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Accessing Private Git Repositories from Docker Containers

We keep the source code of our applications and libraries in private repositories. Quite a few SoM and terminal makers do the same with their Yocto layers and their additional software. We typically use a Docker container to build the whole embedded Linux system with Yocto. Hence, we must be able to clone and update private repositories from the container.


We ensure that we can access the private git repository from the host computer, on which we will run the Docker container. My example private repository is foss-compliance.git. Of course, you will have to use one of your private repositories.

$ git clone

When we clone a repository from the server for the very first time, git-clone will ask us whether we want to add the key fingerprint (that is, the public key) of the server to the list of known hosts. We confirm with “yes”. Git-clone adds the fingerprint to $HOME/.ssh/known_hosts. From then on, accessing the private repository works without interaction.

The article Understanding SSH known_hosts File with Examples gives tips how to analyse and fix problems with ssh keys. Once we can clone the private repository from the host computer, we are ready to try the same from a Docker container. Permission denied (publickey)

I have prepared an example Docker container in my repository embeddeduse. After cloning the repository, we change to the directory embeddeduse/BlogPosts/docker-private-repos. We build the container with the command

$ docker build --tag docker-private-repos:0.1 .

The container provides a basic Ubuntu 20.04 system with git. We run the container and clone the same private repository as above

$ docker run -it --rm -e "USER_ID=$(id -u)" -e GROUP_ID="$(id -g)" \
      docker-private-repos:0.1 /bin/bash
@ git clone
Cloning into 'foss-compliance'...
The authenticity of host ' (' can't be established.
ECDSA key fingerprint is SHA256:p2QAMXNIC1TJYWeIOttrVc98/R1BUFWu3/LiyKgUfQM.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no/[fingerprint])? yes
Warning: Permanently added ',' (ECDSA) to the list of known hosts. Permission denied (publickey).
fatal: Could not read from remote repository.

Please make sure you have the correct access rights
and the repository exists.

As the container has neither access to the ssh keys nor to the known-hosts files, cloning fails. Permission granted!

$ docker run -it --rm -e "USER_ID=$(id -u)" -e GROUP_ID="$(id -g)" \
      -v "$HOME/.ssh:/home/builder/.ssh:rw" \
      -v "$SSH_AUTH_SOCK:/ssh.socket" -e "SSH_AUTH_SOCK=/ssh.socket" \
      docker-private-repos:0.1 /bin/bash

@ git clone
Cloning into 'foss-compliance'...
Resolving deltas: 100% (2187/2187), done.
@ ls -F
container-entrypoint*  foss-compliance/

The first bold line mounts the directory $HOME/.ssh of the host computer to its counterpart /home/builder/.ssh in the container. It is important that the user on the host computer and the use in the container have the same user and group ID. If the IDs differ, the authentication with the github server will fail.

The docker-run command passes the USER_ID and GROUP_ID to the script container-entrypoint, which Docker executes when entering the container. The script adds a user builder with the given USER_ID and a group builder with the given GROUP_ID. It finally starts a bash shell as the user builder.

The second bold line maps the file path of the ssh authentication socket, $SSH_AUTH_SOCK, to the /ssh.socket in the container and sets the environment variable SSH_AUTH_SOCK to /ssh.socket in the container. Tools like git-clone use this socket to communicate with the SSH agent, which manages the private SSH keys for public authentication. I found the tip about SSH_AUTH_SOCK in a thread on the Linux kernel mailing list.

Once we add the two bold lines to docker-run, accessing private repositories in the container works fine. We should only expose private keys to containers we trust. We don’t want our private keys end up with some rogues selling access to our software in the dark web.

For kas Builds: Permission granted, too!

I am a heavy user of kas for building embedded Linux images with Yocto. Kas uses Docker containers under the hood. Here are the options we need to add kas-container calls to access private git repositories.

$ kas/kas-container \
      --ssh-dir $HOME/.ssh \
      --runtime-args "-v $SSH_AUTH_SOCK:/ssh.socket -e SSH_AUTH_SOCK=/ssh.socket" \
      build smart-hmi.yml

Kas expands the first bold line to the first bold line of the docker-run command above. Kas passes the single argument of the option --runtime-args verbatim to its internal docker-run command. The option value is the same as the second bold line above.

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