Linux Containers

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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.

Alternatives for using containers are systemd-nspawn and docker.

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 Arch linux kernel 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.

Note: Several requests have been filed to include user namespace support in the kernel including: FS#36969 and more recently, FS#49337. However, both requests have been closed with the won't implement reason.

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 ps:

[root@unprivileged_container /]# ps -ef | head -n 5
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
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


Required software

Install the lxc and arch-install-scripts packages. These two packages should be enough to allow the host system to run privileged lxcs.

Enable support to run unprivileged contains (optional)

User wishing to run unprivilegedcontainers 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.

Secondly, modify /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/subuid and /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.

Container creation

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:

Run 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: Linux_Containers#Converting_a_privileged_container_to_an_unprivileged_container.

Tip: Users may optionally install haveged and start haveged.service to avoid a perceived hang during the setup process while waiting for system entropy to be seeded. Without it, the generation of private/GPG keys can add a lengthy wait to the process.
Tip: Users of Btrfs can append -B btrfs to create a Btrfs subvolume for storing containerized rootfs. This comes in handy if cloning containers with the help of lxc-clone command. ZFS users may use -B zfs, correspondingly.

Container configuration

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 Linux_Containers#Enable_support_to_run_unprivileged_contains_.28optional.29 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 = veth = br0 = up = eth0 = = = ee:ec:fa:e9:56:7d
Note: The entry is optional and if skipped, a random MAC address will be created automatically.

Basic config with DHCP networking

Users wishing to have DHCP used within the container may omit the and 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
Note: This will not work without filesystem permission modifications on the host if using unprivileged containers.

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 /var/lib/lxc/playtime/config:

## for xorg
## fix overmounting see:
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.

Note: This will not work if using unprivileged containers.

OpenVPN considerations

Users wishing to run OpenVPN within the container should read the OpenVPN (client) in Linux containers article.

Managing Containers

Basic usage

To list all installed LXC containers:

# lxc-ls -f

Systemd can be used to start and to stop LXCs via lxc@CONTAINER_NAME.service. Enable lxc@CONTAINER_NAME.service to have it start when the host system boots.

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

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.

Advanced usage

LXC clones

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'll call it "base" for the purposes of this guide. Now create 2 snapshots of "base" which we'll 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
Note: If a static IP was defined for the "base" lxc, that will need to manually changed in the config for "snap1" and for "snap2" before starting them. If the process is to be automated, a script using sed can do this automatically although this is beyond the scope of this wiki section.

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, Linux_Containers#Enable_support_to_run_unprivileged_contains_.28optional.29), nsexec-bzrAUR 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.

Warning: It is recommended to backup the existing image before using this utility!

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 journalctl shows:

pam_securetty(login:auth): access denied: tty 'pts/0' is not secure !

Add pts/0 to the list of terminal names in /etc/securetty on the container filesystem, see [1]. You can also opt to delete /etc/securetty on the container to allow always root to login, see [2].

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 can't access your LAN or WAN with a networking interface configured as veth and setup through /etc/lxc/containername/config. If the virtual interface gets the ip assigned and should be connected to the network correctly.

ip addr show veth0 

You may disable all the relevant static ip formulas and try setting the ip through the booted container-os like you would normaly do.

Example container/config

... = veth = veth0 = up = bridge

And then assign your IP through your preferred method inside the container, see also Network configuration#Configure the IP address.

See also