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Docker Alternatives
12 min read

Docker Alternatives

Introduction

The concept of containers have been around for a long time , however it is the docker that resvolutionized the container world. Containers solve the typical software portability problem of "It works on my machine but but not yours". Although docker is the most commonly used container runtime, it has its competitors too. In this article, we will discuss top alternatives of Docker walking your through their pros and cons and how they compare to Docker.

Let's start with the first alternative which is Podman.

Alternative 1: Podman

Overview and Core Features

Podman, short for Pod Manager, is a powerful contender in the world of container engines. It’s an open-source project that provides a daemonless container engine for developing, managing, and running OCI Containers on your Linux System.

  • Rootless: Podman doesn’t require a daemon and allows you to run containers without root privileges.

  • Pods: Podman can manage pods, groups of containers that share resources.

  • Compatibility: Podman is compatible with the Docker CLI and Docker Compose.

    Docker vs podman architecture

https://hub.alfresco.com/t5/alfresco-content-services-blog/using-podman-with-alfresco/ba-p/316257

Pros

  • Strong Security: Running containers as non-root adds an extra layer of security.
  • Simple Architecture: Without a daemon, you get a simpler architecture and less overhead.
  • More Flexible: Podman can handle both containers and pods, offering more flexibility.

Cons

  • Not Mature Enough: Podman is newer and less mature than Docker, so you might encounter more bugs or missing features.
  • Windows Support is Limited: Podman primarily targets Linux. While it can run on Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), it’s not as seamless as Docker.

When to go for Podman

Podman is idea for environments where security is paramount, and you want to avoid running containers as root. It’s also a good choice if you prefer a simpler, more lightweight architecture without a daemon.

Comparison with Docker

While Docker has been the go-to container platform for many years, Podman offers a compelling alternative.

  • Security: Podman’s rootless containers are a significant advantage over Docker.
  • Architecture: Podman’s daemonless architecture is simpler and reduces overhead.
  • Command Line Interface (CLI): If you’re familiar with Docker’s CLI, you’ll feel right at home with Podman.

Example Code Snippet:

# Pull the hello-world image from Docker Hub
podman pull docker.io/library/hello-world

# Run the hello-world container
podman run docker.io/library/hello-world

When you run this, you should see a “Hello from Docker!” message, which confirms that your installation appears to be working correctly. This message is coming from the hello-world container itself. The container runs a small script which outputs this message and then exits.

Remember, you need to have Podman installed on your machine to run these commands. If you don’t have it installed, you can check out the official Podman installation guide.

Alternative 2: LXD

Docker alternatives

Overview and Core Features

LXD, standing tall as a Docker alternative, is a next-generation system container manager. It offers a user experience similar to virtual machines but using Linux containers.

  • System Containers: LXD containers are like lightweight VMs, running full Linux distributions.
  • Scalability: LXD is designed to handle many containers efficiently, perfect for large deployments.
  • Security: LXD includes robust security features, like resource restrictions and isolation mechanisms.

Pros

  • Performance: LXD containers run with bare-metal performance, as they run directly on the host without any hypervisor overhead.
  • Flexibility: LXD supports a broad range of Linux distributions.
  • Ease of Use: LXD provides a simple command-line interface and also has a REST API for remote management.

Cons

  • Less Mature: LXD is not as mature as Docker, and some features might be missing or less polished.
  • Limited Windows Support: LXD is primarily designed for Linux. It doesn’t natively support Windows.

When to Choose LXD

LXD is an excellent choice when you need to run full Linux distributions, when you have large-scale container deployments, or when you need a higher level of security isolation between containers.

Comparison with Docker

While Docker focuses on application containers, LXD specializes in system containers. This fundamental difference makes LXD more suitable for running full-fledged virtual environments, while Docker is more tailored for running individual applications.

Basic Configuration Snippet

Here is a basic snippet showing how to launch a new Ubuntu container with LXD:

# Launch a new Ubuntu container with LXD
lxc launch ubuntu:18.04 mycontainer

# List all LXD containers
lxc list

This will create a new Ubuntu 18.04 container named “mycontainer” and then list all running containers. Remember, LXD must be installed and properly configured on your system to run these commands.

Alternative 3: Containerd

Docker alternatives

Introduction and Key Features

Containerd, part of the Docker, is an industry-standard container runtime. It’s a core component of Docker, but it can also run independently.

Open Standards: The foundation of Containerd is the Open Container Initiative (OCI) standards.

Minimalism: Containerd provides only the functionality required to run containers, with an emphasis on minimalism.

Strong Reliability: Containerd is built to withstand heavy use and is perfect for deployments of several containers at once.

Docker vs containerd architecture

Advantages

Performance: Excellent performance is achieved by Containerd because to its lightweight and efficient design. Compatibility: Because it is an integral part of Docker, Containerd works well with other Docker processes. Community Support: There is a lot of community support for Containerd, and it has the backing of big names in the field.

Disadvantages

Limited Features: Comparing Containerd to Docker, you'll notice that the former has less features. Building pictures and other advanced capabilities are missing.

Reasons to Choose Containerd

For those who don't require Docker's extra capabilities but still want a simple, efficient, and dependable container runtime, Containerd is an excellent option.

Docker vs Containerd

While Docker is a full-fledged container platform, Containerd is a more focused, lightweight container runtime. If you’re already using Docker, you’re also using Containerd under the hood. But if you want a standalone runtime without the extra features of Docker, Containerd is a solid choice.

Code Snippet

Here’s a simple code snippet showing how to pull an image and run a container using Containerd:

# Pull the hello-world image
ctr image pull docker.io/library/hello-world:latest

# Run the hello-world container
ctr run docker.io/library/hello-world:latest hello

This will pull the hello-world image from Docker Hub and run it as a container named hello. Remember, you need to have Containerd installed on your system to run these commands.

Alternative 4: Buildkit

Introduction and Core Features

Buildkit, a recent addition to Docker, is a toolkit for converting source code to build artifacts in an efficient, expressive, and repeatable manner.

  • Efficiency: Buildkit is designed for high performance with advanced features like parallel build execution and build cache optimizations.
  • Flexibility: Buildkit supports multiple build formats, including Dockerfiles and custom frontends.
  • Extensibility: Buildkit is component-based, allowing for customization and extensibility.

Advantages

  • Faster Build Times: Buildkit’s design and optimizations lead to faster build times.
  • Very Flexible: Buildkit’s support for multiple build formats and frontends offers greater flexibility.
  • Better Security: Each build in Buildkit is isolated, improving security and reproducibility.

Disadvantages

  • More Complex: Buildkit’s advanced features can be complex to understand and use.
  • Not Mature Enough: Buildkit is newer addition to Docker and less mature, so some features might be less polished or missing.

When to Opt for Buildkit

Buildkit is a great choice when you need to build container images efficiently and flexibly, especially for large projects with complex build requirements.

Docker vs Buildkit

While Docker is a full-fledged container platform, Buildkit focuses on the build process. Buildkit offers advanced features and optimizations that can lead to faster and more flexible builds.

Example Code Snippet

Here’s a simple code snippet showing how to build a Dockerfile using Buildkit:

# Set the DOCKER_BUILDKIT environment variable
export DOCKER_BUILDKIT=1

# Build a Dockerfile using Buildkit
docker build -t myimage .

This will build the Dockerfile in the current directory with Buildkit, creating an image named myimage. Remember, you need to have Docker installed on your system to run these commands, and Docker must be configured to use Buildkit.

Alternative 5: Buildah

Docker alternatives

Overview and Core Features

Buildah is a tool that shines in the containerization world. It’s known for its simplicity and flexibility.

  • Unlike Docker, Buildah operates directly on the container’s file system.
  • This allows fine-grained control over the build process.

Pros:

  • Buildah is lightweight and easy to use.
  • It doesn’t require a daemon to run, reducing the system’s overhead.
  • It supports multiple image formats, including OCI and Docker images.

Cons:

  • Buildah lacks some of Docker’s advanced features, like swarm mode for clustering and service discovery.
  • Its simplicity can be a double-edged sword, as it might not be as feature-rich as some users might need.

When to Choose Buildah

  • If you’re looking for a straightforward, no-frills way to build and manage your container images, Buildah is a solid choice.
  • It’s especially suitable for environments where resources are at a premium, or when you don’t need the full suite of features offered by more complex tools like Docker.

Comparison with Docker

  • While Docker is a comprehensive platform that offers a wide range of features for deploying and managing containers, Buildah focuses solely on building and managing container images.
  • This makes Buildah simpler and lighter than Docker, but also less feature-rich.
  • If you need advanced features like networking and service discovery, Docker might be a better fit.
  • But if you’re after a simple, lightweight tool for managing container images, Buildah is worth considering.

Alternative 6: RunC

Overview and Core Features

RunC is a lightweight, portable container runtime.

  • It’s part of the Open Container Initiative (OCI).
  • It’s designed to run containers according to the OCI specification.
  • This means it can run any container that meets this standard.

Pros:

  • RunC is simple and lightweight.
  • It’s highly portable, meaning it can run on a variety of systems.
  • It adheres to the OCI specification, ensuring compatibility with other OCI-compliant tools.

Cons:

  • RunC is less feature-rich compared to Docker.
  • It lacks some of the user-friendly features that Docker provides.
  • It requires more manual configuration and management.

When to Choose RunC

  • If you need a simple, lightweight container runtime, RunC is a good choice.
  • It’s especially useful if you need to run containers on a variety of systems.
  • However, if you need more advanced features, you might want to consider Docker or another alternative.

Comparison with Docker

  • Docker is a full-fledged container platform, while RunC is a simple container runtime.
  • Docker provides a wide range of features and a user-friendly interface, while RunC is more bare-bones.
  • If you need a simple, lightweight tool and are comfortable with manual configuration, RunC could be a good fit.
  • However, if you prefer a tool with more features and a user-friendly interface, Docker might be a better choice.

Comparison Chart

Below is a comparison table summarizing the key differences between all the Docker alternatives disussed above.

FeatureDockercontainerdLXDBuildKitPodmanbuildahrunc
PerformanceHigh performance with cachingEfficient with low overheadHigh performance with system containersOptimized for concurrent operationsComparable to DockerOptimized for building OCI imagesLow-level tool, performance depends on usage
ScalabilityScales well with Swarm and KubernetesScales from single instance to cluster levelScales from single instance to full data centerDesigned for scalability in buildingScales well without a daemonScales well with containersScales with container ecosystem
Security FeaturesNamespaces, cgroups, and SELinuxNamespaces, cgroupsUnprivileged containersContent-addressable dependency graphRootless, daemonlessSupports rootless buildLow-level core runtime component, uses namespaces and cgroups
Ease of UseUser-friendly with Docker CLILower-level API, used with higher-level toolsSimple REST API and CLILow-Level Build (LLB) definition formatNative CLI, similar to DockerSimple CLI for building imagesPrimarily used indirectly through higher-level tools
Community SupportLarge communityPart of CNCF, widely adoptedSponsored by CanonicalPart of Moby ProjectActive communityPart of the Red Hat ecosystemPart of the OCI, smaller community
Platform SupportLinux, macOS, WindowsLinux, Windows, others with runtime shimsLinuxLinuxLinux, macOS, WindowsLinuxLinux

Conclusion

This article covered the top competitors of Docker in the container world. Now that you have gone through the powers and weaknesses of all the alternatives, you should be in a position to select the best container runtime for your needs. Consider all the factors like features, security, ease of use, learning curve, to decide which option is best suited for you. Apply the knoweledge gained from this article in your projects and you will see that containerization is one of the keys to a project's success.

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