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Compose on Kubernetes is made up of server-side and client-side components. This architecture was chosen so that the entire life cycle of a stack can be managed. The following image is a high-level diagram of the architecture:

Compose on Kubernetes architecture

The REST API is provided by a custom API server exposed to Kubernetes clients using API server aggregation.

The client communicates with the server using a declarative REST API. It creates a stack by either POSTing a serialized stack struct (v1beta2) or a Compose file (v1beta1) to the API server. This API server stores the stack in an etcd key-value store.

The REST API is declarative meaning that the stack stored in etcd is considered the desired state. The Compose controller is responsible for breaking the stack up into Kubernetes components, reconciling the current cluster state with the desired state, and aggregating the stack status.

Server-side architecture

There are two server-side components in Compose on Kubernetes: the Compose API server, and the Compose controller.

The Compose API server extends the Kubernetes API by adding routes for creating and manipulating stacks. It is responsible for storing the stacks in an etcd key-value store. It also contains the logic to convert v1beta1 representations to v1beta2, so that the Compose controller only needs to work one representation of a stack.

The Compose controller is responsible for converting a stack struct (v1beta2 schema) into Kubernetes objects and then reconciling the current cluster state with the desired one. It does this by interacting with the Kubernetes API -- it is a Kubernetes client that watches for interesting events and manipulates lower level Kubernetes objects.

API server

While API aggregation is more complex than a CRD (Custom Resource Definition), it brings much more flexibiliy. This includes but is not limited to: subresources, non-trivial validation, and user identity recording. Instead of relying on Kubernetes to create the API endpoints and logic for storing and manipulating stack objects, Compose on Kubernetes deploys a custom API server to do this. As part of the install process, the component is registered with the Kubernetes API server for API aggregation so that it is forwarded all requests on the group route.

Compose controller

The Compose controller fetches the desired stack from the API server. This struct is then cut up into Kubernetes resources which the controller creates and manipulates through the Kubernetes API server. The mapping for this can be found in

The API server also records user identity, group membership and claims on stack creations and updates, and exposes them as a subresource. The Controller consumes this subresource to impersonate this user, to create Kubernetes objects with the user identity.

Client-side architecture

The code for the Docker CLI implementation of the client can be found here.


The v1beta1 API requires that the client uploads a Compose file to describe the stack. This was used in early versions of Compose on Kubernetes and is used by Docker Enterprise 2.0.

In the medium-term, we aim to deprecate this API.


The v1beta2 API requires that the client parses the Compose file and uploads a stack struct. This is used by the Docker CLI by default.