Containers 101: attach vs. exec - what's the difference?

The difference between docker (or podman, or containerd) attach and exec commands is a common source of confusion. And it's understandable - these two commands have similar arguments and, at first sight, similar behavior. However, attach and exec aren't interchangeable. They aim to cover different use cases, and the implementation of the commands also differs. But still, it might be hard to remember when to use which command.

Since I'm no fan of brute memorization, here is my recipe of how I managed to internalize the difference. Long story short, connecting the dots between the knowledge of what containers really are under the hood and these two commands helped to grasp the difference almost instantly. And like any true understanding, it freed me from relying only on my memory and gave me a chance to extrapolate the knowledge on a similar tech such as Kubernetes 😉

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Service Proxy, Pod, Sidecar, oh my!

How services talk to each other?

Imagine you're developing a service... For certainty, let's call it A. It's going to provide some public HTTP API to its clients. However, to serve requests it needs to call another service. Let's call this upstream service - B.

Service A talks to Service B directly.

Obviously, neither network nor service B is ideal. If service A wants to decrease the impact of the failing upstream requests on its public API success rate, it has to do something about errors. For instance, it could start retrying failed requests.

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You Need Containers To Build Images

You need containers to build images. Yes, you've heard it right. Not another way around.

For people who found their way to containers through Docker (well, most of us I believe) it may seem like images are of somewhat primary nature. We've been taught to start from a Dockerfile, build an image using that file, and only then run a container from that image. Alternatively, we could run a container specifying an image from a registry, yet the main idea persists - an image comes first, and only then the container.

But what if I tell you that the actual workflow is reverse? Even when you are building your very first image using Docker, podman, or buildah, you are already, albeit implicitly, running containers under the hood!

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Journey From Containerization To Orchestration And Beyond

Containers gave birth to more advanced server-side architectures and sophisticated deployment techniques. Containers nowadays are so widespread that there is already a bunch of standard-alike specifications (1, 2, 3, 4, ...) describing different aspects of the containers universe. Of course, on the lowest level lie Linux primitives such as namespaces and cgroups. But containerization software is already so massive that it would be barely possible to implement it without its own concern separation layers. What I'm trying to achieve in this ongoing effort is to guide myself starting from the lowest layers to the topmost ones, having as much practice (code, installation, configuration, integration, etc) and, of course, fun as possible. The content of this page is going to be changing over time, reflecting my understanding of the topic.

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