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Docker vs libvirt: What are the differences?


This article highlights the key differences between Docker and libvirt. Docker and libvirt are both technologies used to manage virtualized environments, but they have distinct features and purposes.

  1. Architecture: Docker is based on containerization technology, where applications run in isolated containers. It uses a base image and layers to create containers. On the other hand, libvirt is a virtualization abstraction library that supports various virtualization technologies such as KVM, QEMU, and Xen. It provides a common interface to manage virtual machines (VMs) and can be used with different hypervisors.

  2. Isolation: Docker provides process-level isolation, where each container has its own isolated runtime environment. It ensures that containers are well isolated from each other and from the host system. In contrast, libvirt offers system-level isolation through full virtualization. It creates a complete virtual machine with its own kernel, ensuring stronger isolation between VMs and the host system.

  3. Image Management: Docker focuses heavily on image management. It provides a Docker registry for storing and distributing container images. Docker images are lightweight and can be easily shared and deployed on different systems. On the other hand, libvirt does not have its own image management system. It relies on disk image formats like qcow2 or raw disk images to create and manage VMs.

  4. Orchestration: Docker has built-in orchestration features, such as Docker Swarm and Kubernetes, which allow for scaling, load balancing, and automatic container management across multiple hosts. Docker Swarm enables the creation of swarm clusters for distributed container deployments. In comparison, libvirt primarily focuses on managing individual VMs and does not provide built-in orchestration capabilities.

  5. Networking: Docker provides its own container network model (CNM) for networking between containers. It allows containers to communicate with each other using virtual networks, bridges, and port mappings. Docker also supports third-party networking plugins for advanced networking configurations. Libvirt, on the other hand, relies on the underlying virtualization technology (such as KVM or QEMU) for networking, which includes options like bridge networks and virtual switches.

  6. Resource Management: Docker provides resource isolation and control through its resource management features. It allows users to allocate CPU, memory, and other resources to containers using policies and limits. Docker's resource management is more fine-grained and flexible. In contrast, libvirt provides basic resource management capabilities like CPU and memory allocation at the VM level. It does not offer the same level of granularity and control as Docker.

In summary, Docker and libvirt are both used for virtualization, but they have different architectural approaches, isolation mechanisms, image management systems, orchestration capabilities, networking models, and resource management features. Choosing between the two depends on the specific requirements of the virtualized environment.

Decisions about Docker and libvirt
Florian Sager
IT DevOp at Agitos GmbH · | 3 upvotes · 426.7K 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 libvirt
  • 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
  • 2
    Low overhead
  • 2
  • 2
    Built into most Linux distros
  • 2
  • 2
    Native KVM and QEMU
  • 2
    Native hypervisor
  • 2
    Can fully manage via CLI or VirtManager
  • 2
    VirtIO direct hardware access
  • 1
    VirtIO direct hardware support

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Cons of Docker
Cons of libvirt
  • 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 libvirt?

    It is an open-source API, daemon and management tool for managing platform virtualization. It can be used to manage KVM, Xen, VMware ESXi, QEMU and other virtualization technologies.

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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 libvirt?
    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