Pivotal Engineering Journal

Technical articles from Pivotal engineers.

Cloud Foundry GrootFS: A daemonless container image manager

GrootFS is the new container image plugin for Garden, Cloud Foundry’s container engine. It doesn’t require a daemon process, as most other engines, and can be run as an unprivileged user, improving CF’s security posture.

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Categories:   Cloud Foundry    Containers    Docker    Community    Open Source    Linux    Garden   
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As part of the CF Garden’s move to OCI, we heavily restructured our previous container engine, Garden Linux, towards a pluggable design. One interesting area that we can now extend is container image management. CF GrootFS was developed as a standalone tool that works well with Cloud Foundry but can also be used independently. In upcoming version 1.1.0 of Garden runC, CF will be moving closer to start consuming GrootFS thanks to the new plugin API.

The CF Garden team has been very keen on the work that’s being done in the area of rootless containers, mainly thanks to Aleksa Sarai. CF aims to be “secure by default” and reducing the operations that run as host root comprise a significant portion of this effort. We built GrootFS with this vision in mind. It hasn’t been easy, but in the end, we managed to run the vast majority of system operations as a non-privileged user.

I am Groot

GrootFS is developed by a Cloud Foundry Foundation team of engineers. As a result, our first mandate is to make sure we sufficiently cover the needs of Cloud Foundry. This however still results in a list of neat features such as:

  • Support for Docker and local directory images
  • BTRFS driver to improve performance of already cached images
  • Disk quotas
  • grootfs clean to clean unused layers and meta data
  • UID/GID mappings translation (requires the setuid system command newuidmap to be installed)
  • grootfs stats to print disk usage (requires a setuid helper binary called drax to be installed)
  • Metrics emission for performance monitoring

I want to try it

Our main Github repository contains a playground vagrant box, which we recommend using (vagrant up) to start playing with GrootFS quickly.

Our project’s readme contains instructions on how to install and use GrootFS in your environment.


Making an image

Downloading and creating an image can be done with grootfs create:

$> grootfs create docker:///alpine my-alpine

The last argument is the unique image id.

grootfs create returns the path to the image directory which contains:

Using it with runC

runC is the reference implementation of the OCI Runtime spec. It is the backbone of both Docker and Garden runC today.

runC expects a rootfs directory with the contents of the container root file system in the runtime bundle. However, it can be configured to point to any directory on the system and indeed, images produced by GrootFS can be configured in this way.

runC currently requires root to run, but a rootless runC will soon be able to utilise the power of GrootFS and enable us to run the whole process of creating a container as an unprivileged user.

# Create the root file system
$> grootfs create docker:///ubuntu:16.04 my-ubuntu-container

# Create the runtime bundle
$> cd /var/lib/grootfs/0/images/my-ubuntu-container
$> runc spec

# cat `/etc/issue` in the container
$> sed -i -e 's/\"sh\"/\"sh\", \"-c\", \"cat \/etc\/issue\"/g' config.json
$> runc run my-ubuntu-container
Ubuntu 16.04.1 LTS \n \l

In case sed -i -e 's/\"sh\"/\"sh\", \"-c\", \"cat \/etc\/issue\"/g' config.json looks like black magic to you, it’s only there to modify the runtime bundle configuration file (config.json) in order to make the container print the contents of the /etc/issue file one it starts.

Applying disk quotas

Finally, I’d like to demonstrate how to set disk quotas in the produced root file systems. All you need is to provide the --disk-limit-size-bytes flag with an amount of bytes.

By default the image size is included in the quota. If for example, you use docker:///ubuntu:16.04 as an image, this will take ~140 MB of the quota size which means setting the quota to anything lower than that will fail to create the image. Alternatively, you can use the --exclude-image-from-quota flag to define a quota that accounts only for the data the container writes and not the base image:

$> grootfs create --disk-limit-size-bytes 10000 --exclude-image-from-quota docker:///ubuntu:16.04 my-limited-container

# Try to write a file bigger than 10 kB
$> dd if=/dev/zero of=/var/lib/grootfs/1000/images/my-limited-container/rootfs/big-file bs=1000 count=11
dd: failed to open '/var/lib/grootfs/1000/images/my-limited-container/rootfs/big-file': Disk quota exceeded

Next steps

In the next few weeks, we will focus on improving the performance of GrootFS when using it concurrently. This work will involve optimising the behaviour around locking and synchronisation. Not having a daemon makes concurrent operations harder and the file locking mechanism currently used requires improvement.

In the same vein, given that BTRFS is a fairly new (relatively to other, more mature options) file system, we need to make sure that it can perform under the load the usually hits Cloud Foundry cells. Using BTRFS in earlier Kernels has been problematic in AWS due to IOPS rate limiting, and we want further confirmation that using GrootFS in Cloud Foundry environments will not cause similar issues.