chroot - macOS


chroot is a command on macOS that changes the effective root directory for the current running process and its children. A process that runs in such a modified environment cannot access files outside the designated directory tree. The primary purpose of chroot is to isolate application processes for enhanced security, testing, and maintenance purposes. This can be particularly useful in sandboxing applications, simulating minimal environments for software development, or managing system recovery.


  • NEWROOT: Specifies the path to the new root directory.
  • COMMAND [ARG]...: The command to run in the new root environment. If no command is provided, chroot will launch the default shell.

Required Argument

  • NEWROOT: This must always be provided to define the new root directory.

Optional Argument

  • COMMAND [ARG]...: Optionally specify a command to run within the chroot.


chroot command does not typically come with many options/flags. Let’s outline avenue of usage using macOS specifics:

  • --help: Display usage information and exit.
  • --version: Output version information and exit.


  1. Basic chroot Usage:
    To change the root directory to /var/chroot and start a shell:

    sudo chroot /var/chroot /bin/bash
  2. Running a Specific Command:
    To run the command ls within a chroot at /var/chroot:

    sudo chroot /var/chroot /bin/ls
  3. Using chroot for Testing:
    Assuming that you have a test environment setup under /var/testenv, you can use chroot to run tests in that environment:

    sudo chroot /var/testenv /usr/bin/make test

Common Issues

  • Permission Errors: If chroot produces permission errors, ensure that the user has the necessary rights (typically root) to change the root directory.
  • Executable Not Found: When the specified COMMAND does not run, verify the new root contains all necessary binaries and libraries.
  • Relative Path Issues: Always use absolute paths for the NEWROOT and COMMAND to avoid unexpected behavior.


chroot can be combined with other Unix commands and scripts to automate sandboxing and testing. Here’s an example of a script that uses chroot with rsync to synchronize files into a chroot before execution:


# Creating a minimal environment
mkdir /var/minimal_chroot
rsync -a /bin /lib /lib64 /var/minimal_chroot

# Executing an application in the chroot
sudo chroot /var/minimal_chroot /bin/bash -c "your_command_here"
  • jail: On BSD systems, the jail command provides similar functionality to chroot but with more features.
  • docker run: Docker uses containers to provide a more robust and feature-rich environment than chroot, suitable for application isolation.
  • unshare: Used for running a command with some namespaces unshared from the parent.

For further reading and more detailed information, you can consult the official Apple Developer Documentation. Additionally, exploring Linux manual pages (manpages) can provide more depth, as chroot behaves similarly across Unix-like systems.