LK4D4 Blog

Unprivileged containers in Go, Part1: User and PID namespaces

Jul 15, 2015

Unprivileged namespaces

Unprivileged(or user) namespaces are Linux namespaces, which can be created by an unprivileged(non-root) user. It is possible only with a usage of user namespaces. Exhaustive info about user namespaces you can find in manpage man user_namespaces. Basically for creating your namespaces you need to create user namespace first. The kernel can take a job of creating namespaces in the right order for you, so you can just pass a bunch of flags to clone and user namespace always created first and is a parent for other namespaces.

User namespace

In user namespace you can map user and groups from host to this namespace, so for example, your user with uid 1000 can be 0(root) in a namespace.

Mrunal Patel introduced to Go support for user and groups and go 1.4.0 including it. Unfortunately, there was security fix to linux kernel 3.18, which prevents group mappings from the unprivileged user without disabling setgroups syscall. It was fixed by me and will be released in 1.5.0 (UPD: Already released!).

For executing process in new user namespace, you need to create *exec.Cmd like this:

cmd := exec.Command(binary, args...)
cmd.SysProcAttr = &syscall.SysProcAttr{
        Cloneflags: syscall.CLONE_NEWUSER
        UidMappings: []syscall.SysProcIDMap{
                ContainerID: 0,
                HostID:      Uid,
                Size:        1,
        GidMappings: []syscall.SysProcIDMap{
                ContainerID: 0,
                HostID:      Gid,
                Size:        1,

Here you can see syscall.CLONE_NEWUSER flag in SysProcAttr.Cloneflags, which means just “please, create new user namespace for this process”, another namespace can be specified there too. Mappings fields talk for themselves. Size means a size of a range of mapped IDs, so you can remap many IDs without specifying each.

PID namespaces

From man pid_namespaces:

PID namespaces isolate the process ID number space

That is it, your process in this namespace has PID 1, which is sorta cool: You are like systemd, but better. In our first part ps awux won’t show only our process, because we need mount namespace and remount /proc, but still you can see PID 1 with echo $$.

First unprivileged container

I am pretty bad at writing big texts, so I decided to split container creation to several parts. Today we will see only user and PID namespace creation, which still pretty impressive. So, for adding PID namespace we need to modify Cloneflags:

    Cloneflags: syscall.CLONE_NEWUSER | syscall.CLONE_NEWPID

For this articles, I created a project on Github: unc means “unprivileged container” and has nothing in common with runc(maybe only a little). I will tag code for each article in a repo. Tag for this article is user_pid. Just compile it with go1.5 or above and try to run different commands from an unprivileged user in namespaces:

$ unc sh
$ unc whoami
$ unc sh -c "echo \$\$"

It is doing nothing fancy, but just connects your standard streams to executed process and execute it in new namespaces with a remapping current user and group to root user and the group inside user namespace. Please read all code, there is not much for now.

Next steps

Most interesting part of containers is mount namespace. It allows you to have mounts separate from host(/proc for example). Another interesting namespace is a network, it is little tough for an unprivileged user, because you need to create network interfaces on host first, so for this you need some superpowers from the root. In next article, I hope to cover mount namespace - so it a real container with own root filesystem.

Thanks for reading! I am learning all this stuff myself right now by writing this articles, so if you have something to say, please feel free to comment!

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