Linux Containers (LXC) is an operating-system-level virtualization method for running multiple isolated Linux systems (containers) on a single control host (LXC host). It does not provide a virtual machine, but rather provides a virtual environment that has its own CPU, memory, block I/O, network, etc. space and the resource control mechanism. This is provided by namespaces and cgroups features in Linux kernel on LXC host. It is similar to a chroot, but offers much more isolation.
Privileged containers or unprivileged containers
LXCs can be setup to run in either privileged or unprivileged configurations.
In general, running an unprivileged container is considered safer than running a privileged container since unprivileged containers have an increased degree of isolation by virtue of their design. Key to this is the mapping of the root UID in the container to a non-root UID on the host which makes it more difficult for a hack within the container to lead to consequences on host system. In other words, if an attacker manages to escape the container, he or she should find themselves with no rights on the host.
The Arch packages currently provide out-of-the-box support for privileged containers only. This is due to the current Archkernel not shipping with user namespaces configured. This article contains information for users to run either type of container, but additional setup is required to use unprivileged containers at this time.
An example to illustrate unprivileged containers
To illustrate the power of UID mapping, consider the output below from a running, unprivileged container. Therein, we see the containerized processes owned by the containerized root user in the output of
[root@unprivileged_container /]# ps -ef | head -n 5 UID PID PPID C STIME TTY TIME CMD root 1 0 0 17:49 ? 00:00:00 /sbin/init root 14 1 0 17:49 ? 00:00:00 /usr/lib/systemd/systemd-journald dbus 25 1 0 17:49 ? 00:00:00 /usr/bin/dbus-daemon --system --address=systemd: --nofork --nopidfile --systemd-activation systemd+ 26 1 0 17:49 ? 00:00:00 /usr/lib/systemd/systemd-networkd
On the host however, those containerized root processes are running as the mapped user (ID>100000) on the host, not as the root user on the host:
[root@host /]# lxc-info -Ssip --name sandbox State: RUNNING PID: 26204 CPU use: 10.51 seconds BlkIO use: 244.00 KiB Memory use: 13.09 MiB KMem use: 7.21 MiB
[root@host /]# ps -ef | grep 26204 | head -n 5 UID PID PPID C STIME TTY TIME CMD 100000 26204 26200 0 12:49 ? 00:00:00 /sbin/init 100000 26256 26204 0 12:49 ? 00:00:00 /usr/lib/systemd/systemd-journald 100081 26282 26204 0 12:49 ? 00:00:00 /usr/bin/dbus-daemon --system --address=systemd: --nofork --nopidfile --systemd-activation 100000 26284 26204 0 12:49 ? 00:00:00 /usr/lib/systemd/systemd-logind
Installingand will allow the host system to run privileged lxcs.
Enable support to run unprivileged contains (optional)
Users wishing to run unprivileged containers need to complete several additional setup steps.
Firstly, a custom kernel is required that has support for User namespaces. This option is available under General setup>Namespaces support>User namespace from an nconfig, or by simply modifying the kernel PKGBUILD with the following line inserted prior to the "make prepare" line:
sed -i -e 's/# CONFIG_USER_NS is not set/CONFIG_USER_NS=y/' ./.config
See, ABS for more on compiling a custom kernel.
/etc/lxc/default.conf to contain the following lines:
lxc.id_map = u 0 100000 65536 lxc.id_map = g 0 100000 65536
Finally, create both
/etc/subgid to contain the mapping to the containerized uid/gid pairs for each user who shall be able to run the containers. The example below is simply for the root user (and systemd system unit):
Host network configuration
LXCs support different virtual network types and devices (see lxc.container.conf(5)). A bridge device on the host is required for most types of virtual networking. Users are referred to the Network bridge article.
For privileged containers, simply select a template from
/usr/share/lxc/templates that matches the target distro to containerize. Users wishing to containerize non-Arch distros will need additional packages on the host depending on the target distro:
- Fedora-based: AUR
lxc-create to create the container, which installs the root filesystem of the LXC to
/var/lib/lxc/CONTAINER_NAME/rootfs by default. Example creating an Arch Linux LXC named "playtime":
# lxc-create -n playtime -t /usr/share/lxc/templates/lxc-archlinux
Users wishing to run unprivileged containers should use the -t download directive and select from the images that are displayed. For example:
# lxc-create -n playtime -t download
Alternatively, create a privileged container, and see: #Converting a privileged container to an unprivileged container.
The examples below can be used with privileged and unprivileged containers alike. Note that for unprivileged containers, additional lines will be present by default which are not shown in the examples, including the
lxc.id_map = u 0 100000 65536 and the
lxc.id_map = g 0 100000 65536 values optionally defined in the #Enable support to run unprivileged contains (optional) section.
Basic config with static IP networking
System resources to be virtualized/isolated when a process is using the container are defined in
/var/lib/lxc/CONTAINER_NAME/config. By default, the creation process will make a minimum setup without networking support. Below is an example config with networking:
# Template used to create this container: /usr/share/lxc/templates/lxc-archlinux # Parameters passed to the template: # For additional config options, please look at lxc.container.conf(5) ## default values lxc.rootfs = /var/lib/lxc/playtime/rootfs lxc.utsname = playtime lxc.arch = x86_64 lxc.include = /usr/share/lxc/config/archlinux.common.conf ## network lxc.network.type = veth lxc.network.link = br0 lxc.network.flags = up lxc.network.name = eth0 lxc.network.ipv4 = 192.168.0.3/24 lxc.network.ipv4.gateway = 192.168.0.1 lxc.network.hwaddr = ee:ec:fa:e9:56:7d
Basic config with DHCP networking
Users wishing to have DHCP used within the container may omit the
lxc.network.ipv4.gateway lines as the Arch template provides a DHCP systemd-networkd profile by default. It is advantageous to define a MAC address for the container here to allow the DHCP server to always assign the same IP to the container's NIC (beyond the scope of this article but worth mentioning).
Mounts within the container
For privileged containers, one can select directories on the host to bind mount to the container. This can be advantageous for example if the same architecture is being containerize and one wants to share pacman packages between the host and container. Another example could be shared directories. The syntax is simple:
lxc.mount.entry = /var/cache/pacman/pkg var/cache/pacman/pkg none bind 0 0
Xorg program considerations (optional)
In order to run programs on the host's display, some bind mounts need to be defined so that the containerized programs can access the host's resources. Add the following section to
## for xorg ## fix overmounting see: https://github.com/lxc/lxc/issues/434 lxc.mount.entry = tmpfs tmp tmpfs defaults lxc.mount.entry = /dev/dri dev/dri none bind,optional,create=dir lxc.mount.entry = /dev/snd dev/snd none bind,optional,create=dir lxc.mount.entry = /tmp/.X11-unix tmp/.X11-unix none bind,optional,create=dir lxc.mount.entry = /dev/video0 dev/video0 none bind,optional,create=file
If you still get a permission denied error in your LXC guest, then you may need to call
xhost + in your host to allow the guest to connect to the host's display server. Take note of the security concerns of opening up your display server by doing this.
To list all installed LXC containers:
# lxc-ls -f
Users can also start/stop LXCs without systemd. Start a container:
# lxc-start -n CONTAINER_NAME
Stop a container:
# lxc-stop -n CONTAINER_NAME
To login into a container:
# lxc-console -n CONTAINER_NAME
If when login you get pts/0 and lxc/tty1 use:
# lxc-console -n CONTAINER_NAME -t 0
Once logged, treat the container like any other linux system, set the root password, create users, install packages, etc.
To attach to a container:
# lxc-attach -n CONTAINER_NAME
It works nearly the same as lxc-console, but you are automatically accessing root prompt inside the container, bypassing login.
Users with a need to run multiple containers can simplify administrative overhead (user management, system updates, etc.) by using snapshots. The strategy is to setup and keep up-to-date a single base container, then, as needed, clone (snapshot) it. The power in this strategy is that the disk space and system overhead are truly minimized since the snapshots use an overlayfs mount to only write out to disk, only the differences in data. The base system is read-only but changes to it in the snapshots are allowed via the overlayfs.
One caveat to this setup is that the base lxc cannot be running when snapshots are taken.
For example, setup a container as outlined above. We will call it "base" for the purposes of this guide. Now create 2 snapshots of "base" which we will call "snap1" and "snap2" with these commands:
# lxc-copy -n base -N snap1 -B overlayfs -s # lxc-copy -n base -N snap2 -B overlayfs -s
The snapshots can be started/stopped like any other container. Users can optionally destroy the snapshots and all new data therein with the following command. Note that the underlying "base" lxc is untouched:
# lxc-destroy -n snap1 -f
Converting a privileged container to an unprivileged container
Once the system has been configured to use unprivileged containers (see, #Enable support to run unprivileged contains (optional)), AUR contains a utility called
uidmapshift which is able to convert an existing privileged container to an unprivileged container to avoid a total rebuild of the image.
Invoke the utility to convert over like so:
# uidmapshift -b /var/lib/lxc/foo 0 100000 65536
Additional options are available simply by calling
uidmapshift without any arguments.
Running Xorg programs
Either attach to or SSH into the target container and prefix the call to the program with the DISPLAY ID of the host's X session. For most simple setups, the display is always 0.
An example of running Firefox from the container in the host's display:
$ DISPLAY=:0 firefox
Alternatively, to avoid directly attaching to or connecting to the container, the following can be used on the host to automate the process:
# lxc-attach -n playtime --clear-env -- sudo -u YOURUSER env DISPLAY=:0 firefox
Root login fails
If you get the following error when you try to login using lxc-console:
login: root Login incorrect
And the container's
pam_securetty(login:auth): access denied: tty 'pts/0' is not secure !
Alternatively, create a new user in lxc-attach and use it for logging in to the system, then switch to root.
# lxc-attach -n playtime [root@playtime]# useradd -m -Gwheel newuser [root@playtime]# passwd newuser [root@playtime]# passwd root [root@playtime]# exit # lxc-console -n playtime [newuser@playtime]$ su
No network-connection with veth in container config
If you cannot access your LAN or WAN with a networking interface configured as veth and setup through
If the virtual interface gets the ip assigned and should be connected to the network correctly.
ip addr show veth0 inet 192.168.1.111/24
You may disable all the relevant static ip formulas and try setting the ip through the booted container-os like you would normaly do.
... lxc.network.type = veth lxc.network.name = veth0 lxc.network.flags = up lxc.network.link =
Cannot start unprivileged LXC due to newuidmap execution failure
Unprivileged LXC cannot start with current shadow in official package, because of newuidmap and newgidmap is not setuid
chmod u+s /usr/bin/newuidmap chmod u+s /usr/bin/newgidmap
This is a bug in upstream but still not cherry-picked in official repository