Recently, Docker added a new command to Docker CLI. docker sbom. We can use this command to create a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) for any container image. Another great capability when it comes to shift-left security. This post explains why you should want to have SBOMs for all the container images of your application. How to get them and which actions you can take based on SBOMs to improve the overall security of your containerized workloads.

What is Software Bill Of Materials (SBOM)

Let’s do a quick refresher for those of you that have never heard the term Software Bill Of Materials (SBOM)

Why do you want to have SBOMs

Now that you know what an SBOM actually is, you may ask yourself why you should care about it and what you can do. From a developers perspective, you can achieve the following:

  • Identify all runtime dependencies of your container images
  • Minimize supply chain attack surface by removing unnecessary or forbidden (due to regularity compliance) dependencies from your container images
  • Harden your supply chain by replacing specific software packages with alternatives
  • Start your inner-loop security process as part of shift-left security by handing over SBOM to vulnerability scanners
  • Detect issues due to licenses applied to upstream components
  • Implement security, quality, and compliance gates that use SBOM to prevent usage of particular software packages or as safeguard to prevent infiltration

On top of that, your customers may also ask you to provide an SBOM for all your deliverables. See the following paragraph explaining why more and more enterprises request SBOMs.

Why do customers request SBOMs

I see more and more customers asking for SBOMs these days. Typically they want to

  • Know about dependencies finding their way into secured environments
  • Harden their supply chain and learn about potential attack surfaces
  • Prevent deployment of specific packages due to regulatory compliance
  • **Verify licenses **used by third-party software vendors

Obviously, there are more reasons why your customers may ask you for an SBOM. However, those were the ones that I hear most often.

Generating SBOM with Docker Desktop on Docker CLI

With version 4.7.0, Docker CLI (part of Docker Desktop) comes with the new docker sbom command, which allows us to create an SBOM for any Docker image. Under the covers, docker sbom is currently using the open-source project Syft from Anchore to create the SBOM.

All we need to do is provide the image name and the desired tag as an argument to docker sbom. The following snippet shows how to create an SBOM for the latest NGINX image (based on Alpine Linux):

docker sbom nginx:alpine
Syft v0.43.0
 ✔ Loaded image
 ✔ Parsed image
 ✔ Cataloged packages   [42 packages]
NAME                        VERSION             TYPE
alpine-baselayout           3.2.0-r18           apk
alpine-keys                 2.4-r1              apk
apk-tools                   2.12.7-r3           apk
brotli-libs                 1.0.9-r5            apk
busybox                     1.34.1-r5           apk
ca-certificates             20211220-r0         apk
ca-certificates-bundle      20211220-r0         apk
curl                        7.80.0-r0           apk
freetype                    2.11.1-r0           apk
geoip                       1.6.12-r2           apk
libbz2                      1.0.8-r1            apk
libc-utils                  0.7.2-r3            apk
libcrypto1.1                1.1.1n-r0           apk
libcurl                     7.80.0-r0           apk
libedit                     20210910.3.1-r0     apk
libgcrypt                   1.9.4-r0            apk
libgd                       2.3.2-r1            apk
libgpg-error                1.42-r1             apk
libintl                     0.21-r0             apk
libjpeg-turbo               2.1.2-r0            apk
libpng                      1.6.37-r1           apk
libretls                    3.3.4-r3            apk
libssl1.1                   1.1.1n-r0           apk
libwebp                     1.2.2-r0            apk
libxml2                     2.9.13-r0           apk
libxslt                     1.1.35-r0           apk
musl                        1.2.2-r7            apk
musl-utils                  1.2.2-r7            apk
ncurses-libs                6.3_p20211120-r0    apk
ncurses-terminfo-base       6.3_p20211120-r0    apk
nghttp2-libs                1.46.0-r0           apk
nginx                       1.21.6-r1           apk
nginx-module-geoip          1.21.6-r1           apk
nginx-module-image-filter   1.21.6-r1           apk
nginx-module-njs       apk
nginx-module-xslt           1.21.6-r1           apk
pcre2                       10.39-r0            apk
scanelf                     1.3.3-r0            apk
ssl_client                  1.34.1-r5           apk
tzdata                      2022a-r0            apk
xz-libs                     5.2.5-r0            apk
zlib                        1.2.12-r0           apk

SBOM file formats and their capabilities

Having detailed information about all software components part of your Docker image is mission-critical. But to move on from here, we must integrate SBOM with other tools like vulnerability scanners and others. The underlying open source Syft is able to produce the SBOM in different formats, that we can use for integration with upstream tooling:

  • SPDX: Either JSON or tag-value report that is SPDX 2.2 spec conform
  • CycloneDX: Either XML or JSON report that is CycloneDX 1.4 spec conform
  • Syft-JSON: Most detailed report that contains all information Syft can collect
  • Text: a row based report (easy to read for humans, yet good to process for machines / tools)
  • Table: a column-based summary (default output format)

Both SPDX and CycloneDX are standards that we use for further investigations like vulnerability scanning.

Integration with vulnerability scanners

Although vulnerability scanners can scan Docker images, it’s often faster to use the SBOM as a data source instead of the actual Docker image. There are many vulnerability scanning solutions available that we can use to scan our Docker images. For the sake of this article, we will use Grype (also created by the awesome folks at Anchore) to scan for vulnerabilities using SBOM:

# Create SBOM
docker sbom nginx:alpine --format syft-json -o sbom.json
Syft v0.43.0
 ✔ Loaded image
 ✔ Parsed image
 ✔ Cataloged packages   [42 packages]

# Scan for vulnerabilities
grype sbom:./sbom.json
 ✔ Vulnerability DB    [updated]
 ✔ Scanned image      [16 vulnerabilities]

curl      7.80.0-r0    7.80.0-r1    apk   CVE-2022-22576  Unknown
curl      7.80.0-r0    7.80.0-r1    apk   CVE-2022-27774  Unknown
curl      7.80.0-r0    7.80.0-r1    apk   CVE-2022-27775  Unknown
curl      7.80.0-r0    7.80.0-r1    apk   CVE-2022-27776  Unknown
libcurl   7.80.0-r0    7.80.0-r1    apk   CVE-2022-27774  Unknown
libcurl   7.80.0-r0    7.80.0-r1    apk   CVE-2022-27775  Unknown
libcurl   7.80.0-r0    7.80.0-r1    apk   CVE-2022-22576  Unknown
libcurl   7.80.0-r0    7.80.0-r1    apk   CVE-2022-27776  Unknown
libgd     2.3.2-r1                  apk   CVE-2021-40812  Medium
libgd     2.3.2-r1                  apk   CVE-2021-38115  Medium
libgd     2.3.2-r1                  apk   CVE-2021-40145  High
xz-libs   5.2.5-r0     5.2.5-r1     apk   CVE-2022-1271   Unknown

Handing over the SBOM to a vulnerability scanner like Grype, we can speed up the process of vulnerability scanning and can take further actions like upgrading vulnerable dependencies from here.

What we have covered in this post

  • 💡 Learned what Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) is
  • 🖇 Recognized why we as developers and our customers may want to have an SBOM
  • ⚙️ Created an SBOM from a Docker Image
  • 🦠 Used an SBOM as data source for a vulnerability scanner


Generating and providing detailed Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) for Docker images has never been easier. The integration of open-source Syft as a first-class citizen command is a vast simplification and addition to inner-loop tooling.

Identifying dependencies and eliminating potential vulnerabilities is a core principle for building rock-solid Docker images. We, as developers, must take responsibility for the Docker images we created to distribute our applications. As part of this responsibility, we must care about the security of our Docker images. In this context, docker sbom acts as the entrance into shift-left-security, which helps us to create secure and trustworthy Docker images.