Skip to content
Unprivileged development environment
Shell Dockerfile Meson
Branch: master
Clone or download
HarryMichal and debarshiray Remove Travis
Travis was running 'ninja test' and that's now covered by Zuul.

Latest commit c86a715 Sep 5, 2019

Toolbox logo landscape

Toolbox is a tool that offers a familiar package based environment for developing and debugging software that runs fully unprivileged using Podman.

The toolbox container is a fully mutable container; when you see yum install ansible for example, that's something you can do inside your toolbox container, without affecting the base operating system.

This is particularly useful on OSTree based operating systems like CoreOS and Silverblue. The intention of these systems is to discourage installation of software on the host, and instead install software as (or in) containers.

However, this tool doesn't require using an OSTree based system — it works equally well if you're running e.g. existing Fedora Workstation or Server, and that's a useful way to incrementally adopt containerization.

The toolbox environment is based on an OCI image. On Fedora this is the fedora-toolbox image. This image is used to create a toolbox container that seamlessly integrates with the rest of the operating system.


Create your toolbox container:

[user@hostname ~]$ toolbox create
Created container: fedora-toolbox-30
Enter with: toolbox enter
[user@hostname ~]$

This will create a container called fedora-toolbox-<version-id>.

Enter the toolbox:

[user@hostname ~]$ toolbox enter
⬢[user@toolbox ~]$

Goals and Use Cases

High Level Goals

  • Provide a CLI convenience interface to run containers (via podman) easily
  • Support for Developer and Debugging/Management use cases
  • Support for multiple distros
    • toolbox package in multiple distros
    • toolbox containers for multiple distros

Non-Goals - Anti Use Cases

  • Supporting multiple container runtimes. toolbox will use podman exclusively
  • Adding significant features on top of podman
    • Significant feature requests should be driven into podman upstream
  • To run containers that aren't tightly integrated with the host
    • i.e. extremely sandboxed containers become specific to the user quickly

Developer Use Cases

  • I’m a developer hacking on source code and building/testing code
    • Most cases: user doesn't need root, rootless containers work fine
    • Some cases: user needs root for testing
  • Desktop Development:
    • developers need things like dbus, display, etc, to be forwarded into the toolbox
  • Headless Development:
    • toolbox works properly in headless environments (no display, etc)
  • Need development tools like gdb, strace, etc to work

Debugging/System management Use Cases

  • Inspecting Host Processes/Kernel
    • Typically need root access
    • Need bpftrace, strace on host processes to work
      • Ideally even do things like helping get kernel-debuginfo data for the host kernel
  • Managing system services
    • systemctl restart foo.service
    • journalctl
  • Managing updates to the host
    • rpm-ostree
    • dnf/yum (classic systems)

Specific environments

  • Fedora Silverblue
    • Silverblue comes with a subset of packages and discourages host software changes
      • Users need a toolbox container as a working environment
      • Future: use toolbox container by default when a user opens a shell
  • Fedora CoreOS
    • Similar to silverblue, but non-graphical and smaller package set
  • RHEL CoreOS
    • Similar to Fedora CoreOS. Based on RHEL content and the underlying OS for OpenShift
    • Need to use default authfile on pull
    • Need to ensure compatibility with the rhel7/support-tools container
      • currently not a toolbox image, opportunity for collaboration
    • Alignment with oc debug node/ (OpenShift)
      • oc debug node opens a shell on a kubernetes node
      • Value in having a consistent environment for both toolbox in debugging mode and oc debug node

Distro support

By default, Toolbox creates the container using an OCI image called <ID>-toolbox:<VERSION-ID>, where <ID> and <VERSION-ID> are taken from the host's /usr/lib/os-release. For example, the default image on a Fedora 30 host would be fedora-toolbox:30.

This default can be overridden by the --image option in toolbox create, but operating system distributors should provide an adequately configured default image to ensure a smooth user experience.

Image requirements

Toolbox customizes newly created containers in a certain way. This requires certain tools and paths to be present and have certain characteristics inside the OCI image.


  • getent(1)
  • id(1)
  • ln(1)
  • mkdir(1): for hosts where /home is a symbolic link to /var/home
  • passwd(1)
  • readlink(1)
  • rm(1)
  • rmdir(1): for hosts where /home is a symbolic link to /var/home
  • sleep(1)
  • test(1)
  • touch(1)
  • unlink(1)
  • useradd(8)


  • /etc/host.conf: optional, if present not a bind mount
  • /etc/hosts: optional, if present not a bind mount
  • /etc/krb5.conf.d: directory, not a bind mount
  • /etc/localtime: optional, if present not a bind mount
  • /etc/resolv.conf: optional, if present not a bind mount
  • /etc/timezone: optional, if present not a bind mount

The image should have sudo(8) enabled for users belonging to either the sudo or wheel groups, and the group itself should exist. File an issue if you really need support for a different group. However, it's preferable to keep this list as short as possible.

Since Toolbox only works with OCI images that fulfill certain requirements, it will refuse images that aren't tagged with com.github.containers.toolbox="true" and com.github.debarshiray.toolbox="true" labels. These labels are meant to be used by the maintainer of the image to indicate that they have read this document and tested that the image works with Toolbox. You can use the following snippet in a Dockerfile for this:

LABEL com.github.containers.toolbox="true" \
You can’t perform that action at this time.