An attempt at finding a drop-in replacement for Docker Desktop on macOS.

Why a replacement?

Docker Desktop has been the gold standard for building and running containers on macOS.

But what is it? Is it just a fancy container GUI?

Well, no.

The single, downloadable package comes built-in with everything you need to build and run Docker images on your machine. Besides running a VM in the background as a daemon, Docker Desktop provides seamless plumbing into the host machine with sane and secure defaults 1.

From a technical perspective, this is fantastic and works fine. However, the following reasons made me start looking for a replacement:

  • It is closed source.
  • It makes requests to even with anonymous usage statistics turned off.
  • It is no longer free for businesses and corporations. 2

Clearing up some tooling confusions

You may already know this, but I didn’t at first.

There’s a difference between docker (the CLI) and Docker Desktop.

Docker (the CLI) is installed by default with Docker Desktop, but it is also available as a stand-alone installation via Homebrew or Nix.

This is similar types of setup to docker-compose.


As a drop-in replacement Colima seems to be a good choice. It is based on Lima and creates a QEMU VM.

It comes bundled with:

  • A CLI interface for common operations (e.g. starting/stop Colima)
  • Port forwarding
  • Mounting volumes.

And it’s open source!


I’m using Nix here, but you can use Homebrew too.

By the way, I created a full example here, if you’d rather follow that.

  1. First, if Docker Desktop is running, stop it. You don’t have to uninstall it, it just needs to be stopped.
  2. Next, get the tooling. In my shell.nix I have:
  pkgs = import <nixpkgs> { };
in pkgs.mkShell rec {
  buildInputs = with pkgs; [
  1. Jump into the nix shell
  1. Then, start Colima
colima start
  1. Run your docker commands as usual (e.g. docker build, docker-compose up etc)

Proxy Configuration

If you’re behind a proxy, there’s some additional setup.

After starting Colima via colima start, you need to ssh into the VM with colima ssh.

Then edit the /etc/init.d/docker file

sudo vi /etc/init.d/docker

and append the following:

set -o allexport
if [ -f /etc/environment ]; then source /etc/environment; fi
set +o allexport

Stop Colima with colima stop.

On your host machine, create $HOME/.colima/default/colima.yaml with your proxy configuration as follows:

  NO_PROXY: localhost,,,.corp

Then start Colima again via colima start.

What works? What doesn’t?

On the performance front, I haven’t noticed any significant degradation in performance using Colima.

Volume mounts and port forwarding work out of the box. Nice.

I had some trouble pulling images from private docker registries. To solve this I had to install docker-credential-helpers (see shell.nix above).

Opting Out

Colima mutates the context field in the ~/.docker/config.json configuration. To switch back to Docker Desktop (assuming you haven’t uninstalled it):

docker context use default


After testing Colima with a few of own personal projects, I found it to be a suitable drop-in replacement for Docker Desktop.

The simple CLI provides a low barrier to entry for users looking to migrate.

Only somewhat notable quirk is the extra steps needed if you’re behind a proxy. This would be for users in the minority in any case. In fact, Colima might already be working on a fix. 3

I will continue to use Colima on my personal MacBook.

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