Docker debug with nsenter on boot2docker Lajos Papp 05 July 2014

nsenter is a small tool allowing to enter into namespaces. Specifically when you work with docker, it means you can enter any docker container, even it they don’t run any sshd. Running sshd in a docker container for debuging considered evil.

Nsenter with Boot2docker

Docker doesn’t run directly on OS X and on Windows, so you need boot2docker. To get nsenter working with boot2docker is a bit trickier.

For the impatient here is a simple function, which lets you enter any docker container directly from OS X (or any boot2docker host):

docker-enter() {
  boot2docker ssh '[ -f /var/lib/boot2docker/nsenter ] || docker run --rm -v /var/lib/boot2docker/:/target jpetazzo/nsenter'
  boot2docker ssh -t sudo /var/lib/boot2docker/docker-enter "$@"

the first line installs nsenter and docker-enter if missing and the second line does the actual call.

once you declared the function, you can use it as:



If you are interested about the details how this works read on.

Install nseneter onto boot2docker

How to install nsenter into boot2docker? Its a bit tricky, as boot2docker isn’t a full-blown linux, it’s based on tiny core linux, so compiling on it is not trivial.

But guess what, jpetazzo already created a dockerized nsenter It suggest to install the binary nsenter as:

docker run --rm -v /usr/local/bin:/target jpetazzo/nsenter

This works with boot2docker … until you restart it. You should store all changes on the persistent /var/lib/boot2docker directory.

docker run --rm -v /var/lib/boot2docker/:/target jpetazzo/nsenter

the docker-enter script

docker-enter is a helper script to do the following 2 steps:

  • gets the PID of the docker container
  • executes nsenter optionally passing the name of a program to execute inside the namespace. if no command is specified a shell will be invoked instead.

In the previous step, when you have installed nseneter the docker-enter srcipt got installed into the same directory.

Nsenter directly from OS X

Some blogs advise you to first ssh into boot2docker, and use nsenter or docker-enter inside of the virtual env. But if you are executing a single command via ssh, you can pass the command to the last argument of: boot2docker ssh <COMMAND>


So combine all the steps into a single one-liner function:

docker-enter() { boot2docker ssh -t "[ -f /var/lib/boot2docker/nsenter ] || docker run --rm -v /var/lib/boot2docker/:/target jpetazzo/nsenter; sudo /var/lib/boot2docker/docker-enter $@"; }

If you want it permanently either copy-paste it into your ~/.profile or ~/.bash_profile. Or save it into /usr/local/bin:

curl -Lo /usr/local/bin/docker-enter && . /usr/local/bin/docker-enter

Let us know how nsenter works for you – and for updates follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.


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