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Balena OS – A operating system tailored for containers

What is balena OS?

Balena OS has been designed to include the minimal set of required components to reliably support operation of the Docker engine in embedded scenarios. It uses the Yocto framework as a foundation, systemd as the init system.

The networking stack consists of Network Manager, DNSmasq and Modem Manager. We have found these components to be a robust stack for dealing with the diversity of hardware and unpredictability of configuration of networks in which a device may be booted.

In addition, we include Avahi, Dropbear, and OpenVPN, which add support for mDNS, SSH, and VPN connections respectively.

This foundation is uniquely suited to running arbitrary containers on a wide range of embedded devices which balena OS supports. Balena has also made available a wide selection of base images for containers which are optimised for the same scenario and allow developers to create applications based on the Debian, Alpine, or Fedora distributions. That is not to say, of course, that any other container base image may not be used, but that the images by balena have been verified to work well with balena OS, implementing patterns which are particularly suitable for embedded devices, like balena OS itself.

Balena OS
source – https://www.balena.io/os/docs

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Why Docker containers on embedded devices?

We think that containers are essential to bringing modern development and deployment capabilities to connected devices. Linux containers, particularly Docker, offer, for the first time, a practical path to using virtualization on embedded devices. Virtual machines and hypervisors have lead to huge leaps in productivity and automation for cloud deployments, but their abstraction of hardware as well as their resource overhead and lack of hardware support means that they are out of the question for embedded scenarios. With OS-level virtualization as implemented for Linux Containers, both those objections are lifted for heterogeneous embedded Linux devices in the ‘Internet of Things.’

How is this different from cloud operating systems for containers?

BalenaOS shares a lot with cloud operating systems for containers. We share the focus on minimalism, getting out of the user’s way and letting their container do the heavy lifting, and using Docker, which is the standard way of running containers, and well understood by a large developer community. BalenaOS applies the same principles to a different domain, that of embedded Linux devices, sometimes called “connected devices”, “Internet of Things” or “Industrial Internet”, depending on the use case. While some of the cloud operating systems have been made to run on particular embedded devices, their architecture is geared towards the cloud, where they shine.
By applying the container paradigm to the embedded world, the balenaOS team has faced and solved a unique set of challenges that are not common in the cloud and datacentre world, such as:

  • The extreme heterogeneity of device types found in the wild;
  • Severely restricted resource envelopes in terms of storage, CPU, and networking;
  • Devices that are difficult to reach or re-provision upon failure, where power is unstable and may be turned off at any time, or with custom hardware attached.

BalenaOS is built for this world from scratch, and our deepest architectural and feature choices have been made exclusively with embedded devices in mind. BalenaOS is built for embedded devices, and this focus continues to drive our architectural objectives.

How is this different from other embedded operating systems?

BalenaOS uniquely combines the virtues of mature embedded operating systems with the developer-focused sensibilities of cloud operating systems. Where the cloud operating systems don’t address the realities of the embedded world, embedded and IoT-focused Linux distributions don’t focus on containers. When they do, they often choose to reinvent the wheel rather than use Docker, which is the de-facto standard among developers. BalenaOS aims to be a competent embedded operating system and shares architectural principles with many existing systems, but also aims to unify the approach to containers with Docker.
While others have done a fantastic job evangelising the use of containers on embedded devices, balenaOS has the added benefit of focusing on portability, with 20 device types already supported, and production-readiness, with thousands of devices already deployed for business purposes.


  • Tailored for containers – Containers will revolutionize connected devices, and balenaOS is the best way to run them.
  • Built to last anywhere – Made to survive harsh networking conditions and unexpected shutdowns.
  • Just the essentials – A minimal Linux with the services needed to run Docker reliably on an embedded device – nothing else.
  • Easy to port – Based on Yocto Linux for easy porting to most capable device types across varied CPU architectures.
  • Fast, modern workflow – Who said embedded software has to be slow and painful to develop?
  • Open and friendly – Actively developed in the open; community participation warmly welcomed.

Supported Architectures


Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, Beaglebone Black, Beaglebone Green, Beaglebone Green Wireless, Samsung Artik 5, Samsung Artik 10, Odroid C1/C1+, Odroid XU4, SolidRun HummingBoard-base, Boundary Devices Nitrogen6X, Parallella Board, VIA vab820.


Raspberry Pi 1 Model A+, Raspberry Pi ZERO


Technologic Systems TS-7700

Intel x86_32

Intel Edison

Intel x86_64

Intel NUC

We talk about ” Getting Started with Balena OS ” in Next Article.

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Harshvardhan Mishra

Hi, I'm Harshvardhan Mishra. Tech enthusiast and IT professional with a B.Tech in IT, PG Diploma in IoT from CDAC, and 6 years of industry experience. Founder of HVM Smart Solutions, blending technology for real-world solutions. As a passionate technical author, I simplify complex concepts for diverse audiences. Let's connect and explore the tech world together! If you want to help support me on my journey, consider sharing my articles, or Buy me a Coffee! Thank you for reading my blog! Happy learning! Linkedin

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