Local Docker Container

15 minutes basic

You don't need a cloud instance to run the MFEM tutorial. Instead, you can directly run the MFEM Docker container on a computer available to you.

This mfem/developer container has been specifically created to kickstart the exploration of MFEM and its capabilities in a variety of computing environments: from the cloud (like AWS), to HPC clusters, and your own laptop.

There are CPU and GPU variations of the image, we will refer to it generically as mfem/developer during the tutorial.

Below are instructions on how to start the container on Linux and macOS, and how to use it to run the tutorial locally.

You can also use the container (and similar commands) to setup your own cloud instance. See for example this AWS script.


Depending on your Linux distribution, you have to first install Docker. See the official instructions for e.g. Ubuntu.

Once the installation is complete and the docker command is in your path, pull the prebuilt mfem/developer-cpu container with:

docker pull ghcr.io/mfem/containers/developer-cpu:latest

Depending on your connection, this may take a while to download and extract (the image is about 2GB).

To start the container, run:

docker run --cap-add=SYS_PTRACE -p 3000:3000 -p 8000:8000 -p 8080:8080 ghcr.io/mfem/containers/developer-cpu:latest

You can later stop this by pressing Ctrl-C. See the docker documenation for more details.

We provide two variations of our containers that are configured with CPU or CPU and GPU capabilities. If you have an NVIDIA supported CUDA GPU you have to install the NVIDIA Container Toolkit.

Our CUDA images are built with the sm_70 compute capability by default. If your GPU is an sm_70 you can use the prebuilt mfem/developer-cuda-sm70 image with:

docker pull ghcr.io/mfem/containers/developer-cuda-sm70:latest

To start the container use

docker run --gpus all --cap-add=SYS_PTRACE -p 3000:3000 -p 8000:8000 -p 8080:8080 ghcr.io/mfem/containers/developer-cuda-sm70:latest

If you need a different compute capability, you can clone the mfem/containers repository and build an image e.g., forsm_80, with

git clone git@github.com:mfem/containers.git
cd containers
docker-compose build --build-arg cuda_arch_sm=80 cuda && docker image tag cuda:latest cuda-sm80:latest
docker-compose build --build-arg cuda_arch_sm=80 cuda-tpls && docker image tag cuda-tpls:latest cuda-tpls-sm80:latest

This automatically builds all libraries with the correctly supported CUDA compute capability.


The forwarding of ports 3000, 8000 and 8080 is needed for VS Code, GLVis and the websocket connection between them. The --cap-add=SYS_PTRACE option is added to resolve MPI warnings.


On macOS we recommend using Podman. See the official installation instructions here.

After installing it, use the following commands to create a Podman machine and pull the mfem/developer container:

podman machine init
podman pull ghcr.io/mfem/containers/developer-cpu:latest

Both of these can take a while, depending on your hardware and network connection.

To start the virtual machine and the container in it, run:

podman machine start
podman run --cap-add=SYS_PTRACE -p 3000:3000 -p 8000:8000 -p 8080:8080 ghcr.io/mfem/containers/developer-cpu:latest

You can later stop these by pressing Ctrl-C and typing podman machine stop.


One can also use Docker Desktop on macOS and follow the Linux instructions above.

  Running the tutorial locally

Once the mfem/developer container is running, you can proceed with the Getting Started page using the following IP: You can alternatively use localhost for the IP.

In particular, the VS Code and GLVis windows can be accessed at localhost:3000 and localhost:8000/live respectively.

Furthermore, you can use the above pages from any other devices (tablets, phones) that are connected to the same network as the machine running the container.

For example you can run an example from the VS Code terminal on your laptop and visualize the results on a GLVis window on your phone.

To connect other devices, first run hostname -s to get the local host name and then use that {hostname} for the IP in the rest of the tutorial.


Ask for help in the tutorial Slack channel.

  Next Steps

Go to the Getting Started page.

Back to the MFEM tutorial page