Kubernetes vs. Docker Swarm: A Beginner’s Comparison

Container orchestration technology has become one of the best ways to create a cluster of fault tolerant and highly scalable applications. Currently, the two biggest names in the field are Kubernetes and Docker Swarm. Both are software that can create and manage a cluster of containerized applications.

The two technologies differ in significant ways, so if you are getting ready to dive into container orchestration, you will want to make sure that you understand all of the key differences between Kubernetes and Docker Swarm. In this tutorial, we will compare Kubernetes and Docker Swarm across a few key areas. We will weigh their pros and cons, see how they stack up against each other on a Linux system, and ultimately give you enough information to help you decide which one you should use.

In this tutorial you will learn:

  • What is Kubernetes?
  • What is Docker Swarm?
  • Pros and cons of Kubernetes and Docker Swarm
  • Which one should I choose, Kubernetes or Docker Swarm?
Kubernetes vs. Docker Swarm: A Beginner's Comparison
Kubernetes vs. Docker Swarm: A Beginner’s Comparison
Software Requirements and Linux Command Line Conventions
Category Requirements, Conventions or Software Version Used
System Any Linux distro
Software Kubernetes, Docker Swarm
Other Privileged access to your Linux system as root or via the sudo command.
Conventions # – requires given linux commands to be executed with root privileges either directly as a root user or by use of sudo command
$ – requires given linux commands to be executed as a regular non-privileged user

What are Kubernetes and Docker Swarm?

Kubernetes and Docker Swarm are both container orchestration tools. Let’s break down what that means. Both of these technologies allow an administrator to deploy their containerized application across a series of worker nodes (or “hosts” if that makes more sense). By having the application distributed across numerous nodes, it provides fault tolerance, load balancing, and a slew of other advantages, such as rolling updates. The key takeaway is that we can drastically reduce downtime while simplifying administration responsibilities.

This is much simpler than older methods of deployment, such as virtualization, when administrators had to manage a bunch of different virtual machines, their operating systems, and the installed software on each one. Containerization simplifies this whole process, and software like Kubernetes or Docker Swarm provides the piece of the puzzle to manage these containers at scale.

Kubernetes vs Docker Swarm: Pros and Cons

Both Kubernetes and Docker Swarm use Docker as a containerization layer. However, Kubernetes can also use other tools such as Containerd. When it comes to integration with Docker, of course Docker Swarm will synergize slightly better, but Kubernetes provides a variety of solutions for various scenarios.

Let’s compare Kubernetes and Docker Swarm across a few key areas:

Ease of Use

Kubernetes has a huge learning curve, and the jargon alone is enough to put off newcomers. Docker Swarm is quite a bit easier to get started with. Since Docker is the most used containerization technology, it makes sense that it would integrate better with Docker’s own Swarm software, rather than Kubernetes. That is not to say that it does not integrate well with Kubernetes; it does, but Docker Swarm and its integration with Docker itself makes it easier to use than Kubernetes.

Scalability and Automation

When managing small to medium sized clusters, there is no huge advantage to using Kubernetes vs. Docker Swarm, at least in the context of scalability and automation. Both technologies are designed to be highly scalable, but Kubernetes is the recommended choice when it comes to managing large clusters. Kubernetes offers some features not present in Docker Swarm, such as self healing and other automation. This automation is essential when managing large clusters, since you will not have all day to oversee and administer the cluster yourself.


Kubernetes is much more complex and feature rich than Docker Swarm. It needs advanced capabilities such as self healing and rolling updates in order to efficiently manage clusters at a large scale. Docker Swarm has less features, but this also makes it inherently easier to master. When working with small clusters, the advanced capabilities of Kubernetes are not as important.

Which One Is Right for Me?

Now you must decide between Kubernetes and Docker Swarm. If you are already very familiar with Docker, and simply want to extend its functionality so you can deploy your containerized applications at a higher scale, then Docker Swarm would be an easy leap for you to make. Conversely, if you need to deploy a large cluster of containerized applications, and need advanced features such as self healing and rolling updates, then Kubernetes will be the correct choice for you.

Closing Thoughts

In this tutorial, we learned about the differences between Kubernetes and Docker Swarm. While both technologies work to fulfill the same purpose, we see that they have a very different set of features and advantages when comparing them across key areas like ease of use, scalability, automation, and feature set. Hopefully this has given you enough of an overview of both software to make an informed decision about which one is right for you. If in doubt, there is nothing stopping you from trying both of them!

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