Skip to content

Typecheck, template and modularize your Kubernetes definitions with Dhall


Notifications You must be signed in to change notification settings


Repository files navigation


dhall-kubernetes logo

dhall-kubernetes contains Dhall bindings to Kubernetes, so you can generate Kubernetes objects definitions from Dhall expressions. This will let you easily typecheck, template and modularize your Kubernetes definitions.

Why do I need this

Once you build a slightly non-trivial Kubernetes setup, with many objects floating around, you'll encounter several issues:

  1. Writing the definitions in YAML is really verbose, and the actually important things don't stand out that much
  2. Ok I have a bunch of objects that'll need to be configured together, how do I share data?
  3. I'd like to reuse an object for different environments, but I cannot make it parametric..
  4. In general, I'd really love to reuse parts of some definitions in other definitions
  5. Oh no, I typoed a key and I had to wait until I pushed to the cluster to get an error back :(

The natural tendency is to reach for a templating language + a programming language to orchestrate that + some more configuration for it... But this is just really messy (been there), and we can do better.

Dhall solves all of this, being a programming language with builtin templating, all while being non-Turing complete, strongly typed and strongly normalizing (i.e.: reduces everything to a normal form, no matter how much abstraction you build), so saving you from the "oh-noes-I-made-my-config-in-code-and-now-its-too-abstract" nightmare.

For a Dhall Tutorial, see the website, or the readme of the project, or the full tutorial.


NOTE: dhall-kubernetes requires at least version 1.27.0 of the interpreter (version 11.0.0 of the language).

Quickstart - a simple Deployment

Let's say we'd like to configure a Deployment exposing an nginx webserver.

In the following example, we:

  1. Import the Kubernetes definitions as a Dhall package (the package.dhall file) from the local repo. In your case you will want to replace the local path with a remote one, e.g. Note: the sha256:.. is applied to some imports so that:
    1. the import is cached locally after the first evaluation, with great time savings (and avoiding network calls)
    2. prevent execution if the content of the file changes. This is a security feature, and you can read more in Dhall's "Security Guarantees" document Note: instead of using the package.dhall from the master branch, you may want to use a tagged release, as the contents of the master branch are liable to change without warning.
  2. Define the Deployment using the schema pattern and hardcoding the deployment details:
-- examples/deploymentSimple.dhall

let kubernetes =

let deployment =
      , metadata = kubernetes.ObjectMeta::{ name = Some "nginx" }
      , spec = Some kubernetes.DeploymentSpec::{
        , selector = kubernetes.LabelSelector::{
          , matchLabels = Some (toMap { name = "nginx" })
        , replicas = Some 2
        , template = kubernetes.PodTemplateSpec::{
          , metadata = Some kubernetes.ObjectMeta::{ name = Some "nginx" }
          , spec = Some kubernetes.PodSpec::{
            , containers =
              [ kubernetes.Container::{
                , name = "nginx"
                , image = Some "nginx:1.15.3"
                , ports = Some
                  [ kubernetes.ContainerPort::{ containerPort = 80 } ]

in  deployment

We then run this through dhall-to-yaml to generate our Kubernetes definition:

dhall-to-yaml <<< ./examples/deploymentSimple.dhall

And we get:

## examples/out/deploymentSimple.yaml

apiVersion: apps/v1
kind: Deployment
  name: nginx
  replicas: 2
      name: nginx
      name: nginx
        - image: nginx:1.15.3
          name: nginx
            - containerPort: 80

More modular: defining an Ingress

The above is cool, but hardcoding data is not that cool.

So in a more realistic deployment you'll probably want to define:

  • some MyService type that contains the config settings relevant to your deployments
  • some functions parametrized by this type, so that you can produce objects to send to k8s by just applying these functions to MyService objects

This is useful because then you can define your Services separately from the Kubernetes logic, and reuse those objects for configuring other things (e.g. configuring the services themselves, templating documentation, configuring Terraform deployments, you name it).

As an example of that, next we'll define an Ingress (an Nginx Ingress in this case), containing stuff like TLS certs and routes for every service - see the schema.

Things to note in the following example:

  • we define the Service type inline in the file, but in your case you'll want to have a separate ./Service.dhall file (so you can share around the project)
  • we define functions to create the TLS definitions and the routes, so that we can map them over the list of services.
  • we also defined the list of services inline, but you should instead return the mkIngress function instead of applying it, so you can do something like dhall-to-yaml <<< "./mkIngress.dhall ./myServices.dhall"
-- examples/ingress.dhall

let Prelude =

let map =

let kubernetes =

let Service = { name : Text, host : Text, version : Text }

let services = [ { name = "foo", host = "", version = "2.3" } ]

let makeTLS
    : Service  kubernetes.IngressTLS.Type
    = λ(service : Service) 
        { hosts = Some [ ]
        , secretName = Some "${}-certificate"

let makeRule
    : Service  kubernetes.IngressRule.Type
    = λ(service : Service) 
        { host = Some
        , http = Some
          { paths =
            [ kubernetes.HTTPIngressPath::{
              , backend = kubernetes.IngressBackend::{
                , service = Some kubernetes.IngressServiceBackend::{
                  , name =
                  , port = Some kubernetes.ServiceBackendPort::{
                    , number = Some 80
              , pathType = "Exact"

let mkIngress
    : List Service  kubernetes.Ingress.Type
    = λ(inputServices : List Service) 
        let annotations =
                { `` = "nginx"
                , `` = "false"

        let defaultService =
              { name = "default"
              , host = ""
              , version = " 1.0"

        let ingressServices = inputServices # [ defaultService ]

        let spec =
              , tls = Some
                  ( map
              , rules = Some
                  ( map

        in  kubernetes.Ingress::{
            , metadata = kubernetes.ObjectMeta::{
              , name = Some "nginx"
              , annotations = Some annotations
            , spec = Some spec

in  mkIngress services

As before we get the yaml out by running:

dhall-to-yaml <<< ./examples/ingress.dhall


## examples/out/ingress.yaml

kind: Ingress
  annotations: 'false' nginx
  name: nginx
    - host:
          - backend:
                name: foo
                  number: 80
            pathType: Exact
    - host:
          - backend:
                name: default
                  number: 80
            pathType: Exact
    - hosts:
      secretName: foo-certificate
    - hosts:
      secretName: default-certificate


Can I generate a YAML file with many objects in it?

Kubernetes YAML files commonly include multiple resources as documents separated by ---. To generate a single file with a different resource type per document, you'll need to produce a List Resource (where Resource is a union provided by dhall-kubernetes that can wrap any resource type), like this:

let k8s = ./package.dhall

in  [ k8s.Resource.Deployment k8s.Deployment::{
    , k8s.Resource.Service k8s.Service::{

… and then render the List of Resources using the --documents flag, like this:

dhall-to-yaml --documents --file ./resources.dhall

Can I use my existing charts as a starting point?

You can turn any YAML document into Dhall code with yaml-to-dhall. However, you need a clean YAML file without Helm's templating logic. You can execute the templating logic locally with helm template or get the installed manifest with helm get manifest.

Once you have a clean YAML file, you can convert it to Dhall like so:

yaml-to-dhall --file deployment.yaml --output deployment.dhall

However, the result will not be of type k8s.Deployment.Type because any optional properties that are missing from the YAML document will be missing from the Dhall code as well. In other words, this will most likely fail:

echo "./deployment.dhall : (./package.dhall).Deployment.Type" | dhall

The missing properties need to be translated to empty optionals instead. yaml-to-dhall needs to know which fields exist in the type to achieve this. You can specify the target type like so:

yaml-to-dhall '(./package.dhall).Deployment.Type' --file deployment.yaml --output deployment.dhall

Now the type-check above should succeed. However, the generated Dhall file will be very large and filled with redundant information. The schemas in dhall-kubernetes specify plenty of default values and we would like to use those to keep our own code short. We can rewrite the code with schemas like so:

dhall rewrite-with-schemas --schemas '(./schemas.dhall)' --inplace deployment.dhall

Now the Dhall code should be correct and compact.

Projects Using dhall-kubernetes


You will need to install Nix in order to run the file-generation scripts provided by this repository. You can obtain Nix by following the instructions here:

Updating the

The top-level is generated from ./docs/ so that the examples within the ./examples directory stay in sync with the That means that in order to update the you need to first edit ./docs/ and then run:

$ ./scripts/generate readme

Updating the examples

If you want to author new examples, add them to the ./examples directory and run:

$ ./scripts/generate examples

… which will freeze and type-check each example and generate the matching YAML output.

The ./examples directory is only built against one version of the Kubernetes API (the "preferred" version). To change the preferred version, run:

$ echo "${VERSION}" > ./nix/preferred.txt

… and then re-run the example generation script:

$ ./scripts/generate examples

Adding a new Kubernetes releases

To add a new supported Kubernetes release, run:

./scripts/add-kubernetes-release "${VERSION}"

Changing how the Kubernetes bindings are generated

The logic for generating the Dhall code doesn't reside within this repository but actually resides within the dhall-openapi subproject of the dhall-haskell repository. That means that if you want to change the generated code you will need to do so in two steps:

  • Make a pull request against the upstream dhall-haskell repository to change the code generated by dhall-openapi

  • Make a pull request against this repository to pick up a newer reference to the dhall-haskell repository incorporating the change to dhall-openapi

If you try to create a pull request to amend the generated Dhall files directly then CI will reject the pull request since it verifies that the Dhall code stored in version control matches what dhall-openapi would generate from the Kubernetes OpenAPI specification.

Once you update the dhall-openapi dependency you can regenerate the Kubernetes bindings by running:

$ ./scripts/generate kubernetes

Updating the dhall-openapi dependency

The dhall-openapi dependency is a subproject of the dhall-haskell repository, so in order to upgrade dhall-openapi you need to update the reference to the dhall-haskell repository.

If you're not prepared to make a pull request to change the dhall-haskell project then you can generate code for this project using a local checkout of the dhall-haskell repository by editing the Nix code like this:

--- a/nix/nixpkgs.nix
+++ b/nix/nixpkgs.nix
                    json =
                      builtins.fromJSON (builtins.readFile ./dhall-haskell.json);
-                   dhall-haskell = pkgsNew.fetchFromGitHub {
-                     owner = "dhall-lang";
-                     repo = "dhall-haskell";
-                     inherit (json) rev sha256 fetchSubmodules;
-                   };
+                   dhall-haskell = ~/path/to/dhall-haskell;
                    (import "${dhall-haskell}/default.nix").dhall-openapi;

Once you do change the upstream dhall-openapi project, then you can pick up the change here by runing:

$ nix-prefetch-git --fetch-submodules > ./nix/dhall-haskell.json

Generating everything

If you're not sure what files you need to regenerate then you can generate everything by running the generate script with no arguments:

$ ./scripts/generate

Upgrading Nixpkgs

If you want to upgrade to a newer revision of Nixpkgs, then run:

$ nix-prefetch-git "${REVISION}" > ./nix/nixpkgs.json


All tests are defined in release.nix. We run these tests in CI in a Hydra project.

You can run the tests locally with the following command:

nix build --file ./release.nix