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Docker vs Virtual Machine: What is the Difference?

In the ever-evolving environment of software deployment, two heavyweights, Docker vs Virtual Machines (VMs), stand out as transformative technologies. But what sets them apart?  Virtual machines (VMs) and Docker are tools that change how businesses run and deploy apps. While Docker makes use of containerization to create lightweight environments, virtual machines (VMs) run a full operating system and provide users with a more private experience because of this. In the process of developing software, the deployment phase gets the application code ready to be used by the end users.

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What is Docker?

Docker is an open-source platform that utilizes containerization technology to package and distribute applications along with their dependencies. Containers are lightweight and portable, encapsulating everything needed to run an application, from the code to libraries and other dependencies. Docker provides a consistent environment across different stages of development and deployment, enabling seamless collaboration and efficient utilization of resources.

Key Features:

  • Containerization: Docker uses containers, which are isolated environments running on a shared operating system (OS) kernel.
  • Images: Docker images serve as blueprints for containers, capturing the application and its dependencies in a reproducible manner.
  • Portability: Containers can run consistently across different environments, from a developer’s laptop to a production server.
  • Microservices Support: Ideal for microservices architecture, facilitating modular and scalable application development.

What is a Virtual machine?

A Virtual Machine (VM) is an application that acts like an actual machine and runs an operating system (OS) and programs. VMs operate on a hypervisor, a layer of software or hardware that enables multiple VMs to run on a single physical machine. Each VM has its own complete OS instance, providing strong isolation and allowing different operating systems to run on the same host.

Key Features:

  • Hypervisor Technology: VMs are created and managed by hypervisors, which simulate hardware and manage multiple VMs on a single physical machine.
  • Isolation: Each VM operates independently, with its own OS and kernel, providing robust isolation from other VMs on the same host.
  • Portability: VMs encapsulate entire OS instances, making them portable across different physical servers.
  • Security: VMs offer strong isolation, reducing the risk of security breaches between instances.

Also Check: Our blog post on how to uninstall docker ubuntu

Difference between Docker vs virtual machine

Docker is a framework that allows developers to package software into standardized units called containers. Docker is open-source and free to use. The application’s source code as well as its environment, which may include libraries, system tools, and runtime, are contained within the container. Docker gives you the capacity to deploy and scale apps on any computer while also ensuring that your code always runs as expected. 

On the other hand, a virtual machine is merely a digital representation of a real-world machine. You can operate numerous virtual machines, each of which can have its own operating system, on the same physical computer that is running the host operating system. The environment of the application is created by the developers through the configuration of the virtual machine. Docker containers can also be executed on virtual computers if the user so chooses.

1️. Virtualization

Both Docker containers and virtual machines offer separate environments in which applications can be executed. The main difference between the two is how they help people feel alone.

Keep in mind that a VM will start up its own guest operating system. In this way, it virtualizes both the base of the operating system and the layer of applications. In a Docker container, only the application layer is virtualized. It runs on top of the host operating system.

2️. Compatibility

Complatibility of Docker vs Virtual machine is distinct. A virtual machine has its own operating system and is not dependent on the one that the host computer is using, which is called the host operating system.  So, all working systems can work with a VM.

Alternatively, a Docker container can work with any Linux version. Using Docker on a Windows computer or an older Mac might not work correctly.

3. Size

Docker containers are extremely lightweight and only require a small amount of storage space because they only store the program and the settings associated with it rather than the whole operating system. They are an excellent choice for locations with a restricted amount of space.

A bigger amount of disc space is required for virtual machines that contain a whole operating system. In circumstances with restricted storage space, they might not be a viable solution.

4️. Performance

When it comes to performance Docker vs Virtual machine are not that similar. Docker containers offer performance that is very similar to that of their native counterparts. You’ll just need a few milliseconds to get them going due to how lightweight they are.

Starting a virtual machine is similar to installing a standalone machine within your own personal computer. Starting a VM instance can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes of your time.

5️. Security

Docker containers operate within the operating system of the host. Consequently, in the event that the host operating system contains security flaws, the Docker containers will also contain such flaws. 

On the other hand, virtual machines start their own operating system when they boot up, making them more secure. Keep in mind that each virtual machine is actually a full-fledged machine operating within another. Instead of using a physical machine, you should think about using a virtual machine if you have strict security limitations that need to be met for critical applications.

6️. Replicability

The next thing we’ll look at is how easy it is to copy the separate settings that VMs and containers offer. We can figure out how easy it is to copy from what we’ve already talked about in terms of size and speed.

The use of virtual machines (VMs) can be resource-costly and inefficient when there are several applications, each of which should execute on its own instance of a VM. When you need to execute multiple programs simultaneously, the best option is to use Docker containers because of their low overhead and high performance.

7. Objective

Virtual machines were first made so that more than one operating system could run on a single physical computer. The goal is to provide users with the ability to build a virtual environment that is separated from the hardware that it is running on. Virtual machines hide the specifics of the underlying hardware, which simplifies the process of running software on a variety of system architectures and allows for more effective utilization of the hardware’s resources.

8. Architecture

A virtual machine is a computer that runs its own kernel and host operating system, as well as programs and the dependencies on those applications, such as libraries and other binary files. The hardware, often known as the host machine or server, and the virtual computer are both under the control of a hypervisor. It gives the virtual machine exclusive usage of the physical hardware resources that were defined during the instantiation process and allocates those resources to the virtual machine. On a single capable server, multiple virtual machines that can coexist, and all of them can be managed by a single hypervisor. On each virtual machine, hundreds of apps can be operating at the same time.

A Docker container just includes the components that it needs to run. Docker’s virtualization capabilities are provided by the program known as Docker Engine. It offers coordination between containers that are running and the operating system that is running below, regardless of whether the machine being used is physical or virtual.

9. Resource sharing

Containers built using Docker and virtual machines both take advantage of resource multiplexing, also known as resource sharing between different virtualized instances. When virtual machines start up, they make a request to the hardware for a particular allocation of the resource, which they then proceed to consistently use for as long as the virtual machine is operational.

On the other hand, Docker containers make use of resources only when they are needed. They do not make the standard request for a certain amount of resources from the underlying physical hardware like virtual machines do; rather, they make a single request to the kernel of the operating system for exactly what they require. The same operating system is used by several containers at the same time. When compared to a VM, Docker containers provide direct resource sharing with the kernel core and may require a lower overall resource commitment.

10. Speed

Docker’s rapid startup and shutdown times are one of its most significant advantages because they speed up the deployment process. Docker is known for its lightning-fast performance, but virtual machines often require more time to load and operate an entire operating system. The slower speeds of virtual machines (VMs) could potentially affect agility in dynamic situations that require scaling and reconfiguration.

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Difference between Docker vs virtual machine (Table)

FeatureDockerVirtual Machine (VM)
ArchitectureUses containerization. Containers share the host OS kernel.Utilizes hypervisors to create isolated instances with their own OS and kernel.
Resource EfficiencyLightweight containers with minimal overhead. Efficient resource utilization.Heavier resource footprint due to the emulation of complete OS instances.
IsolationProcess-level isolation. Containers share the host OS kernel.Strong isolation with separate OS instances for each VM.
Deployment SpeedFaster startup times. Containers can start within seconds.Slower startup times as VMs involve booting entire OS instances.
PortabilityHighly portable. Containers can run consistently across different environments.Portable but heavier due to encapsulating entire OS instances.
Learning CurveMay have a steeper learning curve, especially for those new to containerization concepts.Generally considered more straightforward, especially for those familiar with virtualization.
Ecosystem and CommunityBoasts a massive and active community. Extensive ecosystem of pre-built images.Robust community with a wealth of plugins and support for various hypervisors.
PerformanceFaster performance with lightweight containers.Slower performance due to the emulation of complete OS instances.
Use CasesIdeal for microservices architectures and scalable deployments.Suited for running legacy applications, especially those with specific OS dependencies.
FlexibilityMore lightweight and flexible, especially in dynamic and scalable environments.Less flexible due to the heavier resource footprint of VMs.
Resource OverheadMinimal resource overhead, maximizing efficient resource utilization.Higher resource overhead due to running complete OS instances for each VM.
SecurityProcess-level isolation with some level of vulnerability due to shared kernel.Stronger isolation, reducing the risk of security breaches between VMs.
ScalabilityWell-suited for rapid scaling and dynamic environments.Suitable for scenarios where security is paramount, but scalability may be slower.

Read More: About docker swarm vs docker compose

Should I choose Docker vs Virtual Machine (VM)? 

Comparing Docker with virtual machines is unfair because their intended uses are different. Although Docker is becoming more and more popular, virtual machines cannot be considered to be replaced by them. Even if Docker is becoming more and more popular, in some situations a virtual machine is a superior option. Since they run on their own operating system and pose no risk to the host computer, virtual machines are thought to be a better option in a production environment than Docker containers. However, Docker is the best option if the apps need to be tested, as it offers several OS platforms for comprehensive software or application testing.

In addition, a growing number of digital operating organizations are moving away from virtual machines in favor of containers because of the latter’s more difficult-to-run microservices and somewhat lengthy deployment process. Still, some businesses favor virtual machines over Dockers, while those looking to secure their infrastructure with enterprise-level protection go for Dockers.

Lastly, virtual machines and containers and Docker are complementary solutions for diverse workloads and uses, not antagonistic to one another. Applications that are often static and don’t change frequently are the target of virtual machines. On the other hand, the Docker platform is designed to be more adaptable in order to facilitate frequent and simple updates for containers. 


Docker vs Virtual Machines represent two distinct approaches to software deployment. Docker’s containerization excels in agility and efficiency, while Virtual Machines offer strong isolation and are suitable for scenarios demanding security and legacy application support. The choice between them depends on the specific requirements of the project, balancing factors such as resource efficiency, isolation needs, and deployment speed.

The choice between Docker vs Virtual Machines hinges on your specific project requirements, architectural preferences, and the balance you seek between resource efficiency, isolation, and deployment speed. As the landscape continues to evolve, both technologies play pivotal roles in shaping the future of software development and deployment.


Q1. What is Docker, and how does it differ from Virtual Machines (VMs)?

Docker is an open-source platform that uses containerization to package and distribute applications with their dependencies. It differs from VMs, which run full operating systems, by creating lightweight, portable containers encapsulating only what’s needed to run an application.

Q2. What are the key features of Docker?

Docker features containerization using isolated environments, Docker images as blueprints for reproducible containers, portability across different environments, and excellent support for microservices architecture.

Q3. What is a Virtual Machine (VM), and how does it differ from Docker?

A Virtual Machine is an application simulating a real machine, running its own OS and programs. Unlike Docker, VMs use hypervisors to provide strong isolation, running multiple instances on a single physical machine.

Q4. What is the resource efficiency difference between Docker and VMs?

Docker containers are lightweight with minimal overhead, offering efficient resource utilization. VMs have a heavier resource footprint due to emulating complete OS instances.

Q5. What are the security differences between Docker and VMs?

Docker containers operate within the host OS, sharing its security vulnerabilities. VMs start their own OS, providing stronger isolation and reducing the risk of security breaches between instances.

Q6. Is Docker replacing Virtual Machines?

Docker and VMs are complementary, not antagonistic. They serve diverse workloads, and the choice depends on specific project needs. Docker is gaining popularity, but VMs remain relevant, especially in production environments requiring strong security.

Q7. What type of applications is Docker best suited for?

Docker is ideal for applications in microservices architectures, requiring agility, scalability, and efficient resource utilization. It’s well-suited for frequent updates and dynamic environments.

Q8. When is it preferable to use Virtual Machines?

Virtual Machines are preferable when strong isolation is crucial, such as in scenarios with strict security requirements. They are suitable for running legacy applications with specific OS dependencies.

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