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Docker vs Flatpak: What are the differences?


Docker and Flatpak are both containerization technologies that provide a way to package and distribute software applications with their dependencies. While they share some similarities, there are several key differences between Docker and Flatpak that make them suitable for different use cases.

  1. Architecture: Docker uses a client-server architecture, where the Docker engine runs on a host machine and manages containers. This architecture allows for efficient resource utilization by sharing the host's operating system kernel among containers. On the other hand, Flatpak follows a single-user, sandboxed architecture, where each Flatpak application runs in its own isolated runtime environment. This isolation provides enhanced security and stability for applications.

  2. Portability: Docker is primarily designed for running server-side applications and allows for the deployment of applications across different infrastructure environments, such as physical machines, virtual machines, or cloud platforms. This makes Docker highly portable and suitable for containerizing microservices or distributed applications. Flatpak, on the other hand, focuses on desktop applications and aims to provide a consistent user experience across different Linux distributions. It achieves this by bundling all required dependencies along with the application, ensuring compatibility across different Linux distributions.

  3. Isolation: Docker containers make use of operating system-level virtualization, which provides a lightweight form of isolation between containers and the host system. This isolation enables containers to run multiple applications or services independently and securely. In contrast, Flatpak applications are run in a sandboxed environment using namespaces and cgroups. The sandboxing restricts the application's access to system resources, enhancing security and preventing interference with the host system.

  4. Application Packaging: Docker packages applications and their dependencies into images, which can be easily shared and deployed. Docker images are created using Dockerfiles, which specify the steps needed to build the application environment. Flatpak, on the other hand, uses Flatpak manifests, which provide information about the application and its dependencies. Flatpak applications are distributed as compressed bundles, containing the application runtime and dependencies, making them self-contained and easily portable.

  5. Community and Ecosystem: Docker has a large and active community, with extensive documentation, tutorials, and a wide range of images available in the Docker Hub. It also has robust integration with various orchestration tools like Kubernetes. This makes Docker a popular choice for containerization in enterprise environments. While Flatpak has a growing community, it is more focused on the desktop application space. It provides integration with user-friendly platforms like GNOME Software, making it easier for developers to distribute and users to install Flatpak applications.

  6. Dependency Management: Docker provides a flexible mechanism for managing dependencies through its layer-based image system. Docker images can be built incrementally, and each layer can be cached and reused, reducing the time and bandwidth required for deployment. Flatpak adopts a different approach by bundling dependencies directly with the application. This ensures that the application runs with the specified runtime environment, without relying on the availability of system-wide dependencies. However, this bundling approach can lead to larger application sizes and increased storage requirements.

In summary, Docker is a versatile containerization technology suitable for running server-side applications across different environments, while Flatpak focuses on providing a secure and consistent desktop application experience. Docker emphasizes portability and scalability, while Flatpak prioritizes isolation, ease of distribution, and compatibility across Linux distributions.

Decisions about Docker and Flatpak
Florian Sager
IT DevOp at Agitos GmbH · | 3 upvotes · 420.7K views

lxd/lxc and Docker aren't congruent so this comparison needs a more detailed look; but in short I can say: the lxd-integrated administration of storage including zfs with its snapshot capabilities as well as the system container (multi-process) approach of lxc vs. the limited single-process container approach of Docker is the main reason I chose lxd over Docker.

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Pros of Docker
Pros of Flatpak
  • 823
    Rapid integration and build up
  • 691
  • 521
    Open source
  • 505
    Testa­bil­i­ty and re­pro­ducibil­i­ty
  • 460
  • 218
  • 185
  • 106
    Upgrading / down­grad­ing / ap­pli­ca­tion versions
  • 88
  • 85
    Private paas environments
  • 34
  • 26
    Limit resource usage
  • 17
    Game changer
  • 16
    I love the way docker has changed virtualization
  • 14
  • 12
  • 8
    Docker's Compose tools
  • 6
    Easy setup
  • 6
    Fast and Portable
  • 5
    Because its fun
  • 4
    Makes shipping to production very simple
  • 3
    Highly useful
  • 3
    It's dope
  • 2
    Very easy to setup integrate and build
  • 2
    HIgh Throughput
  • 2
    Package the environment with the application
  • 2
    Does a nice job hogging memory
  • 2
    Open source and highly configurable
  • 2
    Simplicity, isolation, resource effective
  • 2
    MacOS support FAKE
  • 2
    Its cool
  • 2
    Docker hub for the FTW
  • 2
  • 0
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    Cons of Docker
    Cons of Flatpak
    • 8
      New versions == broken features
    • 6
      Unreliable networking
    • 6
      Documentation not always in sync
    • 4
      Moves quickly
    • 3
      Not Secure
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      What is Docker?

      The Docker Platform is the industry-leading container platform for continuous, high-velocity innovation, enabling organizations to seamlessly build and share any application — from legacy to what comes next — and securely run them anywhere

      What is Flatpak?

      It is a next-generation technology for building and distributing desktop applications on Linux

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      What companies use Docker?
      What companies use Flatpak?
      See which teams inside your own company are using Docker or Flatpak.
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      What tools integrate with Docker?
      What tools integrate with Flatpak?
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        Blog Posts

        Jul 9 2019 at 7:22PM

        Blue Medora

        DockerPostgreSQLNew Relic+8
        DockerAmazon EC2Scala+8
        What are some alternatives to Docker and Flatpak?
        LXC is a userspace interface for the Linux kernel containment features. Through a powerful API and simple tools, it lets Linux users easily create and manage system or application containers.
        Rocket is a cli for running App Containers. The goal of rocket is to be composable, secure, and fast.
        Kubernetes is an open source orchestration system for Docker containers. It handles scheduling onto nodes in a compute cluster and actively manages workloads to ensure that their state matches the users declared intentions.
        Cloud Foundry
        Cloud Foundry is an open platform as a service (PaaS) that provides a choice of clouds, developer frameworks, and application services. Cloud Foundry makes it faster and easier to build, test, deploy, and scale applications.
        Vagrant provides the framework and configuration format to create and manage complete portable development environments. These development environments can live on your computer or in the cloud, and are portable between Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
        See all alternatives