Chapter 31. Containers

Containers are a modern take on the virtual machine idea where the base operating system (OS) of a host computer provides the kernel-level needs for the container. In a traditional virtual machine (VM), each VM is a complete standalone system with its own kernel and simulated hardware. In a container environment, the kernel doesn’t need to be loaded because it’s already there thanks to the kernel being shared with the host operating system. This also means that the simulation of hardware is not required, which significantly reduces the overhead necessary to run a container. For these reasons, containers tend to be smaller and faster and, perhaps most important, they can start almost instantly.

Where are containers a big deal? Imagine a website that serves millions of users. During times of high utilization more VMs might have been added to deal with the increased load, but VMs are expensive and slow to deploy. With containers, Apache could be loaded into a container and started almost instantly and with much lower overhead than a VM. Thousands of Apache containers could be spun up in a matter of seconds with much lower cost than an equivalent VM rollout.

Finally, another benefit of containers is that an application can be bundled together with all of its dependencies so that an installation process doesn’t need to be performed in order to run an application. Because the containers are self-contained, the same container can run on a Mac, on Linux, on Windows, ...

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