LXC 1.0: GUI in containers [9/10]

This is post 9 out of 10 in the LXC 1.0 blog post series.

Some starting notes

This post uses unprivileged containers, this isn’t an hard requirement but makes a lot of sense for GUI applications. Besides, since you followed the whole series, you have those setup anyway, right?

I’ll be using Google Chrome with the Google Talk and Adobe Flash plugins as “hostile” piece of software that I do not wish to allow to run directly on my machine.
Here are a few reasons why:

  • Those are binaries I don’t have source for.
    (That alone is usually enough for me to put an application in a container)
  • Comes from an external (non-Ubuntu) repository which may then push anything they wish to my system.
    (Could be restricted with careful apt pining)
  • Installs a daily cronjob which will re-add said repository and GPG keys should I for some reason choose to remove them.
    (Apparently done to have the repository re-added after dist-upgrades)
  • Uses a setuid wrapper to setup their sandbox. Understandable as they switch namespaces and user namespaces aren’t widespread yet.
    (This can be worked around by turning off the sandbox. The code for the sandbox is also available from the chromium project, though there’s no proof that the binary build doesn’t have anything added to it)
  • I actually need to use those piece of software because of my work environment and because the web hasn’t entirely moved away from flash yet…

While what I’ll be describing below is a huge step up for security in my opinion, it’s still not ideal and a few compromises have to be made to make those software even work. Those are basically access to:

  • pulseaudio: possibly recording you
  • X11: possibly doing key logging or taking pictures of your screen
  • dri/snd devices: can’t think of anything that’s not already covered by the first two, but I’m sure someone with a better imagination than mine will come up with something

But there’s only so much you can do while still having the cool features, so the best you can do is make sure never to run the container while doing sensitive work.

Running Google chrome in a container

So now to the actual fun. The plan is rather simple, I want a simple container, running a stable, well supported, version of Ubuntu, in there I’ll install Google Chrome and any plugin I need, then integrate it with my desktop.

First of all, let’s get ourselves an Ubuntu 12.04 i386 container as that’s pretty well supported by most ISVs:

lxc-create -t download -n precise-gui -- -d ubuntu -r precise -a i386

Let’s tweak the configuration a bit by adding the following to ~/.local/share/lxc/precise-gui/config (replacing USERNAME appropriately):

lxc.mount.entry = /dev/dri dev/dri none bind,optional,create=dir
lxc.mount.entry = /dev/snd dev/snd none bind,optional,create=dir
lxc.mount.entry = /tmp/.X11-unix tmp/.X11-unix none bind,optional,create=dir
lxc.mount.entry = /dev/video0 dev/video0 none bind,optional,create=file

lxc.hook.pre-start = /home/USERNAME/.local/share/lxc/precise-gui/setup-pulse.sh

Still in that same config file, you’ll have to replace your existing (or similar):

lxc.id_map = u 0 100000 65536
lxc.id_map = g 0 100000 65536

By something like (this assume your user’s uid/gid is 1000/1000):

lxc.id_map = u 0 100000 1000
lxc.id_map = g 0 100000 1000
lxc.id_map = u 1000 1000 1
lxc.id_map = g 1000 1000 1
lxc.id_map = u 1001 101001 64535
lxc.id_map = g 1001 101001 64535

So those mappings basically mean that your container has 65536 uids and gids mapped to it, starting at 0 up to 65535 in the container. Those are mapped to host ids 100000 to 165535 with one exception, uid and gid 1000 isn’t translated. That trick is needed so that your user in the container can access the X socket, pulseaudio socket and DRI/snd devices just as your own user can (this saves us a whole lot of configuration on the host).

Now that we’re done with the config file, let’s create that setup-pulse.sh script:


if [ ! -e "$PULSE_PATH" ] || [ -z "$(lsof -n $PULSE_PATH 2>&1)" ]; then
    pactl load-module module-native-protocol-unix auth-anonymous=1 \

Make sure the file is executable or LXC will ignore it!
That script is fairly simple, it’ll simply tell pulseaudio on the host to bind /home/ubuntu/.pulse_socket in the container, checking that it’s not already setup.

Finally, run the following to fix the permissions of your container’s home directory:

sudo chown -R 1000:1000 ~/.local/share/lxc/precise-gui/rootfs/home/ubuntu

And that’s all that’s needed in the LXC side. So let’s start the container and install Google Chrome and the Google Talk plugin in there:

lxc-start -n precise-gui -d
lxc-attach -n precise-gui -- umount /tmp/.X11-unix
lxc-attach -n precise-gui -- apt-get update
lxc-attach -n precise-gui -- apt-get dist-upgrade -y
lxc-attach -n precise-gui -- apt-get install wget ubuntu-artwork dmz-cursor-theme ca-certificates pulseaudio -y
lxc-attach -n precise-gui -- wget https://dl.google.com/linux/direct/google-chrome-stable_current_i386.deb -O /tmp/chrome.deb
lxc-attach -n precise-gui -- wget https://dl.google.com/linux/direct/google-talkplugin_current_i386.deb -O /tmp/talk.deb
lxc-attach -n precise-gui -- dpkg -i /tmp/chrome.deb /tmp/talk.deb
lxc-attach -n precise-gui -- apt-get -f install -y
lxc-attach -n precise-gui -- sudo -u ubuntu mkdir -p /home/ubuntu/.pulse/
echo "disable-shm=yes" | lxc-attach -n precise-gui -- sudo -u ubuntu tee /home/ubuntu/.pulse/client.conf
lxc-stop -n precise-gui

At this point, everything you need is installed in the container.
To make your life easier, create the following launcher script, let’s call it “start-chrome” and put it in the container’s configuration directory (next to config and setup-pulse.sh):

CMD_LINE="google-chrome --disable-setuid-sandbox $*"


if ! lxc-wait -n $CONTAINER -s RUNNING -t 0; then
    lxc-start -n $CONTAINER -d
    lxc-wait -n $CONTAINER -s RUNNING


lxc-attach --clear-env -n $CONTAINER -- sudo -u ubuntu -i \

if [ "$STARTED" = "true" ]; then
    lxc-stop -n $CONTAINER -t 10

Make sure the script is executable or the next step won’t work. This script will check if the container is running, if not, start it (and remember it did), then spawn google-chrome with the right environment set (and disabling its built-in sandbox as for some obscure reasons, it dislikes user namespaces), once google-chrome exits, the container is stopped.

To make things shinier, you may now also create ~/.local/share/applications/google-chrome.desktop containing:

[Desktop Entry]
Name=Google Chrome
Comment=Access the Internet
Exec=/home/USERNAME/.local/share/lxc/precise-gui/start-chrome %U

Don’t forget to replace USERNAME to your own username so that both paths are valid.

And that’s it! You should now find a Google Chrome icon somewhere in your desktop environment (menu, dash, whatever…). Clicking on it will start Chrome which can be used pretty much as usual, when closed, the container will shutdown.
You may want to setup extra symlinks or bind-mount to make it easier to access things like the Downloads folder but that really depends on what you’re using the container for.

Chrome running in LXC

Obviously, the same process can be used for many different piece of software.


Quite a few people have contacted me asking about running Skype in that same container. I won’t give you a whole step by step guide as the one for Chrome cover 99% of what you need to do for Skype.

However there are two tricks you need to be aware of to get Skype to work properly:

  • Set “QT_X11_NO_MITSHM” to “1″
    (otherwise you get a blank window as it tries to use shared memory)
  • Set “GNOME_DESKTOP_SESSION_ID” to “this-is-deprecated”
    (otherwise you get an ugly Qt theme)

Those two should be added after the “env” in the launcher script you’ll write for Skype.

Apparently on some NVidia system, you may also need to set an additional environment variable (possibly useful not only for Skype):


And finally, yet another commonly asked one, Steam.

That one actually doesn’t require anything extra in its environment, just grab the .deb, install it in the container, run an “apt-get -f install” to install any remaining dependency, create a launcher script and .desktop and you’re done.
I’ve been happily playing a few games (thanks to Valve giving those to all Ubuntu and Debian developers) without any problem so far.

This entry was posted in Canonical voices, LXC, Planet Ubuntu and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to LXC 1.0: GUI in containers [9/10]

  1. vasilisc says:

    lxc-start -n precise-gui -d; lxc-ls --fancy
    lxc_container: command get_cgroup failed to receive response
    precise-gui STOPPED – – NO
    please, give me full config ~/.local/share/lxc/precise-gui/config

    my system
    uname -a
    Linux vasilisc 3.13.0-8-generic #27-Ubuntu SMP Fri Feb 7 02:01:37 UTC 2014 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux
    lsb_release -a
    Distributor ID: Ubuntu
    Description: Ubuntu Trusty Tahr (development branch)
    Release: 14.04
    Codename: trusty

  2. Winael says:


    There’s something I don’t understand with this. You have to install an entire system just to have a application container ? That’s very heavy no ? Is there a way to create a container just for the app ?

    Best Regards

    • Well, the main idea here is to use an OS/arch combo that’s known to be well supported and tested by proprietary software, so you indeed need a bit of duplication with the host system for that.

      Now as for heavy, the actual duplicated content is about 350MB or 50MB compressed, so it’s not terribly light but it’s not gigantic either.

  3. Casey Marshall says:

    This worked great for me, I’ve been waiting a long time for something like this! The only trick to getting Hangouts to work was, I had to use an amd64 container image with an amd64 host. The i386 google talk plugin kept crashing.

  4. wantoo says:

    If I’m understanding all of this correctly, LXC is like creating a virtual machine that shares much of the same installed code (kernel, libraries, maybe even icons and other data?), and it runs inside of a protected environment (the container). So in theory, I could set up a server running LXC and a few containers, and then log into a container on that server for different things.

    Or I could run it locally and try out another distro, running it from a container. Or create a container specifically for “dangerous” software.

    Sounds very advanced. I can’t wait to try it!

  5. Sigi says:

    It’s a great example for how to run X Window applications in a container, however, you did not make it clear enough that it really does not much for added security.

    The point that you make in passing (“can access the X server”) pretty much renders moot all security that might have been added in other places (the same applies with regards to recording audio via Pulse, which you also mentioned).

    So, in my opinion, in should not even be suggested to do any of this to improve security — because it really does not, and it dangerous to feel safer when, in reality, you are not.

    • It doesn’t do much for privacy as eavesdropping is still possible, it does quite a bit for security though as software installed in that container won’t be able to trivially do things like replace your kernel, access your files, set scheduled tasks to re-execute themselves constantly, …

      The use of the container ensures that when the container is off, nothing you installed in there can possibly still be running. The container doesn’t have access to your file system and is guaranteed to run as an unprivileged users (even those setuid binaries), therefore package installs and running untrusted setuid code won’t be able to do any more damage than a random unprivileged user could do on your machine.

  6. Julien Tinnes says:

    Chromium is replacing the setuid sandbox, probably with LXC containers. See: https://code.google.com/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=312380

    This should be behind a flag soon, and I expect that it’ll compose fine with your use of containers, so you won’t need to disable a layer of sandboxing anymore.

    • Awesome, looking forward to it!

      User namespaces definitely are a great fit for that kind of sandboxing and allowing users to avoid using the setuid wrapper while still benefiting from the sandbox will be a great improvement!

  7. Thomas Koch says:

    I use xpra (packaged in Debian) to run GUI apps in kvm. xpra comes with a client and server. Inside the virtual machine it starts pulseaudio and a dummy X server and forwards video+audio to the xpra process on the host which displays each application window like it would run directly on the host.

    I use xpra daily at work to run eclipse, chrome, flash, …

    I’d love to hear from your experiences running xpra with containers! I’m just starting to learn about containers.

  8. Ogai says:

    This seems to be needed before installing Chrome:

    lxc-attach -n precise-gui -- apt-get install libnspr4 libnss3 libxss1 libcurl3 xdg-utils libv4l-0 librtmp0 libv4lconvert0 -y

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