How to List Containers in Docker

List Containers in Docker

Docker has revolutionized the way we build, package, and deploy applications. But with the flexibility and scalability it offers, managing containers efficiently is crucial. One fundamental aspect of Docker management is knowing how to list containers. In this in-depth guide, we will explore various methods and best practices for listing containers in Docker, allowing you to master this essential skill for container orchestration and management.

Understanding Docker Containers

Before delving into container listing, let’s ensure we have a solid grasp of Docker containers:

What Are Containers?

Docker containers are lightweight, stand-alone, and executable packages that include everything needed to run a piece of software, including the code, runtime, system tools, libraries, and settings. They run in isolation from the host system and can be easily moved and executed on any system that supports Docker.

Key Docker Concepts

To navigate Docker effectively, you should be familiar with key concepts:

1. Images

Docker images are the blueprints for containers. An image is a snapshot of a file system and the parameters to use it when running a container. You can pull images from Docker Hub or create custom ones.

2. Containers

Containers are instances of Docker images. Each container is isolated and runs independently of others, making it efficient and secure for running applications.

3. Docker Architecture

Docker operates on a client-server architecture. The Docker client communicates with the Docker server, which manages containers, images, networks, and storage.

Listing Containers in Docker

Using the ‘docker ps’ Command

The ‘docker ps‘ command is your first step in listing containers:

1. Basic ‘docker ps’ Command

To list all running containers, simply open your terminal and type:

docker ps

2. Displaying a List of Running Containers

By default, ‘docker ps‘ shows only running containers. You will see a table with columns, including CONTAINER ID, IMAGE, COMMAND, CREATED, STATUS, PORTS, and NAMES.

3. Filtering Options

To narrow down the list of containers, use options like:

  • -a: List all containers, including stopped ones.
  • -q: List only container IDs.
  • -f: Apply filters based on criteria such as status, label, name, or network.

Detailed ‘docker ps’ Usage

1. Custom Formatting with ‘–format’

You can format the output of ‘docker ps’ using the --format option. This is especially useful when you need specific information from the container list. For example:

docker ps --format "table {{.ID}}\t{{.Names}}\t{{.Status}}"

2. Listing Containers on Remote Hosts

To list containers on a remote Docker host, use the -H option followed by the host address:

docker --host ssh://remote_host ps

Using the ‘docker container ls’ Command

1. Introduction to ‘docker container ls’

While ‘docker ps‘ is the classic command for listing containers, ‘docker container ls‘ offers a similar experience with a different syntax. You can use them interchangeably.

2. Comparing ‘docker ps’ and ‘docker container ls’

The primary difference between the two commands is the name. Both are used to list containers. ‘docker container ls‘ is simply an alias for ‘docker ps.’

3. List Containers in a Specific Format

You can format the output of ‘docker container ls’ just like ‘docker ps’ using the --format option:

docker container ls --format "table {{.ID}}\t{{.Names}}\t{{.Status}}"

Additional Container Listing Options

1. ‘docker ps’ vs. ‘docker container ls’

The choice between ‘docker ps‘ and ‘docker container ls‘ comes down to your personal preference. Both commands are equally capable of listing containers, and you can use the one you find more intuitive.

2. The ‘docker ps -a’ Command for All Containers

To list all containers, including stopped ones, use the ‘docker ps -a‘ command. This is particularly useful when you need to review the history of containers on your system.

3. The ‘docker ps -q’ Command to List Container IDs

If you only need the container IDs, use ‘docker ps -q.’ This will provide you with a list of IDs that you can use in subsequent commands.

Practical Examples

1. Listing Containers by Name

To list containers by name, use the --filter option with the ‘name’ criterion:

docker ps --filter "name=my_container"

2. Filtering by Status

You can filter containers by their status. For example, to list only running containers:

docker ps --filter "status=running"

3. Sorting Containers by Different Criteria

You can sort the container list by different criteria such as name, status, or creation time. For example, to sort by name:

docker ps --format "table {{.Names}}\t{{.Status}}" | sort

4. Using ‘docker ps’ with Custom Formatting

Custom formatting gives you the flexibility to display container information in a way that suits your needs. Here’s an example:

docker ps --format "table {{.ID}}\t{{.Names}}\t{{.Status}}"

Best Practices for Listing Containers

Keeping Container Listings Up to Date

Frequent updates of your container listings are essential, especially in dynamic environments. Automate the process or create scripts that periodically run ‘docker ps‘ or ‘docker container ls‘ and save the results.

Scripting and Automation

Scripting simplifies container management. You can create scripts that list containers based on specific criteria, filter the results, and perform actions like starting or stopping containers.

Securing Docker Container Listings

Container listings can contain sensitive information. Ensure that only authorized users have access to this information. Limit access to the Docker API and use proper authentication.

Managing Large Numbers of Containers

In environments with numerous containers, effective container listing is critical. Use scripting to group and manage containers based on their purpose or function.

Handling Container Listing in Docker Swarm and Kubernetes

If you’re using Docker Swarm or Kubernetes, listing containers follows a different set of commands and practices. Consult the respective documentation for guidance.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Errors and Issues While Listing Containers

  • Permission Denied: Ensure you have the necessary permissions to run Docker commands.
  • Docker Daemon Not Running: Start the Docker Daemon if it’s not running.
  • Docker API Not Accessible: Check network and firewall settings to ensure Docker’s API is accessible.

Debugging Container Listing Problems

  • Use the docker info command to gather system-wide information about Docker.
  • Check the Docker logs for errors and warnings.
  • Consult Docker community forums and online resources for specific issues.


Mastering the art of listing containers in Docker is a foundational skill for efficient container management. By understanding the various Docker commands and options, you gain control over your containers, whether you have a handful or hundreds. Scripting, automation, and securing container listings are essential steps to take your Docker management to the next level.

As you continue your Docker journey, don’t forget that container listing is just the beginning. Explore further, experiment with different options, and integrate container listing into your daily workflow. The possibilities with Docker are endless, and it all starts with understanding the basics.


r00t is a seasoned Linux system administrator with a wealth of experience in the field. Known for his contributions to, r00t has authored numerous tutorials and guides, helping users navigate the complexities of Linux systems. His expertise spans across various Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, CentOS, and Debian. r00t's work is characterized by his ability to simplify complex concepts, making Linux more accessible to users of all skill levels. His dedication to the Linux community and his commitment to sharing knowledge makes him a respected figure in the field.
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