Systemd and the case of the missing network

Mon 28 January 2013 by Lars Kellogg-Stedman

I was intrigued by this post on socket activated containers with systemd. The basic premise is:

  • systemd opens a socket on the host and listens for connections.
  • When a client connections, systemd spawns a new container.
  • The host systemd passes the connected socket to the container systemd.
  • Services in the container receive these sockets from the container systemd.

This is a very neat idea, since it delegates all the socket listening to the host and only spins up container and service resources when necessary.

An interesting corollary to this is that the service container doesn't actually need any networking: since the host is responsible for opening the socket and listening for connections, and the container receives an already connected socket, you can create containers that have no network interfaces other than the loopback interface and still connect to them remotely.

The example presented in Lennarts article will work just fine if you change this:

ExecStart=/usr/bin/systemd-nspawn -jbD /srv/mycontainer 3

To this:

ExecStart=/usr/bin/systemd-nspawn --private-network -jbD /srv/mycontainer 3

After this change, if you connect to this container you'll see:

# ip addr
1: lo: <LOOPBACK,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 65536 qdisc noqueue state UNKNOWN 
    link/loopback 00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00:00:00
    inet scope host lo
    inet6 ::1/128 scope host 
       valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever

This opens up a variety of interesting possibilities for creating "endpoint" containers that offer services over the network but are able to limit the scope of a compromised service. Because systemd-nspawn has been designed as more of a convenice tool than a full container solution, we'll need to wait for libvirt and lxc to introduce this socket-passing feature before it's more than an interesting idea.