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docker-cleanup: Remove Obsolete Docker Containers and Images

docker-cleanup deletes Docker containers and images based on rules from a config file. Here is an example:

# Keep currently running containers, delete others if they last finished
# more than a week ago.
KEEP CONTAINER IF Container.State.Running;
DELETE CONTAINER IF Container.State.FinishedAt.before('1 week ago');

# Delete dangling (unnamed and not used by containers) images.
DELETE IMAGE IF Image.Dangling;

This produces the output:

Deleting container drunk_shockley (8febebd2ae07).
Deleting container piwik-mysqld (de2919e7165f).
Keeping container romantic_sinoussi (d3b01591c160).
Deleting image <none> (c7fc123775b0).
Keeping image debootstrap/minbase:latest (f20371f5799a).
Keeping image greek0/mysql:latest (fccd2180c600).


  • Sane lifetime management for Docker containers and images (finally!)
  • Simple and expressive rule language
  • A rich set of filtering criteria

Getting Started

Good news: it's easy to start using docker-cleanup! Here are the steps:

  • Make sure you have Python >= 3.3

  • Get docker-cleanup from GitHub:

    git clone
    cd docker-cleanup
  • Install the Python dateutil package:

    sudo apt-get install python3-dateutil  # on Debian or
    sudo yum install python-dateutil       # on Fedora >= 22
    sudo yum install python3-dateutil      # on Fedora < 22
  • Edit the cleanup-rules.conf file

  • Run docker-cleanup, at first preferably with the --dry-run option:

    docker-cleanup --dry-run

You'll see what docker-cleanup would do in your setup. Once you're satisfied with the results, drop the --dry-run parameter and add a cronjob for docker-cleanup.

The Rules Language

The rule language is super simple. Rules within the cleanup-rules.conf file are checked top-to-bottom against every container and image on the system. If a rule matches, its action is applied and no further rules are checked. If no rule matches, no action is taken (i.e. the container or image is kept).

Each rule may be one of 4 basic directives:



These do exactly what you'd expect. The ... part is an condition expression, if it evaluates to True, the rule matches and the corresponding action (keep/delete) is taken.

Container directives can access the Container variable inside the expression, while image directives have an Image variable. Both variables support a wide range of attributes, such as Id, Name, Created and many more:

DELETE CONTAINER IF Container.Id.startswith('c664a829fe15');
KEEP IMAGE IF Image.Name == 'debian:jessie';

The attributes are derived from docker inspect, so that is a good starting point for getting a list of attributes supported by Container and Image objects. Containers have one noteworthy field:

  • Containers.Image is the Image object the container is based on, instead of simply an image id string.

Image variables support a few additional attributes not listed by docker inspect:

  • Image.Repository: the repository column in 'docker images'
  • Image.Tag: the tag column in 'docker images'
  • Image.Name: the combined repository and tag: <repository>:<tag>.
  • Image.Containers: a set of Container objects based off the image
  • Image.Dangling: true for images that are not used by any container and don't have a proper name (<none>/<none>)

Finally, containers and images have proper date/time objects as their Created, State.StartedAt, and State.FinishedAt attributes (the last two only apply to containers). These objects have the methods after() and before(), which support natural comparison to absolute and relative times:

Image.Created.before('2015.05.22')        # True for images created before May 22
Image.Created.before('2015.05.22 16:18')  # True for images created before May 22, 4:18 pm
Image.Created.before('1 week ago')        # True for images created more than one week ago

# True for containers that stopped running more than 3 hours ago.
Container.State.FinishedAt.before('3 hours ago')

# True for containers last started after January 31.

The conditional expression within rules is translated into Python code and can be arbitrarily complex. The most important syntax elements are:

  • == != < > <= >=: the typical comparison operators
  • not <expression>: negation of the expression
  • <a> and <b>: true if both <a> and <b> are true
  • <a> or <b>: true if either <a> or <b> are true
  • 1 + 2 * 3: normal operator precedence (1 + (2 * 3))
  • (1 + 2) * 3: parentheses will do the expected thing
  • 'abc' == "abc": strings use either single or double quotes

In contrast to normal Python code, newlines are allowed everywhere, and each rule statement must be terminated with a semicolon (;). This encourages writing readable rules:

DELETE CONTAINER IF not Container.Running and
                    Container.Image.Repository == 'postgres' and
                    Container.State.FinishedAt.before('4 days ago');

Strive to write clear and readable rule files!

Force delete

If FORCE is placed before the DELETE keyword, the --force option is passed to docker rm and docker rmi. For containers, this enables deletion of currently running containers to succeed. For images, it enables deletion of images that are still in use by an existing container:

# Always delete the Ubuntu container, even if it is currently running.
FORCE DELETE CONTAINER IF Container.Name == 'ubuntu';

# Delete all node images, even if containers still use them.
FORCE DELETE IMAGE IF Image.Repository == 'node';

Contributing to docker-cleanup

To start working with the docker-cleanup code, create a virtual environment, activate it, and install the development requirements:

python3.4 -m venv venv
source venv/bin/activate
pip install -r dev-requirements.txt

And you're good to go! Patches and GitHub pull requests are more than welcome.

Note that docker-cleanup relies heavily on its testsuite, so please make sure that it still passes after your changes (run py.test). New features also require test coverage to be accepted upstream:

py.test --cov docker_cleanup --cov-report html


Remove Obsolete Docker Containers and Images




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