How to use docker without sudo?

In this article, we’ll learn how to use docker without sudo. If you want short answers, jump to the next answer below.

Good news: the new docker (version 19.03 (currently experimental)) will be able to run rootless negating the problems that can occur using a root user. No more messing with elevated permissions, root and anything that might open up your machine when you did not want to.

A few Caveats to the rootless Docker mode

Docker engineers say the rootless mode cannot be considered a replacement for the complete suite of Docker engine features. Some limitation to the rootless mode include:

  • cgroups resource controls, apparmor security profiles, checkpoint/restore, overlay networks etc. do not work on rootless mode.
  • Exposing ports from containers currently requires manual socat helper process.
  • Only Ubuntu-based distros support overlay filesystems in rootless mode.
  • Rootless mode is currently only provided for nightly builds that may not be as stable as you are used to.

As of docker 19.3 this is obsolete (and more dangerous than need be):

The docker manual has this to say about it:

Giving non-root access

The docker daemon always runs as the root user, and since Docker version 0.5.2, the docker daemon binds to a Unix socket instead of a TCP port. By default that Unix socket is owned by the user root, and so, by default, you can access it with sudo.

Starting in version 0.5.3, if you (or your Docker installer) create a Unix group called docker and add users to it, then the docker daemon will make the ownership of the Unix socket read/writable by the docker group when the daemon starts. The docker daemon must always run as the root user, but if you run the docker client as a user in the docker group then you don’t need to add sudo to all the client commands. As of 0.9.0, you can specify that a group other than docker should own the Unix socket with the -G option.

In the recent release of the experimental rootless mode on GitHub, engineers mention rootless mode allows running dockerd as an unprivileged user, using user_namespaces(7), mount_namespaces(7), network_namespaces(7).

Users need to run instead of dockerd.

$ --experimental

As Rootless mode is experimental, users need to always run with –experimental.

Manage Docker as a non-root user

The docker daemon binds to a Unix socket instead of a TCP port. By default that Unix socket is owned by the user root and other users can only access it using sudo. The docker daemon always runs as the root user.

If you don’t want to use sudo when you use the docker command, create a Unix group called docker and add users to it. When the docker daemon starts, it makes the ownership of the Unix socket read/writable by the docker group.

  • Add the docker group if it doesn’t already exist:
    sudo groupadd docker
  • Add the connected user “$USER” to the docker group. Change the user name to match your preferred user if you do not want to use your current user:
    sudo gpasswd -a $USER docker
  • Either do a newgrp docker or log out/in to activate the changes to groups.
  • You can use
    docker run hello-world
    to check if you can run docker without sudo.

How to use docker without sudo?

To run docker command without sudo, you need to add your user (who has root privileges) to docker group. For this run following command:

 sudo usermod -aG docker $USER

Now, have the user logout then login again.

Answer #3:

The mechanism by which adding a user to group docker grants permission to run docker is to get access to the socket of docker at /var/run/docker.sock. If the filesystem that contains /var/run has been mounted with ACLs enabled, this can also be achieved via ACLs.

sudo setfacl -m user:$USER:rw /var/run/docker.sock

I’m only including this for completeness.

In general, I recommend to avoid ACLs whenever a good alternative based on groups is available: It is better if the privileges in a system can be understood by looking at group memberships only. Having to scan the file system for ACL entries in order to understand system privileges is an additional burden for security audits.

Warning 1: This has the same root equivalence as adding $USER to the docker group. You can still start a container in a way that has root access to the host filesystem.

Warning 2: ACLs are significantly more difficult for security audits than group-based security. Probably avoid ACLs if possible when you can use groups instead, at least in audit-relevant environments.

Answer #4:

After creating the docker group and adding my user to it with

sudo groupadd docker
sudo usermod -aG docker $USER

… I still had to give the /var/run/docker.sock socket and /var/run/docker directory the proper permissions to make it work:

sudo chown root:docker /var/run/docker.sock
sudo chown -R root:docker /var/run/docker

Logout and login again (with that user) then you’ll be able to run docker commands without sudo:

docker run hello-world

BTW: This was fixed in Ubuntu 21.10 and is only necessary for Ubuntu versions lower than that.

Answer #5:

Docker containers need to be run by a root user. You can add yourself to the docker group (e.g. by running sudo usermod -aG docker $USER), but this makes it easy for anyone with access to the $USER account to gain root access to the machine (e.g. by mounting a root volume in a privileged container).

A more security-conscious way of running Docker containers as a non-root user would be to use Podman: From its website:

Podman is a daemonless container engine for developing, managing, and running OCI Containers on your Linux System. Containers can either be run as root or in rootless mode. Simply put: alias docker=podman.

How to use docker without sudo using ACL lists?

There is another way to do this, and that is ACL lists.

Still logged in as sudoer user we need to run this command

sudo setfacl -m user:bobby:rw /var/run/docker.sock

Off course, change bobby for your actual user who you want to use docker.

Now you can log in as this user.

su bobby

Now we can use docker, for example enter this command

docker ps

It should list containers if you have some. If not, at least it won’t show you permission denied error.

About ᴾᴿᴼᵍʳᵃᵐᵐᵉʳ

Linux and Python enthusiast, in love with open source since 2014, Writer at, India.

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