toolbox - bring your own (debugging) utilities with you

22. Oct 2019 | Thorsten Kukuk | No License


Our Container Host OS openSUSE MicroOS and our Kubernetes platform openSUSE Kubic are both using transactional-update to apply patches to the system. This implies that a read-only root filesystem is used. While this has big advantages, like it allows to update a cluster automatically in a safe way, this has one drawback: you need to reboot to activate new installed packages. But what if you want to debug a problem and the utility you need is not installed? Who says, that the problem is still debuggable after a reboot?

For this, we introduced now the toolbox utilitiy with a toolbox container.

toolbox - bring your own tools with you

toolbox is a small script that launches a privileged container to let you bring in your favorite debugging or admin tools in such a system. If the container does not contain the utility you need, you can install whatever you want with zypper. toolbox is stateful, if you quit the script and start it later again, the environment is in the exactly same state as when you left it. To reset it, the container image needs to be deleted: podman rm toolbox-<user>. The root filesystem can be found at /media/root.


$ /usr/bin/toolbox
Spawning a container 'toolbox-root' with image ''
Container started successfully. To exit, type 'exit'.
toolbox:/ # ls -alF /media/root
toolbox:/ # tcpdump -i ens3
tcpdump: verbose output suppressed, use -v or -vv for full protocol decode
listening on ens3, link-type EN10MB (Ethernet), capture size 65535 bytes
toolbox:/ # zypper in vim
Loading repository data...
Reading installed packages...
Resolving package dependencies...

The following 5 NEW packages are going to be installed:
  libgdbm6 libgdbm_compat4 perl vim vim-data-common

5 new packages to install.
Overall download size: 9.0 MiB. Already cached: 0 B. After the operation,
additional 49.4 MiB will be used.
Continue? [y/n/v/...? shows all options] (y):
toolbox:/ # vi /media/root/etc/passwd

Advanced Usage

Use a custom image

toolbox uses an openSUSE-based userspace environment called opensuse/toolbox by default, but this can be changed to any container image. Simply override environment variables in $HOME/.toolboxrc, where every entry is optional:

toolbox configuration file
# cat ~/.toolboxrc

Root container as normal user

toolbox called by a normal user will start the toolbox container, too, but the root filesystem cannot be modified. Running toolbox with sudo has the disadvantage, that the .toolboxrc from root and not the user is used. To run the toolbox container with root rights, toolbox --root has to be used.

Automatically enter toolbox on login

Set an /etc/passwd entry for one of the users to /usr/bin/toolbox:

useradd bob -m -s /usr/bin/toolbox

Now when SSHing into the system as that user, toolbox will automatically be started:

# ssh
Last login: Thu Oct  3 16:52:16 2019 from
.toolboxrc file detected, overriding defaults...
Container 'toolbox-bob' already exists. Trying to start...
(To remove the container and start with a fresh toolbox, run: podman rm 'toolbox-bob')
Container started successfully. To exit, type 'exit'.
toolbox:/ #

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