About udocker

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udocker is a basic user tool to execute simple docker containers in user space without requiring root privileges. Enables download and execution of docker containers by non-privileged users in Linux systems where docker is not available. It can be used to pull and execute docker containers in Linux batch systems and interactive clusters that are managed by other entities such as grid infrastructures or externally managed batch or interactive systems.

udocker does not require any type of privileges nor the deployment of services by system administrators. It can be downloaded and executed entirely by the end user.

udocker is a wrapper around several tools to mimic a subset of the docker capabilities including pulling images and running containers with minimal functionality.

How does it work

udocker is a simple tool written in Python, it has a minimal set of dependencies so that can be executed in a wide range of Linux systems.

udocker does not make use of docker nor requires its presence.

udocker "executes" the containers by simply providing a chroot like environment over the extracted container. The current implementation supports different methods to mimic chroot thus enabling execution of containers under a chroot like environment without requiring privileges. udocker transparently supports several methods to execute the containers using tools and libraries such as:

  • PRoot

  • Fakechroot

  • runC

  • Singularity


  • Provides a docker like command line interface

  • Supports a subset of docker commands:

    search, pull, import, export, load, save, create and run

  • Understands docker container metadata

  • Allows loading of docker and OCI containers

  • Can be deployed by the end-user

  • Does not require privileges for installation

  • Does not require privileges for execution

  • Does not require compilation, just transfer the Python script and run

  • Encapsulates several tools and execution methods

  • Includes the required tools already statically compiled to work across systems

  • Tested with GPGPU and MPI applications

  • Runs both on new and older Linux distributions including:

    CentOS 6, CentOS 7, CentOS 8, Ubuntu 14, Ubuntu 16, Ubuntu 18, Fedora, etc

Installation and Users manuals

See the Installation manual and the Users manual.


search <repo/expression> :Search dockerhub for container images
pull <repo/image:tag> :Pull container image from dockerhub
create <repo/image:tag> :Create container from a pulled image
run <container> :Execute container
images -l :List container images
ps -m -s :List created containers
name <container_id> <name> :Give name to container
rmname <name> :Delete name from container
rename <name> <new_name> :Change container name
clone <container_id> :Duplicate container
rm <container-id> :Delete container
rmi <repo/image:tag> :Delete image
import <tar> <repo/image:tag> :Import tar file (exported by docker)
import - <repo/image:tag> :Import from stdin (exported by docker)
export -o <tar> <container> :Export container directory tree
export - <container> :Export container directory tree
load -i <imagefile> :Load image from file (saved by docker)
load :Load image from stdin (saved by docker)
save -o <imagefile> <repo/image:tag> :Save image with layers to file
inspect -p <repo/image:tag> :Return low level information on image
verify <repo/image:tag> :Verify a pulled or loaded image
protect <repo/image:tag> :Protect repository
unprotect <repo/image:tag> :Unprotect repository
protect <container> :Protect container
unprotect <container> :Unprotect container
mkrepo <top-repo-dir> :Create another repository in location
setup :Change container execution settings
login :Login into docker repository
logout :Logout from docker repository
help :This help
run --help :Command specific help
version :Shows udocker version
Options common to all commands must appear before the command:
-D :Debug
--quiet :Less verbosity
--repo=<directory> :Use repository at directory
--insecure :Allow insecure non authenticated https
--allow-root :Allow execution by root NOT recommended


Some examples of usage:

Search container images in dockerhub.

udocker search fedora
udocker search ubuntu
udocker search indigodatacloud

Pull from dockerhub and list the pulled images.

udocker pull fedora:29
udocker pull busybox
udocker pull iscampos/openqcd
udocker images

Pull from a registry other than dockerhub.

udocker search quay.io/bio
udocker search --list-tags quay.io/biocontainers/scikit-bio
udocker pull quay.io/biocontainers/scikit-bio:0.2.3--np112py35_0
udocker images

Create a container from a pulled image and run it.

udocker create --name=myfed fedora:29
udocker run myfed cat /etc/redhat-release

The three steps of pulling, creating and running can be achieved in a single command, however this will create a new container in each invocation consuming additional space and time. Therefore is better to pull and create separately and use the identifier returned by create or use an alias to execute the container as demonstrated above.

udocker run fedora:29 cat /etc/redhat-release

Execute mounting the host /home/u457 into the container directory /home/cuser. Notice that you can "mount" any host directory inside the container. Depending on the execution mode the "mount" is implemented differently and may have restrictions.

udocker run -v /home/u457:/home/cuser -w /home/user myfed /bin/bash
udocker run -v /var -v /proc -v /sys -v /tmp myfed /bin/bash

Put a script in your host /tmp and execute it in the container.

udocker run -v /tmp myfed /bin/bash -c 'cd /tmp; ./myscript.sh'

Execute mounting the host /var, /proc, /sys and /tmp in the same container directories. Notice that the content of these container directories will be obfuscated.

udocker run -v /var -v /proc -v /sys -v /tmp myfed /bin/bash

Install software inside the container.

udocker run --user=root myfed yum install -y firefox pulseaudio gnash-plugin

Run as some user. The usernames should exist in the container.

udocker run --user 1000:1001 myfed /bin/id
udocker run --user root myfed /bin/id
udocker run --user jorge myfed /bin/id

Running Firefox.

udocker run --bindhome --hostauth --hostenv \
-v /sys -v /proc -v /var/run -v /dev --user=jorge --dri myfed firefox

Change execution engine mode from PRoot to Fakechroot and run.

udocker setup --execmode=F3 myfed
udocker run --bindhome --hostauth --hostenv \
-v /sys -v /proc -v /var/run -v /dev --user=jorge --dri myfed firefox

Change execution engine mode to accelerated PRoot.

udocker setup --execmode=P1 myfed

Change execution engine to runC.

udocker setup --execmode=R1 myfed

Change execution engine to Singularity. Requires the availability of Singularity in the host system.

./udocker setup --execmode=S1 myfed

Install software running as root emulation in Singularity:

udocker setup --execmode=S1 myfed
udocker run --user=root myfed yum install -y firefox pulseaudio gnash-plugin


Since root privileges are not involved any operation that really requires such privileges will not be possible. The following are examples of operations that are not possible:

  • accessing host protected devices and files

  • listening on TCP/IP privileged ports (range below 1024)

  • mount file-systems

  • the su command will not work

  • change the system time

  • changing routing tables, firewall rules, or network interfaces

If the containers require such capabilities then docker should be used instead.

The current implementation is limited to the pulling of docker images and its execution. The actual containers should be built using docker and dockerfiles.

udocker does not provide all the docker features, and is not intended as a docker replacement.

Debugging inside of udocker with the PRoot engine will not work due to the way PRoot implements the chroot environment

udocker is mainly oriented at providing a run-time environment for containers execution in user space. udocker is particularly suited to run user applications encapsulated in docker containers.


Because of the limitations described in the previous section udocker does not offer robust isolation features such as the ones offered by docker. If the containers content is not trusted then these containers should not be executed with udocker as they will run inside the user environment.

The containers data will be unpacked and stored in the user home directory or other location of choice. Therefore the containers data will be subjected to the same filesystem protections as other files owned by the user. If the containers have sensitive information the files and directories should be adequately protected by the user.

udocker does not require privileges and runs under the identity of the user invoking it.

Users can downloaded udocker and execute it without requiring system administrators intervention.

udocker via PRoot offers the emulation of the root user. This emulation mimics a real root user (e.g getuid will return 0). This is just an emulation no root privileges are involved. This feature makes possible the execution of some tools that do not require actual privileges but which refuse to work if the username or id are not root or 0. This enables for instance software installation using rpm, yum or dnf inside the container.

udocker must not be run by privileged users.

udocker also provides execution with runc and Singularity, these modes make use of rootless namespaces and enable a normal user to execute as root with certain limitations.

Other limitations

When using execution modes such as F2, F3 and F4 the created containers cannot be moved across hosts. In this case convert back to a Pn mode before transfer. This is not needed if the hosts are part of an homogeneous cluster where the mount points and directory structure is the same. This limitation applies to the absolute realpath to the container directory.

The default accelerated mode of PRoot (mode P1) may exhibit failures in Linux kernels above 4.0 due to kernel changes and upstream issues, in this case use mode P2 or any of the other execution modes.

./udocker setup --execmode=P2 my-container-id

The Fn modes require shared libraries compiled against the libc within the containers. udocker provides these libraries for several distributions and versions, they are installed under:


The runC mode requires a recent kernel with user namespaces enabled.

The singularity mode requires the availability of Singularity in the host system.


The full documentation is available at:


See: Contributing


When citing udocker please use the following:

  • Jorge Gomes, Emanuele Bagnaschi, Isabel Campos, Mario David, Luís Alves, João Martins, João Pina, Alvaro López-García, Pablo Orviz, Enabling rootless Linux Containers in multi-user environments: The udocker tool, Computer Physics Communications, Available online 6 June 2018, ISSN 0010-4655, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpc.2018.05.021


This work is co-funded by the EOSC-hub project (Horizon 2020) under Grant number 777536