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Quick shell access for Docker containers

In the last few weeks, I’ve been spending a lot of time working with Docker containers. When developing containers, I often need to get shell access to the container, so that I can inspect its contents. This is a two-step process:

  1. Look up the container ID with docker ps.
  2. Shell into the container with docker exec -it <container ID> sh.

That’s fine, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could cut out the first step? It’s only short, but it gets tedious if you’re doing it regularly – this is the sort of boring task that we can solve with scripting.

Most of the time, I’m shelling into my most recently started container. So I wrote this short function, and put it in my bash_profile:

function docker-sh {
    if [[ $# -eq 0 ]]; then
        docker exec -it $(docker ps -l -q) sh
        docker exec -it $1 sh

If I invoke it without any arguments, it will shell into my most recent container:

$ docker-sh

But on the rare occasions I have another container in mind, I can specify it as an alternative, by supplying it as the first argument:

$ docker-sh 8d8122c10f60