How to Use Chainguard Images

A primer on how to migrate to Chainguard Images

Chainguard Images are distroless images based on Wolfi, our Linux undistro. You can have a look at Chainguard Image’s GitHub org in order to find out which images are already available for general usage.

Each image has its own usage instructions, which is detailed in their READMEs. All images are hosted on the registry.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to get started using Chainguard Images and how to migrate existing container-based workflows to use our images.

Getting Started

Chainguard Images are fully OCI compatible, which means they work seamlessly with any system that supports that standard, including Docker.

Most Chainguard Images do not include a package manager such as apt or apk. This is by design to keep images minimal, following the distroless approach.

There are a few different ways to include additional software on distroless images, depending on your use case. If you are using Chainguard Images with Dockerfile pipelines, you can add artifacts from a multi-stage Docker build. Alternatively, you can use Chainguard’s apko and melange tooling to add extra software (this will also give you some extra features like build-time SBOM support).

Using the Distroless Base Images

Many of the images are intended as platforms for running compiled binaries in as minimal an environment as possible. In the case of languages that can compile completely static binaries (such as C and Rust), the static base image can be used.

The following example Dockerfile builds a hello-world program in C and copies it on top of the base image:

# syntax=docker/dockerfile:1.4
FROM as build

COPY <<EOF /hello.c
#include <stdio.h>
int main() { printf("Hello Distroless!"); }
RUN cc -static /hello.c -o /hello


COPY --from=build /hello /hello
CMD ["/hello"]

Run the following command to build the demo image and tag it as c-distroless:

docker build -t c-distroless  .

Now you can run the image with:

docker run c-distroless

You should get output like this:

Hello Distroless!

It’s worth noting how small the resulting image is:

docker images c-distroless
REPOSITORY     TAG       IMAGE ID       CREATED              SIZE
c-distroless   latest    de04a116ff9d   18 seconds ago   1.57MB

If your binary is dependent on glibc or musl, take a look at the glibc-dynamic and musl-dynamic images.

We are working on similar images for runtimes such as the JVM.

Extending Chainguard Base Images

It often happens that you want a distroless image with one or two extra packages, for example you may have a binary with a dependency on curl or git. Ideally you’d like a base image with this dependency already installed. There are a few options here:

  1. Compile the dependency from source and use a multi-stage Dockerfile to create a new base image. This works, but may require considerable effort to get the dependency compiling and to keep it up to date. This process quickly becomes untenable if you require several dependencies.
  2. Use the wolfi-base image that includes apk tools to install the package in the traditional Dockerfile manner. This works but sacrifices a lot of the advantages of the “distroless” philosophy.
  3. Use Chainguard’s melange and apko tooling to create a custom base image. This keeps the image as minimal as possible without sacrificing maintainability.

Using the wolfi-base Image

The wolfi-base image is a good starting point to try out Chainguard Images. Unlike most of the other images, which are strictly distroless, wolfi-base includes the apk package manager, which facilitates composing additional software into it. Just keep in mind that the resulting image will be a little larger due to the extra software and won’t have a comprehensive SBOM that covers all your dependencies, since the new software will be added as a layer on top of wolfi-base.

The following command will pull the wolfi-base image to your local system and run an interactive shell that you can use to explore the image features:

docker run -it --rm /bin/sh -l

First you will need to update the list of packages available in Wolfi:

apk update

Now you can use apk search to search for packages that are already available on Wolfi repositories:

apk search curl

More packages will be added with time, as the ecosystem matures and drives community involvement.

Looking for a specific package that is not yet available? Feel free to open an issue on the wolfi-os GitHub repository.

Using the wolfi-base Image within Dockerfiles

Following, you can see an example of a Dockerfile that uses wolfi-base as base image, installing the packages curl and jq in order to make a query to the advice slip API:


RUN apk update && apk add --no-cache --update-cache curl jq

CMD curl -s --http1.1 | jq .slip.advice

You can build this Dockerfile as usual:

docker build . -t advice-slip:test

Then, execute the image with:

docker run -it --rm advice-slip:test

You should get output like this, with a random piece of advice:

"Big things have small beginnings."