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Docker Without Volume Mounting

The Environment

Sometimes when you work in different environments there are different security policies that inevitably make my job very difficult if not damn near impossible. I can usually figure out something out that is incredible inefficient and just let the customer pay the additional cost. I ran into one of these environments the other day where I was given a VM to perform my development from. This VM was pretty locked down, but it did provide me sudo to docker. I thought, "Great, as long as we have docker, we should be good!" ... oh boy was I wrong.

As it turns out, the VM locked down docker from being able to:

  • Run in --privileged mode
  • No passing --devices
  • No adding capabilities
  • And no volume mounting!
  • ... And many other limitations

Most of the policies made sense to me. For example, allowing a user access to a privileged docker process is essentially the same as providing someone with root. Also, allowing someone the ability to run as root with the ability to map in any host directory via volume mounting, you may as well provide the user with root permissions.

My Use Case

My typical docker workflow involves running some commands in a deterministic environment that create, mutate, or delete some set of files (e.g. compilation, script side-effect, and so forth). The trouble with the above environment is that I have no convenient access to files located on a reliable source (i.e. the host). By reliable source, I mean a location for files that doesn't disappear when I tear down the container. Typically I'll volume mount $(pwd) into the WORKDIR of the docker image.

In summary, I wanted to host the "working directory files" from the host and have the container access those files. Then I could simply run my docker invocations with --rm (or at least have some comfort that I won't lose bytes when the container goes away.)

Some Not-So-Possible Solutions

  • Volume mounting, whether a local folder map or a docker managed volume was out of the question.
  • FUSE file systems (e.g. sshfs) couldn't be used because I couldn't forward the /dev/fuse device to the container and I couldn't add the required capabilities (e.g. SYS_ADMIN) to the container.
  • In general, anything that required root on the host (other than running the docker process) didn't work. This included adding/removing any kernel modules, configuring file systems, and so forth.

One solution that I had come up with is SSHFSing from the host into the container. This would at least allow me to partially have a shared mount point between the host and the container. I could perform this from the host because the host did provide an accessible /dev/fuse device. Alas, this violated the reliable source constraint I gave myself, so while functional it ain't going to cut it.

A horrible solution would be to simply use gitlab as the middle ground for files. This means that we'd git clone whenever the container was started and then commit/push/pull the files whenever I needed to access from the host. While this might be a viable solution for a completely automated process, its quite intolerable for interactive development.

Possible Solutions

What I've recently resorted to is a continuous rsync capabilitiy. When googling that, you'll find 3 apparent solutions:

lsyncd (Live Syncing Daemon)

lsyncd is an application that you can install into your system that utilizes inotify and rsync. This is the no fuss solution if installing and running lsyncd is an option. The lsyncd github repository states an example invocation as being as simple as:

lsyncd -rsync /home

You can install lsyncd with:

# On CentOS from EPEL with:
yum install lsyncd

# On Ubuntu
apt-get install lsyncd


Using inotify-tools and rsync command directly results in a DIY solution that does something similar to lsyncd.

The inotify site itself provides an example of how to rsync a change from a directory with a script:

# Pre-reqs: inotify-tools and rsync


inotifywait -mr \
--timefmt '%d/%m/%y %H:%M' --format '%T %w %f' \
-e close_write /tmp/test |
while read -r date time dir file; do

rsync --progress --relative -vrae 'ssh -p 22' "$changed_rel" \
[email protected]:/backup/root/dir && \
echo "At ${time} on ${date}, file $changed_abs was backed up via rsync" >&2

Another stackoverflow question takes a much more lean approach:

while inotifywait -r -e modify,create,delete,move /directory; do
rsync -avz /directory /target

My personal preference is from the Right Angles blog where they have a nice reusable script and go into more depth about how to efficiently use it with SSH. Here is the script:



if [ -z "$DEST" ]; then exit 1; fi

inotifywait -r -m -e close_write --format '%w%f' . |\
while read file
echo $file
rsync -azvq $file ${DEST}/$file
echo -n 'Completed at '

The gist of the SSH configuration is that you need to add something like the following to your ~/.ssh/config file:

ControlMaster auto
ControlPath /tmp/%h%p%r

This configuration automatically generates a controlling socket file in the /tmp folder that is used to establish new channels over an existing SSH connection (i.e. tunnel).

Watchman / Rsync

When using a system that doesn't have inotify (i.e. Mac/Windows) you can resort to Facebook's watchman application. Watchman provides a common interface for file change notifications on Linux, OSX, and Windows. There are also older versions that contain BSD support. Watchman's primary use case is to support javascript/typescript development, but can easily be used for other applications. One medium article by Waqqas Jabbar states that you can create a script:

for i in $@
rsync $i user@remote:/home/user/code/$i

Then you can run the script with something like (Note: I've not tested this.):

watchman watch code/
watchman --trigger . rsync --sh ~/