Using KeePassXC as a credential manager for sudoed Docker


As noted in the official documentation, having access to the Docker daemon amounts to having passwordless root access to all files on the system. That’s why, even on my development machine, I don’t put my personal account in the docker group. As such, I have to use sudo every time I need to interface with the Docker daemon.

However, this spawned a secondary problem when authenticating to remote docker registries. With a sudo-based setup where only root can talk to the Docker daemon, docker login will (by default) store credentials in /root/.docker/config.json in plain text. Docker dutifully emits a warning when it does that1, cautioning the user to configure a credential store instead. On my system, this turned out to be a bit more tricky than I expected.

Setting up KeePassXC as a credential store

Since I already use KeePassXC as my password manager of choice, I was of course very keen to figure out a way to get Docker to use that as its credential backend. Fortunately, KeePassXC integrates natively with the secrets API, also known as the “Secret Service” API. Essentially, this API defines a generic protocol for applications to talk to credential stores over a DBus session. This is the protocol used by the Gnome keyring, among other applications. Unfortunately, the KeePassXC user guide currently doesn’t contain any instructions on how to set up the secret service integration, but the process is quite straightforward:

  • First, check the “Enable KeePassXC Secret Service integration” box in Tools > Settings > Secret Service Integration. This enables the integration at the application level.

  • Then, with your favourite password database open, go into Database > Database Settings > Secret Service Integration and set up a folder to expose over the Secret Service API. You’ll probably want to use a new, empty folder for that.

  • After ensuring that there are no other keyring services running that interface with the Secret Service API, you should be all set. Perform a few tests using secret-tool (part of libsecret or libsecret-tools on most distros) with dummy credentials to make sure everything works as expected.

Here’s an example command that you can use to check if the connection works:

secret-tool store --label='Test test' account cred-test

If all is well, you should see a credential with label “Test test” pop up in your KeePassXC Secret Service folder after putting in a password.

Integration with Docker

That wasn’t too hard, was it? What’s even better is that the Docker team supplies a credential helper that implements the Secret Service protocol already. Once you put docker-credential-secretservice on the path, the configuration in $HOME/.docker/config.json to set it up is as simple as this:

  "credsStore": "secretservice"

However, if we want this to work when interacting with the Docker container as root, we’re not out of the woods yet. You’ll notice that the following invocation throws an error:

sudo secret-tool store --label='Test test' account cred-test

Similarly, running sudo docker login won’t work out of the box. This is because root doesn’t know how to talk to your user’s DBus session. However, there’s a trick that will allow us to get what we want.

First, check the value of the DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS environment variable for your user. On my system, that’s unix:path=/run/user/<user ID>/bus, which looks pretty stable across reboots. Then, assuming your username is myuser and your user ID is 1000, open up a text editor and write:


export DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS=unix:path=/run/user/1000/bus

sudo --preserve-env=DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS -n -u myuser \
    /usr/local/bin/docker-credential-secretservice "$@"

Obviously, change the path to docker-credential-secretservice to whatever you need it to be. Now save this file somewhere on the $PATH of the root user, with docker-credential-secretservice-sudo as the file name. Next, make sure root owns it, and set its permissions to 700.

Since this script will be invoked by root, it’s very important to ensure that no-one else has write access to it. Giving other users read or execute access is not necessarily problematic in itself, but since we don’t need to, I went with 700 as opposed to something like 755.

This little script does the following.

  • It sets the value of the DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS variable to your user’s DBus socket.
  • It then invokes the “real” docker-credential-secretservice binary with the arguments passed to the script, as your user through sudo, while preserving the DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS variable.

This assumes that root can impersonate anyone without a password, which is the default on all systems that I’m aware of.

Finally, change the credsStore setting in /root/.docker/config.json as follows.

  "credsStore": "secretservice-sudo"

This works because Docker looks for credential helpers by scanning the path for binaries named docker-credential-XYZ, where XYZ is the value of the credsStore setting.

Now you can use docker login over sudo, and push/pull containers to registries that require authentication without storing your credentials in plain text in root’s home folder!

While I only tested the scenario explained above, most of this explanation likely still applies if you’re interfacing with the Docker daemon using a third, non-root account (e.g. when using rootless docker, or a service account in the docker group). The only tricky part is that you will additionally need to set up sudo so that said service account can run docker-credential-secretservice as your user.

  1. Granted, it would’ve been better if Docker would warn the user before showing the credential prompt, but I suppose a late warning is better than no warning at all.↩︎