This lesson is being piloted (Beta version)



Teaching: 10 min
Exercises: min
  • What issues motivated the creation of Apptainer/Singularity?

  • What are the differences between Docker, Apptainer and Singularity?

  • Learn the design goals behind Apptainer/Singularity.

Working with containers

Containers are packages of software that encapsulates a system environment. An OS-level virtualization is delivered in a container, and any program running on it will use the contextualization isolated inside the container. They have the advantage that you can build a container on any system, your laptop for example, and then execute it anywhere as far as the platform compatible with the container is available.

Concepts such as reproducibility, preservation, and distribution are important in the HEP community, and the containers provide a solution totally compatible with such concepts:

What about virtual machines?

Virtual Machines (VMs) provide the same isolation and reproducibility. However, they emulate the hardware, or at least the full OS, so they are computationally heavier to run, require bigger files when distributed and are less flexible than containers, that run only what you require to be different. All containers use the same OS Kernel of the host and contain only Libraries and the App that run in User space. See this article for a more detailed comparison. And if you are curious about the Linux Kernel mechanisms that make containers possible you can check this blog pos.

Why Apptainer/Singularity?

Many solutions are available to work with containers, for example Docker, one of the most popular platforms, or the free OSS Podman. However, the enterprise-based container frameworks were motivated to provide micro-services, a solution that fits well in the models of the industry, where system administrators with root privilege start the container engine daemon and install and run applications, each in its own container. This is not so compatible with the workflow in the High-Performance Computing (HPC) and High Throughput Computing (HTC), in which usually complex applications run exhaustively using all the available resources and without any special privilege.

Apptainer/Singularity is a container platform created for the HPC/HTC use case. It allows to build and run containers with just a few steps in most of the cases, and its design presents key advantages for the scientific community:


Docker and Apptainer/Singularity

As you will learn in this training module, Apptainer/Singularity can be used with Docker images. If you want to learn more about Docker or Podman, check out our podman/docker training.

Apptainer vs Singularity

In these lessons you see the name Apptainer or Apptainer/Singularity, and the command apptainer. As stated in the move and renaming announcement, “Singularity IS Apptainer”. Currently there are three products derived from the original Singularity project from 2015:

We are following Apptainer, the most adopted variation in the scientific community, so we are using the apptainer command. If you are using SingularityPro or SingularityCE, just replace the command apptainer with singularity and the APPTAINER_ and APPTAINERENV_ variable prefixes with SINGULARITY_ and SINGULARITYENV_. If you have older scripts still using the singularity command and SINGULARITY... variables, they will work also in Apptainer because it is providing the singularity alias and full compatibility with the previous Singularity environment.


The official Apptainer documentation is available online. Contains basic and advanced usage of Apptainer/Singularity beyond the scope of this training document. Take a look and read the nice introduction, explaining the motivation behind the creation of Apptainer/Singularity.

Key Points

  • Apptainer/Singularity is a container platform designed by and for scientists.

  • Single-file based container images facilitates the distribution.

  • Secure. User inside the container = user outside.