Android container in Chrome OS

This document outlines the process by which Android runs in a Linux container in Chrome OS.

This document explains how the container for Android P works.


config.json is used by run_oci, to describe how the container is set up. This file describes the mount structure, namespaces, device nodes that are to be created, cgroups configuration, and capabilities that are inherited.


Android is running using all of the available Linux namespaces(7) to increase isolation from the rest of the system:

Running all of Android's userspace in namespaces also increases compatibility since we can provide it with an environment that is closer to what it expects to find under normal circumstances.

run_oci starts in the init namespace (which is shared with most of Chrome OS), running as real root with all capabilities. The mount namespace associated with that is referred to as the init mount namespace. Any mount performed in the init mount namespace will span user sessions and are performed before run_oci starts, so they do not figure in config.json.

First, run_oci creates a mount namespace (while still being associated with init‘s user namespace) that is known as the intermediate mount namespace. Due to the fact that when it is running in this namespace it still has all of root’s capabilities in the init namespace, it can perform privileged operations, such as performing remounts (e.g. calling mount(2) with MS_REMOUNT and without MS_BIND), and requesting to mount a tmpfs(5) into Android‘s /dev with the dev and exec flags. This intermediate mount namespace is also used to avoid leaking mounts into the init mount namespace, and will be automatically cleaned up when the last process in the namespace exits. This process is typically Android’s init, but if the container fails to start, it can also be run_oci itself.

Still within the intermediate mount namespace, the container process is created by calling the clone(2) system call with the CLONE_NEWPID and CLONE_NEWUSER flags. Given that mount namespaces have an owner user namespace, the only way that we can transition into both is to perform both simultaneously. Since Linux 3.9, CLONE_NEWUSER implies CLONE_FS, so this also has the side effect of making this new process no longer share its root directory (chroot(2)) with any other process.

Once in the container user namespace, the container process enters the rest of the namespaces using unshare(2) system call with the appropriate flag for each namespace. After it performs this with the CLONE_NEWNS flag, it enters the a mount namespace which is referred to as the container mount namespace. This is where the vast majority of the mounts happen. Since this is associated with the container user namespace and the processes here no longer run as root in the init user namespace, some operations are no longer allowed by the kernel, even though the capabilities might be set. Some examples are remounts that modify the exec, suid, dev flags.

Once run_oci finishes setting up the container process and calls exit(2) to daemonize the container process tree, there are no longer any processes in the system that have a direct reference to the intermediate mount namespace, so it is no longer accessible from anywhere. This means that there is no way to obtain a file descriptor that can be passed to setns(2) in order to enter it. The namespace itself is still alive since it is the parent of the container mount namespace.

User namespace

The user namespace is assigned 2,000,000 uids distributed in the following way:

init namespace uid rangecontainer namespace uid range
655360 - 6603590 - 4999
600 - 6495000 - 5049
660410 - 26553605050 - 2000000

The second range maps Chrome OS daemon uids (600-649), into one of Android's OEM-specific AIDs ranges.

Similarly, gid is assigned in the same way as uids assignment, except the special gid 20119 is allocated for container gid 1065, which is Android's reserved gid. This exception is because ext4 resgid only accepts 16-bit gid, and hence the originally mapped gid 1065 + 655360 does not fit the ext4 resgid.

A special GID 5005 (inside container, also called vendor_arc_debugfs), according to the rule above, is mapped to GID 605 (outside container, also called debugfs-access). This GID is added as supplementary group of init process to allow write access to some tracing files under /sys/kernel/tracing/ (in dev mode).

Network namespace



There are several ways in which resources are mounted inside the container:

  • Loop mounts: used to mount filesystem images into the filesystem. Android uses two of these: one for system.raw.img, and another one for vendor.raw.img.
  • Bind mounts: these make a file or directory visible from another subdirectory and can span chroot(2) and pivot_root(2).
  • Shared mounts: these mounts use the MS_SHARED flags for mount(2) in the init mount namespace and MS_SLAVE in the container mount namespace, which causes any mount changes under that mount point to propagate to other shared subtrees.

On stock Android, its init‘s first stage sets up several mount points such as /dev and /mnt, but ARC does not use the init’s feature at all. Instead, on ARC, config.json sets up these standard Android mount points as well as several ARC specific ones.

All mounts are performed in the /opt/google/container/android/rootfs/root subtree. Given that run_oci does not modify the init mount namespace, any mounts that span user sessions (such as the system.raw.img loop mount) should have already been performed before run_oci starts. This is typically handled by arc-setup.

The flags to the mounts section are the ones understood by mount(8). Note that one mount entry might become more than one call to mount(2), since some flags combinations are ignored by the kernel (e.g. changes to mount propagation flags ignore all other flags).

List of mounts visible in the container mount namespace

  • /: This is /opt/google/containers/android/system.raw.img loop-mounted by arc-setup (called from /etc/init/arc-system-mount.conf) in the init namespace. This spans container invocations since it is stateless. The exec/suid flags are added in the intermediate mount namespace, as well as recursively changing its propagation flags to be MS_SLAVE.
  • /config/sdcardfs: Bind-mount of /sys/kernel/config/sdcardfs subdirectory of a normal configfs created by esdfs.
  • /dev: This is a tmpfs mounted in the intermediate mount namespace with android-root as owner. This is needed to get the dev/exec mount flags.
  • /dev/pts: Pseudo TTS devpts file system with namespace support so that it is in a different namespace than the parent namespace even though the device node ids look identical. Required for bionic CTS tests. The device is mounted with nosuid and noexec mount options for better security although stock Android does not use them.
  • /dev/ptmx: The kernel documentation for devpts indicates that there are two ways to support /dev/ptmx: creating a symlink that points to /dev/pts/ptmx, or bind-mounting /dev/pts/ptmx. The bind-mount was chosen to mark it u:object_r:ptmx_device:s0.
  • /dev/kmsg: This is a bind-mount of the host‘s /run/arc/android.kmsg.fifo, which is just a FIFO file. Logs written to the fake device are read by a job called arc-kmsg-logger and stored in host’s /var/log/android.kmsg.
  • /dev/socket: This is a normal tmpfs, used by Android's init to store socket files.
  • /dev/usb-ffs/adb: This is a bind-mount of the hosts's /run/arc/adbd and is a slave mount, which contains a FIFO that acts as the ADB gadget configured through ConfigFS/FunctionFS. This file is only present in Developer Mode. Once the /dev/usb-ffs/adb/ep0 file is written to, the bulk-in and bulk-out endpoints will be bind-mounted into this same directory.
  • /data and /data/cache: config.json bind-mounts one of host's read-only directories to /data. This read-only and near-empty /data is only for “mini” container for login screen, and is used until the user signs into Chrome OS. Once the user signs in,‘s OnBootContinue() function unmounts the read-only /data, and then bind-mounts /home/root/${HASH}/android-data/{data,cache} to /data and /data/cache, respectively. These source directories are writable and in Chrome OS user’s encrypted directory managed by cryptohome.
  • /var/run/arc: A tmpfs that holds several mount points from other containers for Chrome <=> Android file system communication, such as dlfs, OBB, and external storage.
  • /var/run/arc/sdcard: A FUSE file system provided by sdcard daemon running outside the container.
  • /var/run/chrome: Holds the ARC bridge and Wayland UNIX domain sockets.
  • /var/run/cras: Holds the CRAS UNIX domain socket.
  • /sys: A normal sysfs.
  • /sys/fs/selinux: This is bind-mounted from /sys/fs/selinux outside the container.
  • /sys/kernel/debug: Since this directory is owned by real root with very restrictive permissions (so the container would not be able to access any resource in that directory), a tmpfs is mounted in its place.
  • /sys/kernel/debug/sync: The permissions of this directory in the host are relaxed so that android-root can access it, and bind-mounted in the container.
  • /sys/kernel/debug/tracing: This is bind-mounted from the host's /run/arc/debugfs/tracing, only in dev mode. Note that the group id is mapped into the container to allow access from inside by DAC.
  • /proc: A normal proc fs. This is mounted in the container mount namespace, which is associated with the container user+pid namespaces to display the correct PID mappings.
  • /proc/cmdline: A regular file with the runtime-generated kernel commandline is bind-mounted instead of the Chrome OS kernel commandline.
  • /proc/sys/vm/mmap_rnd_compat_bits, /proc/sys/vm/mmap_rnd_bits: Two regular files are bind-mounted since the original files are owned by real root with very restrictive permissions. Android's init modified the contents of these files to increase the mmap(2) entropy, and will crash if this operation is not allowed. Mounting these two files reduces the number of mods to init.
  • /proc/sys/kernel/kptr_restrict: Same as with /proc/sys/vm/mmap_rnd_bits.
  • /oem/etc: This is bind-mounted from host's /run/arc/oem/etc and holds platform.xml file.
  • /var/run/arc/apkcache: This is bind-mounted from host‘s `/mnt/stateful_partition/unencrypted/apkcache. The host directory is for storing APK files specified by the device’s policy and downloaded on the host side.
  • /var/run/arc/dalvik-cache: This is bind-mounted from host's /mnt/stateful_partition/unencrypted/art-data/dalvik-cache. The host directory is for storing boot*.art files compiled on the host side. This allows the container to load the files right away without building them.
  • /var/run/arc/obb: This is bind-mounted from host's /run/arc/obb. A daemon running outside the container called /usr/bin/arc-obb-mounter mounts an OBB image file as a FUSE file system to the directory when requested.
  • /var/run/arc/media: This is bind-mounted from host's /run/arc/media. A daemon running outside the container called /usr/bin/mount-passthrough mounts an external storage as a FUSE file system to the directory when needed.
  • /vendor: This is loop-mounted from host's /opt/google/containers/android/vendor.raw.img. The directory may have graphic drivers, Houdini, board-specific APKs, and so on.
  • /mnt: This is a tmpfs mount point. Note that we should NOT mount any other file system in /mnt in config.json even if it is an empty tmpfs. Doing so will make our container less compatible with stock Android and may even break CTS.


Android is running in a user namespace, and the root user in the namespace has all possible capabilities in that namespace. Nevertheless, there are some operations in the kernel where the capability check is performed against the user in the init namespace. All the capabilities where all the checks are done in this way (such as CAP_SYS_MODULE) are removed because no user within the container would be able to use it.

Additionally, the following capabilities were removed (by dropping them from the list of permitted, inheritable, effective, and ambient capability sets) to signal the container that it cannot perform certain operations:

  • CAP_SYS_BOOT: This signals Android's init process that it should not use reboot(2), but instead call exit(2). It is also used to decide whether or not to block the SIGTERM signal, which can be used to request the container to terminate itself from the outside.
  • CAP_SYSLOG: This signals Android that it will not be able to access kernel pointers found in /proc/kallsyms.


By default, processes running inside the container are not allowed to access any device files. They can only access the ones that are explcitly allowed in the config.json's linux > resources > devices section.

Boot process

Container boot process


The hooks used by run_oci follow the Open Container Initiative spec for POSIX-platform Hooks, with a Chrome OS-specific extension that allows a hook to be installed after all the mounts have been processed, but prior to calling chroot(2).

All the hooks are run by calling fork(2)+ execve(2) from the run_oci process (which is the parent of the container process), and within the intermediate mount namespace.

In order to avoid paying the price of creating several processes and switching back and forth between namespaces (which added several milliseconds to the boot time when done naïvely), we have consolidated all of the hook execution to two hooks: pre-create and pre-chroot.

The pre-create hook invokes arc-setup with the --mode=setup flag and creates host-side files and directories that will be bind-mounted to the container via config.json.

The pre-chroot hook invokes arc-setup with the --mode=pre-chroot flag and performs several operations:

  • Set up binfmt_misc to perform ARM binary translation on Intel devices.
  • Restores the SELinux context of several of the files and directories that are created by run_oci, since these are not handled by either the build system, or the first invocation of arc-setup that occurs before run_oci is invoked.
  • Touches /dev/.coldboot_done, which is used by Android as a signal that it has reached a certain point during the boot sequence. This is normally done by Android's init during its first stage, but we do not use it and boot Android directly into init's second stage.