In today’s fast-paced business environment, companies are looking to automation as a way to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve productivity. According to recent research, 94% of companies perform repetitive, time-consuming tasks that are ripe for automation. And the numbers speak for themselves – automation has improved productivity for 90% of knowledge workers.

By implementing workflow automation, businesses can free up employees to focus on more strategic, high-value work. Automation eliminates tedious manual processes, minimizes errors, and allows scaling without proportionally increasing headcount. No wonder companies are rapidly adopting automation tools like n8n to boost their growth and competitiveness.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to quickly set up the powerful n8n automation platform using Docker. With just a few simple steps, you’ll be automating workflows and integrating apps to unlock productivity gains, cost savings, and other benefits for your business.

What is n8n?

n8n is an open source workflow automation tool that allows you to connect different apps and services to automate repetitive tasks and workflows. As stated on the website, n8n is free, open source, and can be self-hosted or used via their cloud service.

With n8n, you can build integrations and automations between various apps and APIs without writing any code. It provides a graphical interface to connect nodes for different apps/services together to construct workflows. The workflows are then executed automatically based on triggers or schedules.

Some key features of n8n include:

  • Graphical workflow editor to visually construct workflows
  • Over 250 pre-built nodes to connect popular apps and services
  • Code editor to write custom nodes and logic
  • Cron-style scheduler to trigger workflows on time intervals
  • Webhooks to trigger workflows on external events
  • Open source under Apache 2.0 license

As you can see, n8n provides a powerful platform to streamline workflows and connect apps without programming. According to the n8n GitHub repository, it aims to provide fair-code distribution so the source code is always visible and self-hosting is possible.

Benefits of n8n

n8n provides numerous benefits that make it a powerful automation tool. Some of the key benefits include:

Connect apps and services – One of n8n’s standout features is its ability to connect and integrate hundreds of different apps and services. It has over 250 nodes in its library, allowing you to easily automate workflows across various tools like Slack, Google Sheets, Trello, and more. As the n8n community notes, this connectivity makes it simple to build complex workflows.

Why use Docker?

Docker provides several key benefits that make it a great choice for running n8n. First, Docker allows you to create consistent, isolated environments for your applications via containers. By packaging n8n and its dependencies into a Docker container, you can ensure it has everything it needs to run and avoid dependency conflicts with other software on your system (, 2022).

Additionally, Docker containers are portable and can run on any system that has Docker installed, from your laptop to the cloud. This simplifies deployment since you don’t have to worry about configuring different environments (, 2022).

Finally, Docker Compose makes it easy to run multi-container applications like n8n. With a single Compose file, you can define all the containers and connections required for your app to run (, 2022).

Overall, Docker provides key benefits around consistency, dependency management, and portability that make it a great fit for deploying n8n workflows.

Docker Prerequisites

Before installing and running Docker, make sure your system meets the minimum requirements. Docker Desktop requires a 64-bit processor with virtualization capabilities enabled, a minimum of 4GB of RAM, and at least 20GB of available disk space.

For Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise and Education editions, you need Windows 10 64-bit build 16299 or higher. On Linux, Docker supports most major distros like Ubuntu, Debian, CentOS, Fedora, etc. Check the specific Linux install instructions for details.

In addition to the base Docker engine, you’ll need Docker Compose installed for managing multi-container applications. Follow the instructions for your OS to install both Docker and Docker Compose before proceeding.

With the prerequisites satisfied, you’ll be ready to install and run n8n containers smoothly. Focus on getting Docker up and running first before creating the n8n project directory.

Create project directory

The first step is to create a directory to house your n8n project files. This will keep everything organized in one place. The common convention is to create a folder called “n8n-docker” or something similar in your user directory:

For example, on Linux/Mac:

mkdir ~/n8n-docker
cd ~/n8n-docker

And on Windows:

mkdir C:\Users\YourUser\n8n-docker
cd C:\Users\YourUser\n8n-docker

This project folder will contain your Docker Compose file and any other files related to your n8n setup. The advantage of keeping everything together in one dedicated directory is that it’s portable – you can easily move or copy the entire project folder if needed.

According to this discussion, common locations for Docker Compose files include /opt/containers, /opt/appdata, or in your home directory. The consensus is that a dedicated project folder is the cleanest approach.

Docker Compose File

The Docker Compose file defines the configuration for your n8n services and allows you to manage them as a single application. The configuration file uses YAML syntax and is typically named docker-compose.yml.

According to the Docker Compose file reference, the top-level keys in a Compose file are:

  • version – specifies the Compose file syntax version
  • services – defines the containers/services to create
  • volumes – declares shared data volumes
  • networks – defines the networks to enable communication between containers

For our n8n setup, we only need to specify the version and a single service called “n8n”. Under the n8n service, we configure the Docker image, ports, volumes, and restart policy.

The image key specifies which Docker image to use for the container. We use the official n8n image hosted on Docker Hub.

The ports key maps the n8n web UI port 5678 inside the container to port 5678 on the host. This allows us to access the n8n UI in the browser.

The volumes key mounts a local host directory to store n8n data persistently. This preserves workflows between container restarts.

Finally, restart: always restarts the container automatically if it crashes or the system reboots.

Start n8n container

With the docker-compose.yml file configured, we can now start the n8n container using the docker-compose up command. According to the Docker Compose documentation, the basic syntax for this command is:

docker-compose up [options] [SERVICE...]

The key options are:

  • -d – Run containers in the background
  • -f – Specify an alternate compose file (default: docker-compose.yml)
  • –build – Build images before starting containers

For our n8n container, we’ll use the -d flag to run it in detached mode:

docker-compose up -d

This will start the n8n service defined in our docker-compose.yml file in the background. Once started, the container will continue running until explicitly stopped.

Access n8n UI

Once the n8n container is up and running, you can access the n8n web interface to start creating workflows. To access the UI, open your preferred web browser and navigate to http://localhost:5678. This will load the n8n dashboard.

The reason you can access n8n at localhost is because in the docker-compose.yml file, we mapped port 5678 in the container to port 5678 on the host machine. This port forwarding allows traffic to the container’s internal port to be routed to our host. As explained in the Docker documentation, “You can access the running container using localhost and the exposed port” (

So in summary, by opening localhost:5678, you are accessing the internal n8n web server running inside the Docker container. This allows you to interact with the n8n UI just as if it was running natively on your local machine.

Create your first workflow

Now that you have n8n up and running, it’s time to create your first workflow. n8n uses a node-based approach to workflow creation that makes it easy to visually map out your automation. According to the n8n documentation, “A workflow is a collection of nodes connected together to automate a process. You build workflows on the workflow canvas.”

To create a new workflow in the n8n UI, simply click the “Create New Workflow” button. You’ll be taken to the workflow editor, which has the node panel on the left and the workflow canvas on the right. To add a node to your workflow, drag and drop nodes from the node panel onto the canvas and connect them together.

n8n provides over 300 different nodes for popular apps and services like Slack, Google Sheets, Trello, and more. You can easily create complex workflows by stringing together multiple nodes, with no coding required. For example, you could create a workflow that adds new Trello cards based on Google Sheet data, or one that sends Slack notifications when a webhook is triggered.

The n8n documentation provides a great overview of how to build workflows and connect nodes. With its intuitive drag-and-drop interface, you’ll be automating tasks in no time!

Example Workflow

Now that you have n8n setup, let’s walk through creating a sample workflow to see how easy it is to automate tasks. For this example, we’ll create a simple workflow that posts a message to Slack whenever a new Trello card is created.

First, search for the Trello node in the n8n node library and drag it onto the workflow canvas. Configure it by entering your Trello API credentials and choosing “New Card” as the event. This will trigger the workflow when a new card is added.

Next, add the Slack node and connect it to the Trello node’s output. For the Slack node, enter your Slack webhook URL and configure the message you want posted. You can include dynamic data from Trello using curly brackets, like the card name {{$node[“Trello”].json[“data”][“card”][“name”]}}.

That’s it! With just those two nodes, you’ve created a workflow that automatically posts Slack notifications when new Trello cards are added. You can activate the workflow and try adding a new card in Trello to see it in action.

This simple example demonstrates how easy n8n makes automating workflows between different services. With more nodes, you can build much more complex automations to streamline your work.

Expand workflows

As you become more familiar with n8n, you may want to expand your workflows and add more complexity. Here are some tips for gradually building on your automations over time:

Start small – Get the basics working before trying advanced workflows. Build up from simple two or three node workflows.

Reuse existing nodes – Many workflows can build off of common core nodes for triggers and actions. Reuse these to simplify new workflows.

Add conditions – Use IF nodes or Switch nodes to add conditional logic and branching paths.

Connect multiple triggers – Allow a workflow to be triggered by various events using multiple Trigger nodes.

Use code nodes – For advanced custom logic, Code nodes allow you to write JavaScript/TypeScript snippets within a workflow.

Leverage functions – Break workflows into reusable functions to avoid duplicate logic.

Monitor with Statistic nodes – Use Statistic nodes to log metrics and monitor workflow execution.

Handle errors – Use Try/Catch nodes to gracefully handle errors and failures.

Schedule workflows – Use the Cron node to execute workflows on a recurring schedule.

Orchestrate workflows – Trigger and sync workflows together using callback URLs.

As your needs grow, don’t be afraid to gradually add complexity to your n8n workflows. The flexible nature of n8n allows endless combinations and logic to automate virtually any task.


When running n8n with Docker, you may encounter some common issues. Here are some troubleshooting tips for resolving them:

Files not persisting in volume

If you notice that files written to the volume (like workflow data or custom nodes) are not persisting after restarting the container, make sure your volume is configured correctly in docker-compose. As noted in the n8n docs, you need to persist the ~/.n8n/nodes directory.

Cannot start container

If the n8n container fails to start with an error, check that your Docker daemon is running and you don’t have any port conflicts. As suggested in this community thread, try removing any existing stopped containers before starting.

Loading files from mounted volume

You may run into permissions issues when trying to load files from a mounted volume, as noted in this forum post. Make sure the node user has proper access to the mounted directory.

Next Steps

Once you have your initial n8n workflow set up and running smoothly, there are many ways to extend its capabilities and get even more value from automation. Here are some ideas for taking your n8n usage to the next level:

Integrate more apps and services. The possibilities are endless when it comes to connecting n8n to other tools. Browse the extensive list of n8n nodes and see what else you can integrate.

Create more complex workflows. You can chain multiple workflows together or implement logic and conditions using workflow triggers. Check out the n8n documentation for more advanced workflow concepts.

Schedule and monitor workflows. Use cron nodes or external tools like Jenkins to schedule your workflows. Monitor workflow executions and implement error handling with n8n’s operations nodes.

Optimize workflow performance. Use wait and noop nodes to control flow, enable concurrency to parallelize tasks, and leverage caching to improve execution speed.

Share and collaborate. Export your workflows as JSON files to share them with others. Set up n8n access controls to collaborate on automations as a team.

Extend with code. Use n8n’s developer nodes to write custom JavaScript code and create your own complex nodes.

By continuing to iterate and expand your n8n workflows, you can unlock even more productivity gains and cost savings through automation. The possibilities are endless!


In summary, n8n provides a powerful and flexible platform for automating workflows and integrating applications. Some of the key benefits of using n8n include:

  • Easy to create workflows with a drag-and-drop interface and extensive node library
  • Open source and free to use
  • Works with hundreds of applications and services out of the box
  • No coding required to build complex automations
  • Runs locally or in the cloud
  • Great for developers, marketers, business users and more

By leveraging n8n and Docker together, you can quickly setup and deploy n8n in a reproducible environment to start streamlining workflows. We walked through the simple steps to get n8n running with Docker Compose. Once setup, you can begin creating powerful automations to boost productivity and integrate your apps. n8n provides the flexibility to automate nearly any manual process or connect disparate systems. So unlock the possibilities with n8n and Docker today.

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