Building Custom Runtimes

A custom runtime allows you to easily deploy and run web applications written in any language. The App Engine flexible environment provides the scaling, monitoring, and load balancing infrastructure, so you can focus on building your application.

To create a custom runtime you need:

  • An app.yaml file that describes your application's runtime configuration.
  • A Dockerfile that configures the runtime environment. In many cases, this can be just one line specifying a base image.
  • To ensure your application is listening on port 8080 and has request handlers that respond to lifecycle events, such as start, stop, and health check requests.

Create an app.yaml file

You must use an app.yaml configuration file with the following settings:

runtime: custom
env: flex

For information about configuring other flexible environment settings for your app, see Configuring your App with app.yaml.

Create a Dockerfile

The Dockerfile is always named Dockerfile and should be placed in the same directory with the corresponding app.yaml file. Comprehensive documentation is available on the Docker website. You need to do this whether you use your own base image or one of Google's base images. For simplicity, this page shows an example using a Google-provided base image.

Configuring the Dockerfile

The first command in a Dockerfile is usually a FROM command specifying a base image.

The FROM command for each of the Google-provided base images is shown in the following table, along with the github project used to build the image:

Runtime Command Note
github project
FROM APIs require Go libraries.
Java (Open JDK 8 only)
github project
FROM Dockerfiles for Java.
Java (Open JDK 8 + Jetty9.3)
github project
FROM Dockerfiles for Java.
Python 2.7 & 3.4
github project
github project
github project
github project

Using App Engine service APIs

To access the App Engine service APIs from a Go app that is running the golang base image, you must import the App Engine Go libraries into your source code.

Using custom Java runtimes

To customize a Java runtime and add additional directives, you must create a Dockerfile.

Example Dockerfile for Java 8 / Jetty 9:

ADD test-webapp-1.0-SNAPSHOT.war $JETTY_BASE/webapps/root.war
RUN java -jar $JETTY_HOME/start.jar --approve-all-licenses --add-to-startd=jmx,stats,hawtio \
 && chown -R jetty:jetty $JETTY_BASE

where test-webapp-1.0-SNAPSHOT.war is the name of the built WAR file in your target/ (maven) or build/staged-app/ (gradle) directory.

In contrast, don't need a Dockerfile to deploy your app to App Engine, if you choose to use an uncustomized base image of one of the Google-provided Java runtimes. For more information, see Java 8 runtime or Java 8 / Jetty 9 runtime.

For a complete list of all the Google-provided images, see the google-appengine project.

Developing code for custom runtimes

This section describes behavior that your code must implement whether you use a Google-provided base image or your own base image.

Listen to port 8080

The App Engine front end will route incoming requests to the appropriate module on port 8080. You must be sure that your application code is listening on 8080.

Lifecycle events

All applications running in the flexible environment receive start, stop, and health check requests. If you run an app in a custom runtime, you might have the option of ignoring these requests or writing your own handlers for them.

Start and Stop requests

The start lifecycle event is sent to your application as soon as your container is built or provisioned. It is signaled as a HTTP request to the handler /_ah/start. No response is required to this handler, however your application might use it as a signal that App Engine expects your container to be ready to respond to incoming traffic.

The stop lifecycle event is sent to your application when App Engine is preparing to turn down the container. It is signaled as a HTTP request to the handler /_ah/stop. The application does not need to respond to this event, but the application can use it to perform any necessary clean up actions prior to the container being shut down.

Health check requests

By default, an application running in the flexible environment is periodically sent health check requests.

If you create a custom runtime your app must handle health check requests or disable them, otherwise, the app won't come up properly.

A health check is an HTTP request to the URL /_ah/health. A healthy application should respond with status code 200.

At its simplest, an application can check that its serving stack is up and running; it might also perform more sophisticated checks, such as ensuring any background processes are running.

To disable health checking, add this line to your app's configuration file:

enable_health_check: False

Using Google Cloud Platform services

Applications running in the flexible environment can access the Google API Client Libraries or any third party services via standard APIs.

API clients

With custom runtimes, client libraries can use the Application Default Credentials to authenticate with and call Google APIs.

Alternatively, you can authenticate your application directly with access tokens using the Compute Engine Metadata API. You can then use these access tokens in API requests, such as requests against Google Cloud Storage and Google Cloud Datastore services and resources.


When a request is sent to your application running in App Engine, request and response details are logged automatically, and can be viewed in the Google Cloud Platform Console Logs Viewer.

When your application handles a request, it can also write its own logging messages to stdout and stderr. These files are automatically collected and can be viewed in the Logs Viewer. Only the most recent entries to stdout and stderr are retained, in order to limit their size.

The request and application logs for your app are collected by a Cloud Logging agent and are kept for a maximum of 90 days, up to a maximum size of 1GB. If you want to store your logs for a longer period or store a larger size than 1GB, you can export your logs to Cloud Storage. You can also export your logs to BigQuery and Pub/Sub for further processing.

Other logs are also available for your use. The following are some of the logs that are configured by default:

Log name Payload type Purpose
crash.log text Information logged when setup fails. If your application fails to run, check this log.
monitoring.* text Information from the Docker container publishing data to Cloud Monitoring.
shutdown.log text Information logged on shutdown.
stdout text Standard output from your app.
stderr text Standard error from your container.
syslog text The VM syslog, outside of the Docker container.

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Custom runtimes for the App Engine flexible environment