Mangold on docker-machine Issue 1655 (Minimal IAM policy).

A slightly extended it with permissions for creating security groups:

    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
            "Sid": "TheseActionsDontSupportResourceLevelPermissions",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
            "Resource": "*"
            "Sid": "ThisActionsSupportResourceLevelPermissions",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": ["ec2:RunInstances"],
            "Resource": [
            "Sid": "TheseActionsSupportResourceLevelPermissions",
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
            "Resource": [

Replace %AWS_ACCOUNT_ID% with your account ID. Get it from: AWS console / My Account. I also changed the region to eu-west-1.

Find out the VPC ID

This step is also covered in the official drivers documentation. Login to the AWS console and navigate to Services / VPC / Your VPCs. Get the VPC ID from the VPC column and set the environment variable like this:

export AWS_VPC_ID=vpc-....

Create the docker machine

Four environment variables have been populated:

export AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID=AKI... # first step
export AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY=... # first step
export AWS_VPC_ID=vpc-.... # second step

As mentioned in the previous step, I changed to region to eu-west-1. It must match the region in the IAM policy:

export AWS_DEFAULT_REGION=eu-west-1 # Ireland

Create the aws01 machine with -D option for debugging:

docker-machine -D create --driver amazonec2 aws01

Everything is fine, if the command above completes with the message: "To see how to connect Docker to this machine, run: docker-machine env aws01" If not so, check out the troubleshooting section below.

To verify the setup, just run:

eval "$(docker-machine env aws01)" # setup DOCKER_* environment variables
docker ps                          # list running containers
docker images                      # list images
docker-machine ls                  # list docker machines
docker-machine ssh aws01           # ssh into instance aws01

Use the docker-machine command to interact with the newly created EC2 instance.


If the creation of instances via docker create fails:

  • Check the IAM policy: region matches / AWS ID matches?
  • Go to AWS console / Services / EC2 / Security Groups and check if the group already exists.
  • You may have to remove the aws01 key pair if the first run of docker-machine create fails: Go to AWS console / Services / EC2 / Key paris.