Docker Networking

The official reference for Docker Networking is can be found at and is an interesting read but one that leaves many questions unanswered - notably how the %$@! do I connect a container directly to my network.

‘Normal’ Docker networking

By default, Docker will manage its own NATed network and will bind ports in the container to ports in the host. This is fine for development work but doesn’t really cut it when you want to put systems into production or eliminate NAT for performance reasons.

It is possible to manually configure individual bridges per container too, and the above linked document gives pages of instructions on how to do this but this wasn’t really what I wanted either.

Bridged mode networking

In the good old days of KVM and Xen, I used to set my host system with bridged mode networking and then create each VM configured to use its own instance of the bridged Ethernet adaptor. Basically, it was as if each VM I was running was plugged directly into the local network.

This was simple, quick and easy - the three things I look for in a computer network and I wanted to do the same thing with Docker.

…Unfortunately, doing so is NOT easy right now and basically your options are to use Docker’s officially supported networking techniques on the above page or use tools developed by the community to make the docker equivalent of easy bridged mode networking.

Host setup

First thing to do is setup bridge mode networking on the host computer. It’s pretty simple to do this manually and once your bridge is in place you can use it wherever you like:

Once you’ve rebooted and have a br0 your good to go configuring Docker to use it.


Pipework is a BASH script that runs the right magic commands to get your container on the network. To use it, you just put a copy of the script on your host computer somewhere and run the commands from there.

Pipework can do cool stuff like set a static IP address for your container or even get one for it via DHCP, with the DHCP client running on the host not the container.

with the above bridge setup as br0 and the script executable and existing somewhere in your $PATH you can run commands like this:

Static address

pipework br0 MY_CONTAINER

DHCP address

pipework br0 MY_CONTAINER udhcpc

requires that udhcpc is installed on the *host*

Pipework is great for ad-hoc containers that you don’t care about, but there’s one big limitation and thats that the rules you make aren’t persistent. If you reboot (or just restart Docker) for some reason, you have to remember all of the commands you typed previously and run them once the containers are back up to restore connectivity. This isn’t really practical for any production-like scenario unless you have some way of keeping an eye on your containers and re-running the commands needed.

Fortunately, someone came up with a way to do just that


Of course the way this problem has been fixed is… a docker container! Docker-Pipework.

The way this container works is really quite clever, if you follow the instructions in the readme, you end up with a container that automatically restarts itself (--restart=always) and then keeps an eye on the docker daemon via a volume mount so that the Docker-Pipework always knows when it needs to run the pipework script.

Your other applications are run with an extra argument which Docker-Pipework uses to reconfigure any containers it sees it on - neat eh?


Follow the instructions for Pipework Container. This one command is all you need to download and run the daemon component of the system. You can prove to yourself that its working by rebooting your Docker host and checking that the pipework container is still alive in the docker ps listing.

Container networking

The syntax for command to start your container with is given under the Single Invocation heading.

Like the original pipework script, all of these commands are run on the host computer.

Assuming you have your bridge setup as br0, you can run commands like the ones below on your host and your containers will be automatically detected by Docker-Pipework and configured for network access - score!

The examples below are real commands for clarity. @CONTAINER_NAME@ gets replaced by the Docker-Pipework script at runtime.

Static address
docker run -d --restart=always --name='test1' --net=none -e 'pipework_cmd_ip=br0 -i eth0 @CONTAINER_NAME@ ' jmoger/gitblit

Assign the IP address to a container called test1, based on the image jmoger/gitblit

docker run -d --restart=always --name='test1' --net=none -e 'pipework_cmd=br0 -i eth0 @CONTAINER_NAME@ udhcpc ' jmoger/gitblit

The Docker-Pipework Examples all specify dhcp but you can use any DHCP client as long as its installed on the host computer. In this case I’ve used udhcpc since I kept getting a Network is down error message when using dhcp.

Incidentally, dhcp mode starts an additional, separate container to host the DHCP client - this is probably where my problems were coming from with this method.

When combined with a static allocated IP address from your DHCP server or dynamic DNS, this is a pretty cool way to setup networking in Docker.


Since the docker containers I want to run are marked to automatically restart (--restart=always) and the Docker-Pipework container is too, all the above example network configuration will survive a reboot or daemon restart - finally, easy Docker networking!

Fixing DNS

IP addresses will work out-of-the-box with this setup but all DNS lookups will fail as they are routed via Google DNS by default. To fix this, the Docker daemon needs to be pointed at your own DNS server if your hostnames only exist on your own LAN. E.g., assuming a DNS server at, the following argument to the daemon would grant access:


On Debian, you can edit the file /etc/default/docker and add this argument to the DOCKER_OPTS variable.

After restarting the Docker daemon, local DNS will work:

systemctl daemon-reload
systemctl restart docker

DHCP Gotcha

Out-of-the box, there’s one big issue with using udhcpc in pipework - the script invokes the command with the -q option which quits the daemon as soon as an IP address has been allocated.

Eventually your container’s DHCP lease will expire, leaving your container configured with the old IP address. This can lead to IP address collisions and broken DNS if your using a dynamic DNS server. In my case, i found that my containers worked perfectly for ~12 hours and then slowly started to work erratically before dropping off my network completely. Presumably due to browser DNS caching.


Unfortunately, there isn’t an elegant fix to this problem, I believe the -q option was added to avoid having a bunch of udhcpc clients hanging around trying to obtain IP addresses for long-dead containers.

Having said that, the containers I want to give DHCP addresses to are ones that I want to be running all the time so this shouldn’t be a big problem for my own personal setup. If I change the /sbin/pipework script inside my Docker-Pipework, it works great!

Change line 324 to read:

ip netns exec "$NSPID" "$DHCP_CLIENT" -i "$CONTAINER_IFNAME" \

Now I can see multiple udcpc processes with ps where before there were none, so I should be able to run a service for more then 12 hours now ;-)

Raised a ticket to try and figure out a way to fix this in pipework. In the meantime, the script can be manually fixed.

The future

Hopefully in the near future, this blog post will be redundant and giving an IP address to a container will be as simple as adding a flag to docker run. Until then, happy bridged mode networking :)

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