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Thomas Strömberg
Thomas Strömberg

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Go & secondary groups: a kaniko adventure!

Originally posted on my personal blog in April 2020

I wanted to get my feet wet with understanding Kaniko,
an open-source in-cluster builder for Docker images. I happen to work with one of the maintainers, Tejal,
and I asked her if there was any interesting UNIX-internals sort of bugs that might be interesting.

Here's the mystery issue: "The USER command does not set the correct gids, so extra groups are dropped". Here's an example to reproduce it:

FROM ubuntu:latest
RUN groupadd -g 20000 bar
RUN groupadd -g 10000 foo
RUN useradd -c "Foo user" -u 10000 -g 10000 -G bar -m foo
RUN id foo
USER foo
RUN id
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In an ideal world, both "id" commands should give the same output, but the second one did not include foo's membership in bar. This definitely sounded
like a secondary group issue. I happened to know that secondary groups were bolted onto the UNIX implementation some 10 years later than primary groups (SVR4, by way of BSD).

How to reproduce

First, get a shell into the Kaniko debug image, mounting in the out/ and integration/ subdirectory:

docker run -it --entrypoint /busybox/sh -v "$HOME"/.config/gcloud:/root/.config/gcloud -v (pwd)/integration:/workspace -v (pwd)/out:/out

I placed their Dockerfile into kaniko/integration/1097, which was mounted as /workspace. I could then trivially reproduce their case using kaniko:

/kaniko/executor -f 1097 --context=dir://workspace --tarPath=/tmp/image.tar --no-push

Finding the culprit

The first question was: how does Kaniko implement user switching? Are they switching in such a way that populates secondary groups? I ask because the standard syscalls (seteuid, setegid) do not implement secondary groups: one has to instead call setgroups. Here's what I found:

cmd.SysProcAttr.Credential = &syscall.Credential{Uid: uid, Gid: gid}
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[SysProcAttr]( is not exactly a well-known feature in Go, but it's perfect for setting exec attributes such as:

  • Chroot - lock the process into a directory
  • Pdeathsig - Signal that the process will get when its parent dies (Linux only)
  • ... and many options for user namespacing: handy for container tools.

So, I figured it would be easy enough to improve the function in such a way that performs secondary group impersonation. The trick to you, dear reader, is to find the flaw!

func impersonate(userStr string) (*syscall.Credential, error) {
   groups := []uint32{}
   gidStr, err := u.GroupIds()
   logrus.Infof("groupstr: %s", gidStr)

   for _, g := range gidStr {
       i, err := strconv.ParseUint(g, 10, 32)
       if err != nil {
           return nil, errors.Wrap(err, "parseuint")
       groups = append(groups, uint32(i))

   return &syscall.Credential{
       Uid:    uid,
       Gid:    gid,
       Groups: groups,
   }, nil
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After running make, I hop back into the container to run the repro case, and I'm perplexed by the log message:

INFO[0013] u.GroupIds returned: []

Is kaniko running in some alternate chroot universe where it can't see? I double check by adding a shell command:

out, err = exec.Command("grep", "foo", "/etc/group").Output()

The answer is no. At this point, there are only two options in my mind. Either this is a Go bug, or, if Go is using libc to make this call (likely),
it's a libc bug, or at least a disagreement between the two systems. As soon as you have made the decision to blame the compiler, it's time to gather evidence, typically by making a simpler test case. I opt first to investigate if Go is using libc to look up the list of secondary groups, starting with:

A couple of nested functions later, and you can see that it's calling:

static int mygetgrouplist(const char* user, gid_t group, gid_t* groups, int* ngroups) {
  return getgrouplist(user, group, groups, ngroups);
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This is almost the same implementation you see in busybox's id command source

static int get_groups(const char *username, gid_t rgid, gid_t *groups, int *n)
  int m;
   if (username) {
     m = getgrouplist(username, rgid, groups, n);
     return m;
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Now, it's possible that Go is setting ngroups to 0, so we just build a little test case program:

func main() {
    u, err := user.Lookup(os.Args[1])
    if err != nil {
     panic(fmt.Sprintf("lookup failed: %v", err))
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The test program runs great on macOS, but when I use xgo to cross-compile it for Linux, all it outputs is:

-rwxr-xr-x    1 0        0          2125099 Mar 28 20:26 ggroups-linux-amd64

# ./ggroups-linux-amd64
/busybox/sh: ./ggroups-linux-amd64: not found
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If you ever see this error in UNIX, it usually means one of three things:

  • The program specifies an invalid #! line
  • The binary needs a shared library that does not exist
  • The binary is for the wrong architecture

In this case, I suspected #2, because I see that busybox is in use, chances are pretty high that this Docker image lacks libc. This environment
does not have ldd, but it has strings, so I can get some hints about the binary that was built:

strings /out/ggroups-linux-amd64  | head
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It looks like the right architecture, but yeah, that library doesn't exist. Just to confirm my sanity, I confirmed this program works great in an ubuntu container. I immediately suspect that either kaniko's user environment is trash, or kaniko is up to shenanigans in their Makefile. The easier is easier to check, and it doesn't take long to notice:

out/executor: $(GO_FILES)
    GOARCH=$(GOARCH) GOOS=linux CGO_ENABLED=0 go build -ldflags \
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God damnit. kaniko works because they disable cgo to workaround the lack of a libc environment. Look back at listgroups_unix.go - it uses C code, and the build rule specifically states only to build with cgo. If we look at the fallback implementation, we see:

func listGroups(*User) ([]string, error) {
    if runtime.GOOS == "android" || runtime.GOOS == "aix" {
        return nil, fmt.Errorf("user: GroupIds not implemented on %s", runtime.GOOS)
    return nil, errors.New("user: GroupIds requires cgo")
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But wait - we didn't see an error in our impersonate function! I try to compile it without cgo:

env CGO_ENABLED=0 go run ggroups.go root
panic: groupids failed: user: GroupIds requires cgo

goroutine 1 [running]:
    /Users/tstromberg/src/ggroups/ggroups.go:18 +0x117
exit status 2
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The mystery deepens

If you see an error in one environment, and not the other, chances are either:

  • A compiler error
  • A kernel error
  • You forgot to check the error code.

It's almost always the last option. Sure enough:

   gidStr, err := u.GroupIds()
   logrus.Infof("groupstr: %s", gidStr)
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As soon as I noticed this, I walked away from my computer for an hour. I suggest you do the same.

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