Dokku vs Heroku

Platform as a service (PaaS) software allows developers to build custom applications with cloud deliverable APIs with greater flexibility and operational ease.

Heroku has been one of the oldest PaaS implementations in recent history offering excellent functionality and flexibility for the developers with support for multiple languages. 

However, when the platform recently introduced some new limits on the free applications, the Docker-based Dokku quickly became a popular alternative for users looking to host the smaller low traffic projects.

Dokku is a very powerful offering on its own, bringing its own unique set of features for quick and agile app development. Continue reading as we take a deeper look into the features and advantages of Dokku vs Heroku so that you can make an informed choice when selecting one for your projects.

What is Dokku? 

Essentially a mini-Heroku, Dokku is a Docker-based Platform as a Service implementation that allows developers to build applications and run them in isolated containers. Similar to Heroku, you run your code by pushing your code into a repository where the official buildpacks stack and build your application automatically.

Dokku requires you to know your way around the server infrastructure as you, as a developer, might have to modify Nginx configurations, edit and install plugins, and debug your code manually. It is open-source software that supports a variety of plugins for databases, automatic SSL deployment, etc. Dokku manages the server configuration on your behalf so that the developers can spend more time improving the user experience of their applications.

Dokku Core Features

  • Nginx and Instant Subdomains: Dokku automatically manages the different domains and assigns an individual subdomain whenever you build an app. It also manages the Nginx configuration on your behalf and routes the traffic to the correct docker container.
  • Compatible with Heroku buildpacks: Dokku uses the official Heroku buildpacks to compile and deploy the app stacks by automatically detecting the node applications. If your application runs on Heroku, it will most likely run on Dokku as well.
  • Easy server deployment: With Dokku, you get support for Debian, Ubuntu, and CentOS, where the apps are pushed and deployed into isolated containers on your behalf. Dokku also manages the container lifetime and automatically manages the Nginx for easier server deployment.

Dokku Advantages 

  • Free and open source

Dokku provides a nice balance of cost and functionality as it is a free to use open-source application that can be run on top of your preferred app development environment. Moreover, you can customize the app deployment process using Dockerfile if you need advanced functionality.

  • Rich command-line interface

Everything on the Dokku application can be accessed using the rich CLI, which has its own set of proxy commands and application-, container-, and variable-specific inputs. These commands allow developers to instantly build and deploy applications, improving their productivity.

  • Variety of plugins

Developers can also improve the functionality of their applications by leveraging the plugn ecosystem. For instance, you can request an SSL certificate and configure the Nginx for a specific domain without bloating the main app or compromising on any features.

What is Heroku? 

Heroku is one of the oldest container-based Platform as a Service (PaaS) implementations that can be used to deploy, manage, and scale modern dynamic applications depending on user interaction.

It is a fully managed easy-to-use platform that, unlike Dokku, entirely manages server infrastructure on your behalf, providing you with a simple way to get your projects from your hardware to the end-users easily.

Heroku has gathered a loyal enthusiast community that provides you with the help required to overcome any challenges in the development process. The feature-rich platform offers the tools, services, workflows, and polyglot support designed to improve your productivity by removing the hassle of maintaining any hardware, software, or infrastructure for the application.

Please read the article Top 10 Options to Heroku to know more about some great alternatives to Heroku.

Heroku Features 

  • Data Services and Ecosystem: Heroku allows developers to extend their applications using a variety of add-ons and customize the app stack with the official buildpacks. Fully managed add-ons include Postgres, Redis, and Apache Kafka. These addons can introduce extra functionality like storage, authentication, analytics, etc.
  • Heroku Operational Experience: OpEx helps developers troubleshoot and fix bugs and errors in their app stack by notifying the testers whenever something goes wrong. You get access to app metrics and threshold alerting at no extra cost. You can customize the operational experience to quickly address any negative trends instantaneously.
  • Security and Compliance: Heroku regularly audits the platform to maintain HIPAA, PCI, SOC, and ISO compliance to ensure that the data servers are secure at all times. Developers can focus on fine-tuning their code to perfection without having to worry about server security.

Heroku Advantages 

  • Simplicity

The complex server infrastructure is neatly hidden behind one of the most intuitive web-based user interfaces of the Heroku platform. As a developer, you can simply push your app through the buildpacks and deploy it for the end-users with a single click. Any updates can be tested in the version control system and deployed to each app environment instantaneously.

  • Scalability

Heroku builds and deploys your applications in what is referred to as a dyno, which is an isolated container with a limited memory capacity that contains a copy of the app code. When your userbase increases, you can simply add more dynos to run as many independent copies of your application as required. Heroku also performs autoscaling when it detects a spike in user traffic.

  • Developer-centric

With Heroku, developers can focus on creating and delivering modern and dynamic applications without having to worry about servers and backend infrastructures. Codes can be directly deployed from Git and other similar repositories, or you can write your own code in various languages including Java, PHP, Ruby, C#, Python, Node.js, etc. 


Both Heroku and Heroku-like Dokku have their unique pros and cons and your preferred choice will depend on the scope and scale of the project.

Thoroughly compare the two platforms and confirm which one helps you the best in the product development lifecycle. For instance, you can select Dokku if you want to own and manage the servers, while you can opt for Heroku if you want an easier workflow and do not want to engage in manual plugin installation.

If you cannot choose on your own, do not hesitate to consult a leading app hosting company for more insights on the topic.


What is Dokku?

Docker-based Platform as a Service implementation that allows developers to build applications and run them in isolated containers.

What is Heroku?

One of the oldest container-based Platform as a Service (PaaS) implementations that can be used to deploy, manage, and scale modern dynamic applications depending on user interaction.

What are the differences and similarities between Heroku and Dokku?

– Both are PaaS solutions
– Dokku is open-source
– Heroku is close-source
– You can self host Dokku at any cloud
– Heroku is a managed service from Salesforce

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