I’d like a very light full node in a docker container used on developer laptop to establish the development environment.

If I install bitcoin core in Ubuntu in Docker and configure it to run in regtest mode, will I avoid downloading full mainnet blockchain this way? Or will it still download it in the background?

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Yes, you will avoid downloading the mainnet blockchain that way. If you only ever run your node software in regtest mode, it will just keep the regtest's chainstate and never even connect to the mainnet.

You may want to consider joining signet instead, if you do want to see some organic traffic.

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