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Sharing supplemental groups with Podman containers

Rootless Podman containers can introduce challenges when trying to share resources between the host and containers. Find out how supplemental groups can help.
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Rootless Podman containers is a really cool feature that allows users to run almost all containers in their home directory without requiring any additional privileges.

Rootless containers take advantage of the user namespace, as I explained in this blog.

Sometimes the user namespace and other container security layers like SELinux make it more difficult to share content inside the container. We have seen many users who want to share system directories into their containers but fail with permission errors. These directories are usually shared via some group access, which allows the user to read/write content in the directories.

[ You might also like: Rootless containers using Podman ]

For example, the user might have a directory /mnt/engineering on their system, which is owned by root and group eng, and with permissions set to 770.

Let's take a look at an example.

Add the eng group:

# groupadd eng

Make the share directory:

# mkdir /var/lib/mycontainers/

Change the group access for the directory:

# chown root:eng /var/lib/mycontainers/

Change the permissions so that the group can write to the directory:

# chmod 770 /mnt/engineering

Change the SELinux type of the directory so that containers can use it:

# chcon -t container_file_t /mnt/engineering

Next, let’s look at the permissions on the directory:

# ls -lZ /mnt/engineering/ -d
drwxrwx---. 2 root eng unconfined_u:object_r:user_tmp_t:s0 40 Feb  9 07:24 /mnt/engineering/

Now the user can be added to the eng group:

$ grep eng /etc/group

Log in to the system and make sure the user is in the eng group:

$ id
uid=3267(dwalsh) gid=3267(dwalsh) groups=3267(dwalsh),10(wheel),14905(eng) context=unconfined_u:unconfined_r:unconfined_t:s0-s0:c0.c1023

Make sure the user can read/write content in the directory:

$ touch /mnt/engineering/test
$ ls -l /mnt/engineering/
total 0
-rw-------. 1 dwalsh dwalsh 0 Feb  9 07:36 test

Now run a container using this volume, but the container gets permission denied:

$ podman run --userns=keep-id -v /mnt/engineering/:/mnt/engineering ubi8 ls /mnt/engineering/
ls: cannot open directory '/mnt/engineering/': Permission denied

Since we know that SELinux is not blocking since we set the label correctly, what happened?

User namespace

The problem is user namespace.

$ podman run --userns=keep-id -v /mnt/engineering/:/mnt/engineering ubi8 id
uid=3267(dwalsh) gid=3267(dwalsh) groups=3267(dwalsh)

Note that the --userns=keep-id flag is used to ensure that the UID inside the container is not root but the user’s regular UID. Notice above that when I run the id command outside of the container, my groups include the eng group, but when the container is run, the eng group does not show up. From a security perspective, this is a good thing because if the container processes escaped, they would not have access to directories that I have group access to. If users want to grant access, they have a problem.

The issue is that it is difficult to grant access to the container to these directories. Creating an eng group inside of the container would not match the eng group on the host because the user namespace offsets the real group UID.

Luckily the OCI Runtime crun supports a special feature to leak these additional groups into the container. This ability is covered in the podman run man page:

man podman run
       Note: if the user only has access rights via a group, accessing the de‐
       vice  from inside a rootless container will fail. The crun(1) runtime
       offers  a  workaround  for  this  by  adding  the  option  --annotation

And further explained in the crun man page:

man crun
       If the annotation run.oci.keep_original_groups is present, then crun
       will skip the setgroups syscall that is used to either set the addi‐
       tional groups specified in the OCI configuration, or to reset the list
       of additional groups if none is specified.

If I set that annotation, my rootless Podman now has access to the volume, as seen below:

$ podman run -ti --annotation run.oci.keep_original_groups=1 --userns=keep-id -v /mnt/engineering/:/mnt/engineering ubi8 ls /mnt/engineering/
-rw-------. 1 dwalsh dwalsh 0 Feb  9 12:36 test

We use an annotation since the OCI Specification currently does not have a way to tell this to the OCI Runtime. We have suggested adding it to the specification. At this time, no other OCI Runtime other than crun can handle this, including runc. Perhaps in the future, this feature will get added to the OCI.


If the user wants to make all of their containers share the users groups, they could add this annotation to the containers.conf in their home directories.

$ cat ~/.config/containers/containers.conf

Now even the default Podman can create content in the volume, and user processes outside of the container see the correct content.

$ podman run -ti --userns=keep-id -v /mnt/engineering/:/mnt/engineering ubi8 touch /mnt/engineering/test2
$  ls -l /mnt/engineering/
total 0
-rw-------. 1 dwalsh dwalsh 0 Feb  9 07:36 test
-rw-r--r--. 1 dwalsh dwalsh 0 Feb  9 13:36 test2

[ Getting started with containers? Check out this free course. Deploying containerized applications: A technical overview. ]


Sharing content from the host into a container via volume mounting can sometimes be blocked by various security features of containers. Luckily Podman and crun have advanced features to allow specific containers to share this content and containers.conf enables users to set up their system to all containers to gain access to these volumes.

Topics:   Linux   Containers   Podman  
Author’s photo

Dan Walsh

Daniel Walsh has worked in the computer security field for over 30 years. Dan is a Consulting Engineer at Red Hat. He joined Red Hat in August 2001. Dan leads the Red Hat Container Engineering team since August 2013, but has been working on container technology for several years. More about me

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