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The platform known as Docker has become one of the most popular ways to run a new kind of software known as containerized apps. And while Docker's mainly aimed at programmer types, there are a few reasons why everyday Mac users might want it around as well.

What are containerized apps?

Containerized apps are tidy little packages of software that bundle nearly everything they need to run in a single, self-contained box.

Programmers can write an app once and know that it'll run anywhere, every time. Businesses get an efficient way to run lots of apps on a single server without straining their hardware. And users get apps that won't sprawl out and spread files into their hard drives' nooks and crannies, nor start hogging memory and slowing down the entire computer.

How does Docker work?

Docker uses emulation to ensure that the same containerized app can run on any machine where Docker's installed. And because it emulates an operating system – usually some flavor of Linux, though you can also set it up to run enterprise versions of Windows – instead of actual chip hardware, it demands a lot less memory and processing power than traditional virtual machines like Parallels or VMware Fusion.

Unlike those apps, you can't use Docker to run Windows on your Mac – though you can run at least limited versions of Linux with it. And you can use Docker to run apps that weren't originally written for the Mac.

Once you fire up the easy-to-install Docker app, it runs in the background, and you can use the Terminal or another app called Kitematic (we'll get to that later) to install and run containerized apps.

Who is Docker for?

As mentioned above, Docker's mainly aimed at programmers who want to containerize existing apps or write new ones, and businesses and IT folks who want to use its industrial-grade software.

There are Docker versions of familiar desktop apps like Firefox, Chrome, Skype, Spotify, image editor GiMP, and audio editor Audacity. But most of these apps already have native Mac versions. Running them in containers only makes sense if you like the technical challenge, want to keep a single app from hogging all your system's memory, or want to ensure that any malware you might pick up while browsing the web stays stuck inside its container, unable to escape to the rest of your Mac.

As of this writing, the main reason I've found to run Docker on a Mac is Pi-hole, originally made for the Raspberry Pi. Pi-hole can automatically block Web ads across your entire home network, and Docker's the only way to get it working on a Mac without also having a Raspberry Pi.

How to install Docker on your Mac

1. Create a Docker Hub account

Docker Hub keeps track of the containers you're running (or creating) and provides a one-stop shop to find new ones. Sign up for a Docker account with a unique Docker ID, your email, and a strong password.

2. Download Docker Desktop for Mac

Once you've signed up and signed in to Docker Hub, get Docker Desktop for Mac. It's got everything you'll need to run Docker in one Mac-friendly installer. Your Mac needs to be running Mac OS Sierra or later, and have at least 4GB of RAM.

3. Install Docker Desktop on your Mac

Open the docker.dmg file you downloaded, and drag the Docker app's cartoon whale icon into your Applications folder.

4. Open and run Docker

When you run the Docker app, a little whale icon will appear on the right side of the menubar atop your screen. It'll take a few minutes to get running, and Docker may ask your permission to use services on your computer. The app will also prompt you to enter the Docker ID and password you just created.

When containers stop appearing and disappearing atop the little whale icon in the menubar, and you see a green dot at the top of the Docker menu next to 'Docker Desktop is running,' you're all set.

Consult the Preferences in the Docker menu to control how big a chunk of your hard drive Docker's allotted, and how much of your memory and CPU it's allowed to use, among other options.

5. Download and install Kitematic

Kitematic lets you install, manage, and remove your Docker containers from a single graphical interface — a lifesaver if you're not familiar or comfortable with the Terminal. You can install, and later open, Kitematic directly from the Docker app's menu:

Follow the link in that dialog box to install Kitematic. The app may ask for — you guessed it — your Docker ID and password again, just to keep track of your containers.

From Kitematic, you can search for and install new containers, and delete, edit, stop, or restart existing ones. If a container's running, Kitematic gives you an easy way to view its log files, which aren't readily visible from the Terminal. The interface is fairly intuitive, so feel free to play around and see what you can do.

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In my tests, Kitematic came in most useful for deleting troublesome containers whose installation I'd somehow botched. Just find the container in the list on the left side of the Kitematic window, click the X icon next to it, and the container's gone completely, for good. You can always reinstall a package, either from the Terminal or by searching for it in Kitematic, and try again.

Where can I learn more about Docker for Mac?

Consult Docker for Mac's help files for more information about getting started, ways to test that your installation's up and running smoothly, and more things you can do with Docker. There's also a guide to teach you how to create your own containerized apps.

For less technically inclined folks, it's tough to find a good list of desktop apps that work with Docker. Docker Hub doesn't break desktop apps into their own category, but Jessie Frazelle compiled this list in 2015.

Besides Pi-hole, do you have any favorite Docker containers that might benefit everyday Mac users? Ship them our way in the comments below.

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Docker Desktop for Mac

Getting Docker Desktop for Mac

Docker Desktop for Mac is free to download.


If you don't understand something about Docker Desktop for Mac, the extensivedocumentation is a great placeto look for answers.


Users from the Docker Desktop community trade tips and tricks and discuss Docker Desktopfor Mac in the user forum.

Problems with the Docker Desktop for Mac software can be filed as issues in this(docker/for-mac) repository.

This Repository

This repository contains an issue tracker for Docker Desktop for Mac -- anintegrated Docker experience on OS X or macOS. If you find a problemwith the software, first browse the existingissues or search from the barat the top (s to focus) and then, if you don't find your issue, opena new issue.


Initially, issues areunlabeled. Issuesare labeled in order to make tracking them easier. The meaning of thelabels is roughly:

area/composerelated to docker/compose
area/databaserelated to the configuration database
area/dockerrelated to the Docker engine (docker/docker)
area/guirelated to the Graphical User Interface
area/linuxrelated to the Linux component
area/mountsrelated to -v bind mounts
area/networkrelated to container networking
area/notaryrelated to docker/notary
area/osxrelated to OS X or macOS integration
area/startuprelated to application installation or initialization
area/storagerelated to image and container storage (storage drivers)
area/volumesrelated to Docker volumes (volume drivers)
area/kuberelated to Kubernetes integration
kind/bugthis issue describes a defect
kind/docsthis issue describes a documentation change
kind/enhancementthis issue describes a change to existing functionality
kind/featurethis issue describes totally new functionality
kind/performancethis issue describes a performance problem or measurement
status/0-triageThe issue needs triaging
status/0-wont-fixThis issue will not be fixed and therefore can be closed
status/0-more-info-neededThe issue needs more information before it can be triaged
status/1-acknowledgedThe issue has been triaged and is being investigated
status/2-in-progressThe issue has been assigned to a engineer and is waiting a fix
status/3-fixedThe issue has been fixed in master
status/4-fix-released-betaThe fix has been released!
status/4-fix-released-stableThe fix has been released!

Component Projects

Docker Desktop for Mac uses many open source components. A full list ofcomponents and licenses is available inside of Docker Desktop from About Docker Desktop -> Acknowledgements in the 🐳 menu.

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Some notable components include:

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  • HyperKit, a toolkit forembedding hypervisor capabilities in your application
  • DataKit, a tool to orchestrateapplications using a 9P dataflow
  • VPNKit, a set of tools andservices for helping HyperKit VMs interoperate with host VPNconfigurations