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Published: Aug 19, 2018 License: BSD-3-Clause


_Please note recent changes in the github repo branch structure. If you want to install a stable release of Singularity, please use a tag or a release tarball. If you are a developer who would like to contribute to Singularity and you want to know which branch to submit your pull request to, please see notes on the branch reorganization here.

Please also note that 2.6.0 is expected to be the final feature release in the 2.x series. While bug fixes may be added via point releases (for example 2.6.1) no new features releases (for example 2.7.0) are planned.

Pull requests adding features to the 2.x series will no longer be reviewed. Any new features should be targeted to the master branch (which used to be called development-3.0)._

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Singularity - Enabling users to have full control of their environment.

Starting a Singularity container "swaps" out the host operating system environment for one the user controls!

Let's say you are running Ubuntu on your workstation or server, but you have an application which only runs on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.3. Singularity can instantly virtualize the operating system, without having root access, and allow you to run that application in its native environment!


Singularity is a container platform focused on supporting "Mobility of Compute"

Mobility of Compute encapsulates the development to compute model where developers can work in an environment of their choosing and creation and when the developer needs additional compute resources, this environment can easily be copied and executed on other platforms. Additionally as the primary use case for Singularity is targeted towards computational portability, many of the barriers to entry of other container solutions do not apply to Singularity making it an ideal solution for users (both computational and non-computational) and HPC centers.

The Container

Singularity utilizes container images, which means when you enter and work within the Singularity container, you are physically located inside of this image. The image grows and shrinks in real time as you install or delete files within the container. If you want to copy a container, you copy the image.

Using a single image for the container format, has added advantages especially within the context of HPC with large parallel file systems because all metadata operations within the container occur within the container image (and not on the metadata server!).

Mobility of Compute

With Singularity, developers who like to be able to easily control their own environment will love Singularity's flexibility. Singularity does not provide a pathway for escalation of privilege (as do other container platforms which are thus not applicable for multi-tenant resources) so you must be able to become root on the host system (or virtual machine) in order to modify the container.

A Singularity container can be launched in a variety of different ways depending on what you wanted to do with it. A simple method might be to launch an interactive shell within the container image as follows:

[gmk@centos7-x64 demo]$ singularity shell /tmp/Centos-7.img 
gmk@Centos-7.img demo> echo "Hello from within the container"
Hello from within the container
gmk@Centos-7.img demo> whoami
gmk@Centos-7.img demo> 

And if you wanted to do the same thing as root:

[gmk@centos7-x64 demo]$ sudo singularity shell -w /tmp/Centos-7.img 
root@Centos-7.img demo> whoami
root@Centos-7.img demo> 

note: By default, Singularity launches the container image in read only mode (so it can be easily launched in parallel). The -w option used above tells Singularity to mount the image in read/write mode such that root can now make changes to the container.

Additionally relevant file systems on your host are automatically shared within the context of your container. This can be demonstrated as follows:

[gmk@centos7-x64 demo]$ pwd
[gmk@centos7-x64 demo]$ echo "world" > hello
[gmk@centos7-x64 demo]$ singularity shell /tmp/Centos-7.img 
gmk@Centos-7.img demo> pwd
gmk@Centos-7.img demo> cat hello

Once the developer has completed their environment the image file can be compressed and copied to any other system that has Singularity installed. If you do not have root on that system, you will not be able to make any changes to the image once on that system. But you will be able to use the container and access the data and files outside the container as easily as you would on your development system or virtual machine.

Portability of Singularity container images

Singularity images are highly portable between Linux distributions (as long as the binary format is the same). You can generate your image on Debian or CentOS, and run it on Mint or Slackware.

Within a particular container one can include their programs, data, scripts and pipelines and thus portable to any other architecture compatible Linux system or distribution.

Bootstrapping new images

Generally when bootstrapping an image from scratch you must build it from a compatible host. This is because you must use the distribution specific tools it comes with (e.g. Red Hat does not provide Debian's debootstrap). But once the image has been bootstrapped and includes the necessary bits to be self hosting (e.g. YUM on CentOS and apt-get on Debian/Ubuntu) then the process of managing the container can be implemented from within the container.

The process of building a bootstrap starts with a definition specification. The definition file describes how you want the operating system to be built, what should go inside it and any additional modifications necessary.

Here is an example of a very simple bootstrap definition file for CentOS:

BootStrap: yum
OSVersion: 7
Include: yum

Once you have created your bootstrap definition, you can build your Singularity container image by first creating a blank image, and then bootstrapping using your definition file:

[gmk@centos7-x64 demo]$ sudo singularity create /tmp/Centos-7.img
[gmk@centos7-x64 demo]$ sudo singularity bootstrap /tmp/Centos-7.img centos.def

From there we can immediately start using the container:

[gmk@centos7-x64 demo]$ singularity exec /tmp/Centos-7.img cat /etc/redhat-release 
CentOS Linux release 7.2.1511 (Core) 
[gmk@centos7-x64 demo]$ singularity exec /tmp/Centos-7.img python --version
Python 2.7.5
[gmk@centos7-x64 demo]$ singularity exec /tmp/Centos-7.img python 
hello world
[gmk@centos7-x64 demo]$ 

And if I do this same process again, while changing the OSVersion variable in the bootstrap definition to 6 (where previously it was automatically ascertained by querying the RPM database), we can essentially build a CentOS-6 image in exactly the same manner as above. Doing so reveals this:

[gmk@centos7-x64 demo]$ singularity exec /tmp/Centos-6.img cat /etc/redhat-release 
CentOS release 6.7 (Final)
[gmk@centos7-x64 demo]$ singularity exec /tmp/Centos-6.img python --version
Python 2.6.6
[gmk@centos7-x64 demo]$ 

And as expected, the Python version we now see is what comes from by default in CentOS-6.

Cite as:

Kurtzer GM, Sochat V, Bauer MW (2017) Singularity: Scientific containers for mobility of compute. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0177459.

We also have a Zenodo citation:

Kurtzer, Gregory M.. (2016). Singularity 2.1.2 - Linux application and environment
containers for science. 10.5281/zenodo.60736


We have full documentation at, and welcome contributions to user docs and admin docs.


Path Synopsis
Package image provides underlying data types for Singularity image formats.
Package image provides underlying data types for Singularity image formats.
Package libexec maintains a set of functions for acting on a configuration.
Package libexec maintains a set of functions for acting on a configuration.
Package sylog implements a basic logger for Singularity Go code to log messages in the same format as singularity_message() from C code
Package sylog implements a basic logger for Singularity Go code to log messages in the same format as singularity_message() from C code
Package sypgp implements the openpgp integration into the singularity project.
Package sypgp implements the openpgp integration into the singularity project.

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