docker: executable file not found in $PATH


I have a docker image which installs grunt, but when I try to run it, I get an error:

Error response from daemon: Cannot start container foo_1: \
    exec: "grunt serve": executable file not found in $PATH

If I run bash in interactive mode, grunt is available.

What am I doing wrong?

Here is my Dockerfile:

# (builds on ubuntu:14.04)
FROM dockerfile/nodejs

MAINTAINER My Name, [email protected]

ENV HOME /home/web
WORKDIR /home/web/site

RUN useradd web -d /home/web -s /bin/bash -m

RUN npm install -g grunt-cli
RUN npm install -g bower

RUN chown -R web:web /home/web
USER web

RUN git clone /home/web/site

RUN npm install
RUN bower install --config.interactive=false --allow-root

ENV NODE_ENV development

# Port 9000 for server
# Port 35729 for livereload
EXPOSE 9000 35729
CMD ["grunt"]
11/26/2014 9:18:01 PM

Accepted Answer

When you use the exec format for a command (e.g. CMD ["grunt"], a JSON array with double quotes) it will be executed without a shell. This means that most environment variables will not be present.

If you specify your command as a regular string (e.g. CMD grunt) then the string after CMD will be executed with /bin/sh -c.

More info on this is available in the CMD section of the Dockerfile reference.

1/26/2017 6:54:46 AM

I found the same problem. I did the following:

docker run -ti devops -v /tmp:/tmp /bin/bash

When I change it to

docker run -ti -v /tmp:/tmp devops /bin/bash

it works fine.


There are several possible reasons for an error like this.

In my case, it was due to the executable file ( from the Ghost blog Dockerfile) lacking the executable file mode after I'd downloaded it.

Solution: chmod +x


A Docker container might be built without a shell (e.g.

In this case, you can copy-in a statically compiled shell and execute it, e.g.

docker create --name temp-busybox busybox:1.31.0
docker cp temp-busybox:/bin/busybox busybox
docker cp busybox mycontainerid:/busybox
docker exec -it mycontainerid /bin/busybox sh

For some reason, I get that error unless I add the "bash" clarifier. Even adding "#!/bin/bash" to the top of my entrypoint file didn't help.

ENTRYPOINT [ "bash", "" ]

In the error message shown:

Error response from daemon: Cannot start container foo_1: \
    exec: "grunt serve": executable file not found in $PATH

It is complaining that it cannot find the executable grunt serve, not that it could not find the executable grunt with the argument serve. The most likely explanation for that specific error is running the command with the json syntax:

[ "grunt serve" ]

in something like your compose file. That's invalid since the json syntax requires you to split up each parameter that would normally be split by the shell on each space for you. E.g.:

[ "grunt", "serve" ]

The other possible way you can get both of those into a single parameter is if you were to quote them into a single arg in your docker run command, e.g.

docker run your_image_name "grunt serve"

and in that case, you need to remove the quotes so it gets passed as separate args to the run command:

docker run your_image_name grunt serve

For others seeing this, the executable file not found means that Linux does not see the binary you are trying to run inside your container with the default $PATH value. That could mean lots of possible causes, here are a few:

  • Did you remember to include the binary inside your image? If you run a multi-stage image, make sure that binary install is run in the final stage. Run your image with an interactive shell and verify it exists:

    docker run -it --rm your_image_name /bin/sh
  • Your path when shelling into the container may be modified for the interactive shell, particularly if you use bash, so you may need to specify the full path to the binary inside the container, or you may need to update the path in your Dockerfile with:

    ENV PATH=$PATH:/custom/dir/bin
  • The binary may not have execute bits set on it, so you may need to make it executable. Do that with chmod:

    RUN chmod 755 /custom/dir/bin/executable
  • If you run the image with a volume, that volume can overlay the directory where the executable exists in your image. Volumes do not merge with the image, they get mounted in the filesystem tree same as any other Linux filesystem mount. That means files from the parent filesystem at the mount point are no longer visible. (Note that named volumes are initialized by docker from the image content, but this only happens when the named volume is empty.) So the fix is to not mount volumes on top of paths where you have executables you want to run from the image.