Getting Started with apko

Quickstart to get apko up and running

apko is a command-line tool to build container images using a declarative language based on YAML. apko is so named as it uses the apk package format and is inspired by the ko build tool. It is part of the open source tooling Chainguard developed to create the Wolfi operating system which is used in Chainguard Images.

Why apko

Container images are typically assembled in multiple steps. A tool like Docker, for example, combines building steps (as in, running commands to copy files, build and deploy applications) and composition (as in, composing a base image with pre-built packages) in a single piece of software. apko, on the other hand, is solely a composition tool that focuses on producing lightweight, “flat” base images that are fully reproducible and contain auto generated SBOM files for every successful build.

Instead of building your application together with your components and system dependencies, you can build your application once and compose it into different architectures and distributions, using a tool such as melange in combination with apko. For more information on how melange and apko work together, you can check this blog post: Secure your Software Factory with melange and apko.

In this guide, we’ll learn how to use apko to build a base Wolfi image.


The fastest way to get apko up and running on your system is by using the official apko image with Docker. This method is compatible with all operating systems that support Docker and shared volumes. Please follow the appropriate Docker installation instructions for your operating system.

If you want to run apko on CI/CD pipelines built on top of GitHub Actions, check the apko build action on GitHub.

The instructions in this document were validated on an Ubuntu 22.04 workstation running Docker 20.10.

Step 1 — Download the apko Image

Start by pulling the official apko image into your local system:

docker pull

This will download the latest version of the distroless apko image, which is rebuilt every night for extra freshness.

Check that you’re able to run apko with:

docker run --rm version

You should get output similar to this:

     _      ____    _  __   ___
    / \    |  _ \  | |/ /  / _ \
   / _ \   | |_) | | ' /  | | | |
  / ___ \  |  __/  | . \  | |_| |
 /_/   \_\ |_|     |_|\_\  \___/

GitVersion:    v0.6.0

In the next step, you’ll build your first apko image.

Step 2 — Build a Test Image

To test that you’re able to build images, you can use one of the example yaml definition files that are included in the official apko code repository. Here we’ll use the wolfi-base.yaml for demonstration.

Create a new folder to save your image files, them move to that directory:

mkdir ~/apko
cd ~/apko

Next, create a file named wolfi-base.yaml to save your image definition. You can use nano for that:

nano wolfi-base.yaml

The wolfi-base.yaml example image is defined as follows:

    - ca-certificates-bundle
    - wolfi-base

  command: /bin/sh -l

  - x86_64

The contents node is used to define allowed package sources and which packages should be included in the image. Here we’ll be using only packages from the main Wolfi APK repository. In the packages section, we require the wolfi-base package, which is a meta-package to set up a bare minimum Wolfi system.

The command field within the entrypoint node defines the image entry point command /bin/sh -l, which will land you in a shell prompt whenever the image is executed. Finally, the archs node specifies that this image will be built for the x86-64 architecture.

Save and close the file after you’re done including these contents. With nano, you can do that by pressing CTRL+X, then confirming with Y and ENTER.

The only thing left to do now is run apko to build this image. The following build command will:

  • set up a volume share in the current directory, synchronizing its contents with apko’s image workdir; this way, the generated artifacts will be available on your host system.
  • execute the image with the build command, tagging the image as wolfi-base:test-amd64 and saving the build as wolfi-test.tar.
docker run --rm -v ${PWD}:/work -w /work build wolfi-base.yaml wolfi-base:test wolfi-test.tar

You should get output similar to this:

. . .
Mar 15 20:17:02.023 [INFO] [arch:x86_64] Building images for 1 architectures: [amd64]
Mar 15 20:17:02.023 [INFO] [arch:x86_64] building tags [wolfi-base:test]
. . .
Mar 15 20:17:04.261 [INFO] loading config file: wolfi-base.yaml
Mar 15 20:17:04.416 [INFO] [arch:x86_64] adding amd64 to index
Mar 15 20:17:04.419 [INFO] [arch:x86_64] Generating index SBOM
Mar 15 20:17:04.420 [INFO] [arch:x86_64] Final index tgz at: wolfi-test.tar

From the output, you can notice that the image was successfully built as wolfi-test.tar in the container, which is shared with your local folder on the host thanks to the volume you created when running the docker run command.

Step 3 — Test the Image with Docker

To test the generated image with Docker, you’ll need to use the docker load command and import the .tar file you created in the previous step:

docker load <  wolfi-test.tar

You’ll get output like this:

bf6e72d71c13: Loading layer [==================================================>]  5.491MB/5.491MB
Loaded image: wolfi-base:test-amd64

You can check that the image is available at the host system with:

docker image list

You should be able to find the wolfi-base image with the test-amd64 tag among the results.

Now you can run the image with:

docker run -it wolfi-base:test-amd64

This will get you into a container running the apko-built image wolfi-base:test-amd64. It’s a regular shell that you can explore to see what’s included - just keep in mind that this is a minimalist image with only the base Wolfi system. To include additional software packages, check the Wolfi repository to find the packages you’ll need for your specific use case, or check out melange, apko’s companion project that allows users to build their own APK packages from source.


In this guide, you learned what apko is and what makes it a powerful resource in your cloud-native tooling.

If you need help debugging your build, check our Troubleshooting apko page for more information. Check the official apko repository if you want to report an issue or suggest new features.

Last updated: 2024-05-02 16:49