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Docker Artifact

Use docker image labels to identify which image layer contains a particular file, enabling retrieving just that file (well, the layer the file is in) from the image without needing to download the whole image.



Requires Docker 19.03 or newer and the jq and curl programs to be installed on your PATH.


Download docker-artifact.sh file from this repository and install it at ~/.docker/cli-plugins/docker-artifact (note the lack of .sh suffix) with execute permissions. Validate correct installation by observing the artifact command listed in docker help.


Run the following command in your shell:

mkdir -p ~/.docker/cli-plugins && \
  curl https://raw.githubusercontent.com/infogulch/docker-artifact/master/docker-artifact.sh > ~/.docker/cli-plugins/docker-artifact && \
  chmod +x ~/.docker/cli-plugins/docker-artifact && \
  docker help | grep artifact > /dev/null && echo "Docker artifact install succeeded!" || echo "Docker artifact install failed :("


docker artifact subcommands

  • label

    Usage: docker artifact label [options] image_name file_paths...

    Adds a new layer to the end of the existing local image image_name with labels indicating in which layer each file from file_paths can be found. This enables the download subcommand to pull just the layer that contains the desired file without downloading the whole image.

    Don't forget to push the image after docker artifact label completes!

    Note: The download subcommand must download the whole layer; to optimize for artifact download size, add files that will be labeled to the image in a separate layer from other files.

  • download

    Usage: docker artifact download [options] image_name file_paths...

    Queries the remote docker repository api to find labels that indicate which layer to find each file in file_paths, then downloads just those layers and extracts file_paths from them into the current directory.


  • -v Prints a verbose description of each operation as the script performs them.

Example (TODO)

See the example/ directory for a complete working example, summarized below:

> printf 'FROM busybox \n RUN mkdir app && echo "Hello World!" > /app/testfile.txt' | docker build -t infogulch/artifact-test -
 => [internal] load build definition from Dockerfile
 => => writing image sha256:bc8ff9e88a0908f50f3c39b640a2f5a39f6cb5b7bce60510673d5da4f3e6e704
 => => naming to docker.io/infogulch/artifact-test
> docker artifact label infogulch/artifact-test /app/testfile.txt
 ** Rebuilt image 'infogulch/artifact-test' to add 1 labels
 ** Run 'docker push infogulch/artifact-test' to push it to your container repository
> docker push infogulch/test-image
> docker artifact download infogulch/test-image /app/testfile.txt
Downloaded and extracted '/app/testfile.txt' to the current directory
> cat testfile.txt
Hello World!

See also

Related to timwillfixit's original docker-artifact in spirit, though not in history. Some differences:

  • This uses a more precice strategy to find files. Specifically, it searches through layer tars for actual files, where the predecessor only searches through the layer commands for strings that happen to match the specified file names.
  • This requires specifying full file paths both to add labels and download. This prevents indadvertently labeling or downloading the wrong file that happens to have the same name.
  • This doesn't need to rebuild the docker image from its original Dockerfile & directory context. This means you can add file labels to an existing image built on another machine, and you don't need to recreate the exact docker build arugments such as --build-arg, --secret, or --target.
  • ???: This doesn't require third-party cli programs such as ecr or az to connect to cloud-hosted private repositories, it uses docker login credentials just like docker pull would.
  • ???: This correctly handles internal .wh.* "whiteout files" that indicates when a file is deleted. This helps ensure that the file you download is actually present in the final image and wasn't deleted in some later layer. (Note: this is an anti-footgun, of course a malicious actor can still add any label to their image that they want.)