A Look Into The Biggest Docker Alternatives

Tyler Au
5 minutes
July 20th, 2023
Tyler Au
5 minutes
July 20th, 2023

What to Expect from Docker Alternatives 

Peanut butter, an all-American classic.

Skippy has been dominating the peanut butter scene for decades now, shifting public perception to accept this name as THE go-to peanut butter brand. But like most things nowadays, there are more cost-effective peanut butter alternatives that are as formidable and deliver the same taste and quality as Skippy. 

Docker is a lot like Skippy peanut butter. While Skippy is a household name, the amount of budget-friendly options in the peanut butter space threaten Skippy as the definitive peanut butter brand, especially since the alternatives offer the same, if not more qualities. If this is the case, why use Docker in the first place?

To start, we have to understand what Docker is first. Docker is a software platform designed to help streamline developer workflows through process simplification and containers. By packing all the software and the dependencies needed to run and manage applications into containers, Docker is able to transform the clunkiest piece of software into an agile beast that can be run on any infrastructure.  

Docker provides a way for developers to showcase their best without being confined to the restraints of certain environments. Though Docker is one of the more prominent names in the container space, they’re not the only ones making waves.

Why You Need a Docker Alternative

Although Docker offers a seamless approach towards development simplification, the platform isn’t foolproof. Here are some of the disadvantages of the Docker platform:

Minimal GUI Support

Docker was originally created as a means for speeding up the deployment of server apps, removing the need for graphical user interface (GUI) in the first place. If you want a more complex GUI experience, you might need to work with the Docker CLI (command line interface) a bit.

Platform Dependency

While Docker is compatible with Microsoft, Mac, and Linux operating systems, compatibility depends on the system. Docker requires users to create Linux VMs to operate on non-Linux OS, so while it may technically be operating from a Microsoft or Mac OS, in actuality, Docker is running on Linux virtual environments. 

Security Risks

While Docker containers host a different layer of security through isolation, all of these containers share the same host OS. Although containers are able to isolate themselves in the case of vulnerabilities or fault, compromised containers can access the host OS and access hardware data.

These are just a few examples of why you might switch from Docker to a platform similar to Docker. Coupled with notorious complexity, using Docker may present more problems than solutions- Docker alternatives remove the need for formalities like getting a Docker certification and trying to figure out the platform. 

Rancher - THE Docker Desktop Alternative

One of Docker’s biggest constraints is that its containers and container engine is dependent on Linux OS and is powered by the Linux kernel. Once powered by LXC Linux, the Docker container engine has since then moved to different container libraries, though its most optimized use still lies with Linux and Linux distributions.

The introduction of the Docker Desktop allows users to utilize Docker on the host’s preferred OS by creating a Linux VM on it. For example, a Docker command is forward from the host OS to the Linux VM, which creates the container on the Linux VM but works perfectly fine on Mac and Windows operating systems. 

An alternative to Docker desktop is Rancher Desktop, another capable desktop for Mac, Windows, and Linux OS. Like Docker Desktop, Rancher Desktop is capable of building images and running containers, container management, and running Kubernetes. Unlike Docker Desktop, Rancher Desktop is a free open source project that distributes K3s and provides GUIs for users. In addition, Rancher Desktop allows for users to choose the version of Kubernetes they want to run, as well as offering the choice between containerd and dockerd engines, something that Docker Desktop users won’t be able to leverage. Rancher Desktop offers a free, lightweight alternative to Docker Desktop, though compared to the refined Docker Desktop, Rancher Desktop is still in its infancy. 

Image courtesy of Rancher Desktop

The Definitive Docker Alternative Guide

Is your docker desktop starting forever? Or are your trusty containers leaving your operating system vulnerable to attacks? Here are some alternatives to Docker that may prove to be more efficient and cost-effective: 

Podman and Buildah

One of the most prominent alternatives to Docker, Podman is an open-source container engine developed by Redhat. Capable of building, running, and storing container images. Podman operates under Open Container Initiative (OCI) standards, allowing the tech to function with any OCI-compatible engine, like the Docker engine. This compatibility also allows Docker users to easily transition to Podman. Because Podman’s CLI is identical to Docker's, Podman is capable of running images produced by Docker, and vice versa. 

One of Podman’s biggest advantages is that it doesn’t rely on a daemon. A daemon is a background program that runs without stopping that executes requests. Docker uses daemons to control containers, leaving containers susceptible to fail if the daemon fails. By being daemonless, Podman is able to run containers instantaneously and without a middleman. 

Where Docker has a slight edge is with image building; Docker is capable of building images on its own whereas Podman needs Buildah.

If Podman were an architect, Buildah would be the team doing the building. Buildah is another Redhat software like Podman, but unlike Podman, Buildah is used to build container images. These images are OCI compliant and are user specific, adding another layer of security that Docker images don’t have.

When coupled together, Podman and Buildah present a strong alternative to Docker, with the best feature of all being that Podman and Buildah are free, open source tools- ensuring that they’ll constantly innovate. 

Image courtesy of Podman

Kaniko

Created by the tech giant, Google, Kaniko’s uses mainly revolve around container image development within Kubernetes containers. Kaniko builds these images from Dockerfiles, letting Kaniko work in tangent with Docker and Docker tools. Where Kaniko possesses an edge over Docker is with its functional privileges. Where Docker uses a daemon and requires permission to function properly, Kaniko is daemonless- meaning that Kaniko doesn’t require root access to operate.

While Kaniko is more agile, it’s similar to Docker in that it can only be ran and installed on Linux, though with the ability to build OCI-compliant images, Kaniko’s function is flexible on compatible environments. 

Being open source, Kaniko presents a free, ever-evolving alternative to Docker, one that is more optimized for Kubernetes workflows.

Image courtesy of Google Cloud

Containerd

Containerd is an open source container engine developed by Docker that manages the lifecycle of containers and containerized applications on a VM and on physical machines. Containerd emphasizes container simplicity and portability, without sacrificing robustness. As one of the premier container management tools, containerd provides an interface for container image and runtime management, allowing a standardized approach to run and manage containers- so much so that Docker uses containerd! Containerd has the responsibility of pulling container images, mounting storage, and enabling container networks

Like the alternatives listed above, containerd supports OCI and Kubernetes specifications, allowing it to run on compatible environments and manage the Kubernetes containers that even Docker can’t access. As a standalone container runtime, containerd presents a lightweight, yet resource restricted, open-source alternative to Docker. In the case of containerd and Docker, however, it really isn’t a battle.

Containerd was created from the original Docker project, is part of Docker, and is a valuable component of the Docker ecosystem. After contacting the Docker Daemon, Docker pushes containerd to pull in appropriate container images for a desired task. While you can use containerd without Docker to run multiple containers, you cannot use Docker with containerd to run even the most simple single processes.

Image courtesy of containerd

Lyrid - THE Docker Alternative

Docker alternatives come in many shapes and sizes. While the differentiators between the alternatives are sparse, mainly dictated by the price offered and features given, finding alternatives to Docker, Docker desktop, and an orchestration tool such as Docker Swarm Kubernetes can be strenuous. Luckily for you, there’s an easy solution to this dilemma.

Lyrid offers a comprehensive approach towards creating, running, deploying, and managing your important applications and clusters. Our managed suite offers containerization options and a microservice infrastructure that lets you leverage the best capabilities of Docker and its alternatives, amongst other features and benefits like:

  • Kubernetes automation to streamline development processes
  • Bare metal network, letting you bypass traditional, pesky IT fees
  • Around the clock global engineering support

And so much more!

If you’re interested, feel free to book a demo with us!

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