This lesson is being piloted (Beta version)

Sharing files between host and container


Teaching: 30 min
Exercises: 0 min
  • How to read and write files on the host system from within the container?

  • Map directories on your host system to directories within your container.

  • Learn about the bind paths included automatically in all containers.

One of the key features about containers is the isolation of the processes running inside them. It means, files on the host system are not accessible within the container. However, it is very common that some files on the host system are needed inside the container, or you want to write files from the container to some directory in the host.

We have already used the option --bind earlier in the module when exploring the options available to run Apptainer containers. In this chapter we will explore further options to bind directories from your host system to directories within your container.

Remember that in Apptainer, your user outside is the same inside the container (except when using fakeroot). And the same happens with permissions and ownership for files in bind directories.

Bind paths included by default

For each container executed, Apptainer binds automatically some directories by default, and other defined by the system admin in the Apptainer configuration. By default, Apptainer binds:

Let’s use for example the container built during the last chapter called rootInUbuntu.sif. Take a look at your current directory


Open a shell inside the container and try to use pwd again

apptainer shell rootInUbuntu.sif

Apptainer> pwd

you will notice that the files stored on the host are located inside the container! As we explained above, Apptainer mounts automatically your $HOME inside the container.

Disabling system binds

If for any reason you want to execute a container removing the default binds, the command-line option --no-mount is available. For example, to disable the bind of /tmp

run --no-mount tmp my_container.sif

Try this time with

apptainer shell --no-mount home,cwd rootInUbuntu.sif

and you will notice that $HOME is not mounted anymore

ls /home/myuser
ls: cannot access '/home/myuser': No such file or directory

Note how we disabled both home and cwd (current working directory). This because if you are running the apptainer command from your home directory, even if you use --no-mount home the home directory may still be mounted because it is also your current directory.

User-defined bind paths

Apptainer provides mechanisms to specify additional binds when executing a container via command-line or environment variables. Apptainer offers a complex set of mechanism for binds or other mounts. Here we present the main points, refer to the Bind Paths and Mounts documentation for more.

Bind with command-line options

The command-line option --bind (-B) will specify the directories that must be linked between the host and the container. It is available for run, exec, and shell (as well for instance that is not covered yet).

The syntax for using the bind option is "source:destination", and the paths must be absolute (relative paths will be rejected). For example, let’s create a directory in the host containing a constant that can be useful for your analysis

mkdir $HOME/mydata
echo "MUONMASS=105.66 MeV" > $HOME/mydata/muonMass.txt

It is very, very important in your analysis workflow to know the mass of the muon, right? It may have sense to put the data in a high-level directory within the container, like /data

apptainer shell --bind $HOME/mydata:/data rootInUbuntu.sif

This will bind the directory mydata/ from the host as /data inside the container:

ls -l /data
-rw-rw-r-- 1 myuser myuser 20 Jan  2 12:46 muonMass.txt

Now you can use the mass of the muon from a root-level directory!

If multiple directories must be available in the container, you can repeat the option or they can be defined with a comma between each pair of directories, i.e. using the syntax source1:destination1,source2:destination2.

Also. If the destination is not specified, it will be set as equal as the source. For example

apptainer shell --bind /cvmfs rootInUbuntu.sif

Will mount /cvmfs inside the container. Try it!

Binding directories with Docker-like syntax using --mount

The flag –mount provides a method to bind directories using the syntax of Docker. The bind is specified with the format type=bind,src=<source>,dst=<dest>. Currently, only type=bind is supported. Check the documentation for additional options available.

Bind with environment variables

If the environment variable $APPTAINER_BIND is defined, apptainer will bind inside ANY container the directories specified in the format source, with the destination being optional (in the same way as using --bind). For example:

export SINGULARITY_BIND="/cvmfs"

will bind CVMFS to all your Apptainer containers (/cvmfs must be available in the host, of course).

You can also bind multiple directories using commas between each source:destination.

Key Points

  • Bind mounts allow reading and writing files within the container.

  • In Apptainer, you have same owner and permissions for files inside and outside the container.

  • Some paths are mounted by default by Apptainer.

  • Additional directories to bind can be defined using the --bind option or the environment variable $SINGULARITY_BIND.