/ Pratik Mallya

Remote Container Daemon

Personal projects serve several purposes. They can be an effective learning tool, a nice way to explore a new technology. Sometimes its just about solving a problem in a more convoluted way than the optimized one, just to explore the problem space better and to see what all can be done.

Most such projects don’t really see the light of day, so I wanted to try an experiment where I wrote about an incomplete one, one where I failed to get the result I wanted, but wrote about how I approached it and how far I could get. Maybe some day the conditions change and I’m able to look back and finish it.

The basic idea is to have remote container “daemon”; essentially something that would allow me to build container images from anywhere. Usually, you install docker for desktop on mac, and then docker build. However, docker is a resource hungry application; having it run on a beefy work Macbook Pro is fine, but on my lean personal Macbook Air? Not so much.

The first improvement is to use podman. It removes the need to have a daemon… making this whole project somewhat useless 😅. However, to use podman on macOS requires spinning up a linux vm (which podman machine does) because the underlying technology used by containers (cgroups?) is only available on linux.

So now the problem has changed from running a docker daemon somewhere, to simply having a linux instance with podman installed accessible from my machine. That seems like a much simpler problem.

Searching for Cheap Linux Boxes

Ideally, we can wring a free or really cheap VM from one of the multitudes of cloud providers out there. The first one to land in my google search dragnet was OCI, which has an always free tier. You get a pretty wimpy x86 VM or a decent arm VM, so of course I went with the arm VM. The “shape configuration” (i.e. specs) looked like:

Type Value
OS Oracle-Linux-8.4-aarch64-2021.10.25-0
Shape VM.Standard.A1.Flex
OCPU count 4
Network bandwidth (Gbps) 4
Memory (GB) 24
Local disk Block storage only

Installing podman

Mostly followed this article.

OCI lets you specify a cloud-init script, so just paste the following lines:

# not sure how yum works but apparantly this is required
sudo yum module enable -y container-tools

# install podman itself
sudo yum -y install podman

# enable podman.socket systemd service. This means that podman will listen on 
# the unix socket that clients usually connect to, and if a client does try to 
# connect, it will start podman and serve the client. This is a systemd 
# concept, more details here: 
# https://www.freedesktop.org/software/systemd/man/systemd.socket.html
systemctl --user enable podman.socket

# since we want "rootless" podman, we want to let the non-root user `opc` 
# "linger" without an active login session not exactly sure how this works, 
# mostly copy pasta'd from the article
sudo loginctl enable-linger opc

(opc is the default username selected by OCI)

Easy 😎

However, that ended up not working. I don’t know why, and didn’t investigate it further. I just ran the commands after ssh-ing into the machine. 🤷

Configure podman to connect to remote machine

# add a connection to the remote podman machine
podman system connection add oci --identity ~/.ssh/id_rsa ssh://

# set the remote podman machine as the default connection so we don't have to 
# specify `--connection oci` for `podman`
# commands
podman system connection default oci

(the user id for opc is 1000, as can be verified with lslogins:

[opc@podmand ~]$ lslogins opc
Username:                           opc
UID:                                1000


I got this far, but was unable to proceed as podman is unable to connect to the remote instance as configured. Documented this in here. The repo seems like its actively maintained, so I hope to get some pointers. Its written in go, so I could maybe try debugging it… but I’ve already spent a lot of time, the excitement has worn off, so I’m calling it done… for now 🙂.

Appendix: Using podman on MacOS

  1. brew install podman
  2. podman machine init, downloads a fcos vm image
  3. podman machine start, starts the linux vm

Now, just substitute podman for docker and it just works! (There are almost certainly cases where a simple substitution won’t work… but for the purposes of building and running container images locally, it looks like podman just works).

While the linux vm spawned by podman machine start does consume a bunch of RAM, it does not eat CPU like the docker daemon (TODO: verify this, compare resource usage b/w podman and docker daemon).