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How to Fix “Docker Compose Networks Must Be a Mapping” Error

Anastasios Antoniadis

Learn how to fix the “networks must be a mapping” error in Docker Compose by ensuring correct YAML syntax, defining networks as a map, and adhering to version compatibility. A step-by-step guide to streamline your Docker deployments.

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When working with Docker Compose to orchestrate multi-container Docker applications, encountering configuration errors can be a common part of the development process. One such error developers might encounter is the “networks must be a mapping” message. This error occurs when Docker Compose files do not adhere to the expected YAML structure for defining networks. YAML, being a data serialization language designed for human readability, is strict about its formatting rules. A small deviation can lead to configuration errors, hindering your deployment process. This article will guide you through understanding and fixing the “networks must be a mapping” error in Docker Compose files.

Understanding the Error

The “networks must be a mapping” error typically arises when the networks configuration in your docker-compose.yml file is incorrectly formatted. Docker Compose expects the networks section to be a map (also known as a dictionary in some programming languages), where each network’s name is a key, and its configuration is a value. This error is often due to using a list format instead of a map, incorrectly defining the network, or syntax issues in the YAML file.

Steps to Fix the Error

Step 1: Review the Docker Compose YAML Syntax

YAML syntax requires careful attention to indentation and structure. The first step is to ensure that your docker-compose.yml file is correctly formatted. Each indentation level typically represents a nested structure, using spaces (not tabs). Ensure that the networks section follows this structure:

    driver: bridge

Step 2: Correct the Networks Definition

Ensure that your networks are defined as a map, not a list. A common mistake that leads to this error is defining networks with a dash (-), indicating a list in YAML rather than as keys in a map. Here is an incorrect example that would cause the error:

# Incorrect
  - my_network:
      driver: bridge

This should be corrected to:

# Correct
    driver: bridge

Step 3: Validate Your YAML File

YAML files can be tricky to debug due to their sensitivity to spaces and indentation. Use a YAML validator (many are available online) to ensure there are no syntax errors in your file. These tools can help you spot issues that might not be immediately obvious, such as incorrect indentation levels or mixed use of tabs and spaces.

Step 4: Define Networks Under Services Correctly

When you define networks under services, ensure they’re also mapped correctly. Each service that connects to a network should reference the network in a format that matches the definition in the networks section. Here’s how to do it correctly:

    image: nginx:alpine
      - my_network

    driver: bridge

Step 5: Check for Version Compatibility

Ensure that your Docker Compose file specifies a version compatible with the features you’re using. The networks key and its detailed configurations are supported in version 2 and above. If you’re specifying advanced network settings, ensure your file’s version is appropriately set at the top:

version: '3.8'


The “networks must be a mapping” error in Docker Compose is a common YAML configuration issue that can be resolved by paying close attention to the structure and syntax of your docker-compose.yml file. By ensuring networks are defined as a map, validating the YAML syntax, correctly associating networks with services, and using the correct version, you can overcome this error and move forward with your Docker deployments. Remember, meticulous attention to YAML formatting and structure is key to successfully using Docker Compose.

Anastasios Antoniadis
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