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Run Visual Studio Code inside Ubuntu or Debian Distrobox containers

02 Jun 2022

Distrobox is a toolbox (similar to Fedora’s toolbx) for creating containerized Linux development environments. It is built around Podman (or Docker), and can run any “Dockerized” distro, on top of any systemd-based host distribution.

Because Distrobox transparently integrates with host’s desktop environment, it can also be used for running graphical applications. (Distrobox containers are not well sandboxed yet, although you can configure them to at least use a separate HOME directory.) There is documentation on running VSCode inside an Arch Linux container. What if you need (or prefer) to use it on Debian-based containers?

You can create a new Ubuntu container with:

$ distrobox create --image ubuntu:latest --name ubuntu-latest --home "$HOME/ubuntu-latest" 
Distrobox 'ubuntu-latest' successfully created.
To enter, run:

distrobox-enter ubuntu-latest

$ distrobox enter ubuntu-latest
Container ubuntu-latest is not running.
Starting container ubuntu-latest
run this command to follow along:

 podman logs -f ubuntu-latest

 Starting container...                  	 [ OK ]

Container Setup Complete!

In theory, to install VSCode, all you need to do is follow their official instructions:

$ sudo apt-get install wget gpg
$ wget -qO- https://packages.microsoft.com/keys/microsoft.asc | gpg --dearmor > packages.microsoft.gpg
$ sudo install -o root -g root -m 644 packages.microsoft.gpg /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d/
$ sudo sh -c 'echo "deb [arch=amd64,arm64,armhf signed-by=/etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d/packages.microsoft.gpg] https://packages.microsoft.com/repos/code stable main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/vscode.list'
$ rm -f packages.microsoft.gpg
$ sudo apt update && sudo apt install code

In practice, when executing the code command from within the container, nothing happens. It is easy to put blame on Podman or Distrobox, e.g. for not setting up the Apparmor/SELinux policies correctly, or limiting the application in some other way. Turns out there’s a small issue with Microsoft’s VSCode deb packaging, where they don’t specify all of the package’s actual dependencies. It works completely fine on regular desktop system installations, because the missing packages are usually already installed.


To fix the issue, you need to additionally run:

$ sudo apt install libasound2 libxshmfence1 libx11-xcb1

That’s it! Now you can start up VScode using the code command, or create a shortcut in your host’s desktop environment with distrobox-export --app code.