Managing Helm releases the GitOps way
What is GitOps?
GitOps is a way to do Continuous Delivery, it works by using Git as a source of truth for declarative infrastructure and workloads.
For Kubernetes this means using
git push instead of
kubectl create/apply or
In a traditional CICD pipeline, CD is an implementation extension powered by the continuous integration tooling to promote build artifacts to production. In the GitOps pipeline model, any change to production must be committed in source control (preferable via a pull request) prior to being applied on the cluster. This way rollback and audit logs are provided by Git. If the entire production state is under version control and described in a single Git repository, when disaster strikes, the whole infrastructure can be quickly restored from that repository.
To better understand the benefits of this approach to CD and what the differences between GitOps and Infrastructure-as-Code tools are, head to the Weaveworks website and read GitOps - What you need to know article.
In order to apply the GitOps pipeline model to Kubernetes you need three things:
- a Git repository with your workloads definitions in YAML format, Helm charts and any other Kubernetes custom resource that defines your cluster desired state (I will refer to this as the config repository)
- a container registry where your CI system pushes immutable images (no latest tags, use semantic versioning or git commit sha)
- an operator that runs in your cluster and does a two-way synchronization:
- watches the registry for new image releases and based on deployment policies updates the workload definitions with the new image tag and commits the changes to the config repository
- watches for changes in the config repository and applies them to your cluster
I will be using GitHub to host the config repo, Docker Hub as the container registry and Flux as the GitOps Kubernetes Operator.
Install Helm and Tiller
If you don't have Helm CLI installed, on macOS you can use
brew install kubernetes-helm.
Create a service account and a cluster role binding for Tiller:
kubectl -n kube-system create sa tiller kubectl create clusterrolebinding tiller-cluster-rule \ --clusterrole=cluster-admin \ --serviceaccount=kube-system:tiller
Note that on GKE you need to create an admin cluster user for yourself:
kubectl create clusterrolebinding "cluster-admin-$(whoami)" \ --clusterrole=cluster-admin \ --user="$(gcloud config get-value core/account)"
Deploy Tiller in kube-system namespace:
helm init --skip-refresh --upgrade --service-account tiller
The first step in automating Helm releases with Flux is to create a Git repository with your charts source code. You can fork this repository and use it as a template for your cluster config.
*If you fork, update the release definitions with your Docker Hub repository and GitHub username located in \releases(dev/stg/prod)\podinfo.yaml in your master branch before proceeding.
Apply the Helm Release CRD:
kubectl apply -f https://raw.githubusercontent.com/fluxcd/flux/helm-0.10.1/deploy-helm/flux-helm-release-crd.yaml
Add the Flux chart repo:
helm repo add fluxcd https://charts.fluxcd.io
Install Flux and its Helm Operator by specifying your fork URL
fluxcd with your GitHub username):
helm install --name flux \ --set rbac.create=true \ --set helmOperator.create=true \ --set firstname.lastname@example.org:fluxcd/helm-operator-get-started \ --namespace flux \ fluxcd/flux
The Flux Helm operator provides an extension to Flux that automates Helm Chart releases for it. A Chart release is described through a Kubernetes custom resource named HelmRelease. The Flux daemon synchronizes these resources from git to the cluster, and the Flux Helm operator makes sure Helm charts are released as specified in the resources.
Note that Flux Helm Operator works with Kubernetes 1.9 or newer.
At startup Flux generates a SSH key and logs the public key. Find the SSH public key with:
kubectl -n flux logs deployment/flux | grep identity.pub | cut -d '"' -f2
In order to sync your cluster state with Git you need to copy the public key and create a deploy key with write access on your GitHub repository.
Open GitHub, navigate to your fork, go to Setting > Deploy keys click on Add deploy key, check Allow write access, paste the Flux public key and click Add key.
GitOps pipeline example
The config repo has the following structure:
├── charts │ └── podinfo │ ├── Chart.yaml │ ├── README.md │ ├── templates │ └── values.yaml ├── hack │ ├── Dockerfile.ci │ └── ci-mock.sh ├── namespaces │ ├── dev.yaml │ └── stg.yaml └── releases ├── dev │ └── podinfo.yaml └── stg └── podinfo.yaml
I will be using podinfo to demonstrate a full CI/CD pipeline including promoting releases between environments.
I'm assuming the following Git branching model:
- dev branch (feature-ready state)
- stg branch (release-candidate state)
- master branch (production-ready state)
When a PR is merged in the dev or stg branch will produce a immutable container image as in
Inside the hack dir you can find a script that simulates the CI process for dev and stg. The ci-mock.sh script does the following:
- pulls the podinfo source code from GitHub
- generates a random string and modifies the code
- generates a random Git commit short SHA
- builds a Docker image with the format:
- pushes the image to Docker Hub
Let's create an image corresponding to the
dev branch (replace
stefanprodan with your Docker Hub username):
$ cd hack && ./ci-mock.sh -r stefanprodan/podinfo -b dev Sending build context to Docker daemon 4.096kB Step 1/15 : FROM golang:1.10 as builder .... Step 9/15 : FROM alpine:3.7 .... Step 12/15 : COPY --from=builder /go/src/github.com/stefanprodan/k8s-podinfo/podinfo . .... Step 15/15 : CMD ["./podinfo"] .... Successfully built 71bee4549fb2 Successfully tagged stefanprodan/podinfo:dev-kb9lm91e The push refers to repository [docker.io/stefanprodan/podinfo] 36ced78d2ca2: Pushed
Inside the charts directory there is a podinfo Helm chart.
Using this chart I want to create a release in the
dev namespace with the image I've just published to Docker Hub.
Instead of editing the
values.yaml from the chart source, I create a
HelmRelease definition (located in /releases/dev/podinfo.yaml):
apiVersion: flux.weave.works/v1beta1 kind: HelmRelease metadata: name: podinfo-dev namespace: dev annotations: flux.weave.works/automated: "true" flux.weave.works/tag.chart-image: glob:dev-* spec: releaseName: podinfo-dev chart: git: email@example.com:fluxcd/helm-operator-get-started path: charts/podinfo ref: master values: image: stefanprodan/podinfo:dev-kb9lm91e replicaCount: 1
Flux Helm release fields:
metadata.nameis mandatory and needs to follow Kubernetes naming conventions
metadata.namespaceis optional and determines where the release is created
spec.releaseNameis optional and if not provided the release name will be $namespace-$name
spec.chart.pathis the directory containing the chart, given relative to the repository root
spec.valuesare user customizations of default parameter values from the chart itself
The options specified in the HelmRelease
spec.values will override the ones in
values.yaml from the chart source.
flux.weave.works annotations I instruct Flux to automate this release.
When a new tag with the prefix
dev is pushed to Docker Hub, Flux will update the image field in the yaml file,
will commit and push the change to Git and finally will apply the change on the cluster.
podinfo-dev HelmRelease object changes inside the cluster,
Kubernetes API will notify the Flux Helm Operator and the operator will perform a Helm release upgrade.
$ helm history podinfo-dev REVISION UPDATED STATUS CHART DESCRIPTION 1 Fri Jul 20 16:51:52 2018 SUPERSEDED podinfo-0.2.0 Install complete 2 Fri Jul 20 22:18:46 2018 DEPLOYED podinfo-0.2.0 Upgrade complete
The Flux Helm Operator reacts to changes in the HelmRelease collection but will also detect changes in the charts source files. If I make a change to the podinfo chart, the operator will pick that up and run an upgrade.
$ helm history podinfo-dev REVISION UPDATED STATUS CHART DESCRIPTION 1 Fri Jul 20 16:51:52 2018 SUPERSEDED podinfo-0.2.0 Install complete 2 Fri Jul 20 22:18:46 2018 SUPERSEDED podinfo-0.2.0 Upgrade complete 3 Fri Jul 20 22:39:39 2018 DEPLOYED podinfo-0.2.1 Upgrade complete
Now let's assume that I want to promote the code from the
dev branch into a more stable environment for others to test it.
I would create a release candidate by merging the podinfo code from
dev into the
The CI would kick in and publish a new image:
$ cd hack && ./ci-mock.sh -r stefanprodan/podinfo -b stg Successfully tagged stefanprodan/podinfo:stg-9ij63o4c The push refers to repository [docker.io/stefanprodan/podinfo] 8f21c3669055: Pushed
Assuming the staging environment has some sort of automated load testing in place, I want to have a different configuration than dev:
apiVersion: flux.weave.works/v1beta1 kind: HelmRelease metadata: name: podinfo-rc namespace: stg annotations: flux.weave.works/automated: "true" flux.weave.works/tag.chart-image: glob:stg-* spec: releaseName: podinfo-rc chart: git: firstname.lastname@example.org:fluxcd/helm-operator-get-started path: charts/podinfo ref: master values: image: stefanprodan/podinfo:stg-9ij63o4c replicaCount: 2 hpa: enabled: true maxReplicas: 10 cpu: 50 memory: 128Mi
With Flux Helm releases it's easy to manage different configurations per environment. When adding a new option in the chart source make sure it's turned off by default so it will not affect all environments.
If I want to create a new environment, let's say for hotfixes testing, I would do the following:
- create a new namespace definition in
- create a dir
- create a HelmRelease named
- set the automation filter to
- make the CI tooling publish images from my hotfix branch to
Production promotions with sem ver
For production, instead of tagging the images with the Git commit, I will use Semantic Versioning.
Let's assume that I want to promote the code from the
stg branch into
master and do a production release.
master via a pull request, I would cut a release by tagging
master with version
When I push the git tag, the CI will publish a new image in the
$ cd hack && ./ci-mock.sh -r stefanprodan/podinfo -v 0.4.10 Successfully built f176482168f8 Successfully tagged stefanprodan/podinfo:0.4.10
If I want to automate the production deployment based on version tags, I would use
semver filters instead of
apiVersion: flux.weave.works/v1beta1 kind: HelmRelease metadata: name: podinfo-prod namespace: prod annotations: flux.weave.works/automated: "true" flux.weave.works/tag.chart-image: semver:~0.4 spec: releaseName: podinfo-prod chart: git: email@example.com:fluxcd/helm-operator-get-started path: charts/podinfo ref: master values: image: stefanprodan/podinfo:0.4.10 replicaCount: 3
Now if I release a new patch, let's say
0.4.11, Flux will automatically deploy it.
$ cd hack && ./ci-mock.sh -r stefanprodan/podinfo -v 0.4.11 Successfully tagged stefanprodan/podinfo:0.4.11
Managing Kubernetes secrets
In order to store secrets safely in a public Git repo you can use the Bitnami Sealed Secrets controller and encrypt your Kubernetes Secrets into SealedSecrets. The SealedSecret can be decrypted only by the controller running in your cluster.
The Sealed Secrets Helm chart is available on Helm Hub, so I can use the Helm repository instead of a git repo. This is the sealed-secrets controller release:
apiVersion: flux.weave.works/v1beta1 kind: HelmRelease metadata: name: sealed-secrets namespace: adm annotations: flux.weave.works/automated: "false" spec: releaseName: sealed-secrets chart: repository: https://kubernetes-charts.storage.googleapis.com/ name: sealed-secrets version: 1.4.0 values: image: repository: quay.io/bitnami/sealed-secrets-controller tag: v0.8.1
Note that this release is not automated, since this is a critical component I prefer to update it manually.
Install the kubeseal CLI:
wget https://github.com/bitnami-labs/sealed-secrets/releases/download/v0.8.1/kubeseal-darwin-amd64 sudo install -m 755 kubeseal-darwin-amd64 /usr/local/bin/kubeseal
At startup, the sealed-secrets controller generates a RSA key and logs the public key.
Using kubeseal you can save your public key as
the public key can be safely stored in Git, and can be used to encrypt secrets without direct access to the Kubernetes cluster:
kubeseal --fetch-cert \ --controller-namespace=adm \ --controller-name=sealed-secrets \ > pub-cert.pem
You can generate a Kubernetes secret locally with kubectl and encrypt it with kubeseal:
kubectl -n dev create secret generic basic-auth \ --from-literal=user=admin \ --from-literal=password=admin \ --dry-run \ -o json > basic-auth.json kubeseal --format=yaml --cert=pub-cert.pem < basic-auth.json > basic-auth.yaml
This generates a custom resource of type
SealedSecret that contains the encrypted credentials:
apiVersion: bitnami.com/v1alpha1 kind: SealedSecret metadata: name: basic-auth namespace: adm spec: encryptedData: password: AgAR5nzhX2TkJ....... user: AgAQDO58WniIV3gTk.......
basic-auth.json file and push the
basic-auth.yaml to Git:
rm basic-auth.json mv basic-auth.yaml /releases/dev/ git commit -a -m "Add basic auth credentials to dev namespace" && git push
Flux will apply the sealed secret on your cluster and sealed-secrets controller will then decrypt it into a Kubernetes secret.
To prepare for disaster recovery you should backup the sealed-secrets controller private key with:
kubectl get secret -n adm sealed-secrets-key -o yaml --export > sealed-secrets-key.yaml
To restore from backup after a disaster, replace the newly-created secret and restart the controller:
kubectl replace secret -n adm sealed-secrets-key -f sealed-secrets-key.yaml kubectl delete pod -n adm -l app=sealed-secrets
Flux Helm Integration FAQ
My Helm charts have more than one container image. How can I automate the image tag update for all my containers?
A container image list can have the following format:
container_name_1: image: repo/app1:tag container_name_2: image: quay.io/repo/app2:tag
Here is an example with different deployment automation policies:
apiVersion: flux.weave.works/v1beta1 kind: HelmRelease metadata: name: openfaas namespace: openfaas annotations: flux.weave.works/automated: "true" flux.weave.works/tag.prometheus: semver:~2.3 flux.weave.works/tag.alertmanager: glob:v0.15.* flux.weave.works/tag.nats: regexp:^0.6.* spec: releaseName: openfaas chart: repository: https://openfaas.github.io/faas-netes/ name: openfaas version: 1.3.3 values: prometheus: image: prom/prometheus:v2.3.1 alertmanager: image: prom/alertmanager:v0.15.0 nats: image: nats-streaming:0.6.0
I'm using SSL between Helm and Tiller. How can I configure Flux to use the certificate?
When installing Flux, you can supply the CA and client-side certificate using the
helmOperator.tls options, more details here.
I have a dedicated Kubernetes cluster per environment and I want to use the same Git repo for all. How can I do that?
For each cluster create a Git branch in your config repo. When installing Flux set the Git branch using
If you have any questions about Helm Operator and continuous delivery:
- Read the Helm Operator docs.
- Invite yourself to the CNCF community slack and ask a question on the #flux channel.
- To be part of the conversation about Helm Operator's development, join the flux-dev mailing list.
- File an issue.
Your feedback is always welcome!