Need help with dumb-init?
Click the “chat” button below for chat support from the developer who created it, or find similar developers for support.

About the developer

5.3K Stars 305 Forks MIT License 330 Commits 20 Opened issues


A minimal init system for Linux containers

Services available


Need anything else?

Contributors list


PyPI version

dumb-init is a simple process supervisor and init system designed to run as PID 1 inside minimal container environments (such as Docker). It is deployed as a small, statically-linked binary written in C.

Lightweight containers have popularized the idea of running a single process or service without normal init systems like systemd or sysvinit. However, omitting an init system often leads to incorrect handling of processes and signals, and can result in problems such as containers which can't be gracefully stopped, or leaking containers which should have been destroyed.

enables you to simply prefix your command with
. It acts as PID 1 and immediately spawns your command as a child process, taking care to properly handle and forward signals as they are received.

Why you need an init system

Normally, when you launch a Docker container, the process you're executing becomes PID 1, giving it the quirks and responsibilities that come with being the init system for the container.

There are two common issues this presents:

  1. In most cases, signals won't be handled properly.

The Linux kernel applies special signal handling to processes which run as PID 1.

When processes are sent a signal on a normal Linux system, the kernel will first check for any custom handlers the process has registered for that signal, and otherwise fall back to default behavior (for example, killing the process on


However, if the process receiving the signal is PID 1, it gets special treatment by the kernel; if it hasn't registered a handler for the signal, the kernel won't fall back to default behavior, and nothing happens. In other words, if your process doesn't explicitly handle these signals, sending it

will have no effect at all.

A common example is CI jobs that do

docker run my-container script
: sending
to the
docker run
process will typically kill the
docker run
command, but leave the container running in the background.
  1. Orphaned zombie processes aren't properly reaped.

A process becomes a zombie when it exits, and remains a zombie until its parent calls some variation of the

system call on it. It remains in the process table as a "defunct" process. Typically, a parent process will call
immediately and avoid long-living zombies.

If a parent exits before its child, the child is "orphaned", and is re-parented under PID 1. The init system is thus responsible for

-ing on orphaned zombie processes.

Of course, most processes won't

on random processes that happen to become attached to them, so containers often end with dozens of zombies rooted at PID 1.


runs as PID 1, acting like a simple init system. It launches a single process and then proxies all received signals to a session rooted at that child process.

Since your actual process is no longer PID 1, when it receives signals from

, the default signal handlers will be applied, and your process will behave as you would expect. If your process dies,
will also die, taking care to clean up any other processes that might still remain.

Session behavior

In its default mode,

establishes a session rooted at the child, and sends signals to the entire process group. This is useful if you have a poorly-behaving child (such as a shell script) which won't normally signal its children before dying.

This can actually be useful outside of Docker containers in regular process supervisors like daemontools or supervisord for supervising shell scripts. Normally, a signal like

received by a shell isn't forwarded to subprocesses; instead, only the shell process dies. With dumb-init, you can just write shell scripts with dumb-init in the shebang:
#!/usr/bin/dumb-init /bin/sh
my-web-server &  # launch a process in the background
my-other-server  # launch another process in the foreground

Ordinarily, a

sent to the shell would kill the shell but leave those processes running (both the background and foreground!). With dumb-init, your subprocesses will receive the same signals your shell does.

If you'd like for signals to only be sent to the direct child, you can run with the

argument, or set the environment variable
when running
. In this mode, dumb-init is completely transparent; you can even string multiple together (like
dumb-init echo 'oh, hi'

Signal rewriting

dumb-init allows rewriting incoming signals before proxying them. This is useful in cases where you have a Docker supervisor (like Mesos or Kubernetes) which always sends a standard signal (e.g. SIGTERM). Some apps require a different stop signal in order to do graceful cleanup.

For example, to rewrite the signal SIGTERM (number 15) to SIGQUIT (number 3), just add

--rewrite 15:3
on the command line.

To drop a signal entirely, you can rewrite it to the special number


Signal rewriting special case

When running in setsid mode, it is not sufficient to forward

in most cases, since if the process has not added a custom signal handler for these signals, then the kernel will not apply default signal handling behavior (which would be suspending the process) since it is a member of an orphaned process group. For this reason, we set default rewrites to
from those three signals. You can opt out of this behavior by rewriting the signals back to their original values, if desired.

One caveat with this feature: for job control signals (

), dumb-init will always suspend itself after receiving the signal, even if you rewrite it to something else.

Installing inside Docker containers

You have a few options for using


Option 1: Installing from your distro's package repositories (Debian, Ubuntu, etc.)

Many popular Linux distributions (including Debian (since

) and Debian derivatives such as Ubuntu (since
)) now contain dumb-init packages in their official repositories.

On Debian-based distributions, you can run

apt install dumb-init
to install dumb-init, just like you'd install any other package.

Note: Most distro-provided versions of dumb-init are not statically-linked, unlike the versions we provide (see the other options below). This is normally perfectly fine, but means that these versions of dumb-init generally won't work when copied to other Linux distros, unlike the statically-linked versions we provide.

Option 2: Installing via an internal apt server (Debian/Ubuntu)

If you have an internal apt server, uploading the

to your server is the recommended way to use
. In your Dockerfiles, you can simply
apt install dumb-init
and it will be available.

Debian packages are available from the GitHub Releases tab, or you can run

make builddeb

Option 3: Installing the
package manually (Debian/Ubuntu)

If you don't have an internal apt server, you can use

dpkg -i
to install the
package. You can choose how you get the
onto your container (mounting a directory or
-ing it are some options).

One possibility is with the following commands in your Dockerfile:

RUN wget
RUN dpkg -i dumb-init_*.deb

Option 4: Downloading the binary directly

Since dumb-init is released as a statically-linked binary, you can usually just plop it into your images. Here's an example of doing that in a Dockerfile:

RUN wget -O /usr/local/bin/dumb-init
RUN chmod +x /usr/local/bin/dumb-init

Option 5: Installing from PyPI


is written entirely in C, we also provide a Python package which compiles and installs the binary. It can be installed from PyPI using
. You'll want to first install a C compiler (on Debian/Ubuntu,
apt-get install gcc
is sufficient), then just
pip install dumb-init

As of 1.2.0, the package at PyPI is available as a pre-built wheel archive and does not need to be compiled on common Linux distributions.


Once installed inside your Docker container, simply prefix your commands with

(and make sure that you're using the recommended JSON syntax).

Within a Dockerfile, it's a good practice to use dumb-init as your container's entrypoint. An "entrypoint" is a partial command that gets prepended to your

instruction, making it a great fit for dumb-init:
# Runs "/usr/bin/dumb-init -- /my/script --with --args"
ENTRYPOINT ["/usr/bin/dumb-init", "--"]

or if you use --rewrite or other cli flags

ENTRYPOINT ["dumb-init", "--rewrite", "2:3", "--"]

CMD ["/my/script", "--with", "--args"]

If you declare an entrypoint in a base image, any images that descend from it don't need to also declare dumb-init. They can just set a

as usual.

For interactive one-off usage, you can just prepend it manually:

$ docker run my_container dumb-init python -c 'while True: pass'

Running this same command without

would result in being unable to stop the container without
, but with
, you can send it more humane signals like

It's important that you use the JSON syntax for

. Otherwise, Docker invokes a shell to run your command, resulting in the shell as PID 1 instead of dumb-init.

Using a shell for pre-start hooks

Often containers want to do some pre-start work which can't be done during build time. For example, you might want to template out some config files based on environment variables.

The best way to integrate that with dumb-init is like this:

ENTRYPOINT ["/usr/bin/dumb-init", "--"]
CMD ["bash", "-c", "do-some-pre-start-thing && exec my-server"]

By still using dumb-init as the entrypoint, you always have a proper init system in place.


portion of the bash command is important because it replaces the bash process with your server, so that the shell only exists momentarily at start.

Building dumb-init

Building the dumb-init binary requires a working compiler and libc headers and defaults to glibc.

$ make

Building with musl

Statically compiled dumb-init is over 700KB due to glibc, but musl is now an option. On Debian/Ubuntu

apt-get install musl-tools
to install the source and wrappers, then just:
$ CC=musl-gcc make

When statically compiled with musl the binary size is around 20KB.

Building the Debian package

We use the standard Debian conventions for specifying build dependencies (look in

). An easy way to get started is to
apt-get install
build-essential devscripts equivs
, and then
sudo mk-build-deps -i --remove
to install all of the missing build dependencies automatically. You can then use
make builddeb
to build dumb-init Debian packages.

If you prefer an automated Debian package build using Docker, just run

. This is easier, but requires you to have Docker running on your machine.

See also

We use cookies. If you continue to browse the site, you agree to the use of cookies. For more information on our use of cookies please see our Privacy Policy.