The Portainer Agent is a workaround for a Docker API limitation when using the Docker API to manage a Docker environment. The user interactions with specific resources (containers, networks, volumes and images) are limited to those available on the node targeted by the Docker API request.

Docker Swarm mode introduces a concept which is the clustering of Docker nodes. It also adds services, tasks, configs and secrets which are cluster-aware resources. Cluster-aware means that you can query for a list of services or inspect a task inside any node on the cluster, as long as you’re executing the Docker API request on a manager node.

Containers, networks, volumes and images are node specific resources, not cluster-aware. When you, for example, want to list all the volumes available on a node inside your cluster, you will need to send a query to that specific node.

The purpose of the agent aims to allow previously node specific resources to be cluster-aware. All while keeping the Docker API request format. As aforementioned, this means that you only need to execute one Docker API request to retrieve all these resources from every node inside the cluster. In all bringing a better Docker user experience when managing Swarm clusters.

Agent deployment

Here follow the instructions to deploy the Agent, and to connect it to Portainer.

Deploy it as a stack

Have a look at the deployment documentation Inside a Swarm cluster to quickly deploy the agent and a Portainer instance inside a Swarm cluster via docker stack deploy.

Manual deployment

Overall, the setup consists of the following steps:

  • Step 1: Create a new overlay network in your Swarm cluster for the Agent.
  • Step 2: Deploy the Agent as a global service in your cluster (connected to the overlay network).
  • Step 3: Connect your Portainer instance to any of the agents by using the Agent’s IP:PORT as an endpoint.

Note: This setup assumes that you are executing the following instructions on a Swarm manager node.

Step 1, creating a new overlay network in your Swarm cluster:

$ docker network create --driver overlay --attachable portainer_agent_network

Step 2, deploying the Agent as a global service in your cluster:

$ docker service create \
    --name portainer_agent \
    --network portainer_agent_network \
    -e AGENT_CLUSTER_ADDR=tasks.portainer_agent \
    --mode global \
    --constraint 'node.platform.os == linux' \
    --mount type=bind,src=//var/run/docker.sock,dst=/var/run/docker.sock \
    --mount type=bind,src=//var/lib/docker/volumes,dst=/var/lib/docker/volumes \

Step 3, deploying the Portainer instance as a service:

$ docker service create \
    --name portainer \
    --network portainer_agent_network \
    --publish 9000:9000 \
    --replicas=1 \
    --constraint 'node.role == manager' \
    portainer/portainer -H "tcp://tasks.portainer_agent:9001" --tlsskipverify

Step 4, deploying the Agent for all Windows Server nodes

Because of Docker limitation you need deploy Agent to all Windows Server nodes by running following command on each of them.

$ docker run -d --name portainer_agent --restart always --network portainer_agent_network -e AGENT_CLUSTER_ADDR=tasks.portainer_agent --mount type=npipe,source=\\.\pipe\docker_engine,target=\\.\pipe\docker_engine portainer/agent:windows1803-amd64

Note: If you’re using Windows server 1803, you might need to open up DNS ports to support the DNS resolution of tasks.portainer_agent. See:

Connecting an existing Portainer instance to an agent

If you want to connect an existing Portainer instance to an agent, you can choose the Agent environment type when creating a new endpoint.

Ensure when deploying the agent, that you expose the Agent’s port inside your Swarm cluster, and that the mode is set to host (default port is 9001):

$ docker service create \
    --name portainer_agent \
    --network portainer_agent_network \
    --publish mode=host,target=9001,published=9001 \
    -e AGENT_CLUSTER_ADDR=tasks.portainer_agent \
    --mode global \
    --mount type=bind,src=//var/run/docker.sock,dst=/var/run/docker.sock \
    --mount type=bind,src=//var/lib/docker/volumes,dst=/var/lib/docker/volumes \

You can then use the address of any node in your cluster (with the agent port) inside the Agent URL field.

Alternatively, you can deploy the agent using the following stack:

version: '3.2'

    image: portainer/agent
      AGENT_CLUSTER_ADDR: tasks.agent
      - /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock
      - /var/lib/docker/volumes:/var/lib/docker/volumes
      - target: 9001
        published: 9001
        protocol: tcp
        mode: host
      - portainer_agent
      mode: global
        constraints: [node.platform.os == linux]

    driver: overlay
    attachable: true

Agent configuration

You can change the configuration of the agent by using environment variables.

The following environment variables can be tuned:

  • AGENT_PORT: Agent port (default: 9001)
  • LOG_LEVEL: Agent log level (default: INFO)