Avoiding VS Code extension reinstalls

By default, Visual Studio Code will install extensions and VS Code Server inside the container's filesystem. While this has performance benefits over a locally mounted filesystem, the disadvantage is that VS Code will have to reinstall them on a container rebuild. If you find yourself rebuilding frequently, you can use a local "named volume" mount so that the extensions and VS Code Server survive a container rebuild.

There are a two side effects of doing this you should be aware of:

  • Deleting the container will not automatically delete the named volume.
  • Sharing the volume across multiple containers can have unintended consequences, so to be safe we will pick a unique name for each.

To create the named local volume, follow these steps:

  1. If you are running as a non-root user, you'll need to ensure your Dockerfile creates ~/.vscode-server/extensions and/or ~/.vscode-server-insiders/extensions in the container with this non-root user as the owner. If you do not do this, the folder will be owned by root and your connection will fail with a permissions issue. See Adding a non-root user to your dev container for full details, but you can use this snippet in your Dockerfile to create the folders. Replace user-name-goes-here with the actual user name:

    ARG USERNAME=user-name-goes-here
    RUN mkdir -p /home/$USERNAME/.vscode-server/extensions \
            /home/$USERNAME/.vscode-server-insiders/extensions \
        && chown -R $USERNAME \
            /home/$USERNAME/.vscode-server \
  2. Next, we'll configure a named volume mount for ~/.vscode-server/extensions and ~/.vscode-server-insiders/extensions in the container. The configuration will depend on whether you specify an image, Dockerfile, or Docker Compose file in your devcontainer.json file.

    Dockerfile or image:

    Add the following to devcontainer.json, replacing /root with the home directory in the container if not root (for example /home/user-name-goes-here) and unique-vol-name-here with a unique name for the volume:

    "mounts": [
        // And/or for VS Code Insiders

    Docker Compose:

    Update (or extend) your docker-compose.yml with the following for the appropriate service. Replacing /root with the home directory in the container if not root (for example /home/user-name-goes-here) and unique-vol-name-here with a unique name for the volume.

          - unique-vol-name-here:/root/.vscode-server/extensions
          # And/or for VS Code Insiders
          - unique-vol-name-here-insiders:/root/.vscode-server-insiders/extensions
        # ...
  3. Finally, if you've already built the container and connected to it, you'll need to run Dev Containers: Rebuild Container from the Command Palette (F1) to pick up the change. Otherwise run Dev Containers: Reopen in Container to connect to the container for the first time.

After the container is up and running, subsequent rebuilds will not reacquire any extensions or the VS Code server. The build will also not use the latest extensions list from devcontainer.json.

However, if you want to completely reset, you can delete the volume and everything will be reinstalled on restart.

docker volume rm unique-vol-name-here