container repository

What is a container repository?

A container repository is a collection of related container images that provide different versions of an application. A container typically consists of a container image, which is a file that has everything a piece of software may need to run, such as multiple layers of code, resources and tools. Container repositories store images for setup and deployment. Organizations can use repositories to manage, pull and push images.

Container image repositories are an integral element of development and deployment practices for environments that use containers and plaform as a service. Most DevOps teams use containers and pull a variety of container images from numerous sources, such as open, community-focused registries, to enable more rapid and flexible application development.

An organization uses a container repository to share container images with its team or with the broader repository platform community. A public repository is shared with a larger community, while a private repository enables an organization to keep its images private within an account or team.

An example of a container repository is a Docker Repository on Docker Hub, which dedicates a location to the storage and publication of Docker images labeled with different tags. The tag identifies an image in a repository.

Container repository benefits

Container repositories have many benefits, such as the following:

  • They are typically available as a part of container services, such as Docker and Kubernetes.
  • They enable an organization to share container images either within teams or to larger communities through public or private settings.
  • Some container services give users a free private repository with the creation of an account.
  • They increase the speed to push and pull images.
  • Having large images could lead to performance or latency issues when those images must be pulled from over the internet. Pulling images from a repository within an organization's own infrastructure sidesteps this issue.
  • Pulling images from over the internet means an organization has a dependency on the service it gets the images from. If that service goes down or becomes compromised, then the images would become inaccessible. Container repositories eliminate this potential issue.

Container repository vs. container registry

At first glance, the term container repository could be confused with a similar term, container registry. While a container repository is a collection of related container images that manage, pull and push images, a container registry is a collection of repositories that store container images. Container registries can store container images, as well as application programming interface paths and access control rules. A registry can be hosted publicly or privately -- like a repository -- or by a third party. However, the important distinction between the two is that a registry is a collection of repositories, while repositories hold a collection of related images.

A user can act as a host for a container image by placing the image into a container registry for others to access. Using a container registry might be a good idea if, for example, an organization is hosting a native cloud app.

Repositories are also supported by many container registry services, such as Google Cloud Platform's Container Registry, Azure Container Registry and AWS Elastic Compute Cloud Container Registry.

As an example, Azure Container Registry is a cloud-based repository built on the open source Docker Registry 2.0. It enables Azure users to store Docker images in repositories so each group of images is in an isolated environment. Users can control which repository they push images to using the Azure portal. For this, users must create or install a container registry Docker command-line interface and a container image.

To view a repository in Azure Container Registry, users should sign into the portal, select the registry option and then repositories to see a list of repositories. From there, users can select the specific repository they want to view. Azure users should be able to provision their entire container infrastructure in the same Azure region to ensure their image repositories are in the same data center as the container hosts.

How to create a container repository

Using Docker Hub -- a cloud-based repository -- as a primary example, a user can create a repository by signing in and selecting the Repositories option and then selecting Create Repo. Users can create a repository in their Docker ID namespace, or any location where the user is an owner. A short and full description is also used in categorization. Short descriptions are a string of 100 characters that are used in search results, while full descriptions create the Readme in the repository. Once selecting the Create option, users then push images to the repository.

Pushing an image to Docker Hub requires users to first name a local image with their Docker Hub username and repository name, then add a tag to it. The image is then uploaded and made available for other users. While Docker Hub offers its registry for free, users must first pay a premium to use Docker Hub as a private repository.

As another example, Google Container Registry also comes with the tools needed to set up a repository. Google Container Registry users can set up a repository by creating a pod that uses a secret to pull an image from a private Docker repository. Google Container Registry users must have a Kubernetes cluster, as well as the kubectl command-line tool for this process.


Container repository security can be implemented to a specific repository or to a larger registry.

Scanning is one way to ensure that an image or repository is secure. Most organizations that have registry and repository service support their own scanning. Docker scans, for example, was released in 2016 for official images hosted in Docker Hub and can be acquired as an add-on for private Docker repositories. Docker Security Scanning can be run when a user selects the dedicated scan option or automatically with any Docker push to a repository. Each layer of an image is scanned, identifying software components in each layer. The scan indexes the Secure Hash Algorithms of each component and then compare it against the National Vulnerability Database in the user's data transfer rate instance.

Users should schedule regular scans of their repository to detect any potential vulnerabilities as many teams pull container images from community-focused registries that are not validated or checked for security vulnerabilities.

A Secure Socket Shell private key might also be necessary when building an app inside a Docker image. The key either pulls code from the private repository or the user needs security tokens.

To further secure a repository, users should keep images up to date to ensure any vulnerable components are patched. Once updated, users should run a new build to create, tag and push an image as a test to ensure it's free of vulnerabilities.

Registry security is concerned around compromised containers, vulnerabilities, outdated code and access. Registry security that surrounds repositories includes compromised containers from poorly managed public repositories and individual images.

Access is also a concern for registries. Access refers to users with read/write access to an image, as well as users who can edit or delete an image. With a public repository, access is mostly under the control of the repository administrator, as opposed to a private repository where users must actively manage access. Private repositories, such as Docker Hub, provide users with basic access control.

Public containers are often less secure because individual container images might have malicious or outdated code, which, if it goes unpatched, could lead to a data breach. If an organization's major concern is security, then its first move should be to implement a private registry or repository.

Other security approaches to container registries include assigning role-based access control , digitally signing images to ensure each image is trusted, using authentication methods such as access tokens or JavaScript Object Notation key files or using identity and access management settings.

Specific registries and repositories offer different security as well. Amazon Elastic Container Registry markets itself as a secure private container repository because it encrypts and compresses images at rest. Google Cloud Containers secure Docker image storage using the Google Cloud Platform and enables control over who can view, access and download images.

This was last updated in February 2023

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