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Run Linux programs on macOS, a different Linux distro, or a different architecture

If you haven’t installed Karton yet, do it following the installation instructions.

Create an image

Karton can run commands in several different Linux distributions with different sets of packages installed. A specific configured distro is called an image. The first thing you need to do to use Karton is creating an image.

Let’s imagine that, for work, you need to use the most recent (even if a bit unstable) version of Ubuntu to compile your project, but your computer runs another Linux distro or macOS.
You then decide to create an image for your Ubuntu-based developent. Let’s call this image work:

$ karton image create work ~/work-ubuntu-devel-image

This will generate a directory called work-ubuntu-devel-image inside your home directory. Inside this directory there’s a Python source file called

Open the file and take a look at the comments; they should explain what you need to know to up an image.
The full API documentation is available as well.

The requirements for this image are quite simple:

Modify the file (using your favourite editor) to look like this:

def setup_image(props):
    # Name and version of the distro.
    props.distro = 'ubuntu:devel'

    # This is shared at the same relative path (relative to
    # your home directory) in the image as it is on your
    # machine, that is it will be accessible as "~/src" in
    # both home and image.

    # "build-essential" is name of the Ubuntu package which
    # installs gcc, make and similar tools.
    # "gdb" is the debugger.
    props.packages.extend(['build-essential', 'gdb'])

Now that the image is defined you need to build it:

$ karton build work

This will take a couple of minutes, but you need to do it only when you modify the file.

Running commands

To run commands just use karton run IMAGE-NAME COMMAND ARGUMENT1 ....

For instance, let’s say you want to create a file called ~/src/my-project/test.c and compile it using the newly created work image. You would do something like this:

$ # This all happens on your host machine:
$ cd ~/src/my-project/
$ # ... edit test.c ...

$ # Now compile (using the gcc inside the image, not the
$ # one on your system!):
$ karton run work gcc -o test test.c

$ # All the files are accessible both on the host and in
$ # the image.
$ ls -l
total 32
-rwxr-xr-x 1 user staff 8416 Feb 16 22:00 test
-rw-r--r-- 1 user staff   72 Feb 16 22:00 test.c

$ # Now you can run the program you just compiled!
$ karton run work ./test
[... output of the test program ...]

$ # The program is a Linux executable even if we are
$ # running on macOS.
$ file test
test: ELF 64-bit LSB shared object, x86-64,  [...]

If you want, you can even start a full shell inside the image:

$ karton shell work
$ # ... commands running on the Ubuntu image ...

Creating an alias

After a while you will probably get bored of typing karton run IMAGE-NAME all the time. To make things simpler to type you can create an alias:

$ # Create a symbolic link "wk" which start Karton
$ # using the "work" image.
$ karton alias wk work

$ # This is equivalent to:
$ #     karton run work echo "Hello!"
$ wk run echo "Hello!"

If you don’t even want to have to type run every time, you can create an alias which includes a command as well:

$ # Create a "wr" alias (which stands for work and run):
$ karton alias --command run wr work

$ # Run the echo command in the image:
$ wr echo "Hello!"

Managing images