One of the well-known ways of sharing docker images is via a registry - be it the hosted ones like DockerHub or, or private registries setup within your organization.

Also, once a workstation has a set of images, pulling in new versions or similar images becomes a breeze.

But we wanted to share images between developer workstations, without having to push and pull from a registry.

Why no registry?

Recently, when we were switching to a docker based workflow, we found that pulling in the base set of images from our internal registry on AWS + S3 was taking a lot of time. Not to mention that it was also eating up our bandwidth. In order to make it easy and fast for new developers to get started with our project, we wanted to setup a local “store” of images that we can pull our images from. This store will also help us share new images quicker as well.

Instead of setting up a local registry in our office LAN, we decided to keep things simple and setup a simple workstation to pull in images via SSH. The docker save and docker load commands helped us beautifully here. We also piped from/to these command directly to/from the workstation, and avoided local files altogether.

docker save and docker load

First, some basics about docker save and docker load:

docker save allows use to save a image to a tar archive. It streams to STDOUT by default, or to a file specified by the -o, --output flag.

docker load sits in the other end, and takes in input from a file, specified by the -i, --input flag or STDIN.

Sync to/from external host via ssh

Once we had the workstation in our LAN (let’s say its IP is, syncing an image to it is as simple as:

docker save internal-registry/image | bzip2 | \
  pv | ssh "cat > ~/docker_images/image"

(this push can be done from a one workstation where the image was built, or pulled in from a registry)

We used bzip2 to compress the data, and the amazing pv tool to visualize the transfer.

Pulling in an image is not much different:

ssh "cat ~/docker_images/image" | pv | \
  bunzip2 | docker load

Sync between multiple docker machines

We use docker-machine on OS X for development. This strategy can also be used to share or backup images between different docker-machines. If there are two machines, say dev1 and dev2 running, we can sync an image between the two like below:

docker $(docker-machine config dev1) save image | \
  docker $(docker-machine config dev2) load

If a machine (say dev) is going to be recreated, we can save the image(s) and reload:

docker $(docker-machine config dev) save -o image.tar image
docker-machine rm dev
docker-machine create --provider virtualbox dev
docker $(docker-machine config dev) load -i image.tar

This should make using multiple docker-machines or recreating existing ones less of an hassle in terms of getting the base set of images.

This simple setup makes pulling in images much faster, and also saves bandwidth. Hope it is useful in your work environment too.