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Kubernetes authentication through dex


This document covers setting up the Kubernetes OpenID Connect token authenticator plugin with dex. It also contains a worked example showing how the Dex server can be deployed within Kubernetes.

Token responses from OpenID Connect providers include a signed JWT called an ID Token. ID Tokens contain names, emails, unique identifiers, and in dex's case, a set of groups that can be used to identify the user. OpenID Connect providers, like dex, publish public keys; the Kubernetes API server understands how to use these to verify ID Tokens.

The authentication flow looks like:

  1. OAuth2 client logs a user in through dex.
  2. That client uses the returned ID Token as a bearer token when talking to the Kubernetes API.
  3. Kubernetes uses dex's public keys to verify the ID Token.
  4. A claim designated as the username (and optionally group information) will be associated with that request.

Username and group information can be combined with Kubernetes authorization plugins, such as role based access control (RBAC), to enforce policy.

Configuring the OpenID Connect plugin

Configuring the API server to use the OpenID Connect authentication plugin requires:

  • Deploying an API server with specific flags.
  • Dex is running on HTTPS.
    • Custom CA files must be accessible by the API server.
  • Dex is accessible to both your browser and the Kubernetes API server.

Use the following flags to point your API server(s) at dex. should be replaced by whatever DNS name or IP address dex is running under.


Additional notes:

  • The API server configured with OpenID Connect flags doesn't require dex to be available upfront.
    • Other authenticators, such as client certs, can still be used.
    • Dex doesn't need to be running when you start your API server.
  • Kubernetes only trusts ID Tokens issued to a single client.
  • If a claim other than "email" is used for username, for example "sub", it will be prefixed by "(value of --oidc-issuer-url)#". This is to namespace user controlled claims which may be used for privilege escalation.

Deploying dex on Kubernetes

The dex repo contains scripts for running dex on a Kubernetes cluster with authentication through GitHub. The dex service is exposed using a node port on port 32000. This likely requires a custom /etc/hosts entry pointed at one of the cluster's workers.

Because dex uses CRDs to store state, no external database is needed. For more details see the storage documentation.

There are many different ways to spin up a Kubernetes development cluster, each with different host requirements and support for API server reconfiguration. At this time, this guide does not have copy-pastable examples, but can recommend the following methods for spinning up a cluster:

To run dex on Kubernetes perform the following steps:

  1. Generate TLS assets for dex.
  2. Spin up a Kubernetes cluster with the appropriate flags and CA volume mount.
  3. Create secrets for TLS and for your GitHub OAuth2 client credentials.
  4. Deploy dex.

Generate TLS assets

Running Dex with HTTPS enabled requires a valid SSL certificate, and the API server needs to trust the certificate of the signing CA using the --oidc-ca-file flag.

For our example use case, the TLS assets can be created using the following command:

$ cd examples/k8s
$ ./

This will generate several files under the ssl directory, the important ones being cert.pem ,key.pem and ca.pem. The generated SSL certificate is for '', although you could change this by editing if required.

Configure the API server

Ensure the CA certificate is available to the API server

The CA file which was used to sign the SSL certificates for Dex needs to be copied to a location where the API server can read it, and the API server configured to look for it with the flag --oidc-ca-file.

There are several options here but if you run your API server as a container probably the easiest method is to use a hostPath volume to mount the CA file directly from the host.

The example pod manifest below assumes that you copied the CA file into /etc/ssl/certs. Adjust as necessary:



    - mountPath: /etc/ssl/certs
      name: etc-ssl-certs
      readOnly: true


   - name: ca-certs
       path: /etc/ssl/certs
       type: DirectoryOrCreate

Depending on your installation you may also find that certain folders are already mounted in this way and that you can simply copy the CA file into an existing folder for the same effect.

Configure API server flags

Configure the API server as in Configuring the OpenID Connect Plugin above.

Note that the ca.pem from above has been renamed to openid-ca.pem in this example - this is just to separate it from any other CA certificates that may be in use.

Create cluster secrets

Once the cluster is up and correctly configured, use kubectl to add the serving certs as secrets.

$ kubectl create secret tls --cert=ssl/cert.pem --key=ssl/key.pem

Then create a secret for the GitHub OAuth2 client.

$ kubectl create secret \
    generic github-client \
    --from-literal=client-id=$GITHUB_CLIENT_ID \

Deploy the Dex server

Create the dex deployment, configmap, and node port service. This will also create RBAC bindings allowing the Dex pod access to manage Custom Resource Definitions within Kubernetes.

$ kubectl create -f dex.yaml

Caveats: No health checking is configured because dex does its own TLS termination complicating the setup. This is a known issue and can be tracked here.

Logging into the cluster

The example-app can be used to log into the cluster and get an ID Token. To build the app, you can run make in the root of the repo and it will build the example-app binary in the repo's bin directory. To build the example-app requires at least a 1.7 version of Go.

$ ./bin/example-app --issuer --issuer-root-ca examples/k8s/ssl/ca.pem

Please note that the example-app will listen at and can be changed with the --listen flag.

Once the example app is running, choose the GitHub option and grant access to dex to view your profile.

The default redirect uri is and can be changed with the --redirect-uri flag and should correspond with your configmap.

The printed ID Token can then be used as a bearer token to authenticate against the API server.

$ token='(id token)'
$ curl -H "Authorization: Bearer $token" -k https://( API server host ):443/api/v1/nodes
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