~jpetazzo/Attaching to a container with Docker 0.9 and libcontainer

If you upgraded your Docker installation to 0.9, you are now using libcontainer to run your containers. And if you were using lxc-attach, you probably noticed that it doesn’t work anymore. Here are two ways to recover the “attach” feature with Docker containers.

What happened?

First, let’s explain exactly what’s involved here. Before 0.9, Docker was using the LXC userland tools to start containers. It means that docker run … eventually translated to a call to lxc-start. As such, Docker containers could be managed with the LXC userland tools, including lxc-attach to obtain a shell within an existing container. This is a very convenient feature, because you can drop into a container without having to run a special server process within the container.

lxc-attach relies on the fact that each container created with lxc-start listens on a specific socket: by default, an abstract socket named /var/lib/lxc/<container_name>/command. It uses that socket to infer the PID of the container, and then uses the setns() syscall to attach a new process to the namespaces used by the container.

Docker 0.9 ships with the “native” execution driver, which uses libcontainer instead of the LXC userland tools. And guess what, libcontainer doesn’t create that abstract socket, so lxc-attach is confused and can’t locate the container.

There are (at least) three solutions:

Use nsenter

In most distros, nsenter is in the util-linux package. It ships after version 2.23. Unfortunately, Debian and Ubuntu still ship with util-linux 2.20 as of March 2014; so you will have to compile it yourself:

cd /tmp
curl https://www.kernel.org/pub/linux/utils/util-linux/v2.24/util-linux-2.24.tar.gz \
     | tar -zxf-
cd util-linux-2.24
./configure --without-ncurses
make nsenter
cp nsenter /usr/local/bin

(You might have to adjust the configure line a little bit.)

Now, find the PID of the first process of the container (actually, any PID will do, but this is just easier and safer):

PID=$(docker inspect --format '{{.State.Pid}}' my_container_id)

Then, enter like this:

nsenter --target $PID --mount --uts --ipc --net --pid

Voilà, you are now in the container!

nsenter does not drop capabilities; so the shell started by nsenter can do more stuff (and more harm!) than a normal process running within the container.

Note: when looking for details about nsenter, I realized that Sebastien Han already posted a very similar recipe. If you want to use nsenter before version 0.9, his recipe works best (since Docker pre-0.9 doesn’t have .State.Pid).

Use nsinit

According to Michael Crosby, it is even better to use nsinit. And he’s a core maintainer of Docker, and primary author of libcontainer; so you bet he knows what he’s talking about ☺

To install nsinit, you need a Go development environment. (On Debian/Ubuntu, apt-get install golang-go might be sufficient.)

Then, assuming that your GOPATH etc. is set correctly, all you need is:

go install github.com/dotcloud/docker/pkg/libcontainer/nsinit/nsinit

Then, you need to go to the container configuration directory. Where’s that? It’s in /var/lib/docker/execdriver/native/<container_id>/. Find the short ID of your container with docker ps, then go to the right directory (you will need root access, since /var/lib/docker is readable only by root).

Then, once in that directory, just run nsinit exec bash. That’s all.

You can check this Asciinema demo to see it in action!

Revert to the LXC driver

If you can’t compile neither nsenter nor nsinit, well, your last option is to revert Docker to use the LXC driver.

First, stop your Docker daemon. Then edit the daemon start options (on Debian/Ubuntu, edit /etc/default/docker and fine the line with DOCKER_OPTS). Add -e lxc. Restart Docker. Done. You can now use lxc-attach again, but each morning, when you’ll see your face in the mirror, you will have to remember that this is the face of someone who is missing all the goodness of libcontainer!

This work by Jérôme Petazzoni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.