If you grew up gaming in the 00’s and even into the 10’s, you probably have heard of Runescape. Even in 2023, Runescape remains one of the world’s most popular MMOs. The game has evolved significantly over the past 20-ish years of its existence and continues to have one of the most active online communities of any MMO.

There’s two main forks of the game: Old School Runescape1 (OSRS) and Runescape 32 (RS3).34 Both versions of Runescape have game clients. There’s a Java based, free, and open source client called RuneLite5 for OSRS. Runescape 3 has the C++ NXT Client6. I like to play both versions of the game on a Fedora box. It would be nice not to have to install a plethora of dependencies to support either client (one of which is only officially supported on Debian based distributions).

Project Goals

Recent experiences with Docker7 suggested that containerizing the game clients would be a worthy endeavor. A couple of questions came up during a brainstorming session:

  1. How do you write a Dockerfile for each client that ensures you get an image with all the needed dependencies and launch scripts?
  2. Both games generate re-usable caches of game data. How do you get cache persistence between container runs?
  3. How do you make a GUI work with Docker?
  4. How do you get audio? You can’t play OSRS without those sweet tunes.

Dockerfile Setup

Both Dockerfiles build off an Ubuntu base image. In the case of RuneLite, the host distro doesn’t matter much since the client runs in the JVM. However, the NXT C++ client only has official support on Debian based distros with most Linux users happy running the client on Ubuntu machines.

Aside from installing the required client dependencies8, both images create a local runescape user. The runescape user belongs to the audio group. Making a user part of the audio group isn’t recommended on desktop Ubuntu9. That said, it’s necessary to get audio working along with the steps in Audio Setup.

Cache Persistence

This issue was actually easy to tackle. Docker has support for what it calls volumes10. With a Docker volume you mount a folder on the host filesystem to the container filesystem. When the container shutdowns, any data written to the volume by the container will persist. Volumes fit the use case well. A per client container launch script includes a *_CACHE variable that makes the cache name and location customizable.

On Docker Containers and GUIs

Running a GUI from a Docker container is a pain in the ass. That said, there’s plenty of docs you can slog through to piece together a solution. The display server technology matters here. There are two mainstream Linux display server implementations out there: X1111 and Wayland12. Most distros stick with X11. The scripts developed for this project target compatibility with X11.

Here’s a summary of the steps required to get a GUI running in a container to display on the host system running an X11 server:

  • Verify the container has xorg-server installed.
  • Share the host X11 server socket with the container.
  • Generate and share a .Xauthority13 file with the container.
  • Set the container’s DISPLAY environment variable to match the DISPLAY value on the host system.

Below is a snippet from the launch.sh14 file used to launch a RuneLite client container:

# Credit to this SO post that shows a method for generating an Xauthority file on the fly.
# https://stackoverflow.com/questions/16296753/can-you-run-gui-applications-in-a-linux-docker-container/25280523#25280523
XSOCK="/tmp/.X11-unix"
XAUTH="/tmp/.docker.xauth"
touch ${XAUTH}
xauth nlist $DISPLAY | sed -e 's/^..../ffff/' | xauth -f $XAUTH nmerge -

docker run --rm \
    -v ${XSOCK}:${XSOCK} \
    -v ${XAUTH}:${XAUTH} \
    -e XAUTHORITY=${XAUTH} \
    -e DISPLAY=${DISPLAY} \
    ...

Audio Setup

Luckily, there is a great article explaining container to host audio pass through15. Similar to the X11 versus Wayland display server discussion, there are different audio servers in Linux. PulseAudio seems to be the defacto audio server with PipeWire16 the other contender of note.

There are two ingredients to get the container to host audio working:

  • Verify the container has a PulseAudio server installed.
  • Expose the PulseAudio socket on the host to the container.

Below is a snippet of the RuneLite client launch script with the relevant bits left in:

docker run --rm \
    -e PULSE_SERVER=unix:/run/user/${EUID}/pulse/native \
    -v /run/user/${EUID}/pulse/native:/run/user/${EUID}/pulse/native \
    ...

RuneLite Gremlins

Goblins!

No project is free of gremlins. While the RS3 container was working as expected, the RuneLite client would load and then cut out before the login screen! Turns out that the RuneLite.jar that’s executed on container launch goes through a two step process. The first step spawns a process with a GUI where it shows client update downloads. That process is then killed and a second process spawns which brings up the GUI for the client itself. The killing of the first process causes the container to shutdown because docker believes the containerized process has completed its run. The second process won’t even get a chance to run.

The following hack resolved the issue:

# Run RuneLite.
java -jar /usr/local/bin/RuneLite.jar

# Give RuneLite a few seconds to boot up.
sleep 20

# Find the PID of RuneLite client process.
RUNELITE_PID=$(pidof java)

# Wait until the User exits the RuneLite client session.
tail --pid=$RUNELITE_PID -f /dev/null

When the docker container launches, it will run this script. What happens is that the first line will spawn the process which downloads updates. When the first process terminates, within a few seconds (I give myself a big 20sec buffer), the second client process will spawn. The second processes’ PID gets captured. The tail command causes the script to wait until the RuneLite PID is no more (that is, the client has exited). It’s ugly but it works.

Conclusion

Containerizing RS3 and OSRS turned out to be possible with some effort. Getting the GUI and audio working posed the largest challenge. The bright side is that the information provided here is useful in many other containerization contexts. Performance on an admittedly dated laptop has been good with no noticeable overhead to running inside the container versus on the host. Time to finally play the game.

The complete source with build instructions, usage, etc. is available on GitHub under containerized_runescape.


  1. Old School Runescape ↩︎

  2. Runescape 3 ↩︎

  3. The OSRS Wikipedia page has a good summary of why there’s two version of Runescape. ↩︎

  4. If you have never player Runescape and are curious what it’s and which version to play, J1mmy’s video might help you decide. ↩︎

  5. See the RuneLite Client project page. ↩︎

  6. See the Runescape 3 NXT Client project page. ↩︎

  7. New to Docker? Luckily, Docker has great docs and tutorial to get you started. ↩︎

  8. Checkout the RuneLite and NXT Dockerfiles to see the dependencies required by each client. ↩︎

  9. See this link for the details: TheAudioGroup↩︎

  10. See the Volumes docs for the full details on volumes in Docker. ↩︎

  11. See the X11 Wikipedia page. ↩︎

  12. See the Wayland project page. ↩︎

  13. The X Window authorization wiki gives a good explanation of .Xauthority and its function. ↩︎

  14. RuneLite launch.sh ↩︎

  15. Passing audio into docker container ↩︎

  16. See the PipeWire project page. ↩︎