Using Containerlab with netlab

Containerlab is a Linux-based container orchestration system focused on creating virtual network topologies. To use it:

Container Images

Lab topology file created by netlab up or netlab create command uses these container images (use netlab show images to display the actual system settings):

Virtual network device Container image
Arista cEOS ceos:4.26.4M
Cumulus VX networkop/cx:4.4.0
Cumulus VX with NVUE networkop/cx:5.0.1
FRR frrouting/frr:v8.3.1
Nokia SR Linux
Nokia SR OS vrnetlab/vr-sros:latest

You can also use vrnetlab to build VM-in-container images for Cisco CSR 1000v, Nexus 9300v and IOS XR, OpenWRT, Mikrotik RouterOS, Arista vEOS, Juniper vMX and vQFX, and a few other devices.

LAN Bridges

For multi-access network topologies, netlab up command automatically creates additional standard Linux bridges.

You might want to use Open vSwitch bridges instead of standard Linux bridges (OVS interferes less with layer-2 protocols). After installing OVS, set defaults.providers.clab.bridge_type to ovs-bridge, for example:

defaults.device: cumulus

provider: clab
defaults.providers.clab.bridge_type: ovs-bridge

module: [ ospf ]
nodes: [ s1, s2, s3 ]
links: [ s1-s2, s2-s3 ]

Container Runtime Support

Containerlab supports multiple container runtimes besides the default docker. The runtime to use can be configured globally or per node, for example:

provider: clab
defaults.providers.clab.runtime: podman
    clab.runtime: ignite

Using File Binds

You can use clab.binds to map container paths to host file system paths. Host file paths (dictionary keys) in clab.binds might contain dots which would trigger the expansion of keys-with-dots into hierarchical dictionary. To prevent that, all host file paths should have at least one ‘/’ character, for example:

- name: gnmic
  device: linux
      './gnmic.yaml': '/app/gnmic.yaml:ro'
      '/var/run/docker.sock': '/var/run/docker.sock'

Generating and Binding Custom Configuration Files

In addition to binding pre-existing files, netlab can also generate custom config files on the fly based on Jinja2 templates. For example, this is used internally to create the list of daemons for the frr container image:

  image: frrouting/frr:v8.3.1
  mtu: 1500
    kind: linux
      daemons: /etc/frr/daemons

netlab tries to locate the templates in the current directory, in a subdirectory with the name of the device, and within system directory templates/provider/clab/<device>. .j2 suffix is always appended to the template name.

For example, the daemons template used in the above example could be ./daemons.j2, ./frr/daemons.j2 or <netsim_moddir>/templates/provider/clab/frr/daemons.j2; the result gets mapped to /etc/frr/daemons within the container file system.

You can use the clab.config_templates node attribute to add your own container configuration files1, for example:

provider: clab

    device: linux
        some_daemon: /etc/

Faced with the above lab topology, netlab creates clab_files/t1/some_daemon from some_daemon.j2 (the template could be either in current directory or linux subdirectory) and maps it to /etc/ within the container file system.

Using Other Containerlab Node Parameters

Default netlab settings support these additional containerlab parameters:

  • clab.type to set node type (used by Nokia SR OS and Nokia SR Linux)

  • clab.env to set container environment (used by Arista EOS to set Ethernet interface names)

  • clab.ports to map container ports to host ports

  • clab.cmd to execute a command in a container.

String values (for example command to execute specified in clab.cmd) are put into single quotes when written into clab.yml containerlab configuration file – make sure you’re not using single quotes in your command line.

To add other containerlab attributes to the clab.yml configuration file, modify defaults.providers.clab.node_config_attributes settings, for example:

provider: clab
defaults.providers.clab.node_config_attributes: [ ports, env, user ]

Containerlab Management Network

containerlab creates a dedicated Docker network to connect the container management interfaces to the host TCP/IP stack. You can change the parameters of the management network in the addressing.mgmt pool:

  • ipv4: The IPv4 prefix used for the management network (default:

  • _network: The Docker network name (default: netlab_mgmt)

  • _bridge: The name of the underlying Linux bridge (default: unspecified, created by Docker)

Deploying Linux Containers

The initial configuration process (netlab initial) does not rely on commands executed within Linux containers:

  • The /etc/hosts file is generated during the netlab create process from the templates/provider/clab/frr/hosts.j2 template (see Generating and Binding Custom Configuration Files).

  • Interface IP addresses and static routes to in-lab default gateway are configured with ip commands executed on the Linux host but within the container network namespace.

  • Static default route points to the management interface.

You can therefore use any container image as a Linux node.


As the global provider parameters aren’t copied into node parameters, use groups to specify the same set of configuration templates for multiple devices.