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Linux Assembly on macOS

Computer Organisation / Architecture courses usually require writing Assembly code for Linux.

What I'll address here is how to easily run Linux Assembly on macOS machines.

Table of Contents

  1. TL;DR
  2. The "Clumsy" Way (VM)
  3. The "Smart" Way (Docker)
  4. Renting a Linux Server


There are a few ways how to do it, IMO the easiest and most pleasant way is to use Docker:

  1. Watch this great 2-h Docker Tutorial for Beginners from the FreeCodeCamp (optional).
  2. Install Docker Desktop for macOS and start Docker. You can check that everything is alright by executing $ docker ps command and not having errors.
  3. Create a Dockerfile in the folder with your Assembly code

    # Dockerfile
    FROM ubuntu:latest
    RUN apt-get update
    RUN apt-get install -y gcc
    RUN apt-get install -y make
  4. Create docker-compose.yml file in the same folder as Dockerfile.

    # docker-compose.yml
    version: "3"
            image: linux-image
            container_name: linux-container
                context: .
            command: sleep 1000
                - .:/code
  5. Run $ docker-compose up

  6. Connect to the container via $ docker exec -it linux-container bash

You are ready to go! Your code will be in the /code/ folder. You can edit it inside a docker container and changes will be seen in the host and vice versa because it is a "shared folder".

After a container has stopped (with CTRL-C, for example), you can start it again by repeating 5-6 steps.

The "Clumsy" Way (VM)

You can use VMs like Virtual Box or Parallels or VM Ware.


  • It may be a bit easier to start with, but the sacrifice in the experience doesn't worth it IMO =).


  • Those apps are either:
    • Free and shitty (slow, ugly, and require quite a bit of time to set up everything), like Virtual Box.
    • Or paid and a bit less shitty, like Parallels.
  • They really may take the time. I gave up on setting "Shared Folder" to share code when using Virtual box. And I spent almost a day trying to SSH into my Parallels VM...

BTW if you still want to go with VM after this article I highly recommend using SSH instead of the
GUI that VM provides.

In case you don't know, to connect via SSH basically means that you are using your host terminal to connect to the VM, as to the server. As a result, you can execute
commands on a remote VM using your host terminal.

The "Smart" Way (Docker)

Please don't be afraid it is not that hard at all, I promise. Please look at the code above in the TL;DR

Does it look scary? Believe it or not, this is the only code you would need.
So if you are interested, please read further.


  • You will learn a truly amazing technology that will be of great help to you in the future as well.
  • I had the best experience using this way.
  • If you mess your container up, you can easily restart it from its initial state.
  • You can easily make "Shared Folders" and connect them to your container.


  • You may spend quite a bit of time, in the beginning, depending on your background.

Explanation of Code Snippets

The FreeCodeCamp tutorial I linked above is explains everything in-depth, but here I have a small summary.

Essentially Docker Desktop for macOS is VM itself. Thus it allows us to run Linux containers on macOS.

The Dockerfile is a file that defines the so-called "container image". It contains the settings that you want to have
for your container.

  • FROM ubuntu:latest says that we want our image to be based on another image, the latest ubuntu.
  • RUN <some command> says docker to run this <some command> inside image when building. We are installing gcc and make for using this command.

The docker-compose.yml is a file where we define how exactly we want to run our container.

  • image: linux-image means that we want the container to be created from the image with the name linux-image
  • command: sleep 1000 is the command which will be executed in the container. The container will be alive while the process executing this command is alive.
  • volumes: .:/code means that we map . folder in the host with the folder /code/ in the container. Therefore it will be a shared folder (so-called volume).

A Few Thing to Mention:

  • As with everything in programming, you don't need to know everything about tool to use it.
  • Docker is not a rocket science, but (especially if you are pretty new to programming) probably starting with reading dry documentation is not the brightest idea. There are great tutorials out there.
  • Docker makes a lot of things so freaking much easier. For example, my Jekyll website uses Docker because it is much faster than resolving stupid gem conflicts every few months and making a mess of your system by installing a lot of different libraries and packages.

Renting a Linux Server

Yes, you can always rent a Linux server and access it through SSH.


  • It is a bit easier than learning Docker.
  • It may be useful to have your server. You can use it for hosting your website, for example.


  • It is more expensive than using Docker (will cost 10-20 EUR a month).
  • You can only access the server when you have Internet.

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