Customize container images

The preconfigured base images provided by Cloud Workstations contain only a minimal environment with IDE, basic Linux terminal and language tools and a sshd server. To expedite the environment setup of specific development use cases, you can create custom container images that extend these base images to pre-install tools and dependencies and that run automation scripts.

For custom container images, we recommend setting up a pipeline to automatically rebuild these images when the Cloud Workstations base image is updated, in addition to running a container scanning tool such as Artifact Analysis to inspect any additional dependencies you added. You're responsible for maintaining and updating custom packages and dependencies added to custom images.

Before you begin

  1. You need a machine with tooling for building container images such as Docker, and for pushing images to Artifact Registry (or Container Registry) using the Google Cloud CLI. You can use Cloud Workstations or Cloud Shell Editor for performing these steps, which have this tooling pre-installed.

  2. Select which base image you want to use from our list of supported base images, such as

    Alternatively, you can use your own container image or use external container images by following the instructions to Use your own container image.

  3. Create a folder such as CUSTOM_IMAGE_FOLDER and a Dockerfile inside this folder extending the base image selected, as shown in the examples that follow.

Cloud Workstations base image structure

Cloud Workstations base images share the following defined structure:

  • The base image entrypoint file is set to /google/scripts/
  • On startup, base images run files under /etc/workstation-startup.d/* in lexicographical order to initialize the workstation environment.

    The files and their behavior are as follows:

    • Configures and runs Docker inside the workstation.
    • Creates the default user in Cloud Workstations.

      Because the persistent disk is dynamically attached to the container, users must be added on workstation startup, not in the Dockerfile.

    • Starts the sshd service in the container.

    • 110_start-$ Starts the IDE for the image.

  • Cloud Workstations stores Docker images in the home directory at /home/.docker_data so that the images are preserved between sessions.

To add additional functionality during workstation startup, add your scripts in the /etc/workstation-startup.d/ directory:

  • Scripts in this directory run as root by default. To execute the scripts as a different user, use the runuser command.

  • Because scripts execute in lexicographical order, we recommended that you prefix the scripts with a three digit number that is greater than 200.

Home directory modifications

When the workstation configuration specifies a persistent home directory (which is the default behavior), a persistent disk backing the home directory is dynamically attached to the container at runtime. This process overwrites modifications made to the /home directory at container image build time.

To preserve updates, modify the /home directory at container runtime by adding a script in the in the /etc/workstation-startup.d directory, or by adding per-user configuration in the /etc/profile.d directory. To speed up the process, consider running the setup script as a background process (add an ampersand, &, to the end of the command) to avoid blocking container startup.

Some examples of build time configuration that should be moved to container runtime:

  • Per-user git configuration
  • git repositories cloned in the home directory
  • Direct user configuration, such as placing files in a $HOME/.config directory
  • User creation

User creation and modification

Because the persistent disk dynamically attaches to the container at runtime, users must be added on workstation startup, not in the Dockerfile. To modify or create additional users, we recommended that you update /etc/workstation-startup.d/, or create your own script that executes on startup.

Additionally, you can modify the default bash profile for the users by updating the files in /etc/profile.d.

Update preconfigured Secure APT keys

Cloud Workstations base images come preinstalled with a number of tools obtained from various third-party repositories using Secure APT. As part of the install process, public keys provided by the repository owners are imported using gpg and placed into individual files under /usr/share/keyrings/. These files are referenced from corresponding list files under /etc/apt/sources.list.d/. This enables apt to verify the integrity of the a given repository when interacting with it.

On occasion, third-party repository owners may decide to change the public key used to validate the integrity of their repository, which causes apt to display an error when interacting with it. To resolve this potential problem, you can use /google/scripts/, which obtains the latest versions of preinstalled public keys and re-imports them.

List installed IDE versions

Several Cloud Workstations base images come preinstalled with an IDE. For convenience, see the included /google/scripts/ script, which lists the name and version information of IDEs installed in the image.

Turn off sudo root privileges

The default workstation user has sudo root access privileges in these containers. To turn off root access to the Docker container, set the CLOUD_WORKSTATIONS_CONFIG_DISABLE_SUDO environment variable to true when creating the workstation configuration.

To set this environment variable through the Google Cloud console when creating your workstation configuration, follow these steps:

  1. When creating your workstation configuration, complete the configuration for Basic information and the Machine configuration.
  2. On the Environment customization dialog, expand the Advanced container options section and select Environment variables.
  3. Click addAdd variable.
  4. Enter CLOUD_WORKSTATIONS_CONFIG_DISABLE_SUDO and true as the value.

Use your own container image

You can also use your own container image or use external container images, as long as they are Linux-based and run a blocking process when the container starts up.

When setting up the Dockerfile, the ENTRYPOINT instruction must run a blocking process such as sleep infinity so that the container continues to run, rather than immediately exit. Alternatively, in the workstation configuration you can set the config.container.args field to specify a blocking process.

When using your own container image, note the following:

  • Cloud Workstations does not require additional scripts from the Cloud Workstations base image.

    You can, however, look at the scripts in the /etc/workstation-startup.d/ directory within a container running the Cloud Workstations base image. The filenames indicate what each script does.

  • We recommend that you run an SSH server in the container. Refer to /etc/workstation-startup.d/ in the default base image to learn how Cloud Workstations sets this up by default.

  • We recommend that you run your default IDE or web server on port 80.

Extend Cloud Workstations base images

When extending a Cloud Workstations base image to create a custom image for your workstation environment, you can take three approaches:

  1. Update your Dockerfile to include any additional static assets that you want to add.
  2. Add additional executable files under /etc/workstation-startup.d/ to customize the running container. Files under this directory automatically run in lexicographical order at container startup, so you can prefix your filename to run it at the appropriate time during workstation startup.
  3. Override the ENTRYPOINT in your Dockerfile to fully customize your container startup.

Sample custom Dockerfiles

This section provides example scenarios and instructions for creating your own Dockerfiles.

Container image with emacs pre-installed

To create a container image with emacs pre-installed, run the following commands:


RUN sudo apt update
RUN sudo apt install -y emacs

Container image with user customization

Follow these steps to customize a container image:

  1. Create a script in /etc/workstation-startup.d/* that runs after—for example,

    # Create new group
    groupadd $GROUP
    # Add the user to a new group
    usermod -a -G $GROUP $USERNAME

    Replace $GROUP with the new group name and $USERNAME with the user's username.

  2. Assuming that you named your script,, add the following to your image in your Dockerfile and make it executable:

    COPY /etc/workstation-startup.d/
    RUN chmod +x /etc/workstation-startup.d/

Container image that sets container environment variables in SSH sessions

Environment variables set at the workstation configuration or workstation level are passed to direct subprocesses using the entrypoint command. This includes the IDE in the preconfigured base images. However, SSH sessions are not child processes of the entrypoint, and don't have these custom environment variables set.

To set those environment variables in the SSH sessions, setup a custom container image that relays these environment variables from the container's entrypoint command to the /etc/environment file.

To accomplish that, follow these steps:

  1. Create a script in /etc/workstation-startup.d/* that runs after—for example,

    echo "CUSTOM_ENV_VAR=$CUSTOM_ENV_VAR" >> /etc/environment

    Replace CUSTOM_ENV_VAR with the intended environment variable name.

  2. Assuming that you named your script,, add the following to your image in your Dockerfile and make it executable:

    COPY /etc/workstation-startup.d/
    RUN chmod +x /etc/workstation-startup.d/

Container image that enables X11 forwarding for SSH sessions

X11 forwarding lets you start remote applications and forward the application display to a local machine.

To create a container image that enables X11 forwarding, modify the OpenSSH daemon configuration file (/etc/ssh/sshd_config) provided by the Cloud Workstations base images by appending X11Forwarding yes (to permit X11 forwarding) and AddressFamily inet (to ensure that only IPv4 is used). For more information about these keywords, see the OpenBSD web pages about AddressFamily and X11Forwarding.

Here's a sample Dockerfile, which makes the necessary modifications:


# Permit X11 forwarding using only IPv4
RUN cat >> /etc/ssh/sshd_config <<-EOF

AddressFamily inet
X11Forwarding yes

Container image that pre-installs IDE extensions in Code OSS for Cloud Workstations for Java development

To create a container image that pre-installs IDE extensions in Code OSS for Cloud Workstations for Java development at build time, run the following commands:


RUN wget && \
unzip vscjava.vscode-java-debug-0.40.1.vsix "extension/*" &&\
mv extension /opt/code-oss/extensions/java-debug

RUN wget && \
unzip vscjava.vscode-java-dependency-0.19.1.vsix "extension/*" &&\
mv extension /opt/code-oss/extensions/java-dependency

RUN wget && \
unzip "extension/*" &&\
mv extension /opt/code-oss/extensions/redhat-java

RUN wget && \
unzip vscjava.vscode-maven-0.35.2.vsix "extension/*" &&\
mv extension /opt/code-oss/extensions/java-maven

RUN wget && \
unzip vscjava.vscode-java-test-0.35.0.vsix "extension/*" &&\
mv extension /opt/code-oss/extensions/java-test

If you pre-install extensions, they are considered built-in extensions. You won't be able to update these extensions and they might not appear in the installed section on the Extensions Marketplace. However, you can find your built-in extensions by searching for @builtin.

Another way to install extensions at startup is to run a startup script. For example, include the following startup script under /etc/workstation-startup.d/

/opt/code-oss/bin/codeoss-cloudworkstations --install-extension vscjava.vscode-java-debug@0.40.1 \
--install-extension vscjava.vscode-java-dependency@0.19.1  \
--install-extension \
--install-extension vscjava.vscode-maven@0.35.2 \
--install-extension vscjava.vscode-java-test@0.35.0

Using this method, the extension appears on the Extensions Marketplace and you can update from there.

Install JetBrains IDEs and plugins into base images

When customizing Docker images for workstation configurations, you can install JetBrains IDEs and plugins, such as Cloud Code for IntelliJ, into the base image. Cloud Workstations base images for JetBrains products include the following scripts to help you:

  • install JetBrains IDEs
  • install plugins, such as Cloud Code for IntelliJ

Use these scripts as needed to customize the base image, to call them with a startup script, or to run them after starting the workstation.

Installer scripts

To view the source files for the and scripts, start a workstation using a workstation configuration that uses one of the JetBrains predefined images, connect to the workstation either through JetBrains Gateway or through SSH, and then browse the script files in the installer-scripts directory, which is located in the root directory.

We recommend that you run these scripts at container build time. Avoid running them in an already started workstation.

Use the plugin installer script

The script uses the following syntax: [-v VERSION] [-d DESTINATION-DIRECTORY] [-c CHECKSUM] [-f] PLUGIN_ID

Replace the following:

  • VERSION: optional version number of the plugin to install.
  • DESTINATION-DIRECTORY: optional directory into which the plugin should be installed. If unspecified, the working directory is used.
  • CHECKSUM: optional SHA-256 checksum of the requested plugin.
  • -f: if specified any existing plugin will be overwritten.
  • PLUGIN_ID: the required numeric plugin identifier from the JetBrains marketplace. For example, to add Dart use 6351 as the PLUGIN_ID. To add Cloud Code for IntelliJ use 8079 as the PLUGIN_ID.

For example, to install the latest version of the Dart plugin in IntelliJ run the following command: -d /opt/ideaIU/plugins/ 6351

Use the JetBrains installer script

We recommended that you use the JetBrains installer script when extending a preconfigured base image for JetBrains IDEs.

The script uses the following syntax: IDE [ pinned|latest ]

Replace the following:

  • IDE: the JetBrains IDE to install. You must use one of the following IDE abbreviations:

    IDE Product Installed
    cl CLion
    clion CLion
    go GoLand
    goland GoLand
    iiu Intellij Ultimate
    intellij Intellij Ultimate
    pcp PyCharm Professional
    pycharm PyCharm Professional
    ps PHPStorm
    phpstorm PHPStorm
    rd Rider
    rider Rider
    rm RubyMine
    rubymine RubyMine
    ws WebStorm
    webstorm WebStorm
  • pinned|latest: Optional - Use either the pinned or latest version of the IDE. Defaults to latest.

For example, to install the latest version of the Clion, run the following command: clion

Customize JetBrains IDE configuration files

If a persistent home directory is specified in the workstations configuration, Cloud Workstations base images with JetBrains IDEs automatically persist the $IDE.vmoptions and $ configuration files. To override the default location of these files, specify the CLOUD_WORKSTATIONS_JETBRAINS_PERISTED_CONFIG_DIR environment variable.

For more information, Refer to /etc/workstation-startup.d/ in any JetBrains base image to learn how Cloud Workstations sets this up by default.

Extend a base Docker image with Cloud Code for IntelliJ

The following Dockerfile snippet extends a base Docker image with Cloud Code for IntelliJ by including 8079 as the required plugin identifier. The example also optionally specifies version 22.9.3-222 as the version number, /opt/ideaIU/plugins/ as the destination directory, and 89628279ed9042c526a81facc09bf53f8fb8b83b4595b0d329d94c1611e0c379 as the checksum:

# Install IDE and Plugins
RUN bash /installer-scripts/ intellij pinned && \
  # Install Cloud Code -
  bash /installer-scripts/ \
      -v 22.9.3-222 \
      -d /opt/ideaIU/plugins/ \
      -c 89628279ed9042c526a81facc09bf53f8fb8b83b4595b0d329d94c1611e0c379 \

# Register IDE with JetBrains Gateway
RUN echo 'runuser user -c "/opt/ideaIU/bin/ registerBackendLocationForGateway"' > /etc/workstation-startup.d/ \
    echo 'echo "IntelliJ-Ultimate ready for incoming gateway connection"' >> /etc/workstation-startup.d/

Install additional IDE extensions in Code OSS for Cloud Workstations

Find additional IDE extensions on the Open VSX Registry. You can also find the URL of the .vsix file by copying the URL from the Download link for any extension.

Open VSX page for the Go language extension that shows the Download button.

If you open the Extensions Marketplace from a workstation, Install appears instead of Download.

Default Code OSS for Cloud Workstations settings

For detailed information about storage of settings in Code OSS for Cloud Workstations, see Customize settings.

If you specify a persistent home directory in the workstations configuration, you can configure default settings for Code OSS for Cloud Workstations by adding a startup script that writes settings to $HOME/.codeoss-cloudworkstations/data/Machine/settings.json.

For example, if you want to set the default color theme to Dark, extend the base editor image to include the following script under /etc/workstation-startup.d/

cat <<< $(jq '. += {"workbench.colorTheme": "Default Dark Modern"}' settings.json) > settings.json

Build a custom container image

For detailed information about Docker commands, see the Docker reference. Enter the following command to build your container:


Note that replacing the text that precedes the edit Edit icon updates the other examples on this page.

Replace the following:

  • CUSTOM_IMAGE_FOLDER: the path to the folder that you created to store your custom image.
  • TARGET_IMAGE: the path to your image in Artifact Registry (or Container Registry).

    For example, TARGET_IMAGE might point to a target image path similar to either of the following paths:


    Replace * as needed with the name of the region and any additional identifiers.

You can also update the CLOUD_WORKSTATIONS_CUSTOM_IMAGE environment variable to point to the repository.

For more information about storing Docker images in Artifact Registry, see the following sections:

Host your custom container image

To host custom container images, we recommend and support Artifact Registry. If you use GitHub or any other public or private repository, Cloud Workstations might not work as expected. For more information, see the important note in the Use a custom container image section.

Test your custom container image

After your container finishes building, you can test it with the following command:


Replace the following:

  • LOCAL_PORT: the local port number
  • CONTAINER_PORT: the container port number

For example, replacing LOCAL_PORT:CONTAINER_PORT with 8080:80 assigns port 8080 for use locally and port 80 for use in the container.

If you're extending the Cloud Workstations base editor image, run the docker command and then test the workstation image by connecting to the workstation through your local browser or by running ssh to connect to your container:

  • If you connect through your browser, make sure that you pass -p 8080:80 to your docker run command and then open localhost:8080.
  • If you prefer to connect through SSH, make sure that you pass -p 2222:22 to your docker run command and then run ssh user@localhost -p 2222.

Use a custom container image

To use your custom container image after you have built and tested it locally, push your container to Artifact Registry (or Container Registry) with the following command:

docker push TARGET_IMAGE

You can now create a workstation configuration using the container image you just created and pushed.

For more information, see Create a Docker repository with Artifact Registry.

Debug issues

To find and debug issues running your container image, review the container output logs from your running workstations.

You're responsible for maintaining and updating custom packages and dependencies added on custom images.

If you're creating custom images, we recommend the following:

What's next