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Using Podman Compose

Brief Introduction to Podman Compose

Sometimes your settings for a container become more advanced. Sometimes you want to run multiple containers at once. These are tasks, where Podman Compose makes developing and using containerized applications easier.

Verify the Podman Compose installation

Podman Compose is not part of the Podman Desktop installation.

To install Podman Compose, please follow the installation guide.

The recommended way for Ubuntu Linux is

pip install -U podman-compose

To verify your installation via pip, use the following command:

podman-compose version
podman compose version: 1.0.6
['podman', '--version', '']
using podman version: 3.4.2
podman compose version 1.0.6
podman --version
podman version 3.4.2
exit code: 0

What is Podman Compose?

From the official wiki:

Compose is a tool for defining and running multi-container [...] applications. With Compose, you use a YAML file to configure your application’s services. Then, with a single command, you create and start all the services from your configuration.

Additionally, it is a good way to store container configurations (in a file).

Why do we need Podman Compose?

More advanced Podman configurations might be unwieldy to use with only Podman. You may have multiple Dockerfiles for your multi-container application or complicated setups in general. This is where Podman Compose can help you tremendously. There will be a single YAML file that describes your setup and with a simple call of Podman Compose you are able to spin up your whole application with ease.

A complex Podman call like this

podman run -d \
       --name=statping \
       -p 8080:8080 \
       --restart unless-stopped \

becomes this

podman-compose up -d

As already mentioned above, we need to write our configuration to a YAML file called docker-compose.yml to make this possible. Every setting from the Podman call needs to be put into that file to achieve the same result.

version: "3.9"
      - "8080:8080"
    restart: unless-stopped

Writing a docker-compose.yml

Podman Compose implements the Compose Spec with a Podman backend. We see some key-value pairs in this YAML file. We will go through them individually, while building the following example:

Note: We will use a web application, because it is (for this example) easier to set up as a demo.

$EDITOR docker-compose.yml
version: "3.9"

      - db_data:/var/lib/mysql
    restart: unless-stopped
      MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: somewordpress
      MYSQL_DATABASE: wordpress
      MYSQL_USER: wordpress
      MYSQL_PASSWORD: wordpress

      - db
      - "8000:80"
    restart: unless-stopped
      WORDPRESS_DB_HOST: db:3306
      WORDPRESS_DB_USER: wordpress
      WORDPRESS_DB_PASSWORD: wordpress
      WORDPRESS_DB_NAME: wordpress

  db_data: {}


Provides information about the version of the Compose YAML. It is optional and mainly needed to support older Compose clients.


Within this key all containers managed by Compose are listed. Only list containers that are related. Every project should have its own docker-compose.yml


Gives every service a unique name. There are some limitations (e.g. no colons) to the name. Within a given service, all settings for this service are stored.


Defines the image to use. Only images from registries like Docker Hub, or GitLab Container Registry can be used here.


In case you build your own image, use this key. You can define a context to specify a working directory during build. Additionally, you can point to a Dockerfile to use.

      context: ./backend/api
      dockerfile: ./podman/Dockerfile
      context: ./frontend
      dockerfile: ./podman/Dockerfile


Defines a list, which specifies files and folders to persist beyond the lifetime of the containers and specifies persisted files and folders which should be mounted within the container.


Defines the restart policy.


Set environment variables within the container. This is done during the start of the container.


Sets one (ore more) services as dependency for another service. It will only start, if the dependency started successfully.


Defines a list, which ports should be routed to the host.

The list above is far from being complete. It is possible to create very complex structures within Compose.

Note: some IDEs can auto-complete and lint docker-compose.yml files (JetBrains IDEs, for example)

Starting Compose

To start the containers, run

podman-compose up -d

You can now visit localhost:8000 to see the application running.

Stopping Compose

podman-compose down