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VM-based routers integration#

Containerlab focuses on containers, but many routing products ship only in virtual machine packaging. Leaving containerlab users without the ability to create topologies with both containerized and VM-based routing systems would have been a shame.

Keeping this requirement in mind from the very beginning, we added bridge/ovs-bridge kind that allows bridging your containerized topology with other resources available via a bridged network. For example, a VM based router:

With this approach, you could bridge VM-based routing systems by attaching interfaces to the bridge you define in your topology. However, it doesn't allow users to define the VM-based nodes in the same topology file. With vrnetlab integration, containerlab is now capable of launching topologies with VM-based routers defined in the same topology file.


Vrnetlab packages a regular VM inside a container and makes it runnable as if it was a container image.

To make this work, vrnetlab provides a set of scripts that build the container image out of a user-provided VM disk. This integration enables containerlab to build topologies that consist both of native containerized NOSes and VMs:


Ensure that the VM that containerlab runs on has Nested virtualization enabled to support vrnetlab-based containers.

Compatibility matrix#

To make vrnetlab images to work with container-based networking in containerlab, we needed to fork vrnetlab project and implement the necessary improvements. VM-based routers that you intend to run with containerlab should be built with hellt/vrnetlab project, and not with the upstream vrnetlab/vrnetlab.

Containerlab depends on hellt/vrnetlab project, and sometimes features added in containerlab must be implemented in vrnetlab (and vice-versa). This leads to a cross-dependency between these projects.

The following table provides a link between the version combinations:

containerlab3 vrnetlab4 Notes
0.10.4 0.1.0-cl Initial release. Images: sros, vmx, xrv, xrv9k
0.11.0 0.2.0 added vr-veos, support for boot-delay, SR OS will have a static route to docker network, improved XRv startup chances
-- 0.2.1 added timeout for SR OS images to allow eth interfaces to appear in the container namespace. Other images are not touched.
-- 0.2.2 fixed serial (telnet) access to SR OS nodes
-- 0.2.3 set default cpu/ram for SR OS images
0.13.0 0.3.0 added support for Cisco CSR1000v via vr-csr and MikroTik routeros via vr-ros kind
-- 0.3.1 enhanced SR OS boot sequence
-- 0.4.0 fixed SR OS CPU allocation and added Palo Alto PAN support vr-pan
0.16.0 0.5.0 added support for Cisco Nexus 9000v via vr-n9kv kind, added support for non-continuous interfaces provisioning
0.19.0 0.6.0 added experimental support for Juniper vQFX via vr-vqfx kind, added support Dell FTOS via vr-ftosv
0.6.2 support for IPv6 management for SR OS; support for RouterOS v7+
0.7.0 startup-config support for vqfx and vmx
0.32.2 0.8.0 startup-config support for the rest of the kinds, support for multi line card SR OS
0.34.0 0.8.2 startup-config support for PANOS, ISA support for Nokia VSR-I and MGMT VRF for VMX
0.9.0 Support for IPInfusion OcNOS with vrnetlab
0.41.0 0.11.0 Added support for Juniper vSRX3.0 via vr-vsrx kind
0.45.0 0.12.0 Added support for Juniper vJunos-switch via vr-juniper_vjunosswitch kind

Building vrnetlab images#

To build a vrnetlab image compatible with containerlab, users first need to ensure that the versions of both projects follow compatibility matrix.

  1. Clone hellt/vrnetlab and checkout to a version compatible with containerlab release:
git clone && cd vrnetlab

# assuming we are running containerlab 0.11.0,
# the latest compatible vrnetlab version is 0.2.3
# at the moment of this writing
git checkout v0.2.3
  1. Enter the directory for the image of interest
cd sros
  1. Follow the build instructions from the file in the image directory

Supported VM products#

The images that work with containerlab will appear in the supported list as we implement the necessary integration.

Product Kind Demo lab Notes
Nokia SR OS vr-sros SRL & SR OS When building SR OS vrnetlab image for use with containerlab, do not provide the license during the image build process. The license shall be provided in the containerlab topology definition file1.
Juniper vMX vr-vmx SRL & vMX
Juniper vQFX vr-vqfx Coming soon
Juniper vSRX vr-vsrx Coming soon
Cisco XRv vr-xrv SRL & XRv
Cisco XRv9k vr-xrv9k SRL & XRv9k
Cisco CSR1000v vr-csr
Arista vEOS vr-veos
MikroTik RouterOS vr-ros
Palo Alto PAN vr-pan
Cisco Nexus 9000v vr-n9kv
Dell FTOS10v vr-ftosv

Connection modes#

Containerlab offers several ways of connecting VM-based routers with the rest of the docker workloads. By default, vrnetlab integrated routers will use tc backend2, which doesn't require any additional packages to be installed on the container host and supports transparent passage of LACP frames.

Any other datapaths?

Although tc based datapath should cover all the needed connectivity requirements, if other bridge-like datapaths are needed, Containerlab offers OpenvSwitch and Linux bridge modes.
Users can plug in those datapaths by specifying CONNECTION_MODE env variable:

# the env variable can also be set in the defaults section
name: myTopo

      kind: vr-sros
      image: vrnetlab/vr-sros:20.10.R1
        CONNECTION_MODE: bridge # use `ovs` for openvswitch datapath

Boot delay#

A simultaneous boot of many qemu nodes may stress the underlying system, which sometimes renders in a boot loop or system halt. If the container host doesn't have enough capacity to bear the simultaneous boot of many qemu nodes, it is still possible to successfully run them by scheduling their boot time.

Delaying the boot process of specific nodes by a user-defined time will allow nodes to boot successfully while "gradually" loading the system. The boot delay can be set with BOOT_DELAY environment variable that supported vr-xxxx kinds will recognize.

Consider the following example where the first SR OS nodes will boot immediately, whereas the second node will sleep for 30 seconds and then start the boot process:

name: bootdelay
      kind: vr-sros
      image: vr-sros:21.2.R1
      license: license-sros21.txt
      kind: vr-sros
      image: vr-sros:21.2.R1
      license: license-sros21.txt
        # boot delay in seconds
        BOOT_DELAY: 30

Memory optimization#

Typically a lab consists of a few types of VMs which are spawned and interconnected with each other. Consider a lab consisting of 5 interconnected routers; one router uses VM image X, and four routers use VM image Y.

Effectively we run just two types of VMs in that lab, and thus we can implement a memory deduplication technique that drastically reduces the memory footprint of a lab. In Linux, this can be achieved with technologies like UKSM/KSM. Refer to this article that explains the methodology and provides steps to get UKSM working on Ubuntu/Fedora systems.

  1. see this example lab with a license path provided in the topology definition file 

  2. pros and cons of different datapaths were examined here 

  3. to install a certain version of containerlab, use the instructions from installation doc. 

  4. to have a guaranteed compatibility checkout to the mentioned tag and build the images.