If you create or deploy applications using containers, you probably already know why you should use container registries: they make it easy to store and share container images systematically.
The challenge for many teams surrounding container registries, however, is deciding which one to use. There are so many registries available today that it can be difficult to decide which registry’s features, deployment architecture and (if applicable) pricing model is the best fit for your needs.
To provide guidance on this front, this article compares two popular container registries: Docker Hub and GitHub Container Registry. We’ll walk through the main benefits and drawbacks of each of these options and explain why you might want to use one, the other or neither to manage container images.
Pros and cons of Docker Hub
Docker Hub is the first container registry that many people encounter. Not only is Docker Hub the most widely used container registry today, but it’s also the “default” registry for many mainstream container management tools. If you deploy containers using Docker CLI tools or Kubernetes, for example, you’ll find that they are configured out-of-the-box to download images from Docker Hub by default, unless you specify an alternative registry.
Docker Hub advantages
This deep integration with Docker and Kubernetes is one of Docker Hub’s main advantages. It means that there is essentially no setup required to use Docker Hub as a container image management solution – if you can manage container images using public repositories, at least.
If you want to set up private Docker Hub repositories (meaning repositories that aren’t accessible to the public at large) for use with Docker or Kubernetes, you’ll need to do a little extra work; for example, in Kubernetes, you’d have to configure secrets in order to access the private repository. But the configuration process is still simpler overall than integrating another registry.
The fact that Docker Hub is a fully hosted registry is also an advantage. Users don’t need to set up any infrastructure or deploy any registry software to use Docker Hub.
Finally, Docker Hub’s integrated security scanner is a plus. Docker Hub automatically scans container images for security vulnerabilities, at no cost.
Docker Hub drawbacks
The main disadvantages of Docker Hub boil down to limited features and configuration options.
For example, one major limitation in Docker Hub is lack of truly granular access controls. While it’s possible to use Docker Hub’s Teams and Organizations feature to define access privileges for repositories, you can’t manage access controls on an image-by-image basis (unless you create a different repository for each image, which would be difficult to manage).
Docker Hub also provides limited features for viewing usage information. You can get basic statistics, such as the total number of times an image has been downloaded. But Docker Hub doesn’t provide the ability to generate highly detailed information about image or repository usage.
A final key limitation of Docker Hub is restrictions that Docker introduced in 2020 regarding how long images can be stored and how often they can be downloaded under Docker Hub’s free plans. If you need a registry that supports high-volume usage, Docker Hub’s free offerings no longer work well because you are, for example, limited to 200 downloads every six hours under the free plan.
Pros and cons of GitHub Container Registry
GitHub, which is mainly a platform for managing source code, wasn’t originally a contender on the container registry scene. That changed with the introduction of GitHub Container Registry in 2020 as an extension of GitHub Packages. Although originally released as a beta product, GitHub’s registry entered general availability in mid-2021.
GitHub Container Registry advantages
Probably the biggest advantage of using GitHub Container Registry is that it’s tightly integrated into GitHub. If you already manage source code for your applications using GitHub, you can easily package those applications as container images and host the images in GitHub’s registry without having to set up any special integrations or tooling. Everything you need is already built into GitHub.
GitHub Container Registry also offers the advantage of finer-grained access controls than Docker Hub. You can manage access rights on a per-image basis.
The fact that GitHub Container Registry provides an unlimited number of private repositories is also an advantage. On Docker Hub, you are limited to one private repository under the free plan.
In addition, GitHub Container Registry provides more generous image storage and download terms under its free plan; there are no limits on how often a container image can be downloaded, for instance (although free plans are capped at a total data transfer volume of 1 gigabyte per month).
GitHub Container Registry drawbacks
The biggest advantage of GitHub Container Registry – its integration with GitHub – could also be considered a drawback, in the sense that it means you have to use GitHub in order to use GitHub Container Registry.
Although you could probably set up a complicated pipeline to push code from a third-party platform into GitHub Container Registry if you tried hard enough, the registry is really only designed to be used in conjunction with GitHub source code repositories. Thus, if you host your code somewhere else (like GitLab or on your own Git server), GitHub Container Registry is not a great option.
The fact that GitHub Container Registry isn’t integrated by default into Docker or Kubernetes is also a disadvantage relative to Docker Hub. That said, it’s not particularly difficult to connect a deployment environment to GitHub Container Registry (and it’s no more difficult than integrating any other type of registry apart from Docker Hub).
GitHub Container Registry’s usage statistics information could also be considered a disadvantage. Although you can view basic usage information, you don’t get any more detail than you can from Docker Hub.
Choosing the right container registry
While Docker Hub offers the key advantages of massive popularity integration by default into Docker and Kubernetes, GitHub Container Registry stands out for more fine-tuned access controls and more generous terms under its free pricing plan.
|GitHub Container Registry
|200 downloads/6 hours under free plan
|1 gigabyte/month under free plan
|Supports private repositories or images?
|Yes (but only 1 private repository under free plan)
|Yes (with no limits)
|Access control limitations
|Limited to repositories
|No major limitations
|Fully hosted, SaaS offering
|Fully hosted, SaaS offering
|Depends on other platforms/tooling?
|Yes (must use GitHub)
Keep in mind that these two container registries are hardly the only options out there. If you need features that are absent from both Docker Hub and GitHub Container Registry – such as support for running registries on your own infrastructure, or the ability to manage artifacts of all types instead of just container images – consider an option like JFrog Artifactory .