Despite all of the advantages that have resulted in an industry-wide shift towards containers, containers have not been accepted as isolated sandboxes, which is crucial for container-native clouds. We introduce nabla containers, a new type of container designed for strong isolation on a host.
Nabla containers achieve isolation by adopting a strategy of attack surface reduction to the host. A visualization of this approach appears in this figure:
A containerized application can avoid making a Linux system call if it links to a library OS component that implements the system call functionality. Nabla containers use library OS (aka unikernel) techniques, specifically those from the Solo5 project, to avoid system calls and thereby reduce the attack surface. Nabla containers only use 7 system calls; all others are blocked via a Linux seccomp policy. An overview of the internals of a nabla container appears in this figure:
For the curious, here are the allowed syscalls:
pread64. They are restricted to specific file descriptors (already
opened before enabling seccomp). They originate from the hypercall
implementations of the
ukvm unikernel monitor.1 Check out the
for more specifics.
The isolation in nabla containers comes from limiting access to the host kernel via the blocking of system calls. We have measured exactly how much access to the kernel common applications exhibit with nabla containers and standard containers by measuring the number of system calls containerized applications make and correspondingly how many kernel functions they access. This graph summarizes results for a few applications:
Further measurements and results and scripts to reproduce them reside in the nabla-measurements repository.
More information appears in each of the individual repositories related to nabla containers. In addition, this article steps you through the process of running your first nabla container:
runnc: is the OCI-interfacing container runtime for nabla containers. Start here to run nabla containers!
nabla-demo-apps: shows how to build sample applications containerized as nabla containers. Helpful to see how to containerize your own application by building from an existing nabla base Docker image.
nabla-measurements: contains isolation measurements of nabla containers with comparisons to standard containers and other container isolation approaches, such as kata containers and gvisor.
If you want to go deeper, check out the following repositories:
nabla-base-build: shows how to build the nabla base Docker images. Helpful for seeing how to use rumprun to port an application or runtime as a new nabla base.
solo5: A temporary branch of Solo5 (http://github.com/Solo5/solo5) that contains “nabla-run”, a seccomp-based tender for Solo5. We are working on adding this new tender changes upstream.
rumprun: a fork of Rumprun that enables rumprun to run on the Solo5 interface.
rumprun-packages: a fork of rumprun-packages that contains targets to run on Solo5.
The main limitation is that the Nabla runtime (runnc) only supports images built for nabla (see nabla-base-build). Other limitations are listed here.
For more information about
ukvm, check out our HotCloud ‘16
paper Unikernel Monitors: Extending Minimalism Outside of the
or the Solo5 project on Github. ↩