Podman Build

To make the Redox build process more consistent across platforms, we are using Rootless Podman for major parts of the build. Podman is invoked automatically and transparently within the Makefiles.

The TL;DR version is here.

You can find out more about Podman here.

Disabling Podman Build

By default, Podman Build is disabled. The variable PODMAN_BUILD in mk/config.mk defaults to zero, so that Podman will not be invoked. If you find that it is enabled but you want it disabled, set PODMAN_BUILD?=0 in mk/config.mk, and ensure it is not set in your environment, unset PODMAN_BUILD.

Podman Build Overview

Podman is a virtual machine manager that creates containers to execute a virtual machine image. In our case, we are creating an Ubuntu image, with a Rust installation and all the packages needed to build the system.

The build process is performed in your normal working directory, e.g. ~/tryredox/redox. Compilation of the Redox components is performed in the container, but the final Redox image (build/$ARCH/$CONFIG/harddrive.img or build/$ARCH/$CONFIG/livedisk.iso) is constructed using FUSE running directly on your host machine.

Setting PODMAN_BUILD to 1 in mk/config.mk, on the make command line (e.g. make PODMAN_BUILD=1 all) or in the environment (e.g. export PODMAN_BUILD=1; make all) will cause Podman to be invoked when building.

First, a base image called redox_base will be constructed, with all the necessary packages for the build. A "home" directory will also be created in build/podman. This is the home directory of your container alter ego, poduser. It will contain the rustup install, and the .bashrc. This takes some time, but is only done when necessary. The tag file build/container.tag is also created at this time to prevent unnecessary image builds.

Then, various make commands are executed in containers built from the base image. The files are constructed in your working directory tree, just as they would for a non-Podman build. In fact, if all necessary packages are installed on your host system, you can switch Podman on and off relatively seamlessly, although there is no benefit to doing so.

The build process is using Podman's keep-id feature, which allows your regular User ID to be mapped to poduser in the container. The first time a container is built, it takes some time to set up this mapping. After the first container is built, new containers can be built almost instantly.


  • Envionment and Command Line Variables, other than ARCH, CONFIG_NAME and FILESYSTEM_CONFIG, are not passed to the part of make that is done in Podman. You must set any other config variables in mk/config.mk and not on the command line or in your environment.

  • If you are building your own software to include in Redox, and you need to install additional packages using apt-get for the build, follow Adding Packages to the Build.

TL;DR - New or Existing Working Directory

New Working Directory

If you have already read the Building Redox instructions, but you wish to use Podman Build, follow these steps.

  • Make sure you have the curl command. E.g. for Pop!_OS/Ubuntu/Debian:
which curl || sudo apt-get install curl 
  • Make a directory, get a copy of podman_bootstrap.sh and run it. This will clone the repository and install Podman.
mkdir -p ~/tryredox
cd ~/tryredox
curl -sf https://gitlab.redox-os.org/redox-os/redox/raw/master/podman_bootstrap.sh -o podman_bootstrap.sh
time bash -e podman_bootstrap.sh
  • Change to the redox directory.
cd ~/tryredox/redox
  • Edit mk/config.mk and change PODMAN_BUILD to 1.
gedit mk/config.mk &
  • Build the system. This will take some time.
time make all

Existing Working Directory

If you already have the source tree, you can use these steps.

  • Change to your working directory and get the updates to the build files.
cd ~/tryredox/redox
git fetch upstream master
git rebase upstream/master
  • Install Podman. Many distros require additional packages. Check the Minimum Installation instructions to see what is needed for your distro. Or, run the following in your working directory:
./podman_bootstrap.sh -d
  • Set PODMAN_BUILD to 1 and run make. The first container setup can take 15 minutes or more, but it is comparable in speed to native build after that.
make all

To ensure PODMAN_BUILD is properly set for future builds, edit mk/config.mk and change its value.

gedit mk/config.mk &

Minimum Installation

Most of the packages required for the build are installed in the container as part of the build process. However, some packages need to be installed on the host computer. You may also need to install an emulator such as QEMU. This is done for you in podman_bootstrap.sh, but you can do a minimum install by following the instructions below.


sudo apt-get install podman


sudo apt-get install podman curl git make libfuse-dev


sudo pacman -S --needed git podman fuse


sudo dnf install podman


The building of the image is controlled by the tag file build/container.tag. If you run make all with PODMAN_BUILD=1, the file build/container.tag will be created after the image is built. This file tells make that it can skip updating the image after the first time.

Many targets in the Makefiles mk/*.mk include build/container.tag as a dependency. If the tag file is missing, building any of those targets may trigger an image to be created, which can take some time.

When you move to a new working directory, if you want to save a few minutes, and you are confident that your image is correct and your poduser home directory build/podman/poduser is valid, you can do

make container_touch

This will create the file build/container.tag without rebuilding the image. However, it will fail if the image does not exist. If it fails, just do a normal make, it will create the container when needed.

Cleaning Up

To remove the base image, any lingering containers, poduser's home directory, including the Rust install, and build/container.tag, use

make container_clean

To check that everything has been removed,

podman ps -a
podman images

will show any remaining images or containers. If you need to do further cleanup,

podman system reset

will remove all images and containers. You still may need to remove build/container.tag if you did not do make container_clean.

In some rare instances, poduser's home directory can have bad file permissions, and you may need to do

sudo chown -R `id -un`:`id -gn` build/podman

where `id -un` is your User ID and `id -gn` is your effective Group ID. Be sure to make container_clean after that.


  • make clean does not run make container_clean and will not remove the container image.
  • If you already did make container_clean, doing make clean could trigger an image build and a Rust install in the container. It invokes cargo clean on various components, which it must run in a container, since the build is designed to not require Cargo on your host machine. If you have Cargo installed on the host and in your PATH, you can use make PODMAN_BUILD=0 clean to clean without building a container.

Debugging your Build Process

If you are developing your own components and wish to do one-time debugging to determine what package you are missing in the Podman Build environment, the following instructions can help. Note that your changes will not be persistent. After debugging, you must Add your Packages to the Build. With PODMAN_BUILD=1, run the command:

make container_shell

This will start a bash shell in the Podman container environment, as a normal user without sudo privilege. Within that environment, you can build the Redox components with:

make repo

or, if you need to change ARCH or CONFIG_NAME,

./build.sh -a ARCH -c CONFIG_NAME repo

If you need root privileges, while you are still running the above bash shell, go to a separate Terminal or Console window on the host and type:

podman ps

This will list all running containers. There should be only one, but if there is more than one, consider only the newest. In the last column of the display, the container will have a randomly generated name ADJECTIVE_NOUN, e.g. boring_dickens. Replace the word CONTAINER with that name and type:

podman exec --user=0 -it CONTAINER bash

You will then be running bash with root privilege in the container, and you can use apt-get or whatever tools you need, and it will affect the environment of the user-level container_shell above. Do not precede the commands with sudo as you are already root. And remember that you are in an Ubuntu instance.

Note: Your changes will not persist once both shells have been exited.

Type exit on both shells once you have determined how to solve your problem.

Adding Packages to the Build

The default Containerfile, podman/redox-base-containerfile, imports all required packages for a normal Redox build.

However, you cannot easily add packages after the base image is created. You must add them to your own Containerfile.

Copy podman/redox-base-containerfile and add to the list of packages in the initial apt-get.

cp podman/redox-base-containerfile podman/my-containerfile
gedit podman/my-containerfile &
        xxd \
        rsync \
        MY_PACKAGE \

Make sure you include the continuation character \ at the end of each line except after the last package.

Then, edit mk/config.mk, and change the variable CONTAINERFILE to point to your Containerfile, e.g.


If your Containerfile is newer than build/container.tag, a new image will be created. You can force the image to be rebuilt with make container_clean.

If you feel the need to have more than one image, you can change the variable IMAGE_TAG in mk/podman.mk to give the image a different name.

  • PODMAN_BUILD: If set to 1 in mk/config.mk, or in the environment, or on the make command line, much of the build process takes place in Podman.

  • CONTAINERFILE: The name of the containerfile used to build the image. This file includes the apt-get command that installs all the necessary packages into the image. If you need to add packages to the build, edit your own containerfile and change this variable to point to it.

  • make build/container.tag: If no container image has been built, build one. It's not necessary to do this, it will be done when needed.

  • make container_touch: If a container image already exists and poduser's home directory is valid, but there is no tag file, create the tag file so a new image is not built.

  • make container_clean: Remove the container image, poduser's home directory and the tag file.

  • make container_shell: Start an interactive Podman bash shell in the same environment used by make; for debugging the apt-get commands used during image build.

  • make env: Start an interactive bash shell with the prefix tools in your PATH. Automatically determines if this should be a Podman shell or a host shell, depending on the value of PODMAN_BUILD.

  • make repo or ./build.sh -a ARCH -c CONFIG repo: Used while in a Podman shell to build all the Redox component packages. make all will not complete successfully, since part of the build process must take place on the host.

  • podman exec --user=0 -it CONTAINER bash: Use this command in combination with make container_shell or make env to get root access to the Podman build environment, so you can temporarily add packages to the environment. CONTAINER is the name of the active container as shown by podman ps. For temporary, debugging purposes only.

  • podman system reset: Use this command when make container_clean is not sufficient to solve problems caused by errors in the container image. It will remove all images, use with caution. If you are using Podman for any other purpose, those images will be deleted as well.

Gory Details

If you are interested in how we are able to use your working directory for builds in Podman, the following configuration details may be interesting.

We are using Rootless Podman's --userns keep-id feature. Because Podman is being run Rootless, the container's root user is actually mapped to your User ID on the host. Without the keep-id option, a regular user in the container maps to a phantom user outside the container. With the keep-id option, a user in the container that has the same User ID as your host User ID, will have the same permissions as you.

During the creation of the base image, Podman invokes Buildah to build the image. Buildah does not allow User IDs to be shared between the host and the container in the same way that Podman does. So the base image is created without keep-id, then the first container created from the image, having keep-id enabled, triggers a remapping. Once that remapping is done, it is reused for each subsequent container.

The working directory is made available in the container by mounting it as a volume. The Podman option

--volume "`pwd`":$(CONTAINER_WORKDIR):Z

takes the directory that make was started in as the host working directory, and mounts it at the location $CONTAINER_WORKDIR, normally set to /mnt/redox. The :Z at the end of the name indicates that the mounted directory should not be shared between simultaneous container instances. It is optional on some Linux distros, and not optional on others.

For our invocation of Podman, we set the PATH environment variable as an option to podman run. This is to avoid the need for our make command to run .bashrc, which would add extra complexity. The ARCH, CONFIG_NAME and FILESYSTEM_CONFIG variables are passed in the environment to allow you to override the values in mk/config.mk, e.g. by setting them on your make command line or by using build.sh.

We also set PODMAN_BUILD=0 in the environment, to ensure that the instance of make running in the container knows not to invoke Podman. This overrides the value set in mk/config.mk.

In the Containerfile, we use as few RUN commands as possible, as Podman commits the image after each command. And we avoid using ENTRYPOINT to allow us to specify the podman run command as a list of arguments, rather than just a string to be processed by the entrypoint shell.

Containers in our build process are run with --rm to ensure the container is discarded after each use. This prevents a proliferation of used containers. However, when you use make container_clean, you may notice multiple items being deleted. These are the partial images created as each RUN command is executed while building.

Container images and container data is normally stored in the directory $HOME/.local/share/containers/storage. The command

podman system reset

removes that directory in its entirety. However, the contents of any volume are left alone.