What are Containers and How Do They Work?

Rachel Grand
KubernetesCloud Computing
01 Sep 2021

Cloud computing has thoroughly changed the way we store data and execute applications. It has enabled users to use modern computing technology without taking the time to write out code-heavy applications.

Applications developed or deployed on the cloud used to be OS-dependent (Operating System). It meant that you could not just move your application from one cloud or service provider to another, even when you host it remotely.

Containers revolutionized the application development processes.

If you want to build your application to be efficient, lightweight, adaptable to future migrations, you should acquaint yourself with Containers.

In this article, we will elaborate on the cloud containers definition, how containers work, and everything else that you need to know about them, including how Ridge Managed Container Service enables you to deploy your containerized applications on the cloud!

What Exactly Is a Container?

shipping containers

Are these massive storage crates the first thing you thought of when you heard “containers”?

The truth is, you’re not too far off. Computing concepts are not too different from real-life concepts. Just as physical containers make the migration easy for all kinds of goods, software containers simplify the movement of applications and services.

The Definition of Container

Container is a software solution that wraps your software process or microservice to make it executable in all computing environments. In general, you can store all kinds of executable files in containers, for example, configuration files, software code, libraries, and binary programs.

By computing environments, we mean the local systems, on-premises data centers, and cloud platforms managed by various service providers. ‍

What Is a Container in Cloud?

Containers in the cloud are hosted in an online environment. Users can access them from anywhere. However, application processes or microservices in cloud-based containers remain separate from cloud infrastructure.

Picture containers as Virtual Operating Systems that wrap your application so that it is compatible with any OS.

As the application is not bound to a particular cloud, operating system, or storage space, containerized software can execute in any environment.

What Is Containerization?

Hopefully, you understand the containers concept pretty clearly now. You may have already guessed that the applications hosted in containers have different coding standards than regular applications. But what is containerization, and how do you create containerized applications?

Containerization in cloud computing is the process of building software applications for containers. The final product of packaging and designing a container app is a container image.

A typical container image, or application container, consists of:

  • The application code
  • Configuration files
  • Software dependencies
  • Libraries
  • Environment variables

In fact, it holds everything that is needed to run containerized applications irrespective of the infrastructure that hosts them.

container software diagram

Container Orchestration

Container orchestration is the process of creating an environment that automates most of the maintenance tasks for containerized workloads, applications, and services. Most companies rely on container orchestration platforms that provide fully managed container services to their users, like Ridge.

container orchestration diagram

Containers vs Virtual Machines – What’s the Difference?

Virtual machines and containers may appear similar, but they function in very different ways.

container vs virtual machine comparison table

While virtual machines use hypervisors that bind them directly to the server hardware, containers can sit on the host’s OS directly. Applications in containers can directly run on the host OS. On the other hand, apps in a virtual machine need a Guest OS per app for execution.

Here is a quick Containers vs VMs illustration to simplify both concepts for you:

virtualization vs. containers diagram


How Do Containers Work?

The standardized container management process has four stages for apps and the services they contain:

  1. Creation
  2. Deployment
  3. Scaling/Expansion
  4. Destruction

Containerization ensures that none of these stages depend on an OS kernel. So, containers do not carry any Guest OS with them the way a VM must.

Containerized applications are tied to all their dependencies as a single deployable unit. Leveraging the features and capabilities of the host OS, containers enable these software apps to work in all environments.

See this show video for a short visual explanation about how containers work:

Containers Examples

  • All Google applications, like GMail and Google Calendar, are containerized and run on their cloud server.
  • A gaming or media streaming application that you create using Ridge’s Kubernetes service.


What Are the Benefits of Containerization?

Container solutions are highly beneficial for businesses as well as software developers due to multiple reasons. After all, containers technology has made it possible to develop, test, deploy, scale, re-build, and destroy applications for various platforms or environments using the same method.

Advantages of containerization include:

  • Containers require fewer system resources than virtual machines as they do not bind operating system images to each application they store.
  • They are highly interoperable as containerized apps can use the host OS.
  • Optimized resource usage as container computing lets similar apps share libraries and binary files.
  • No hardware-level or implementation worries since containers are infrastructure-independent.
  • Better portability because you can migrate and deploy containers anywhere smoothly.
  • Easy scaling and development because containerization technology allows gradual expansion and parallel testing of apps.


What Are Containers Used for?

Enterprises and other organizations use containers because it enables:

  • Agile development
  • High efficiency
  • Future-ready solutions

If you are not sure about when and why containers are useful for your business, see their major use-cases:

Container-Native Development

Future-proof solutions must have the fewest dependencies possible. Keeping this in mind, companies prefer to develop containerized apps from the get-go. This “container-native” development can reduce the difficulty and expense of migration in the future.

Application Refactoring or Modernization

What if you have a legacy, non-containerized app that you want to port to the cloud? Depending on how much improvement your application needs, you can either lift and shift existing applications to containers or re-factor them for better deployment. This action ensures that you get all benefits of containers without totally transforming your cloud infrastructure.

Continuous integration and Deployment (CI/CD)

Containers are a favorite of DevOps developers for building applications that can be deployed, scaled, and integrated without hiccups. With containers and server containerization allowing seamless continuous deployment, your development team can also streamline the development and testing process.

Batch Processes

Batch processes interact with other applications and run in the background. They don’t need inputs from end-users directly. They may share information and execution space. For example, an app to calculate call time or a time-tracking app for employees uses batch processing.

Containers allow sharing of operating systems, libraries, and other dependencies among similar applications. That’s why they are ideal for deploying and executing batch processes.

Businesses can save memory space and achieve better performance through the use of containers for such applications.


You can use containers to develop apps that follow a microservices architecture. Such an architecture will utilize multiple containers to deploy one app, creating a container cluster—a group of containers in a containerized environment. Etsy, Netflix, and Uber are a few apps that follow the microservices model.

Distributed Cloud 

Applications in a distributed cloud architecture stay in multi-cloud or hybrid-cloud environments in general. Organizations share resources and data center container deployments when using distributed systems. However, non-containerized apps can make portability and interoperability challenging.

Containers make a perfect pick for application development to solve these issues. If you will use containers, you set yourself up for easy data and application migration and resource sharing between clouds.

You can read more on this topic in our article on what is distributed computing.


How Secure are Containers?

Containers offer multiple layers of security. Because they are packed in container clusters and wrapped in the secure cloud infrastructure, there are many opportunities to build secure, robust cloud containers. Counting the innermost application layer, there are four levels to prevent security vulnerabilities:

  1. At the application/code level, developers may add validations and align their code to security standards.
  2. At the container level, it is a good practice to use a reliable, secure container service, such as Kubernetes.
  3. At the cluster level, network administrations should add restrictions to filter out unauthorized traffic.
  4. At the cloud level, a reliable container platform, such as Ridge, offers top-level security.

Additionally, you should never configure your implementation in a vulnerable way or allow unauthorized users or unauthenticated requests to access your containers.

With the security suggestions for the containers explained above, your container security depends upon how you deploy it and apply safety measures. So it’s important to plan your container architecture, implementation, and maintenance practices well.


Containers, Docker, and Kubernetes – How Does It Work?

Docker and Kubernetes work together in containerized app deployments, but they serve different purposes. Docker is a containerization platform. Kubernetes allows the management of multiple containers. To learn more about the Kubernetes docker container relationship, you can read this Docker vs. Kubernetes article we’ve written for you.

Dockers and containers work together. Docker — a famous runtime environment for containers — provides an execution space for applications in containers.

On the other hand, Kubernetes can store multiple containers to form a cluster while providing a managed environment for containers’ collaboration.


Docker Image vs Container

A container/docker image is standalone, so it can exist and run with or without a container. However, a container requires an image to make it functional and work in a runtime environment.

Containers and Ridge

Ridge offers a feature-rich container orchestration platform – Ridge Managed Container Service (RCS). RCS is a fully managed container service that developers can access programmatically to deploy and manage fleets of containers all over the world.

With RCS, developers can run their workloads without managing the underlying infrastructure. They are able to focus on building applications, not on the infrastructure that runs them. They can easily deploy containers when and where they’re needed across networks and geographies.

Try Ridge’s fully-managed container services


Frequently Asked Questions about Containers


What problems do containers solve?

Containers use the host operating system for containerized applications rather than a guest OS for each app, like virtual machines. This feature brings down the size of containers to a few MBs, making them a great alternative to Virtual Machines.

Also, they help companies easily migrate applications to the cloud or between clouds by being OS-independent.

What is a containerized application?

Containerized applications follow the development and deployment standards of containers that ensure no dependency on the host infrastructure when you deploy such an application. They carry dependency files, configuration files, and binaries with them.

What are containers and Kubernetes?

Containers and Kubernetes work in parallel. While containers hold your application(s) and let you deploy them anywhere, Kubernetes can host container clusters to ensure that they function correctly in collaboration.

What is the difference between Docker and Container?

A container is software that contains your applications and their dependencies to make those apps infrastructure-independent.

A docker is a runtime environment to create and deploy containerized applications.

Is Docker container a VM?

Both use virtualization technologies, but they are different. Virtual machines have guest OS, whereas the docker container shares host OS. This makes Docker containers much more efficient and light-weighted than VMs.

What is a container in Kubernetes?

A container in Kubernetes is a software solution capable of binding containerized applications to the host OS — irrespective of the infrastructure. Kubernetes is a platform to build and run such a container.

Is a pod a container?

Yes, and no. A pod is the tiniest deployment unit in a cluster in Kubernetes. It may contain one or multiple containers. If a pod has one container, you can use the terms pod and containers interchangeably, but not if it contains multiple containers.

How do you orchestrate a container?

You can opt for container orchestration platforms like Ridge to orchestrate a container. We help you use fully managed services to automate your containerized applications, workloads, and services operations. Container management becomes more straightforward with this one step.

Linkedin Rachel Grand, Content Writer | Ridge
Rachel spends her nights reading the stars and her days exploring the Cloud. As an expert in all things related to modern computing architectures, Rachel is helping Ridge to spread the gospel of the distributed cloud.