Fakeroot feature


The fakeroot feature (commonly referred as rootless mode) allows an unprivileged user to run a container as a “fake root” user by leveraging user namespace UID/GID mapping.


This feature requires a Linux kernel >= 3.8, but the recommended version is >= 3.18

A “fake root” user has almost the same administrative rights as root but only inside the container and the requested namespaces, which means that this user:

  • can set different user/group ownership for files or directories they own

  • can change user/group identity with su/sudo commands

  • has full privileges inside the requested namespaces (network, ipc, uts)



A “fake root” user can’t access or modify files and directories for which they don’t already have access or rights on the host filesystem, so a “fake root” user won’t be able to access root-only host files like /etc/shadow or the host /root directory.

Additionally, all files or directories created by the “fake root” user are owned by root:root inside container but as user:group outside of the container. Let’s consider the following example, in this case “user” is authorized to use the fakeroot feature and can use 65536 UIDs starting at 131072 (same thing for GIDs).

UID inside container

UID outside container

0 (root)

1000 (user)

1 (daemon)

131072 (non-existent)

2 (bin)

131073 (non-existent)



Which means if the “fake root” user creates a file under a bin user in the container, this file will be owned by 131073:131073 outside of container. The responsibility relies on the administrator to ensure that there is no overlap with the current user’s UID/GID on the system.


Restrictions are also applied to networking, if singularity is executed without the --net flag, the “fake root” user won’t be able to use ping or bind a container service to a port below 1024.

With --net the “fake root” user has full privileges in a dedicated container network. Inside the container network they can bind on privileged ports below 1024, use ping, manage firewall rules, listen to traffic, etc. Anything done in this dedicated network won’t affect the host network.


Of course an unprivileged user could not map host ports below than 1024 by using: --network-args="portmap=80:80/tcp"


For unprivileged installation of SingularityCE or if allow setuid = no is set in singularity.conf users won’t be able to use a fakeroot network.

Requirements / Configuration

Fakeroot depends on user mappings set in /etc/subuid and group mappings in /etc/subgid, so your username needs to be listed in those files with a valid mapping (see the admin-guide for details), if you can’t edit the files ask an administrator.

In SingularityCE 3.5 a singularity config fakeroot command has been added to allow configuration of the /etc/subuid and /etc/subgid mappings from the SingularityCE command line. You must be a root user or run with sudo to use config fakeroot, as the mapping files are security sensitive. See the admin-guide for more details.


If your user account is configured with valid subuid and subgid mappings you work as a fake root user inside a container by using the --fakeroot or -f option.

The --fakeroot option is available with the following singularity commands:

  • shell

  • exec

  • run

  • instance start

  • build


With fakeroot an unprivileged user can now build an image from a definition file with few restrictions. Some bootstrap methods that require creation of block devices (like /dev/null) may not always work correctly with “fake root”, SingularityCE uses seccomp filters to give programs the illusion that block device creation succeeded. This appears to work with yum bootstraps and may work with other bootstrap methods, although debootstrap is known to not work.


Build from a definition file:

singularity build --fakeroot /tmp/test.sif /tmp/test.def

Ping from container:

singularity exec --fakeroot --net docker://alpine ping -c1

HTTP server:

singularity run --fakeroot --net --network-args="portmap=8080:80/tcp" -w docker://nginx