Update 2014-10-11: I’ve updated the post for new versions of Docker packaged with Debian, and I’ve included steps to get it running on 32-bit hosts as well.

I want to get Docker running on my netbook. From the research I’ve done, it appears that running Docker on 32-bit systems is officially unsupported.

Who doesn’t draw outside the lines once and awhile?

First up, get the Debian “Testing” repository (codename: “Jessie”) configured and update your package list. You’ll also need to pin the repository so that there aren’t any accidental upgrades of unrelated packages.

$ cat > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/debian-testing
deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian testing main
deb-src http://ftp.debian.org/debian testing main
$ cat > /etc/apt/preferences.d/debian-testing
Package: *
Pin: release a=testing
Pin-Priority: -100

Next, install the docker.io package from the new repository. If there are any broken or missing dependencies (ie: libdevmapper1.02.1) then prepend them to the package list as well:

$ sudo apt-get install libdevmapper1.02.1/testing docker.io/testing

To be able to operate Docker without superuser privileges, I needed to be a member of the docker group. You’ll need to log back in for the changes to take effect.

$ sudo gpasswd -a administrator docker
Adding user administrator to group docker.

I use LVM on my netbook; I’ve allocated roughly 90% of the available disk space to /home. However, Docker will need significant amounts of disk space to store images and it stores them to the root partition where there isn’t much disk space available. To solve this problem, I set up a bind mount from /home/docker to /var/lib/docker and added it to /etc/fstab so it will be mounted on boot.

$ sudo service docker stop
$ sudo mkdir /home/docker
$ sudo rm -rf /var/lib/docker/*
$ echo "/home/docker /var/lib/docker none bind 0 0" | sudo tee -a /etc/fstab
$ sudo mount /home/docker

Docker’s official build disables the AUFS storage driver but it still appears to be the default with Debian. I’d like to use the “device-mapper” storage driver instead; I’ve added -s devicemapper to the DOCKER_OPTS variable in /etc/default/docker.

Now we can start Docker:

$ service docker start

However, there’s one problem remaining: Docker doesn’t support 32-bit hosts.

When you try to pull an image from the Docker registry and run it, you’ll encounter a cryptic error message: exec format error. You’ll see this error message when the operating system doesn’t understand the kind of executable you’re asking it to run.

This occurs because the images published to the registry are for 64-bit hosts only, and because we’re running a 32-bit host, the operating system doesn’t know how to run the 64-bit executable.

Thankfully, we can solve this problem by building our own base image instead:

$ sudo debootstrap wheezy /tmp/rootfs/
$ cat > /tmp/rootfs/etc/apt/sources.list
deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian stable main
deb http://security.debian.org/ stable/updates main
deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ stable-updates main
$ sudo tar -czf /tmp/rootfs.tgz -C /tmp/rootfs/ .
$ cat /tmp/rootfs.tgz | docker import - debian32

Now we have our own 32-bit Debian image and Docker can use it:

$ docker images
debian32        latest  65b5e2e55c7f    31 seconds ago  223.5 MB
$ docker run -i -t debian32 /bin/bash

We’re done.