Building Drake in a Docker Container


Docker containers have emerged as a solution to running code or services in a way that is isolated from the host operating system. This allows code to be compiled and run on systems running unsupported operating systems or with incompatable configurations to the software dependencies. Docker is available for all major operating systems.

Two Docker containers are provided with Drake to allow developers to test and develop without needing to configure a supported operating system. These containers will build Drake in isolated Ubuntu 16.04 environments.

The Nvidia Dockerfile is based upon the nvidia docker plugin base image, which also contains CUDA support. The opensource Dockerfile is based on the the vanilla Ubuntu 16.04 image and is intended to support opensource graphics card drivers such as nouveau and intel. Should you need to build inside of another base image (FROM line in the Dockerfile), they are available here.

Note: This docker image is provided as an experimental feature and is not presently covered by continuous integration.

Getting Started

In order to get docker installed, please follow guides specific to your operating system. The typical steps are:

  1. Install docker from your distribution’s package manager or official installer from Docker
  2. Enable Docker to run as a daemon/service
  3. Add appropriate users to the docker group to give permissions to interact with the Docker service
  4. Log out and back in to update user groups
  5. Happy dockering!

These steps on Ubuntu 16.04 x86_64 are:

$ wget
$ sudo dpkg -i docker-ce_17.03.1~ce-0~ubuntu-xenial_amd64.deb
$ sudo systemctl start docker
$ sudo usermod -aG docker <username>

Log out and then back in.


Clone the Drake source code as described in Getting Drake.

The the following build commands will copy the full <drake-distro> directory from your host machine into the Docker container where it may be built and run.


When using the Nvidia proprietary drivers:

$ cd <drake-distro>
$ docker build -t drake -f setup/docker/Dockerfile.ubuntu16.04.nvidia .

Open Source

When using open source video drivers (nouveau, intel, ...):

$ cd <drake-distro>
$ docker build -t drake -f setup/docker/Dockerfile.ubuntu16.04.opensource .

If successful

$ docker images

should show an image named drake and

$ docker ps

will show any running Docker containers on your system.


The simplest run command is

$ docker run -it drake bash

which will give you bash shell access to the Ubuntu 16.04 Docker container where you can run commands such as:

$ cd /drake-distro
$ bazel build //...
$ bazel test //...

These commands will build all packages using bazel and run all tests.

Graphical Interface

The run command in order to get graphical interfaces from the Docker container is a bit more involved. Two systems are described below one with Nvidia proprietary graphics card drivers and one with open source drivers like Nouveau and Intel.

Nvidia drivers:

The nvidia-docker plugin is required in order to pass Xorg drawing commands to your host system when the proprietary Nvidia GPU drivers are installed. To install Nvidia GPU drivers with apt on Ubuntu 16.04:

$ sudo apt-get nvidia-361 nvidia-modprobe

To install nvidia-docker on Ubuntu 16.04:

$ wget -P /tmp
$ sudo dpkg -i /tmp/nvidia-docker*.deb && rm /tmp/nvidia-docker*.deb
$ nvidia-docker run --rm nvidia/cuda nvidia-smi
$ xhost +local:root; nvidia-docker run -i --rm -e DISPLAY \
-e QT_X11_NO_MITSHM=1 -v /tmp/.X11-unix:/tmp/.X11-unix \
--privileged -t drake; xhost -local:root

The default command defined behavior will start the Drake visualizer and run the bowling ball simulation.

Walking through this command:

$ xhost +local

will allow access for non-network connections to your local X server and pass the necessary X11 parameters for graphical display of programs within the Docker container.:


is an Nvidia plugin that couples with the proprietary Nvidia drivers and gives access to advanced features like CUDA.



switch assigns a tty for interactive text connections within the console.:


will clean up after the image, omit this to allow the container’s file system to persist.:


Forwards your host DISPLAY environment variable to the Docker container.:


specifies to not use the MIT magic cookie.:

-v /tmp/.X11-unix:/tmp/.X11-unix

shares the host .X11 interface with the Docker container as a volume.:


is only needed on selinux systems.:

-t drake

provides the Docker container name and:

$ xhost -local:root

removes the permission given earlier for local non-network connections to X.

See the Docker Run Reference. For more information on run options.

It is also possible to enter a bash shell for interactive development with:

$ xhost +local:root; nvidia-docker run -i --rm -e DISPLAY \
-e QT_X11_NO_MITSHM=1 -v /tmp/.X11-unix:/tmp/.X11-unix \
--privileged -t drake bash; xhost -local:root

where you may want to try various demonstrations, e.g.:

$ cd /drake-distro
$ bazel run //drake/examples/contact_model:bowling_ball
$ bazel run //drake/examples/kuka_iiwa_arm:kuka_simulation
$ bazel run //drake/examples/kuka_iiwa_arm/dev/monolithic_pick_and_place:monolithic_pick_and_place_demo

Note: these are currently not rendering properly due to VTK .obj/.mtl importing.

Open source drivers:

With open source graphics drivers like Nouveau and Intel you do not need the nvidia-docker plugin.

$ xhost +local:root; docker run -i --rm -e DISPLAY \
-e QT_X11_NO_MITSHM=1 -v /tmp/.X11-unix:/tmp/.X11-unix \
--privileged -t drake; xhost -local:root

Sharing Files Between Host and Docker:

It is possible to interactively develop and compile within the Docker container. Several options exist for retaining code altered or generated within the Docker image. Docker cp can be used to copy files into and out of a running image. -v can be used to mount a host directory inside the Docker image at the expense of file system isolation. Or you can use git commands interactively inside the container to push code changes directly to a repository.