a throw-away remote VNC linux desktop in a docker container

I am running most of my in-house infrastructure based on Docker these days…

Docker is a set of platform-as-a-service (PaaS) products that use operating-system-level virtualization to deliver software in packages called containers. Containers are isolated from one another and bundle their own software, libraries and configuration files; they can communicate with each other through well-defined channels.

All containers are run by a single operating-system kernel and are thus more lightweight than virtual machines.

Wikipedia: Docker

And given the above definition it’s fairly easy to create and run containers of things like command-line tools and background servers/services. But due to the nature of Docker being “terminal only” by default it’s quite hard to do anything UI related.

But there is a way. By using the VNC protocol to get access to the graphical user interface we can set-up a container running a fully-fledge Linux Desktop and we can connect directly to this container.

I am using something I call “throw-away linux desktop containers” all day every day for various needs and uses. Everytime I start such a container this container is brand-new and ready to be used.

Actually when I start it the process looks like this:

As you can see when the container starts-up it asks for a password to be set. This is the password needed to be entered when the VNC client connects to the container.

And when you are connected, this is what you get:

this is what you see after connecting to the desktop container by VNC

I am sharing my scripts and Dockerfile with you so you can use it yourself. If you put a bit more time into it you can even customize it to your specific needs. At this point it’s based on Ubuntu 18.04 and starts-up a ubuntu-mate desktop environment in it’s default configuration.

When you log into the container it will log you in as root – but effectively you won’t be able to really screw around with the host machine as the container is still isolating you from the host. Nevertheless be aware that the container has some quirks and is run in extended privileges mode.

Chromium will be pre-installed as a browser but you will find that it won’t start up. That’s because Chromium won’t start up if you attempt a start as root user.

The workaround:

“–no-sandbox” parameter for Chromium

Now get the scripts and container here and build it yourself!

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