Understanding Volumes, Bind Mounts, and tmpfs Mounts: A Comparison

Ashish Dwivedi
3 min readJul 5, 2023

In the world of containerization, managing data and file systems is a crucial aspect. Docker, for example, provides various mechanisms to handle persistent storage within containers. Three commonly used methods are volumes, bind mounts, and tmpfs mounts. In this article, we will explore the differences between these approaches and examine when to choose each one.

Volumes: Volumes are a dedicated Docker feature that allows data to persist beyond the lifecycle of a container. They are managed by Docker and stored in a specific location within the Docker host’s file system. Volumes can be shared among multiple containers and provide an isolated and portable way to store data.

Advantages of Volumes:
a. Data Persistence: Volumes are designed for long-term storage and can outlive the containers using them.
b. Portability: Volumes can be easily moved between different environments, enabling seamless application deployment.
c. Backup and Restore: Docker provides utilities to backup and restore volumes, ensuring data integrity.

When to Choose Volumes: Volumes are a suitable choice when:

  • Data needs to persist even after the container is removed or restarted.
  • Multiple containers require access to the same data.
  • You want to separate the storage concerns from the container runtime.

Bind Mounts: Bind mounts, unlike volumes, are not managed by Docker. Instead, they point directly to a specific location on the host file system. By binding a host directory or file to a container’s file system, the container can access and modify the data in real-time.

Advantages of Bind Mounts:
a. Direct Access: Bind mounts provide direct access to the host’s file system, allowing changes to be immediately reflected in both the container and the host.
b. Flexibility: Bind mounts can be used to share files between the host and the container, making it easier to develop and test applications.

When to Choose Bind Mounts:

Bind mounts are a suitable choice when:

  • You need to provide access to specific files or directories from the host.
  • Real-time synchronization between the host and container is required.
  • Development or debugging tasks necessitate quick and easy modifications to files.

tmpfs Mounts: tmpfs mounts create a temporary file system in memory, which means the data stored within it is volatile and lost upon container termination. The tmpfs mount provides an ephemeral storage option that resides solely in memory.

Advantages of tmpfs Mounts:
a. Speed: Data stored in memory is significantly faster to access compared to disk-based storage.
b. Security: As tmpfs mounts do not persist data, they can be advantageous in scenarios where sensitive data needs to be handled securely.

When to Choose tmpfs Mounts: tmpfs mounts are a suitable choice when:

  • Temporary and transient data storage is required.
  • Speed is a critical factor, such as for caching or temporary file needs.
  • Security concerns mandate data to be wiped after container termination.

Conclusion: Volumes, bind mounts, and tmpfs mounts offer distinct approaches to handle storage within Docker containers. Volumes provide long-term data persistence, portability, and isolation. Bind mounts offer real-time access to host files and directories, facilitating development and debugging tasks. tmpfs mounts provide temporary and volatile storage in memory, ideal for speed-driven or security-conscious scenarios.

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