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Launch a watchtower container via podman quadlets

·648 words·4 mins·
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Most of my container workloads run on independent CoreOS cloud instances that I treat like pets. Keeping containers update remains a constant battle, but it’s still easier than running kubernetes.

I wrote about using watchtower in the past to keep containers updated. It’s a simple container that does a few important things:

  • It monitors (via docker/podman socket) the running containers on the host
  • It tracks the versions/tags of each container image
  • It looks for updated versions of the container image in their upstream repositories
  • Based on a configurable schedule, it pulls a new container image and restarts the container for updates

I encourage you to read more about watchtower on GitHub. There’s plenty you can configure, including update intervals, how updates are handled, and how you can get notifications when an update happens.

My new deployments always need watchtower running. Luckily, we can combine Fedora CoreOS’ initial provisioning system, called ignition, with podman’s new quadlet feature and launch watchtower automatically on the first boot.

Quadlets #

So what’s a quadlet?

The blog post explains it well by making containers more declarative via a familiar systemd syntax. Here’s an example .container file from the post:

Description=The sleep container

Exec=sleep 1000

# Start by default on boot

You can toss this into $HOME/.config/containers/systemd/mysleep.container for rootless user containers or in /etc/containers/systemd/mysleep.container for a container running as root.

Configure a quadlet on boot #

As I mentioned earlier, I want a watchtower container running on my CoreOS nodes at first boot. Let’s start with a fairly basic butane file:

variant: fcos
version: 1.4.0
    - name: major
        - wheel
        - sudo
        - ssh-ed25519 AAAAC3NzaC1lZDI1NTE5AAAAIDyoH6gU4lgEiSiwihyD0Rxk/o5xYIfA3stVDgOGM9N0
    - path: /etc/containers/systemd/watchtower.container
        inline: |
          Description=Watchtower container updater




Let’s break this file down:

  1. I start by adding a user named major that has administrative privileges an an ssh key (this is optional, but I like using my own username rather than core)
  2. The quadlet unit file lands in /etc/containers/systemd/watchtower.container and starts at boot time

The quadlet file has some important configurations:

  1. I added environment variables to clean up outdated container images and check for updates once an hour
  2. The podman socket is mounted inside the watchtower container
  3. Security labels are disabled to allow for communication with the podman socket
Mounting the podman socket and disabling security labels is not an ideal security approach. However, I’ve found that watchtower’s configuration and automation fits my needs really well and I retreive the image from a trusted source. If this won’t work for you, you can use podman’s built-in auto-update feature instead.

From here, we convert the butane configuration into an ignition configuration. I’m launching this CoreOS node on VULTR, so I’ve named my files accordingly:

$ butane vultr-coreos.butane > vultr-coreos.ign

Let’s go 🚀 #

I’m using VULTR’s CLI here in Fedora, but you can do the same steps via VULTR’s portal if needed. Just paste in the ignition configuration into the large text box before launch.

# Install vultr-cli in Fedora
sudo dnf install vultr-cli

# Launch the instance
vultr-cli instance create --region dfw --plan vhp-2c-2gb-amd \
  --os 391 --label coreos-dfw-1 --host coreos-dfw-1 \
  --userdata "$(cat vultr-coreos.ign)"

Let’s see how the container is doing:

$ ssh major@COREOS_HOST

Fedora CoreOS 38.20230430.3.1

[major@coreos-dfw-1 ~]$ sudo podman ps
CONTAINER ID  IMAGE                                                                                                  COMMAND     CREATED             STATUS             PORTS       NAMES
a0024712c95d              About a minute ago  Up About a minute              watchtower

[major@coreos-dfw-1 ~]$ sudo podman logs watchtower
time="2023-05-31T14:01:12Z" level=info msg="Watchtower 1.5.3"
time="2023-05-31T14:01:12Z" level=info msg="Using no notifications"
time="2023-05-31T14:01:12Z" level=info msg="Checking all containers (except explicitly disabled with label)"
time="2023-05-31T14:01:12Z" level=info msg="Scheduling first run: 2023-05-31 15:01:12 +0000 UTC"
time="2023-05-31T14:01:12Z" level=info msg="Note that the first check will be performed in 59 minutes, 59 seconds"

Awesome! 🥳

My system rebooted for an ostree update shortly after provisioning and the container came up automatically both times.