Build a Container
build command is the “Swiss army knife” of container creation.
You can use it to download and assemble existing containers from
external resources like Docker Hub and other OCI registries.
You can use it to convert containers
between the formats supported by Apptainer. And you can use it in
conjunction with a Apptainer definition
file to create a container from scratch and customized it to fit your
build command accepts a target as input and produces a container
The type of target given determines the method that
build will use
to create the container. It can be one of the following:
URI beginning with docker:// to build from Docker Hub
URI beginning with oras:// to build from an OCI registry that supports OCI Artifacts
URI beginning with library:// to build from the Container Library
URI beginning with shub:// to build from Singularity Hub
path to an existing container on your local machine
path to a directory to build from a sandbox
path to a Apptainer definition file
build can produce containers in two different formats, which can be
specified as follows:
a compressed read-only Singularity Image File (SIF) format, suitable for production (default)
a writable (ch)root directory called a sandbox, for interactive development (
build can accept an existing container as a target and
create a container in either supported format, you can use it to convert
existing containers from one format to another.
Downloading an existing container from Docker Hub
You can use
build to download layers from Docker Hub and assemble
them into Apptainer containers.
$ apptainer build alpine.sif docker://alpine
Downloading an existing container from a Library API Registry
If you have set up a library remote endpoint as described in Managing Remote Endpoints, you can use the build command to download a container from the Container Library.
$ apptainer build lolcow.sif library://lolcow
The first argument (
lolcow.sif) specifies the path and name for your
container. The second argument (
library://lolcow) gives the
Container Library URI from which to download. By default, the container
will be converted to a compressed, read-only SIF. If you want your
container in a writable format, use the
If you want to create a container within a writable directory (called a
sandbox) you can do so with the
$ apptainer build --sandbox alpine/ docker://alpine
The resulting directory operates just like a container in a SIF file. To
make persistent changes within the sandbox container, use the
--writable flag when you invoke your container.
$ apptainer shell --writable alpine/
Converting containers from one format to another
If you already have a container saved locally, you can use it as a
target to build a new container. This allows you convert containers from
one format to another. For example, if you had a sandbox container
development/ and you wanted to convert it to a SIF container
production.sif, you could do so as follows:
$ apptainer build production.sif development/
Use care when converting a sandbox directory to the default SIF format. If changes were made to the writable container before conversion, there is no record of those changes in the Apptainer definition file, which compromises the reproducibility of your container. It is therefore preferable to build production containers directly from an Apptainer definition file instead.
Building containers from Apptainer definition files
Apptainer definition files are the most powerful type of target when
building a container. For detailed information on writing Apptainer
definition files, please see the Container Definitions
documentation. Suppose you already have the
following container definition file called,
lolcow.def, and you want
to use it to build a SIF container:
Bootstrap: docker From: ubuntu:20.04 %post apt-get -y update apt-get -y install cowsay lolcat %environment export LC_ALL=C export PATH=/usr/games:$PATH %runscript date | cowsay | lolcat
You can do so with the following command.
$ apptainer build lolcow.sif lolcow.def
Beware that it is possible to build an image on a host and have the
image not work on a different host. This could be because of the
default compressor supported by the host. For example, when building
an image on a host in which the default compressor is
xz and then
trying to run that image on a node where the only
compressor available is
Building encrypted containers
With Apptainer it is possible to build and run encrypted containers. Encrypted containers are decrypted at runtime entirely in memory, meaning that no intermediate decrypted data is ever written to disk. See encrypted containers for more details.
Specifies that Apptainer should use a secret saved in either the
APPTAINER_ENCRYPTION_PEM_PATH environment variable to build an
encrypted container. See encrypted containers for
Gives users a way to build containers without root privileges. This option is implied when an unprivileged user invokes build on a definition file. See the fakeroot feature for details.
--force option will delete and overwrite an existing
Apptainer image without presenting the normal interactive
--json option will force Apptainer to interpret a given
definition file as JSON.
This command allows you to set a different image library. Look here for more information.
If you don’t want to run the
%test section during the container
build, you can skip it using the
--notest option. For instance, you
might be building a container intended to run in a production
environment with GPUs, while your local build resource does not have
GPUs. You want to include a
%test section that runs a short
validation, but you don’t want your build to exit with an error because
it cannot find a GPU on your system. In such a scenario, passing the
--notest flag would be appropriate.
This flag allows you to pass a plaintext passphrase to encrypt the container filesystem at build time. See encrypted containers for more details.
This flag allows you to pass the location of a public key to encrypt the container file system at build time. See encrypted containers for more details.
Build a sandbox (container in a directory) instead of the default SIF format.
Instead of running the entire definition file, only run a specific
section or sections. This option accepts a comma-delimited string of
definition file sections. Acceptable arguments include
or any combination of the following:
Under normal build conditions, the Apptainer definition file is
saved into a container’s metadata so that there is a record of how the
container was built. The
--section option may render this metadata
inaccurate, compromising reproducibility, and should therefore be used
You can build into the same sandbox container multiple times (though the results may be unpredictable, and under most circumstances, it is preferable to delete your container and start from scratch).
By default, if you build into an existing sandbox container, the
build command will prompt you to decide whether or not to overwrite
existing container data. Instead of this behavior, you can use the
--update option to build into an existing container. This will
cause Apptainer to skip the definition-file’s header, and build any
sections that are in the definition file into the existing container.
--update option is only valid when used with sandbox containers.
This flag allows you to mount the Nvidia CUDA libraries from your host
environment into your build environment. Libraries are mounted during
the execution of
This option can’t be set via the environment variable APPTAINER_NV. Apptainer will attempt to bind binaries listed in APPTAINER_CONFDIR/nvliblist.conf, if the mount destination doesn’t exist inside the container, they are ignored.
Experimental option to use Nvidia’s
nvidia-container-cli for GPU setup.
See more details in the GPU Support section.
This flag allows you to mount the AMD Rocm libraries from your host
environment into your build environment. Libraries are mounted during
the execution of
This option can’t be set via the environment variable APPTAINER_ROCM. Apptainer will attempt to bind binaries listed in APPTAINER_CONFDIR/rocmliblist.conf, if the mount destination doesn’t exist inside the container, they are ignored.
This flag allows you to mount a directory, file or image during build.
It works the same way as
--bind for the
run subcommands of Apptainer, and can be specified multiple
times. See user defined bind paths.
Bind mounts occur during the execution of
This option can’t be set via the environment variables APPTAINER_BIND and APPTAINER_BINDPATH
Beware that the mount points must exist in the built image prior to executing
So if you want to bind
--bind /example and it doesn’t exist in the bootstrap image, you have to
workaround that by adding a
%setup mkdir $APPTAINER_ROOTFS/example
Binding your directory to /mnt is another workaround, as this directory is often present in distribution images and is intended for that purpose, you could avoid the directory creation in the definition file.
This flag will run the
%test section of the build with a writable
tmpfs overlay filesystem in place. This allows the tests to create
files, which will be discarded at the end of the build. Other portions
of the build do not use this temporary filesystem.
More Build topics
If you want to customize the cache location (where Docker layers are downloaded on your system), specify Docker credentials, or apply other custom tweaks to your build environment, see build environment.
If you want to make internally modular containers, check out the Getting Started guide here.
If you want to build a container with an encrypted file system consult the Apptainer documentation on encryption here.