About registries, repositories, and artifacts

This article introduces the key concepts of container registries, repositories, and container images and related artifacts.

Registry, repositories, and artifacts


A container registry is a service that stores and distributes container images and related artifacts. Docker Hub is an example of a public container registry that serves as a general catalog of Docker container images. Azure Container Registry provides users with direct control of their container content, with integrated authentication, geo-replication supporting global distribution and reliability for network-close deployments, virtual network configuration with Private Link, tag locking, and many other enhanced features.

In addition to Docker-compatible container images, Azure Container Registry supports a range of content artifacts including Helm charts and Open Container Initiative (OCI) image formats.


A repository is a collection of container images or other artifacts in a registry that have the same name, but different tags. For example, the following three images are in the acr-helloworld repository:

  • acr-helloworld:latest
  • acr-helloworld:v1
  • acr-helloworld:v2

Repository names can also include namespaces. Namespaces allow you to identify related repositories and artifact ownership in your organization by using forward slash-delimited names. However, the registry manages all repositories independently, not as a hierarchy. For example:

  • marketing/campaign10-18/web:v2
  • marketing/campaign10-18/api:v3
  • marketing/campaign10-18/email-sender:v2
  • product-returns/web-submission:20180604
  • product-returns/legacy-integrator:20180715

Repository names can only include lowercase alphanumeric characters, periods, dashes, underscores, and forward slashes.


A container image or other artifact within a registry is associated with one or more tags, has one or more layers, and is identified by a manifest. Understanding how these components relate to each other can help you manage your registry effectively.


The tag for an image or other artifact specifies its version. A single artifact within a repository can be assigned one or many tags, and may also be "untagged." That is, you can delete all tags from an image, while the image's data (its layers) remain in the registry.

The repository (or repository and namespace) plus a tag defines an image's name. You can push and pull an image by specifying its name in the push or pull operation. The tag latest is used by default if you don't provide one in your Docker commands.

How you tag container images is guided by your scenarios to develop or deploy them. For example, stable tags are recommended for maintaining your base images, and unique tags for deploying images. For more information, see Recommendations for tagging and versioning container images.

For tag naming rules, see the Docker documentation.


Container images and artifacts are made up of one or more layers. Different artifact types define layers differently. For example, in a Docker container image, each layer corresponds to a line in the Dockerfile that defines the image:

Layers of a container image

Artifacts in a registry share common layers, increasing storage efficiency. For example, several images in different repositories might have a common ASP.NET Core base layer, but only one copy of that layer is stored in the registry. Layer sharing also optimizes layer distribution to nodes, with multiple artifacts sharing common layers. If an image already on a node includes the ASP.NET Core layer as its base, the subsequent pull of a different image referencing the same layer doesn't transfer the layer to the node. Instead, it references the layer already existing on the node.

To provide secure isolation and protection from potential layer manipulation, layers are not shared across registries.


Each container image or artifact pushed to a container registry is associated with a manifest. The manifest, generated by the registry when the content is pushed, uniquely identifies the artifacts and specifies the layers.

A basic manifest for a Linux hello-world image looks similar to the following:

  "schemaVersion": 2,
  "mediaType": "application/vnd.docker.distribution.manifest.v2+json",
  "config": {
    "mediaType": "application/vnd.docker.container.image.v1+json",
    "size": 1510,
    "digest": "sha256:fbf289e99eb9bca977dae136fbe2a82b6b7d4c372474c9235adc1741675f587e"
  "layers": [
      "mediaType": "application/vnd.docker.image.rootfs.diff.tar.gzip",
      "size": 977,
      "digest": "sha256:2c930d010525941c1d56ec53b97bd057a67ae1865eebf042686d2a2d18271ced"

You can list the manifests for a repository with the Azure CLI command az acr manifest list-metadata:

az acr manifest list-metadata --name <repositoryName> --registry <acrName>

For example, list the manifests for the "acr-helloworld" repository:

az acr manifest list-metadata --name acr-helloworld --registry myregistry
    "digest": "sha256:0a2e01852872580b2c2fea9380ff8d7b637d3928783c55beb3f21a6e58d5d108",
    "tags": [
    "timestamp": "2018-07-12T15:52:00.2075864Z"
    "digest": "sha256:3168a21b98836dda7eb7a846b3d735286e09a32b0aa2401773da518e7eba3b57",
    "tags": [
    "timestamp": "2018-07-12T15:50:53.5372468Z"
    "digest": "sha256:7ca0e0ae50c95155dbb0e380f37d7471e98d2232ed9e31eece9f9fb9078f2728",
    "tags": [
    "timestamp": "2018-07-11T21:38:35.9170967Z"

Manifest digest

Manifests are identified by a unique SHA-256 hash, or manifest digest. Each image or artifact--whether tagged or not--is identified by its digest. The digest value is unique even if the artifact's layer data is identical to that of another artifact. This mechanism is what allows you to repeatedly push identically tagged images to a registry. For example, you can repeatedly push myimage:latest to your registry without error because each image is identified by its unique digest.

You can pull an artifact from a registry by specifying its digest in the pull operation. Some systems may be configured to pull by digest because it guarantees the image version being pulled, even if an identically tagged image is pushed later to the registry.


If you repeatedly push modified artifacts with identical tags, you might create "orphans"--artifacts that are untagged, but still consume space in your registry. Untagged images are not shown in the Azure CLI or in the Azure portal when you list or view images by tag. However, their layers still exist and consume space in your registry. Deleting an untagged image frees registry space when the manifest is the only one, or the last one, pointing to a particular layer. For information about freeing space used by untagged images, see Delete container images in Azure Container Registry.

Addressing an artifact

To address a registry artifact for push and pull operations with Docker or other client tools, combine the fully qualified registry name, repository name (including namespace path if applicable), and an artifact tag or manifest digest. See previous sections for explanations of these terms.

Address by tag: [loginServerUrl]/[repository][:tag]

Address by digest: [loginServerUrl]/[repository@sha256][:digest]

When using Docker or other client tools to pull or push artifacts to an Azure container registry, use the registry's fully qualified URL, also called the login server name. In the Azure cloud, the fully qualified URL of an Azure container registry is in the format myregistry.azurecr.io (all lowercase).


  • You can't specify a port number in the registry login server URL, such as myregistry.azurecr.io:443.
  • The tag latest is used by default if you don't provide a tag in your command.

Push by tag


docker push myregistry.azurecr.io/samples/myimage:20210106

docker push myregistry.azurecr.io/marketing/email-sender

Pull by tag


docker pull myregistry.azurecr.io/marketing/campaign10-18/email-sender:v2

Pull by manifest digest


docker pull myregistry.azurecr.io/acr-helloworld@sha256:0a2e01852872580b2c2fea9380ff8d7b637d3928783c55beb3f21a6e58d5d108

Next steps

Learn more about registry storage and supported content formats in Azure Container Registry.

Learn how to push and pull images from Azure Container Registry.