Containerization is an approach to software development in which an application or service, its dependencies, and its configuration (abstracted as deployment manifest files) are packaged together as a container image. The containerized application can be tested as a unit and deployed as a container image instance to the host operating system (OS).

Just as shipping containers allow goods to be transported by ship, train, or truck regardless of the cargo inside, software containers act as a standard unit of software that can contain different code and dependencies. Containerizing software this way enables developers and IT professionals to deploy them across environments with little or no modification.

Containers also isolate applications from each other on a shared OS. Containerized applications run on top of a container host that in turn runs on the OS (Linux or Windows). Containers therefore have a significantly smaller footprint than virtual machine (VM) images.