• Containers offer the ability to run fully customized software stacks, e.g. based on different Linux distributions and versions

  • Containers are not virtual machines, where an entire hardware platform is virtualized, rather containers share a common kernel and access to physical hardware resources


  • Performant

    • Containers can perform at near native performance.

  • Flexible

    • Install (almost) any software you need.

  • Reproducible

    • Define complex software environments that are verifiable.

  • Compatible

    • Built on open standards that works on all major Linux distributions.

  • Portable

    • Build once and run (almost) anywhere.

Docker and HPC#

  • We don’t allow direct Docker use on SMU HPC systems

  • Docker’s security model is designed to support users “trusted” users running “trusted” containers (e.g. users who can escalate to root access)

  • Docker is not designed to support scripted or batch based workflows

  • Docker is not designed to support parallel applications

Apptainer (Singularity) Features#

  • Containers are a single image file

  • No root owned daemon processes

  • User inside containers are the same as users outside the container (no contextual changes)

  • Supports shared, multi-user environments

  • Supports HPC hardware such as GPUs and Infiniband networks

  • Supports HPC applications like MPI

Common Use Cases#

  • Converting Docker containers to Apptainer (Singularity)

  • Building and running software that require newer systems and libraries

  • Running commercial software binaries that have specific requirements

Apptainer (Singularity) Workflow#

  • Build your Singularity containers on a local system you have root or sudo access. Alternatively build a Docker container

  • Transfer your container to an HPC system. If you used Docker, you will need to convert the image

  • Run your Singularity containers

Example Docker & Apptainer Container with Python Environment#

A template repository for building a Apptainer container with a custom Python environment for use on SMU HPC systems can be found here.