try Inspect a Command's Effects before Modifying your Live System
try Inspect a Command's Effects before Modifying your Live System

try: Inspect a Command’s Effects before Modifying your Live System

try lets you run a command and inspect its effects before changing your live system. try uses Linux’s namespaces (via unshare) and the overlayfs union filesystem.

Please note that try is a prototype and not a full sandbox, and should not be used to execute commands that you don’t already trust on your system, (i.e. devices in /dev are mounted in the sandbox, and network calls are all allowed.) Please do not attempt any commands that will remove everything in /dev or write zeros to your disks.


try relies on the following dependencies

  • util-linux

In cases where overlayfs doesn’t work on nested mounts, you will need either mergerfs or unionfstry should be able to autodetect them, but you can specify the path to mergerfs or unionfs with -U (e.g. try -U ~/.local/bin/unionfs)

To run try‘s test suite (test/, you will need:

  • bash
  • expect

try has been tested on the following distributions:

  • Ubuntu 20.04 LTS or later
  • Debian 12
  • Fedora 38
  • Centos 9 Stream 5.14.0-325.el9
  • Arch 6.1.33-1-lts
  • Alpine 6.1.34-1-lts
  • Rocky 9 5.14.0-284.11.1.el9_2
  • SteamOS 3.4.8 5.13.0-valve36-1-neptune


You only need the try script, which you can download by cloning this repository:

$ git clone

Arch Linux

try is present in AUR, you can install it with your preferred AUR helper:

yay -S try

or manually:

git clone
cd try
makepkg -sic

Example Usage

try is a higher-order command, like xargsexecnohup, or find. For example, to install a package via pip3, you can invoke try as follows:

$ try pip3 install libdash
... # output continued below

By default, try will ask you to commit the changes made at the end of its execution.

Defaulting to user installation because normal site-packages is not writeable
Collecting libdash
  Downloading libdash-0.3.1-cp310-cp310-manylinux_2_17_x86_64.manylinux2014_x86_64.whl (254 kB)
     ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━ 254.6/254.6 KB 2.1 MB/s eta 0:00:00
Installing collected packages: libdash
Successfully installed libdash-0.3.1
WARNING: Running pip as the 'root' user can result in broken permissions and conflicting behaviour with the system package manager. It is recommended to use a virtual environment instead:

Changes detected in the following files:

/tmp/tmp.zHCkY9jtIT/upperdir/home/gliargovas/.local/lib/python3.10/site-packages/libdash/ (modified/added)
/tmp/tmp.zHCkY9jtIT/upperdir/home/gliargovas/.local/lib/python3.10/site-packages/libdash/ (modified/added)
/tmp/tmp.zHCkY9jtIT/upperdir/home/gliargovas/.local/lib/python3.10/site-packages/libdash/ (modified/added)
/tmp/tmp.zHCkY9jtIT/upperdir/home/gliargovas/.local/lib/python3.10/site-packages/libdash/__pycache__/printer.cpython-310.pyc (modified/added)
/tmp/tmp.zHCkY9jtIT/upperdir/home/gliargovas/.local/lib/python3.10/site-packages/libdash/__pycache__/ast.cpython-310.pyc (modified/added)

Commit these changes? [y/N] y

Sometimes, you might want to pre-execute a command and commit its result at a later time. Running try -n will print the overlay directory on STDOUT without committing the result.

$ try -n "curl | sh"

Alternatively, you can specify your own existing overlay directory using the -D [dir] flag:

$ mkdir rustup-sandbox
$ try -D rustup-sandbox "curl | sh"
$ ls rustup-sandbox
temproot  upperdir  workdir

As you can see from the output above, try has created an overlay environment in the rustup-sandbox directory.

Manually inspecting upperdir reveals the changes to the files made inside the overlay during the execution of the previous command with try:

~/try/rustup-sandbox/upperdir$ du -hs .
1.2G    .

You can inspect the changes made inside a given overlay directory using try:

$ try summary rustup-sandbox/ | head

Changes detected in the following files:

rustup-sandbox//upperdir/home/ubuntu/.profile (modified/added)
rustup-sandbox//upperdir/home/ubuntu/.bashrc (modified/added)
rustup-sandbox//upperdir/home/ubuntu/.rustup/update-hashes/stable-x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu (modified/added)
rustup-sandbox//upperdir/home/ubuntu/.rustup/settings.toml (modified/added)
rustup-sandbox//upperdir/home/ubuntu/.rustup/toolchains/stable-x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/lib/ (modified/added)
rustup-sandbox//upperdir/home/ubuntu/.rustup/toolchains/stable-x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/lib/rustlib/etc/lldb_commands (modified/added)
rustup-sandbox//upperdir/home/ubuntu/.rustup/toolchains/stable-x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/lib/rustlib/etc/ (modified/added)

You can also choose to commit the overlay directory contents:

$ try commit rustup-sandbox

You can also run try explore to open your current shell in try, or /try explore /tmp/tmp.X6OQb5tJwr to explore an existing sandbox.

Download Try (GitHub)