Top 12 Most Useful Container Tools Besides Docker for 2024

Docker is the most popular tool for developers to work with containers. It makes it easy to create, run, and share containers that package software into isolated environments with their own file system. In this blog, we’ll explore 12 alternatives to Docker that give you more choices for building and deploying containers – including some of the best docker containers tools and docker desktop alternatives.

Should You Use Docker In 2024?

In 2024, you have options besides Docker for working with containers. Using an alternative tool can help address Docker’s limitations, better suit specific situations, and ensure consistency in how you manage containers across different environments.

For example, you might want to avoid running the Docker service on your systems or prefer to use the same container technology in development and production. Some of these docker alternatives are full-fledged Docker competitors that can replace it entirely.

Can You Use Containers Without Docker?

Docker popularized containers, and for many, it’s synonymous with the term “container.” But nowadays, Docker is just one tool in the container space.

The Open Container Initiative (OCI) has standardized container fundamentals. 

OCI-compatible tools—including Docker—follow agreed specifications that define how container images and runtimes should work. This means that Docker-created images can be used with any other OCI system and vice versa.

Hence, you no longer need Docker to work with containers. If you choose an alternative platform, you’re still able to use existing container content, including images from popular registries like Docker Hub. We’ll note which tools are OCI-compatible in the list of Docker alternatives below.

Other Container Tools Besides Docker – Including Docker Desktop Alternatives

Ready to explore your choices for working with containers? Here are 12 tools you can use, though there are many more options out there. We’ve picked tools that can be used for various common needs and have different capabilities.

  1. Podman

Podman is an open-source tool for working with containers and images. It follows the OCI standards and can be used as one of the docker alternatives instead of Docker. It works on Windows, macOS, and Linux. Unlike Docker, Podman doesn’t use a background process running on your systems. This can make it faster and more secure.

Podman’s commands are similar to Docker’s – you just replace ‘docker’ with ‘podman’ like ‘podman ps’ and ‘podman run’ instead of ‘docker ps’ and ‘docker run’. Podman also has a graphical desktop app called Podman Desktop, which is an open-source Docker desktop alternative. It makes managing your containers easier without having to learn complex commands.

  1. containerd and nerdctl

containerd is a container runtime that follows the OCI standards. It is maintained by the CNCF (Cloud Native Computing Foundation). Docker actually uses containerd as its default runtime, along with other technologies like Kubernetes. If you don’t want to use Docker, you can install containerd by itself as the runtime. The Nerdctl command-line tool can then be used to interact with containerd so you can build and run containers.

Nerdctl is designed to work just like Docker’s commands. You can use Docker commands by simply replacing ‘docker’ with ‘nerdctl’ – for example, ‘nerdctl build’ instead of ‘docker build’. Nerdctl also supports Docker Compose commands, making it one of the docker alternatives for Docker Compose workflows.

Setting up containerd and nerdctl is a bit more complicated than just using Docker. However, this approach gives you more control over your container setup: you can easily replace the containerd runtime or nerdctl tool in the future if needed. It also allows you to access new containerd features that haven’t been added to Docker yet.

  1. LXC

Linux Containers (LXC) is a way to create containers at the operating system level, built into Linux. These sit in between full virtual machines and the lightweight application containers provided by tools like Docker that follow the OCI standards.

LXC containers include a full operating system inside the container. Within an LXC container, you can install any software you need. Once created, an LXC container persists on your machine for as long as you need it, similar to a traditional virtual machine. 

In contrast, application containerization tools like Docker focus on running a single process within a short-lived environment. These containers have one task, exist temporarily, and exit once their job is done. This works well for many modern development and cloud deployment tasks but can be limiting for more complex software. 

You might want to use LXC instead of Docker if you need to run multiple applications in your containers, require greater access to the container’s operating system, or prefer to manage containers like virtual machines. LXC doesn’t directly support OCI containers, but it is possible to create an LXC container from an OCI image using a specialized template.  

  1. runc

runc is a lightweight container runtime that follows the OCI standards. It includes a command-line tool for starting new containers on your systems. Its focus is on providing just the basics needed to create containers.

runc is most commonly included as a low-level part of the other container technologies. For example, containerd – a highly-level tool that manages the full lifecycle of containers – uses runc to actually create the container environments, However, you can also use runc directly to start containers via your own scripts and tools. It allows you to build your own custom container setup without having to interact with the low-level Linux features that enable containerization (like cgroups, chroots, and namespaces).

  1. Rancher Desktop

Rancher Desktop is an open-source application for working with containers on your desktop or laptop. It’s designed for developers, similar to Docker desktop, but it’s completely free and open-source.

Rancher Desktop includes a set of tools from across the container ecosystem. This includes the Docker daemon (though you can use containerd directly instead), support for Kubernetes clusters, and command-line tools like nerdctl and kubectl.

As an all-in-one solution, Rancher Desktop is a great choice for managing the full container lifecycle on developer machines. It makes interacting with containers easier through its user interfaces and dashboards. It’s also simple to switch between different Kubernetes versions, which can help you test upgrades before moving to production environments. 

  1. Kubernetes

Kubernetes (often shortened to K8s) is the most popular tool for managing and running containers at scale. It automates deploying, managing, and scaling container workloads across multiple physical machines, including automatic high availability and fault tolerance.

As a tool that follows the OCI standards, Kubernetes can deploy container images built using other tools, such as those created locally with Docker. K8s environments are called clusters – a collection of physical machines (“nodes”) – and are managed using the kubectl command-line tool.

Kubernetes is ideal for running containers in production environments that need strong reliability and scalability. Many teams also use K8s locally during development to ensure consistency between their dev and production environments. You can get managed Kubernetes clusters from major cloud providers or use tools like Minikube, MicroK8s, and K3s to quickly set up your own cluster on your machine.

  1. Red Hat OpenShift

Red Hat OpenShift is a cloud application development and deployment platform. 

Within OpenShift, the Container Platform part is designed for running containerized systems using a managed Kubernetes environment.

OpenShift is a commercial solution that provides Containers-as-a-Service (CaaS). It’s often used by large organizations where many teams deploy various workloads, without needing to understand the low-level details about containers and Kubernetes.

The platform provides a foundational experience for operating containers in production environments. It includes automated features like upgrades and central policy management. This allows you to maintain reliability, security, and governance for your containers with minimal manual effort.

  1. Hyper-V Containers

Windows containers are a technology in Windows Server for packaging and running Windows and Linux containers on Windows systems. You can use Windows containers with Docker and other tools on Windows, but you cannot run a Windows container on a Linux machine. 

You’ll need to use Windows containers when you are containerizing a Windows application. Microsoft provides base images that include Windows, Windows Server, and .Net Core operating systems and APIs for your app to use. 

You can choose to use Hyper-V Containers as an operating mode for Windows containers. This provides stronger isolation by running each container within its own Hyper-V virtual machine. Each Hyper-V VM uses its own copy of the Windows kernel for hardware-level separation. 

Hyper-V containers require a Windows host with Hyper-V enabled. Using Hyper-V isolated containers provides enhanced security and improved performance tuning for your Windows workloads, compared to regular process-isolated containers created by default container tools. For example, you can dedicate memory to your Hyper-V VMs, allowing precise distribution of resources between your host and containers. 

  1. Buildah

Buildah is a tool specifically for building container images that follow the OCI standards. It doesn’t have any features for actually running containers. 

Buildah is a good lightweight option for creating and managing images. It’s easy to use within your own tools because it doesn’t require a background process and has a simple command-line interface. You can also use Buildah to directly work with OCI images, like adding extra content or running additional commands on them. 

You can build images using an existing Dockerfile or by running Buildah commands. Buildah also lets you access the file systems created during the build process on your local machine, so you can easily inspect the contents of the built image. 

  1. OrbStack

OrbStack is an alternative to Docker Desktop, but only for macOS. It’s designed to be faster and more lightweight than Docker’s solution.

OrbStack is a good choice as a Docker alternative for macOS users who work with containers regularly. Because it’s built specifically for macOS, it integrates well with the operating systems and fully supports all container features—including volume mounts, networking, and x86 Rosetta emulation. 

OrbStack also supports Docker Compose and Kubernetes, so it can replicate all Docker Desktop workflows. It has a full command-line interface along with the desktop app, plus features like file sharing and remote SSH development. OrbStack is a commercial proprietary product, but it’s free for personal use.

  1. Virtual Machines

Sometimes, containers may not be the best solution for your needs. Traditional virtual machines, created using tools like KVM, VMware Workstation, or VirtualBox, can be more suitable when you require strong security, isolation at the hardware level, and persistent environments that can be moved between physical hosts without any modification or reconfiguration.

Virtualization also allows you to run multiple operating systems on a single physical host. If you’re using Linux servers but need to deploy an application that only runs on Windows, containerization won’t work since Windows containers cannot run on Linux. In such cases, setting up a virtual machine allows you to continue utilizing your existing hardware.

  1. Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) Services

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) services like Heroku, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, and Google App Engine offer an alternative for deploying and running containers in the cloud with a hands-off approach. These services can automatically convert your source code into a container, providing a fully managed environment that allows you to focus solely on development.

Using a PaaS service removes the complexity of having to set up and maintain Docker or another container solution before you can deploy your applications. This helps you innovate faster without the overhead of configuring your own infrastructure. It also makes deployments more approachable for engineers of different backgrounds, even those without container expertise.

However, PaaS services can be difficult to customize, and they can create a risk of being locked into a particular vendor’s service. While a PaaS service helps you get started quickly, it may become limiting as your application develops unique operational requirements. It can also lead to differences between how applications are developed locally (possibly still requiring Docker) and how they’re run in production.


The world of containers has many choices and is always growing. Docker is still a popular way to build and run containers, but it’s not the only option, as we saw from the list of docker alternatives.

The solution you pick depends on what you need and which features are most important to you. If you want an open-source replacement for Docker that works the same way, then Podman could be a good choice from the best docker containers tools. But if you’re getting too big for Docker and want an easier way to operate containers in production, then Kubernetes or a cloud platform service will likely give you more flexibility for automating and scaling deployments as docker alternatives.

No matter which container tool you use, some best practices apply. You need to properly set up your container build files (like Dockerfiles) so the builds are fast, reliable, and secure. You also need to scan your live containers for vulnerabilities, access control issues, and other problems. Following these practices lets you use the flexibility of containers while staying protected from threats.