Run GUI applications and desktops in docker. Focus on security.
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Latest commit 550fca7 Jan 14, 2019

x11docker: x11docker logo Run GUI applications in Docker

Avoid X security leaks and enhance container security


x11docker allows to run graphical applications in Docker Linux containers.

  • Docker allows to run applications in an isolated container environment. The result is similar to a virtual machine, but needs less resources.
  • Docker does not provide a display server that would allow to run applications with a graphical user interface.
  • x11docker fills the gap. It runs an X display server on the host system and provides it to Docker containers.
  • Additionally x11docker does some security setup to enhance container isolation and to avoid X security leaks. This allows a sandbox environment that fairly well protects the host system from possibly malicious or buggy software.

Software can be installed in a deployable Docker image with a rudimentary Linux system inside. This can help to run or deploy software that is difficult to install on several systems due to dependency issues. It is possible to run outdated versions or latest development versions side by side. Files to work on can be shared between host and container.

x11docker runs on Linux and (with some setup) on MS Windows. x11docker is not adapted to run on macOS.

x11docker wiki provides some how-to's for basic setups without x11docker.


x11docker-gui screenshot LXDE in xpra

GUI for x11docker

x11docker-gui is an optional graphical frontend for x11docker. It runs from console, too.

  • x11docker-gui needs package kaptain. If your distribution misses it, look at kaptain repository.
  • If kaptain is not installed on your system, x11docker-gui uses image x11docker/kaptain.

x11docker-gui screenshot

Terminal usage

Just type x11docker IMAGENAME [COMMAND].

  • Get an overview of options with x11docker --help.
    • For desktop environments in image add option -d, --desktop.
    • To run without X at all use option -t, --tty.
    • Get an interactive TTY with option -i, --interactive.
  • If startup fails, look at chapter Troubleshooting.

General syntax:

To run a Docker image with new X server:
  x11docker [OPTIONS] -- IMAGE [COMMAND [ARG1 ARG2 ...]]
To run a host application on a new X server:
  x11docker [OPTIONS] --exe COMMAND
  x11docker [OPTIONS] --exe -- COMMAND [ARG1 ARG2 ...]
To run only a new empty X server:
  x11docker [OPTIONS]


Description of some commonly used options.

Choice of X servers and Wayland compositors

If no X server option is specified, x11docker automatically chooses one depending on installed dependencies and on given or missing options --desktop, --gpu and --wayland.

Desktop or seamless mode

x11docker assumes that you want to run a single application in seamless mode, i.e. a single window on your regular desktop. If you want to run a desktop environment in image, add option --desktop.

  • Seamless mode is supported with options --xpra and --nxagent. As a fallback insecure option --hostdisplay is possible.
    • If neither xpra nor nxagent are installed, but x11docker finds a desktop capable X server like Xephyr, it avoids insecure option --hostdisplay and runs Xephyr with a host window manager.
      • You can specify a host window manager with option --wm WINDOWMANAGER, for example --wm openbox.
  • Desktop mode with --desktop is supported with all X server options except --hostdisplay. If available, x11docker prefers --xephyr and --nxagent.

Shared folders and HOME in container

Changes in a running Docker container system will be lost, the created Docker container will be discarded. For persistent data storage you can share host directories:

  • Option -m, --home creates a host directory in ~/x11docker/IMAGENAME that is shared with the container and mounted as its HOME directory. Files in container home and configuration changes will persist.
  • Option --sharedir DIR mounts a host directory at the same location in container. --sharedir DIR:ro restricts to read-only access.
  • Option --homedir DIR is similar to --home but allows you to specify a custom host directory for data storage.
  • Special cases for $HOME:
    • --homedir $HOME will use your host home as container home. Discouraged, use with care.
    • --sharedir $HOME will symlink your host home as a subfolder of container home.

Note that x11docker copies files from /etc/skel in container to HOME if HOME is empty. That allows to provide customized user settings.

Hardware acceleration

Hardware acceleration for OpenGL is possible with option -g, --gpu.

  • This will work out of the box in most cases with open source drivers on host. Otherwise have a look at Dependencies.
  • Closed source NVIDIA drivers need some setup.


Clipboard sharing is possible with option -c, --clipboard.

  • Image clips are possible with --xpra and --hostdisplay.
  • Some X server options need package xclip on host.


Sound is possible with options -p, --pulseaudio and --alsa.

  • For pulseaudio sound with --pulseaudio you need pulseaudio on host and in image.
  • For ALSA sound with --alsa you might need to specify a sound card with e.g. --env ALSA_CARD=Generic. Get a list of available sound cards with aplay -l.


Webcams on host can be shared with option --webcam.

  • If webcam application in image fails, install mesa-utils (debian) or mesa-demos (arch) in image.
  • guvcview needs --pulseaudio or --alsa.
  • cheese and gnome-ring need --systemd or --dbus-system.


Printers on host can be provided to container with option --printer.

  • It needs CUPS on host, the default printer server for most linux distributions.
  • The container needs package libcups2 (debian) or libcups (arch).

Language locales

x11docker provides option --lang $LANG for flexible language locale settings.

  • x11docker will check on container startup if the desired locale is already present in image and enable it.
  • If x11docker does not find the locale, it creates it on container startup. (Needs package locales in image.)
  • Examples: --lang de for German, --lang zh_CN for Chinese, --lang ru for Russian, --lang $LANG for your host locale.
  • For support of chinese, japanese and korean characters install a font like fonts-arphic-uming in image.


To run Wayland instead of an X server x11docker provides options --wayland, --weston, --kwin and --hostwayland. For further description loot at Overview of all possible X server and Wayland options.

  • Option --wayland automatically sets up a Wayland environment with some related environment variables.
  • Options --kwin and --weston run Wayland compositors kwin_wayland or weston.
    • For QT5 applications without option --wayland add options --dbus and --env QT_QPA_PLATFORM=wayland.
  • Option --hostwayland can run single applications on host Wayland desktops like Gnome 3, KDE 5 and Sway.
  • Example: xfce4-terminal on Wayland: x11docker --wayland x11docker/xfce xfce4-terminal

Init system

x11docker supports several init systems as PID 1 in container. Init in container solves the zombie reaping issue. As default it uses tini in/usr/bin/docker-init. Look at x11docker wiki: Init systems in Docker: tini, systemd, SysVinit, runit, OpenRC and elogind.


Some desktop environments and applications need a running DBus daemon and/or DBus user session.

  • use --dbus to run a DBus user session daemon.
  • use --dbus-system to run DBus system daemon. This includes option --dbus.
    • If startup fails or takes about 90s, install an init system and use that one to run DBus. E.g. install systemd in image and run with --systemd.
  • use --hostdbus to connect to host DBus user session.
  • use --sharedir /run/dbus/system_bus_socket to share host DBus system socket.
  • DBus will be started automatically with init options --systemd, --openrc, --runit and --sysvinit.


x11docker can run with standard system utilities without additional dependencies on host or in image. As a core it only needs an X server and, of course, docker to run Docker containers on X. x11docker checks dependencies for chosen options on startup and shows terminal messages if some are missing.

TL;DR: Install xpra Xephyr weston Xwayland xdotool xauth xclip xrandr xdpyinfo on host, or leave it as it is.

X server dependencies

All X server options with a description and their dependencies are listed in wiki: X server and Wayland options.

Recommendations Dependencies Available options
Minimal base Xorg (probably already installed) --hostdisplay
Recommended base xpra Xephyr --xpra
Recommended base for --gpu xpra weston Xwayland xdotool --xpra-xwayland
Recommended tools xauth xrandr xdpyinfo

Option dependencies

Option Dependencies on host Dependencies in image
--clipboard xclip or xsel -
--gpu - MESA OpenGL drivers.
Debian: mesa-utils mesa-utils-extra
CentOS: glx-utils mesa-dri-drivers
Arch Linux: mesa-demos
Alpine: mesa-demos mesa-dri-ati mesa-dri-intel mesa-dri-nouveau mesa-dri-swrast
--gpu with NVIDIA look at x11docker wiki: NVIDIA driver
--alsa - optional: ALSA client libs.
Debian: libasound2, Arch, Alpine: alsa-lib
--pulseaudio pulseaudio pulseaudio client libs.
Debian: libpulse0, Arch: libpulse, Alpine: pulseaudio-libs
--printer cups CUPS client library.
Debian: libcups2, Arch: libcups, Alpine: cups-libs
--lang - Debian: locales, Alpine: not supported
--xfishtank xfishtank -
--dbus --hostdbus --dbus-system - dbus
--launcher xdg-utils -
--install --update --update-master wget or curl

List of all host packages for all possible x11docker options

Debian package names: kwin-wayland nxagent unzip weston wget xauth xclip xdg-utils xdotool xdpyinfo xfishtank xpra xrandr xserver-xephyr xserver-xorg-video-dummy xvfb xwayland, further (deeper surgery in system): cups pulseaudio xserver-xorg-legacy.


Scope of x11docker is to run containerized GUI applications while preserving and improving container isolation. Core concept is:

  • Runs a second X server to avoid X security leaks.
    • This in opposite to widespread solutions that share host X socket of display :0, thus breaking container isolation, allowing keylogging and remote host control. (However, x11docker provides this with fallback option --hostdisplay).
    • Authentication is done with MIT-MAGIC-COOKIE, stored separate from file ~/.Xauthority.
  • Creates container user similar to host user to avoid root in container.
    • You can also specify another user with --user=USERNAME or a non-existing one with --user=UID:GID.
    • Disables possible root password and deletes entries in /etc/sudoers.
      • If you want root permissions in container, use option --sudouser that allows su and sudo with password x11docker. Alternatively you can run with --user=root.
    • If you want to use USER specified in image instead, set option --user=RETAIN. x11docker won't change etc/passwd or /etc/sudoers in that case. Option --home won't be available.
  • Reduces container capabilities to bare minimum.
    • Sets docker run options --cap-drop=ALL --security-opt=no-new-privileges.
    • This restriction can be disabled with x11docker option --cap-default or reduced with --sudouser.


  • Possible SELinux restrictions are degraded for x11docker containers with docker run option --security-opt label=type:container_runtime_t to allow access to new X unix socket. A more restrictive solution is desirable. Compare: SELinux and Docker: allow access to X unix socket in /tmp/.X11-unix
  • User namespace remapping is disabled to allow options --home and --homedir without file ownership issues. (Though, this is less an issue because x11docker already avoids root in container). Exception: User namespace remapping is not disabled for --user=RETAIN.
  • x11docker provides several different X server options. Each X server involved might have its individual vulnerabilities. x11docker only covers well-known X security leaks that result from X11 protocol.

Options degrading container isolation

x11docker shows warning messages in terminal if chosen options degrade container isolation.

Most important:

  • --hostdisplay shares host X socket of display :0 instead of running a second X server.
    • Danger of abuse is reduced providing so-called untrusted cookies, but do not rely on this.
    • If additionally using --gpu or --clipboard, option --hostipc and trusted cookies are enabled and no protection against X security leaks is left.
    • If you don't care about container isolation, x11docker --hostdisplay --gpu is an insecure but quite fast setup without any overhead.
  • --gpu allows access to GPU hardware. This can be abused to get window content from host (palinopsia bug) and makes GPU rootkits possible.
  • --pulseaudio and --alsa allow catching audio output and microphone input from host.

Rather special options reducing security, but not needed for regular use:

  • --sudouser allows su and sudo with password x11dockerfor container user. If an application somehow breaks out of container, it can harm your host system. Allows many container capabilties that x11docker would drop otherwise.
  • --cap-default disables x11docker's container security hardening and falls back to default Docker container capabilities.
  • --dbus-system, --systemd, --sysvinit, --openrc and --runit allow some container capabilities that x11docker would drop otherwise. --systemd also shares access to /sys/fs/cgroup. Some processes will run as root in container.
  • --hostipc sets docker run option --ipc=host. (Allows MIT-SHM / shared memory. Disables IPC namespacing.)
  • --hostnet sets docker run option --net=host. (Shares host network stack. Disables network namespacing. Container can spy on network traffic.)


Container isolation enhanced with x11docker allows to use containers as a sandbox that fairly well protects the host system from possibly malicious or buggy software. Though, no sandbox solution in the wild can provide a perfect secure protection, and Docker even with enhanced security settings from x11docker is no exception.

Using Docker with x11docker as a sandbox is not intended to run obviously evil software. Rather use it as:

  • Compatibility environment to run software that is hard or impossible to install on host due to dependency issues.
  • Development environment to collect libraries, compiler and so on to keep the host clean.
  • Development environment to mitigate damage caused by unexpected/buggy behaviour.
  • Security layer for software that may be malicious in worst case. Examples: Internet browser with Javascript enabled, or wine with Windows applications.

x11docker already restricts process capabilities. You can additionally restrict access to CPU and RAM with option --limit. As default --limit restricts to 50% of available CPUs and 50% of currently free RAM. Another amount can be specified with --limit=FACTOR with a FACTOR greater than zero and less than or equal 1.

For more custom fine tuning have a look at Docker documentation: Limit a container's resources.

Currently internet access is allowed per default. That will change in future versions of x11docker. Meanwhile you can disable internet access with --no-internet.

WARNING: There is no restriction that can prevent the container from flooding the hard disk in Docker's container partition or in shared folders.

MSYS2, Cygwin and WSL on MS Windows

x11docker runs on MS Windows in MSYS2, Cygwin and WSL (Windows subsystem for Linux).

  • Install X server VcXsrv on Windows into C:/Program Files/VcXsrv (option --vcxsrv).
  • Cygwin/X also provides X server Xwin (option --xwin). Install xinit package in Cygwin.
  • For sound with option --pulseaudio install Cygwin in C:/cygwin64 with package pulseaudio. It works for MSYS2 and WSL, too.
  • Error messages like ./x11docker: line 2: $'\r': command not found indicate a wrong line ending conversion from git. Run dos2unix x11docker.
  • Not all x11docker options are implemented on MS Windows. E.g. --webcam and --printer do not work.


Installation options

As root you can install, update and remove x11docker on your system:

  • x11docker --install : install x11docker and x11docker-gui from current directory.
  • x11docker --update : download and install latest release from github.
  • x11docker --update-master : download and install latest master version from github.
  • x11docker --remove : remove all files installed by x11docker.

Copies x11docker and x11docker-gui to /usr/bin. Creates an icon in /usr/share/icons. Creates x11docker.desktop in /usr/share/applications. Copies, and LICENSE.txt to /usr/share/doc/x11docker.

Shortest way for first installation:

wget -O /tmp/x11docker
sudo bash /tmp/x11docker --update
rm /tmp/x11docker

Minimal installation

For a first test you can run with bash x11docker respective bash x11docker-gui. For minimal installation make x11docker executable with chmod +x x11docker and move it to /usr/bin (or another location in PATH). Other files than x11docker script itself are not essential.


For troubleshooting, run x11docker or x11docker-gui in a terminal.

  • x11docker shows warnings if something is insecure, missing or going wrong.
    • Use option -v, --verbose to see full logfile output.
      • Option -D, --debug gives a less verbose output.
      • You can find the latest dispatched logfile at ~/.cache/x11docker/x11docker.log.
  • Some applications fail with fallback option --hostdisplay. Add --clipboard to disable some security restrictions. If that does not help, install additional X servers.
  • Make sure your x11docker version is up to date with x11docker --update (latest release) or x11docker --update-master (latest beta).
  • The image may have a USER specification and be designed for this user. x11docker sets up a container user that can mismatch this user setup.
    • Check for a USER specification in image with docker inspect --format '{{.Config.User}}' IMAGENAME.
    • If yes, try with --user=RETAIN to run with USER specified in image.
  • Some applications need more privileges or capabilities than x11docker provides as default.
    • Reduce container isolation with e.g.:
      • x11docker options: --cap-default --hostipc --hostnet --sys-admin. (Try --cap-default first).
      • docker run options: --cap-add ALL --security-opt seccomp=unconfined --privileged
      • Example: x11docker --cap-default --hostipc --hostnet --sys-admin -- --cap-add ALL --security-opt seccomp=unconfined --privileged -- IMAGENAME
      • Try with reduced container isolation. If it works, drop options one by one until the needed one(s) are left.
      • If --cap-add ALL helps, find the capability you really need and add only that one.
      • If --privileged helps, your application probably needs a device in /dev. Find out which one and share it with e.g. --device /dev/snd. Try also --sharedir /dev/udev/data:ro.
        • Please, don't use --privileged as a solution. It allows too much access to host and fatally breaks container isolation. Investigate the permissions your container needs indeed.
    • You can run container applications as root with --user=root.
  • A few applications need DBus. Install dbus in image and try option --dbus. If that does not help, try option --dbus-system.
  • A few applications need systemd. Install systemd in image and try option --systemd.
  • Get help in the issue tracker.
    • Most times it makes sense to store the --verbose output (or x11docker.log) at
    • Don't hesitate to ask.


Desktop image examples can be found on docker hub.

Application x11docker command
Xfce4 Terminal x11docker x11docker/xfce xfce4-terminal
GLXgears with hardware acceleration x11docker --gpu x11docker/xfce glxgears
Kodi media center with hardware
acceleration, Pulseaudio sound
and shared Videos folder.
For setup look at ehough/docker-kodi.
x11docker --gpu --pulseaudio --sharedir ~/Videos erichough/kodi.
XaoS fractal generator x11docker patricknw/xaos
Telegram messenger with persistent
HOME for configuration storage
x11docker --home xorilog/telegram
Firefox with shared Download folder. x11docker --sharedir $HOME/Downloads jess/firefox
Tor browser x11docker jess/tor-browser
Chromium browser x11docker -- jess/chromium --no-sandbox
VLC media player with shared Videos
folder and Pulseaudio sound
x11docker --pulseaudio --sharedir=$HOME/Videos jess/vlc
Desktop environment
(most based on Debian)
x11docker command
FVWM (based on Alpine, 22.5 MB) x11docker --desktop x11docker/fvwm
Fluxbox (based on Debian, 87 MB) x11docker --desktop x11docker/fluxbox
Lumina (based on Void Linux) x11docker --desktop x11docker/lumina
LXDE x11docker --desktop x11docker/lxde
LXQt x11docker --desktop x11docker/lxqt
Xfce x11docker --desktop x11docker/xfce
CDE Common Desktop Environment x11docker --desktop --systemd --cap-default x11docker/cde
Mate x11docker --desktop x11docker/mate
Enlightenment (based on Void Linux) x11docker --desktop --gpu --runit x11docker/enlightenment
Trinity (successor of KDE 3) x11docker --desktop x11docker/trinity
Cinnamon x11docker --desktop --gpu --dbus-system x11docker/cinnamon
deepin (3D desktop from China) x11docker --desktop --gpu --systemd x11docker/deepin
LiriOS (needs at least docker 18.06
or this xcb bugfix.) (based on Fedora)
x11docker --desktop --gpu lirios/unstable
KDE Plasma x11docker --desktop --gpu x11docker/plasma
KDE Plasma as nested Wayland compositor x11docker --gpu x11docker/plasma startplasmacompositor
LXDE with wine and PlayOnLinux and
a persistent HOME folder to preserve
installed Windows applications,
and with Pulseaudio sound.
x11docker --desktop --home --pulseaudio x11docker/lxde-wine

Adjust images for your needs

For persistent changes of image system adjust Dockerfile and rebuild. To add custom applications to x11docker example images you can create a new Dockerfile based on them. Example:

# xfce desktop with VLC media player
FROM x11docker/xfce
RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -y vlc


Sample screenshots are stored in screenshot branch

x11docker --desktop x11docker/lxde-wine screenshot

x11docker --desktop --gpu x11docker/plasma screenshot

x11docker --desktop x11docker/lxqt screenshot

x11docker --desktop --systemd --gpu x11docker/deepin screenshot