containers made easy

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What is bulker?

Bulker manages collections of containerized executables. It builds drop-in replacements to command line-tools that act just like native tools, but are run in a container. Think of bulker as a lightweight wrapper on top of docker/singularity to simplify sharing and using compute environments that run containers.

What makes bulker useful?

  1. It produces containerized drop-in replacement executables. If you load pandoc with bulker, you'll invoke it in a shell by typing just pandoc. Bulker wraps the container details like "docker run -it --volume ...", so native workflows become immediately containerized. You'll be using containers without knowing it.

  2. It improves portability by decoupling environment from tool settings. Running a container integrates variables from the environment (e.g. volumes to mount) with tool specifics (e.g. command, image source). Bulker decouples these, making the environment descriptions portable.

  3. It distributes collections of containers. Bulker simplifies distributing a set of related container executables, like all the tools needed to run a workflow. Install a whole set with one command: bulker load namespace/toolset. Workflow authors need only provide a list of commands to containerize a workflow.

  4. It unifies the interface across container engines. Bulker runs on systems using either docker or singularity. This reduces to a single interface because the implementation differences are handled by bulker.

For more, read my motivation.

Is bulker a package manager? How is it different?

Bulker is not a package manager, but it can replace some package manager tasks. For example, instead of installing software natively using pip or conda, you could load it using bulker. The differences are:

  • Bulker uses containers. Package managers install tools natively. Bulker installs containerized software.

  • Bulker is 'collection first'. Most package managers operate on tools (e.g. pip install tool, conda install tool, or apt install tool). Bulker operates on collections: bulker load toolset.

With these two features, bulker makes it easier than a traditional package manager to distribute and use a standard, version-controlled computing environment.

Quick start

1 Install bulker

pip install --user bulker

2 Load a crate

A bulker crate is a collection of executables that run inside containers. Load the cowsay fortune example:

bulker load demo

Loading this crate will give you drop-in replacement command-line executables for any commands in the crate.

3 Activate your new crate:

Activate a crate with bulker activate:

bulker activate demo

Now run any executables in the crate as if they were installed natively. The first time you run a command, the actual container image will be downloaded automatically by docker:

$ cowsay Hello world!


< Hello world! >
        \   ^__^
         \  (oo)\_______
            (__)\       )\/\
                ||----w |
                ||     ||

4 Or, run commands directly

You can also just run commands without activating a crate:

bulker run demo cowsay Hello world!

You can use a different crate with bulker run CRATE command --args Where CRATE is the bulker crate you wish to execute the command in. For more details, check out the tutorial.