~jpetazzo/Attach a volume to a container while it is running

It has been asked on #docker-dev recently if it was possible to attach a volume to a container after it was started. At first, I thought it would be difficult, because of how the mnt namespace works. Then I thought better :-)


To attach a volume into a running container, we are going to:

It’s that simple, really.

Preliminary warning

In the examples below, I deliberately included the $ sign to indicate the shell prompt and help to make the difference between what you’re supposed to type, and what the machine is supposed to answer. There are some multi-line commands, with > continuation characters. I am aware that it makes the examples really painful to copy-paste. If you want to copy-paste code, look at the sample script at the end of this post!

Step by step

In the following example, I assume that I started a simple container named charlie, with the following command:

$ docker run --name charlie -ti ubuntu bash

I also assume that I want to mount the host directory /home/jpetazzo/Work/DOCKER/docker to /src in my container.

Let’s do this!


First, you will need nsenter, with the docker-enter helper script. Why? Because we are going to mount filesystems from within our container, and for security reasons, our container is not allowed to do that. Using nsenter, we will be able to run an arbitrary command within the context (technically: the namespaces) of our container, but without the associated security restrictions. Needless to say, this can be done only with root access on the Docker host.

The simplest way to install nsenter and its associated docker-enter script is to run:

$ docker run --rm -v /usr/local/bin:/target jpetazzo/nsenter

For more details, check the nsenter project page.

Find our filesystem

We want to mount the filesystem containing our host directory (/home/jpetazzo/Work/DOCKER/docker) in the container.

We have to find on which filesystem this directory is located.

First, we will canonicalize (or dereference) the file, just in case it is a symbolic link - or its path contains any symbolic link:

$ readlink --canonicalize /home/jpetazzo/Work/DOCKER/docker

A-ha, it is indeed a symlink! Let’s put that in an environment variable to make our life easier:

$ HOSTPATH=/home/jpetazzo/Work/DOCKER/docker
$ REALPATH=$(readlink --canonicalize $HOSTPATH)

Then, we need to find which filesystem contains that path. We will use an unexpected tool for that, df:

Filesystem     1K-blocks      Used Available Use% Mounted on
/sda2          245115308 156692700  86157700  65% /home/jpetazzo

Let’s use the -P flag (to force POSIX format, just in case you have an exotic df, or someone runs that on Solaris or BSD when those systems will get Docker too) and put the result into a variable as well:

$ FILESYS=$(df -P $REALPATH | tail -n 1 | awk '{print $6}')

Find the device (and sub-root) of our filesystem

Now, in a world without bind mounts or BTRFS subvolumes, we would just have to look into /proc/mounts to find out the device corresponding to the /home/jpetazzo filesystem, and we would be golden. But on my system, /home/jpetazzo is a subvolume on a BTRFS pool. To get subvolume information (or bind mount information), we will check /proc/self/mountinfo.

If you had never heard about mountinfo, check proc.txt in the kernel docs, and be enlightened :-)

So, first, let’s retrieve the device of our filesystem:

$ while read DEV MOUNT JUNK
> do [ $MOUNT = $FILESYS ] && break
> done </proc/mounts
$ echo $DEV

Next, retrieve the sub-root (i.e. the path of the mounted filesystem, within the global filesystem living in this device):

> do [ $MOUNT = $FILESYS ] && break
> done < /proc/self/mountinfo 
$ echo $SUBROOT

Perfect. Now we know that we will need to mount /dev/sda2, and inside that filesystem, go to /jpetazzo, and from there, to the remaining path to our file (in our example, /go/src/github.com/docker/docker).

Let’s compute this remaining path, by the way:

$ SUBPATH=$(echo $REALPATH | sed s,^$FILESYS,,)

Note: this works as long as there are no , in the path. If you have an idea to make that work regardless of the funky characters that might be in the path, let me know! (I shall invoke the Shell Triad to the rescue: jessie, soulshake, tianon?)

The last thing that we need to do before diving into the container, is to resolve the major and minor device numbers for this block device. stat will do it for us:

$ stat --format "%t %T" $DEV
8 2

Note that those numbers are in hexadecimal, and later, we will need them in decimal. Here is a hackish way to convert them easily:

$ DEVDEC=$(printf "%d %d" $(stat --format "0x%t 0x%T" $DEV))

Putting it all together

There is one last subtle hack. For reasons that are beyond my understanding, some filesystems (including BTRFS) will update the device field in /proc/mounts when you mount them multiple times. In other words, if we create a temporary block device named /tmpblkdev in our container, and use that to mount our filesystem, then now our filesystem (in the host!) will appear as /tmpblkdev instead of e.g. /dev/sda2. This sounds like a little detail, but in fact, it will screw up all future attempts to resolve the filesystem block device.

Long story short: we have to make sure that the block device node in the container is located at the same path than its counterpart on the host.

Let’s do this:

$ docker-enter charlie -- sh -c \
> "[ -b $DEV ] || mknod --mode 0600 $DEV b $DEVDEC"

Create a temporary mount point, and mount the filesystem:

$ docker-enter charlie -- mkdir /tmpmnt
$ docker-enter charlie -- mount $DEV /tmpmnt

Make sure that the volume mount point exists, and bind mount the volume on it:

$ docker-enter charlie -- mkdir -p /src
$ docker-enter charlie -- mount -o bind /tmpmnt/$SUBROOT/$SUBPATH /src

Cleanup after ourselves:

$ docker-enter charlie -- umount /tmpmnt
$ docker-enter charlie -- rmdir /tmpmnt

(We don’t clean up the device node. We could be extra fancy and detect whether the device existed in the first place, but this is already pretty complex as it is right now!)


Automating the hell out of it

This little snippet is almost copy-paste ready.

set -e

REALPATH=$(readlink --canonicalize $HOSTPATH)
FILESYS=$(df -P $REALPATH | tail -n 1 | awk '{print $6}')

while read DEV MOUNT JUNK
do [ $MOUNT = $FILESYS ] && break
done </proc/mounts
[ $MOUNT = $FILESYS ] # Sanity check!

do [ $MOUNT = $FILESYS ] && break
done < /proc/self/mountinfo 
[ $MOUNT = $FILESYS ] # Moar sanity check!

SUBPATH=$(echo $REALPATH | sed s,^$FILESYS,,)
DEVDEC=$(printf "%d %d" $(stat --format "0x%t 0x%T" $DEV))

docker-enter $CONTAINER -- sh -c \
	     "[ -b $DEV ] || mknod --mode 0600 $DEV b $DEVDEC"
docker-enter $CONTAINER -- mkdir /tmpmnt
docker-enter $CONTAINER -- mount $DEV /tmpmnt
docker-enter $CONTAINER -- mkdir -p $CONTPATH
docker-enter $CONTAINER -- mount -o bind /tmpmnt/$SUBROOT/$SUBPATH $CONTPATH
docker-enter $CONTAINER -- umount /tmpmnt
docker-enter $CONTAINER -- rmdir /tmpmnt

Status and limitations

This will not work on filesystems which are not based on block devices.

It will only work if /proc/mounts correctly lists the block device node (which, as we saw above, is not necessarily true).

Also, I only tested this on my local environment; I didn’t even try on a cloud instance or anything like that, but I would love to know if it works there or not!

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