Working around Systemd on Docker

Systemd + Docker = Bad Times

Posted by Chris Lapa on August 25, 2017

It’s very tempting to want to use SystemD with Docker. However when you go down that rabbit hole you quickly realise how difficult and hacky it becomes.

Instead a great alternative is to use Supervisord. Supervisord makes it really easy to get off the ground running and daemonise processes. It will also do fancy things restart the process if it quits unexpectedly.

Example - Running an SSH Server

Here is a simple example that runs a basic SSH server in a Ubuntu 16.04 container.

FROM ubuntu:16.04


RUN apt-get update

RUN apt-get -y install openssh-server
RUN mkdir -p /var/run/sshd
RUN echo 'root:password' | chpasswd
RUN sed -i 's/PermitRootLogin prohibit-password/PermitRootLogin yes/' /etc/ssh/sshd_config

RUN apt-get -y install supervisor && \
        mkdir -p /var/log/supervisor

RUN mkdir -p /etc/supervisor/conf.d/

RUN echo "[supervisord] \n\
nodaemon=true \n\
[include] \n\
files = /etc/supervisor/conf.d/*.conf" > /etc/supervisor.conf

RUN echo "[program:ssh] \n\
command=/usr/sbin/sshd -D \n\
autorestart=true \n\
autostart=true \n\
redirect_stderr=true" > /etc/supervisor/conf.d/ssh.conf

CMD ["supervisord", "-c", "/etc/supervisor.conf"]
  • Build: docker build -t ssh_server .
  • Run: docker run -p -i -t ssh_server
  • Login: ssh [email protected]

This will bind the SSH server to the localhost interface on the host machine. If you are running a SSH server on your host then you may want to change the port the container binds to on the host.


  • Additional config files can be added to the /etc/supervisor/conf.d directory
  • Supervisord is designed to work with processes that run in the forground, hence the -D switch tells SSH Daemon to run in the foreground.
  • If a given process won’t run in the foreground, then a process proxy will be required.

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