When spinning up multiple docker containers in which I run npm ci, I start getting pthread_create: Resource temporarily unavailable errors (less than 5 docker containers can run fine). I deduce there is some kind of thread limit somewhere, but I cannot find which one is blocking here.


  • a Jenkins instance spins up docker containers for each build (connection through ssh into this docker container).
  • in each container some build commands are run; I see the error often when using npm ci since this seems to create quite some threads; but I don't think the problem is related to npm itself.
  • all docker containers run on a single docker-host. It's specifications:


  • Intel(R) Xeon(R) Gold 5118 CPU @ 2.30GHz with 12 cores, 220 GB RAM
  • Centos 7
  • Docker version 18.06.1-ce, build e68fc7a
  • systemd version 219
  • kernel 3.10.0-957.5.1.el7.x86_64


I can see the error under different forms:

  • jenkins failing to contact the docker container; errors like: java.lang.OutOfMemoryError: unable to create new native thread
  • git clone failing inside the container with ERROR: Error cloning remote repo 'origin' ... Caused by: java.lang.OutOfMemoryError: unable to create new native thread
  • npm ci failing inside the container with node[1296]: pthread_create: Resource temporarily unavailable

Things I have investigated or tried

I looked quite a lot a this question.

  • docker-host has systemd version 219 and is hence does not have the TasksMax attribute.
  • /proc/sys/kernel/threads-max = 1798308
  • kernel.pid_max = 49152
  • number of threads (ps -elfT | wc -l) is typically 700, but with multiple containers running I have seen it climb to 4500.
  • all builds run as some user with pid 1001 inside the docker container; however there is no user with pid 1001 on the docker-host so I don't know which limits apply to this user.
  • I have already increased multiple limits for all users in /etc/security/limits.conf (see below)
  • I created a dummy user with uid 1001 on docker-host and made sure it had also nproc limit set to unlimited. Logging onto that user ulimit -u = unlimited. This still didn't solve the problem

/etc/security/limits.conf :

*               soft    nproc           unlimited
*               soft    stack           65536
*               soft    nofile          2097152

output of ulimit -a as root:

core file size          (blocks, -c) 0
data seg size           (kbytes, -d) unlimited
scheduling priority             (-e) 0
file size               (blocks, -f) unlimited
pending signals                 (-i) 899154
max locked memory       (kbytes, -l) 1048576
max memory size         (kbytes, -m) unlimited
open files                      (-n) 1048576
pipe size            (512 bytes, -p) 8
POSIX message queues     (bytes, -q) 819200
real-time priority              (-r) 0
stack size              (kbytes, -s) 65536
cpu time               (seconds, -t) unlimited
max user processes              (-u) 899154
virtual memory          (kbytes, -v) unlimited
file locks                      (-x) unlimited

limits of my dockerd process (cat /proc/16087/limits where 16087 is pid of dockerd)

Limit                     Soft Limit           Hard Limit           Units     
Max cpu time              unlimited            unlimited            seconds   
Max file size             unlimited            unlimited            bytes     
Max data size             unlimited            unlimited            bytes     
Max stack size            unlimited            unlimited            bytes     
Max core file size        unlimited            unlimited            bytes     
Max resident set          unlimited            unlimited            bytes     
Max processes             unlimited            unlimited            processes 
Max open files            65536                65536                files     
Max locked memory         65536                65536                bytes     
Max address space         unlimited            unlimited            bytes     
Max file locks            unlimited            unlimited            locks     
Max pending signals       899154               899154               signals   
Max msgqueue size         819200               819200               bytes     
Max nice priority         0                    0                    
Max realtime priority     0                    0                    
Max realtime timeout      unlimited            unlimited            us
  • If your Docker host is CentOS 7.4+, then I believe you are affected by the default TasksMax attribute of systemd (I saw that it is enabled from this bug report). Add TasksMax=infinity to your Docker service file override and see if it helps or prints the warning that it is not available. – GracefulRestart Apr 25 at 19:13
  • Hi @GracefulRestart: my system is not affected by that; since I have systemd = 219 which does not have the TasksMax parameter; as noted in my question. – Chris Maes Apr 25 at 19:14
  • If you are on CentOS 7.4 or higher, then you are affected by it as it was backported to systemd-219-42 as per this errata announcement. – GracefulRestart Apr 25 at 19:29
  • I have centos 7.6, systemd 219-62 but yet when I run systemctl status docker it says Tasks: 135 and there is no maximum between brackets so I still think that this is not the reason. Also my limit seems to lie at 4096 threads and not at 512. – Chris Maes Apr 25 at 19:45

I have found a way to get access to more than 4096 threads.

My docker container is a centos7 image; which has by default a user limit set to 4096 processes; as defined in /etc/security/limits.d/20-nproc.conf :

# Default limit for number of user's processes to prevent
# accidental fork bombs.
# See rhbz #432903 for reasoning.

*          soft    nproc     4096
root       soft    nproc     unlimited

when logging in to my docker container; I added into the ~/.bashrc the command ulimit -u unlimited such that this limit is removed for that user. Now I can break through this 4096 ceiling.

I am not thoroughly happy with this solution; since this means that I need to adapt all containers that would run on docker-host since they each have their own limit; and since I run all build commands as user 1001 it seems like when a container asks for how many threads he has running; he "sees" all threads of all containers together; not only those from his own instance.

I created an issue in docker-for-linux github for this: https://github.com/docker/for-linux/issues/654

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