Docker SELinux Experimentation with Reduced Pain

This post is based on material from Docker in Practice, available on Manning’s Early Access Program. Get 39% off with the code: 39miell



As a Docker enthusiast that works for a corp that cares about security, SELinux is going to be a big deal. While SELinux is in principle simple, in practice it’s difficult to get to grips with. My initial attempts involved reading out of date blogs for tools that were deprecated, and confusing introductions that left me wondering where to go.

Fortunately, I came across this blog, which explained how to implement an SELinux policy for apache in Docker.

I tried to apply this to a Vagrant centos image with Docker on it, but kept getting into a state where something was not working, but I didn’t know what had happened, and then would have to re-provision the box, re-install the software, remember my steps etc etc..

So I wrote a ShutIt script to automate this process, reducing the iteration time to re-provision and re-try changes to this SELinux policy.

See it in action here


This diagram illustrates the way this script works.


Once ShutIt is set up, you run it as root with:

# shutit build --delivery bash

The ‘build’ argument tells ShutIt to run the commands in the to the revelant delivery target. By default this is Docker, but here we’re using ShutIt to automate the process of delivery via bash. ssh is also an option.

Running is root is obviously a risk, so be warned if you experiment with the script.

The script is here. It’s essentially a dynamic shell script (readily comprehended in the build method), which can react to different outputs. For example:

# If the Vagrantfile exists, we assume we've already init'd appropriately.
if not shutit.file_exists('Vagrantfile'):
	shutit.send('vagrant init jdiprizio/centos-docker-io')

only calls ‘vagrant init’ if there’s no Vagrant file in the folder. Similarly, these lines:

# Query the status - if it's powered off or not created, bring it up.
if shutit.send_and_match_output('vagrant status',['.*poweroff.*','.*not created.*','.*aborted.*']):
    shutit.send('vagrant up')

send ‘vagrant status’ to the terminal and will call ‘vagrant up’ if the status returns anything that isn’t indicating it’s already up. So the script will only bring up the VM when needed.

And these lines:

vagrant_dir = shutit.cfg[self.module_id]['vagrant_dir']
setenforce  = shutit.cfg[self.module_id]['setenforce'

pick up the config items set in the get_config method, and uses them to determine where to deploy on the host system and whether to fully enforce SELinux on the host.

Crucially, it doesn’t destroy the vagrant environment, so you can re-use the VM with all the software on it pre-installed. It ensures that the environment is cleaned up in such a way that you don’t waste time waiting for a long re-provisioning of the VM.

By setting the vagrant directory (which defaults to /tmp/vagrant_dir, see below) you can wipe it completely with an ‘rm -rf’ if you ever want to be sure you’re starting afresh.


Here’s the invocation with configuration options:

# shutit build -d bash \
    -s io.dockerinpractice.docker_selinux.docker_selinux setenforce no \
    -s io.dockerinpractice.docker_selinux.docker_selinux vagrant_dir /tmp/tmp_vagrant_dir

The -s options define the options available to the docker_selinux module. Here we specify that the VM should have setenforce set to off, and the vagrant directory to use is /tmp/tmp_vagrant_dir.


Instructions on setup are kept here

#install git
#install python-pip
#install docker
git clone
cd shutit
pip install --user -r requirements.txt
echo "export PATH=$(pwd):${PATH}" >> ~/.bashrc
. ~/.bashrc

Then clone the docker-selinux repo and run the script:

git clone
cd docker-selinux
sudo su
shutit build --delivery bash


Note you may need to alter this line


in the


file to change ‘docker’ to ‘sudo docker’ or however you run docker on your host.


This has considerably sped up my experimentation with SELinux, and I now have a reliable and test-able set of steps to help others (you!) get to grips with SELinux and improve our understanding.

This post is based on material from Docker in Practice, available on Manning’s Early Access Program. Get 39% off with the code: 39miell


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One Response to Docker SELinux Experimentation with Reduced Pain

  1. William Burton says:

    Well explained as always :) thanks very much for sharing

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