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User namespaces

  • The user namespaces allow a process inside a namespace to have a different user and group ID than that in the default namespace.
  • In the context of LXC, this allows for a process to run as root inside the container, while having a non-privileged ID outside. This adds a thin layer of security, because braking out for the container will result in a non-privileged user. This is possible because of kernel 3.8, which introduced the ability for non-privileged processes to create user namespaces.

  • To create a new user namespace as a non-privileged user and have root inside, we can use the unshare utility. Let’s install the latest version from source:
root@ubuntu:~# cd /usr/src/
root@ubuntu:/usr/src# wget
root@ubuntu:/usr/src# tar zxfv util-linux-2.28.tar.gz
root@ubuntu:/usr/src# cd util-linux-2.28/
root@ubuntu:/usr/src/util-linux-2.28# ./configure
root@ubuntu:/usr/src/util-linux-2.28# make && make install
root@ubuntu:/usr/src/util-linux-2.28# unshare --map-root-user --user sh -c whoami

We can also use the clone() system call with the CLONE_NEWUSER flag to create a process in a user namespace, as demonstrated by the following program:

#define _GNU_SOURCE 
#include <stdlib.h> 
#include <stdio.h> 
#include <signal.h> 
#include <sched.h> 
static int childFunc(void *arg) 
    printf("UID inside the namespace is %ld\n", (long) 
    printf("GID inside the namespace is %ld\n", (long) 
static char child_stack[1024*1024]; 
int main(int argc, char *argv[]) 
    pid_t child_pid; 
    child_pid = clone(childFunc, child_stack +  
    printf("UID outside the namespace is %ld\n", (long)       
    printf("GID outside the namespace is %ld\n", (long)      
    waitpid(child_pid, NULL, 0); 

After compilation and execution, the output looks similar to this when run as root - UID of 0:

root@server:~# gcc user_namespace.c -o user_namespace
root@server:~# ./user_namespace
UID outside the namespace is 0
GID outside the namespace is 0
UID inside the namespace is 65534
GID inside the namespace is 65534