The Dark Side of Docker: Avoid the “Latest” Tag

The Dark Side of Docker: Avoid the “Latest” Tag

In this tutorial, we will learned the hard way to avoid "latest" for software releases. Let's start with the dark side of Docker.

We rely on Docker, and it’s one of our favorite technologies. But using Docker for commercial software shows some rough edges that we found the hard way.

Latest Tag Is Broken at Best, Evil at Worst

It seems like the “latest” tag should work, but it really doesn’t, except in the simplest cases. We didn’t realize how crazy broken this could be until one night we were on a Zoom call and watched a new customer install software that was three months old, when there were 10 newer builds available. Not a good feeling.

We’re not the first to recognize there were major things wrong with the latest tag, but we really didn’t see these problems at first. We’ve now gone the other way and removed our “latest” tags from our Docker images. There were a couple of things that put us over the edge.

The “latest” pattern bends or breaks the kind of caching that every CDN wants to do because, over time, this leads to multiple artifacts with the same name but different content. What CDNs really like are immutable artifacts with unique version numbers. What’s really awful is that if the latest tag fails due to this kind of caching, you’ll never know. The latest tag will always resolve to something, even if that something is months old because of some lame caching issue.


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