File I/O with Containers


Teaching: 15 min
Exercises: 5 min
  • How do containers interact with my local file system?

  • Copy files to and from the container

  • Mount directories to be accessed and manipulated by the container


Copying files between the local host and containers is possible. On your local host, either find a file that you want to transfer to the container or create a new one. Below is the procedure for creating a new file called io_example.txt and then copying it to the container:

touch io_example.txt
echo "This was written on local host" > io_example.txt
podman cp io_example.txt <NAME>:/home/docker/data/

and then from the container check and modify it in some way

cat io_example.txt
echo "This was written inside the container" >> io_example.txt

Permission issues

If you run into a Permission denied error, there is a simple and quick fix to continue with the exercise:

exit  # exit container
chmod a+w io_example.txt  # add write permissions for all users

And continue from the podman cp ... command above.

This was written on local host

and then on the local host copy the file out of the container

podman cp <NAME>:/home/docker/data/io_example.txt .

and verify if the file has been modified as you wanted

cat io_example.txt
This was written on local host
This was written inside the container

Volume mounting

What is more common and arguably more useful is to mount volumes to containers with the -v flag. This allows for direct access to the host file system inside the container and for container processes to write directly to the host file system.

podman run -v <path on host>:<path in container> <image>

For example, to mount your current working directory ($PWD) on your local machine to the data directory in the example container

podman run --rm -it -v $PWD:/home/docker/data matthewfeickert/intro-to-docker

No such file or directory?

On Windows and macOS, you may face an error while mounting the volume: Error: statfs <directory>: no such file or directory.

The error occurs because the directory you are trying to mount was not shared with the virtual machine that runs the containers. In latest versions of Podman and Docker your home directory is shared by default, but with Podman you can restart the machine to ensure that the directory is mounted:

podman machine stop
podman machine start
Starting machine "podman-machine-default"
Waiting for VM ...
Mounting volume... /Users:/Users
Machine "podman-machine-default" started successfully

From inside the container you can ls to see the contents of your directory on your local machine


and yet you are still inside the container


You can also see that any files created in this path in the container persist upon exit

touch created_inside.txt
ls *.txt

Permission issues

If you are using Linux with SELinux enabled, you might run into a Permission denied error. Note that SELinux is enabled if the output of the command getenforce status is Enforcing. To fix the permission issue, append :z (lowercase!) at the end of the mount option, like this:

podman run --rm -it -v $PWD:/home/docker/data:z ...

If this still does not fix the issue you can disable SELinux by running sudo setenforce 0, or you can try using sudo to execute docker/podman commands, but neither of these methods is recommended.


This I/O allows for container images to be used for specific tasks that may be difficult to do with the tools or software installed on only the local host machine. For example, debugging problems with software that arise on cross-platform software, or even just having a specific version of software perform a task (e.g., using Python 2 when you don’t want it on your machine, or using a specific release of TeX Live when you aren’t ready to update your system release).

Key Points

  • Copy files with podman cp

  • Mount volumes with podman run -v <path on host>:<path in container> <image>