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Containers in automotive


The automotive industry is moving towards a new architectural concept called “Software Defined Vehicles” (SDV). Part of this is a software model that is similar to the micro-server architecture used in the cloud. In this model, the various services and application running in the car are separate, isolated entities that expose well defined interfaces. The whole system is then made of a large collection of such services which interact using some form of networking protocol. In automotive this most commonly uses SOME/IP, which is a message based protocol with a pub/sub model running on top of IP and/or unix domain sockets.

While the SDV model can be implemented with traditional methods, it (similarly to micro-services) lends itself extremely well to the use of containers, because the isolation aspects of containers matches well to the separated services and the requirement of well-defined interfaces between containers.

In addition, containers have other advantages, such as the ability for each container to use different versions of dependencies and the improved robustness, security and flexibility that comes from the kernel-level application isolation.

Sample container image

To demonstrate how to implement this we have the container.mpp.yml image and some sample applications.

The sample-apps consists of two SOME/IP services: radio-service, which simulates a radio and engine-service that simulates other parts of the car. There is also a command line application radio-client which talks to the services displaying the current status and allowing you to control the radio. For more details about these apps, see the README.

The image uses the COVESA vsomeip implementation of SOME/IP as packaged in Fedora, and rebuilt in COPR. In particular, the image starts the vsomeip routing manager (non-contained), using systemd socket activation with a custom SELinux policy that controls access.

After boot there are two container-based systemd services running, radio.service and engine.service, which are running the two sample services.

To test the services run the radio-client tool from a terminal. In addition you can check the status of the services with systemctl and journalctl.

To build and run the sample image (on x86) into a qemu image, run this:

$ cd osbuild-manifests
$ make cs9-qemu-container-regular.x86_64.qcow2
$ ./runvm cs9-qemu-container-regular.x86_64.qcow2

Then log in as user root, password password and try some of these commands:

# radio-client
# systemctl status radio.service
# systemctl status engine.service
# systemctl status routingmanagerd.service
# journalctrl -f

Technical details

Embedding container images

OSBuild (which is used to build the images) allows embedding containers into the image. Typically these are pulled from an image registry at build-time, although it is also possible to construct images as part of the image build.

The org.osbuild.skopeo pipeline stage is used to install the images. It typically has as input a specific version (digest) of an image which is pulled from a specified registry. However all the demos use the mpp-resolve-images feature to resolve a named tag in the registry instead of hardcoding a particular version, similar to how mpp-depsolve is used to pick unversioned packages.

A typical container image is stored in the default read-write location for containers, which is /var/lib/containers/storage. However this is problematic in some cases. /var is part of the system that is always writable, and may differ between each user of the image (it has things like logs in it). This means that /var is not stored as part of an ostree commit, nor is it generally a good idea for it to be part of a read-only system partition.

In order to avoid issues with this the sample images use the containers-storage option to store images in /usr/share/containers/storage, modifying the system config options additionalimagestores to point to that. This allows storing and using the built-in containers as read-only containers in an ostree system while also allowing other containers to be installed at runtime.

Running containers from systemd

Once a container is embedded in a system image it can be started manually with podman run imagename. However, it doesn’t automatically start at boot. In order to be started automatically we have to create a systemd service that starts the container, at the right time, in the right way.

The sample images use quadlet to set up the systemd services. This is a tool that takes an easy to understand and maintain container unit description and automatically generates (at boot time) and uses the corresponding systemd service unit file. Using this makes it very easy to automatically start a container at system boot, you just put a file in /etc/containers/systemd

As an example of a quadlet container file, here is the radio service config.

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