Test-driving the Rancher Desktop Docker provider with DDEV on MacOS

Published January 8, 2024
A cartoon of a cowboy lassoing a laptop computer.

Recently, Randy Fay of the DDEV project blogged about two new Docker providers available (and supported by DDEV) for MacOS: Rancher Desktop and OrbStack. Both of these join Colima and Docker Desktop as supported Docker providers for DDEV on MacOS. 

What is a Docker provider?

I know that I certainly have asked this question - more times than I care to admit. As Randy explains in the blog post:

All of the Docker Providers on every platform (except Linux) are actually wrappers on the open-source Docker/Moby project, which is supported by Docker, Inc.

In other words, in order for DDEV to talk to Docker, it needs a provider. But, not all Docker providers are created equal. Neither Docker Desktop nor OrbStack are open-source - both have free versions (with restrictions); for most commercial use cases, there is a cost involved. Colima and Rancher Desktop are both open-source.

Features vary between Docker providers as well, so it only makes sense that performance differences also exist. Fortunately, Randy has written another blog post summarizing the performance differences between the various Docker providers on MacOS.

tl;dr if you have Mutagen enabled with DDEV, then they're all pretty fast, with OrbStack having the edge.

Why switch Docker providers?

While Colima is (IMHO) heads-and-tails better than Docker Desktop for Mac, upgrading Colima itself has been a bit of a rocky road. I have learned to never assume that my databases will remain intact during a Colima upgrade. This usually isn't a deal-breaker, but for me, it is squarely in the inconvenience category.

I'm hoping that the situation is smoother with Rancher Desktop.

Getting started with Rancher Desktop

As I (currently) use DDEV on MacOS with Colima (and Mutagen enabled,) I decided to give Rancher Desktop a try, as it is an open-source option. 

Using the instructions provided by the DDEV project, I downloaded Rancher Desktop from the official site. A bit surprisingly, the recommended installation method was not Homebrew, but rather a bit of an old-school MacOS .dmg file.

After downloading Rancher Desktop (but before installing it,) the steps I took to install and change over from Colima began with:

$ ddev poweroff
$ colima stop

Next, I double-clicked to install Rancher Desktop - making sure to uncheck the "Kubernetes" checkbox as the DDEV instructions suggested. I didn't touch any other settings during the Rancher Desktop install.

Once that was installed, I restarted my Terminal app, then navigated to one of my DDEV projects.

$ cd ~/sites/d10
$ docker context use rancher-desktop
$ ddev start

If you haven't used it before, the docker context use rancher-desktop bit basically tells Docker which provider to use. In other words, you can have multiple providers installed (like I do with Colima and Rancher Desktop) and switch between them using the docker context use command.

With that, installation was complete. 

My experience with Rancher Desktop

In short: uneventful (in a good way)

I didn't have any issues at all - it all went very smoothly. From a performance standpoint, Drupal 10 sites feel a little bit snappier than with Colima, but this is purely qualitative, not quantitative. 

The (minor) downside

When switching Docker providers, while project code isn't touched, unfortunately, project databases don't automatically come along. In his blog post, Randy suggests using ddev snapshot --all as an initial step in the process to back up all databases. I tend to take a more piecemeal approach - individually exporting databases while using Colima, then importing them while using Rancher Desktop. For example, here's my process for moving a database from Colima to Rancher Desktop (assuming my system is currently using Rancher Desktop):

$ cd ~/sites/d10
$ ddev poweroff
$ colima start
$ docker context use colima
$ ddev start
$ ddev export-db > db-backup.sql.gz
$ ddev poweroff
$ docker context use rancher-desktop
$ ddev start
$ ddev import-db –file=db-backup.sql.gz
$ ddev drush cr

Granted, it's a bit wordy, but it works for me.

So, Orbstack?

At the present time, I have no plans to test-drive Orbstack. While Randy's blog post does indicate I would experience a minor performance boost, at this time, I'd rather just stick with an open-source solution.

One of our Professional Module Development course graduates, Jay Volk, recounted his recent experience with Orbstack:

My experience is that OrbStack is really fast and while not open source (it's $8/mo.) it seems well worth the cost and I'm happy to support this project.  Orbstack will take your existing Docker settings and move them to Orbstack when starting up (it asks your permission.) This proved to be no problem for DDEV but occasionally causes problems with the other solution I sometimes need, Lando.  Easy enough, Docker can reclaim settings back from OrbStack and with a Docker restart you're good to go again with that (albeit slower) solution.


I wrote the first draft of this blog post about 2 weeks ago - since then I've stuck with Rancher Desktop and have no plans to go back to Colima. I'm pretty sure the performance is a bit better than Colima and I've had absolutely zero issues. The real test (for me at least) will be when it comes time to update Rancher Desktop - assuming it is a smooth experience, I doubt I'll be returning to Colima. 

Header image generated by ChatGPT-4 using the prompt: "Create a cartoon image of a cowboy lassoing a giant laptop computer using 2:1 aspect ratio". If someone could identify the two flying objects to the right of the laptop, I'd be most appreciative.


I am very pleased with OrbStack. Its performance with DDEV is outstanding, and it also shines with big docker stacks.

An added bonus is that it can spin up a Linux box on demand, which I have found to be quite useful.

Submitted by Cary Gordon (not verified) on Tue, 01/09/2024 - 15:34

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