Podman All the Things

A few days ago while browsing lobste.rs I stumbled upon the article “Dock Life: Using Docker for All The Things!” written by Andrew Welch. It had then gotten onto the upper half of the first page on lobste.rs and a few days ago even Chris Coyer from CSS-Tricks.com wrote about it.

Just coming from NixOS and Fedora Silverblue, I was immediately hooked. This is actually an amazing idea!

Basic Idea

The basic idea behind Andrew Welch’s article is simple: If you ever need to run a certain program, grab a container that already includes the desired program and remap the program name on your system to a docker run command.

So for example you want to use ffmpeg. You could then create an alias to automatically run it inside a container like so:

alias ffmpeg='docker run --rm -it -v `pwd`:/app jrottenberg/ffmpeg '

Of course I immediately tried aliasing some of the tools I work with on a daily basis as well:

alias python='docker run --rm -it -v `pwd`:/app python3 '

But there are two problems:

Using Podman

So the journey continued and I started to create podman alternatives. This is fairly simple – as already described on its homepage – because podman can be used as a drop-in replacement for docker, e.g. alias docker=podman. Here’s an example with sqlite3:

[nicoeinsidler@fedora]$ podman run --rm -it -v 'pwd':/app nouchka/sqlite3
SQLite version 3.34.1 2021-01-20 14:10:07
Enter ".help" for usage hints.
Connected to a transient in-memory database.
Use ".open FILENAME" to reopen on a persistent database.

There are many advantages of podman over docker. But one that will be immediately visible when trying to pull an image for the first time is that it can do this from various sources. If you first try to run podman run --rm -it -v 'pwd':/app nouchka/sqlite3 it will ask you where to get the image from. This will look like the following:

[nicoeinsidler@fedora]$ podman run --rm -it -v 'pwd':/app nouchka/sqlite3
? Please select an image:
  ▸ registry.fedoraproject.org/nouchka/sqlite3:latest

Installing Shit

Moving on to the second before mentioned problem: Containers are created using an image and can not be altered. Once you kill the container, it’s gone. After all this is what makes containers so convenient in the first place.

Therefore you always have to find exactly the right image to create a container from. Say you are working on a Jupyter Notebook within Jupyter Lab on a Qiskit project requiring several other Python packages to be installed. You won’t probably find the exact matching image for that.

You now have basically two options:

First option is just insane. The second option can be a good option for programs that are not yet packed into a container and made available through a public container registry. This is a great idea for containerizing – let’s say – bat, but if you find yourself installing dependencies, well, then you don’t need an alias and just store the Dockerfile in the project itself.


Once I was creating all kinds of different aliases to podman run commands, I was already borderline close to toolbox. Toolbox let’s you create different containerized environments for all kinds of projects.

Let’s say you want to write a program and run it on a Quantum Computer with Qiskit. You may create a toolbox by running toolbox create qiskit. The environment can now be entered via toolboox enter qiskit. This will take you in a container spun up in the background with podman.

[nicoeinsidler@fedora]$ toolbox create qiskit
Creating container qiskit: | Created container: qiskit
Enter with: toolbox enter qiskit

[nicoeinsidler@fedora]$ toolbox enter qiskit


Now you can install programs and set up your work environment without impacting the main underlying system. On Fedora the container is created from the fedora-toolbox image which has dnf installed.

Let us install Jupyter Lab by typing python -m pip install jupyterlab. (Pip is not in the PATH, therefore I am using it in this way, but for this matter pip = python -m pip.)

Once the installation is done, we can use Jupyter Lab as if it where installed on our base operating system. And when you’re finished working on your project, just type exit to exit the toolbox.

With toolbox list all toolbox containers can be viewed. Be aware, that even if you exit out of a toolbox (container) it won’t stop running. You can pause the toolbox with toolbox pause. For more information, check out the man pages.

[nicoeinsidler@fedora]$ toolbox list
IMAGE ID      IMAGE NAME                                    CREATED
ab8bc106d4a7  registry.fedoraproject.org/fedora-toolbox:35  4 weeks ago


The idea of using containerized programs, or even containerized sets of programs, or even containerized sets of programs with a custom configuration is an interesting idea. But as always, the right tools should be used for the right problems. Using Docker and aliases for single programs like ffmpeg or gcc is a great idea, but once you begin creating your own images, please consider those alternatives: