How to Exit Docker Container Like a Pro [6 Best Methods]

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Last updated: June 6, 2024

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To exit Docker container, you can try the following methods:

  1. Stop Command: Use docker stop container_id for a graceful shutdown, allowing the container to complete necessary cleanup operations.
  2. Kill Command: Use docker kill container_id to forcefully stop a container, immediately terminating all processes.
  3. Pause and Unpause Commands: Use docker pause container_id to temporarily freeze container processes, and docker unpause container_id to resume them.

Read the guide below to learn how to exit a Docker container. Also, learn the best practices for exiting the container and common errors that can occur and their possible solutions.

Managing Docker containers can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re not sure how or when to exit them. Don’t worry, In this post, I’ll explain the best times and ways to exit Docker container. You’ll find easy steps for shutting down, tips to prevent data loss, and solutions for common errors. By the end, you’ll confidently manage your containers. Plus, I’ll suggest some extra reading to boost your Docker skills even more. Let’s get started!

When to Exit from Docker Container

Knowing when to exit a Docker container is important for managing your applications effectively. Here are some key situations where you should exit a Docker container:

  1. After Completing Your Tasks: If you have finished running commands or scripts inside the container, it’s time to exit. For example, after running tests or setting up configurations, you can leave the container.
  2. When You Need to Save Resources: Running containers consume system resources like CPU and memory. If the container is idle or no longer needed, exiting it can free up these resources for other tasks.
  3. Before Making Configuration Changes: If you need to change the Docker container’s configuration or update its image, exit the container first. This ensures that changes are applied correctly when you restart the container.
  4. To Prevent Data Loss: Exiting properly, especially with commands like docker stop, ensures that all processes inside the container have time to complete their tasks and save data. This helps prevent data loss or corruption.
  5. When Automating Workflows: In automated scripts or continuous integration pipelines, you might need to exit containers after specific steps. This keeps the workflow clean and avoids unnecessary running containers.

How to Exit Docker Container

To exit a Docker container, you can use several methods. If you’re inside the container’s shell, type exit to close it. For a graceful shutdown, use docker stop container_id to allow cleanup operations. If you need to forcefully stop it, use docker kill container_id. You can also detach from an interactive session with Ctrl + P, followed by Ctrl + Q.

Here are the detailed steps for six different methods to exit docker container:

1. Stop Command

The docker stop command is the standard and most preferred way to halt a running container. It initiates a graceful shutdown, allowing the container to perform necessary cleanup operations before stopping. Follow these steps:

  1. Open your Terminal window.
opening terminal 1
  1. To stop a container, use the following command:
docker stop container_id or container_name
  1. The container will proceed with the shutdown process, allowing all running processes to complete.
shutting down docker container using stop command

2. Kill Command

The docker kill command offers a more forceful approach to stop a container. It sends a SIGKILL signal to the main process inside the container, resulting in immediate termination. Here is the step-by-step procedure:

  1. In the Terminal window, kill a container, using the following command:
docker kill container_id or container_name
  1. The container will be terminated instantly, and all processes will be halted.
terminating docker container using kill command

3. Pause and Unpause Commands

The docker pause and docker unpause commands allow you to freeze and resume container processes without stopping the container entirely. Use these commands during debugging or when you need to temporarily free up resources without stopping the container. Follow these steps:

  1. Launch your command window and to pause a container, use the following command:
docker pause container_id or container_name
  1. The container’s processes will be paused and temporarily suspended.
pausing a docker container
  1. To resume a paused container, use the following command:
docker unpause container_id or container_name
  1. The container’s processes will continue from where they were paused.
unpausing docker container

4. Executing exit Command

Sometimes, you may need to exit a Docker container from within its shell. The exit command is commonly used for this purpose. Use the exit command when you are inside a container’s shell and want to return to the host system’s shell. Follow these steps:

  1. Within the container’s shell, simply type:
  1. The container will close, and you’ll return to the host system’s shell. Every container exit is associated with an exit status code. An exit status code of 0 indicates successful execution, while non-zero values indicate errors.
exiting docker container from within

5. Detaching from Interactive Containers

If you are inside an interactive container session and want to exit without stopping it, you can use a key combination to detach. This method is best when you need to leave a container running but no longer require direct interaction. Follow these steps:

  1. While inside the container’s shell, press Ctrl + P, followed by Ctrl + Q.
  2. The container’s shell will detach, but the container itself will continue running.
pressing keys to detach from container
  1. The output will be:
detached from the container
  1. To reattach to the container, use the following command:
docker attach name_of_container
  1. The command will reattach the container.
reattaching to the container

6. Exiting with Ctrl + C and Ctrl + D

Exiting a Docker container can be efficiently done using the keyboard shortcuts Ctrl + C and Ctrl + D. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use these shortcuts.

  1. Begin by starting an interactive Docker container. For example, with Debian:
docker run -it debian

This command opens an interactive shell session inside an Ubuntu container.

starting interactive docker container
  1. Inside the container, start a process. For example, run the sleep command to simulate a long-running process:
sleep 100

This command will make the container sleep for 100 seconds.

simulating a long running process in a container
  1. If you want to stop the sleep command (or any other running process), press Ctrl + C on your keyboard. This sends a SIGINT (interrupt) signal to the process, causing it to stop immediately.
stopping the running process in a container
  1. After stopping the process, you can exit the container by pressing Ctrl + D on your keyboard. This sends an end-of-file (EOF) signal to the terminal, indicating that you have finished your input, and closes the shell session.
exiting from the container

3 Best Practices for Exiting Docker Containers

Properly exiting Docker containers is crucial for maintaining data integrity and ensuring efficient resource management. By following best practices, you can exit Docker containers with confidence, ensuring smooth operations and efficient resource management in your containerized environment. Here are three best practices to follow:

  • Graceful Shutdown with docker stop: Use docker stop to shut down a running container gracefully. This command allows the container to complete any necessary cleanup operations before exiting, ensuring that pending changes are saved. This reduces the risk of data corruption and preserves the integrity of your containerized applications.
  • 💡 Handle Exit Status Code: Pay attention to container exit status codes. These codes indicate the success or failure of the container’s main process. An exit status code of 0 means successful execution, while non-zero values indicate errors. Handling these codes helps you troubleshoot issues and fine-tune your Docker containers.
  • ⚠️ Know When to Use docker kill: Use docker kill for immediate termination. This command forcefully stops a container without allowing cleanup operations. Reserve docker kill for unresponsive containers or emergency scenarios where rapid termination is necessary. Use it with caution to avoid data loss.

3 Common Errors When Exiting Docker Containers

Exiting Docker containers may seem straightforward, but it’s essential to be aware of common errors that can lead to unexpected consequences. By being mindful of these common errors when exiting Docker containers, you can avoid potential headaches and create a smoother container management experience. Follow these steps:

  • 🛑 Abrupt Termination with docker kill: Avoid using docker kill unless necessary. This command forcefully terminates a container without allowing essential cleanup operations, leading to data corruption and unsaved changes. Use docker stop for a graceful shutdown whenever possible.
  • 🚫 Ignoring Exit Status Codes: Always check exit status codes. These codes indicate whether the container’s main process terminated successfully or encountered errors. Ignoring them can hinder troubleshooting and leave issues unresolved. Pay attention to these codes for insights into container behavior.
  • 🧹 Incomplete Cleanup during Graceful Shutdowns: Ensure complete cleanup during graceful shutdowns. Using docker stop should allow enough time for the container to save pending changes. Failing to do so can result in data loss or corrupted files. Make sure your application exits gracefully within the given time frame to maintain data integrity.

Docker Exit Container: Summing Up

In this article, I’ve explored various methods to exit a Docker container, including using commands like docker stop for a graceful shutdown and docker kill for immediate termination. I also discussed the importance of handling exit status codes and best practices for ensuring data integrity during shutdowns.

If you want to learn more:

  • Fixing the “Command Not Found: Docker Compose” error will help you resolve common setup issues.
  • Installing Docker on Debian will give you a solid foundation for setting up Docker in a Debian environment.
  • Implementing Docker restart policies will help you automate container restarts, enhancing your system’s reliability and uptime.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to check if a container has exited successfully?

To check a container’s exit status, you can use the docker ps -a command, which lists all containers, including those that have exited. Look for the STATUS column; if you see Exited (0), it indicates a successful exit. The exit status code 0 signifies that the container’s main process terminated without any errors. If you encounter a non-zero exit status code, it indicates that the container encountered an issue during execution.

How do I handle data persistence when forcefully exiting a container?

When you forcefully exit a container using the docker kill command or other methods, data persistence can be a concern. However, if you’ve set up Docker volumes for your container, data persistence is ensured even when the container is forcefully terminated. Docker volumes are separate storage entities, detached from the container’s lifecycle. By using volumes, critical data remains intact, allowing you to restart the container or create a new one without losing valuable information.

Can I forcefully exit a container that is stuck in a restarting loop?

To resolve the issue of a container stuck in a restarting loop, you can leverage the docker container prune command. This command efficiently removes all stopped containers from your Docker environment. By running docker container prune, you’ll clean up all containers that have completed their execution or encountered issues, including the one stuck in the restarting loop. Once the container is removed, you can then start fresh and run a new instance without any conflicts, potentially resolving the restarting loop problem.



Ojash is a skilled Linux expert and tech writer with over a decade of experience. He has extensive knowledge of Linux's file system, command-line interface, and software installations. Ojash is also an expert in shell scripting and automation, with experience in Bash, Python, and Perl. He has published numerous articles on Linux in various online publications, making him a valuable resource for both seasoned Linux users and beginners. Ojash is also an active member of the Linux community and participates in Linux forums.



Akshat is a software engineer, product designer and the co-founder of Scrutify. He's an experienced Linux professional and the senior editor of this blog. He is also an open-source contributor to many projects on Github and has written several technical guides on Linux. Apart from that, he’s also actively sharing his ideas and tutorials on Medium and Attirer. As the editor of this blog, Akshat brings his wealth of knowledge and experience to provide readers with valuable insights and advice on a wide range of Linux-related topics.

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