At Gamesight, one of our most persistent challenges when adopting Kubernetes was finding a consistent declarative model that we could use to describe our desired cluster state that we could use across all our workloads. The space is cluttered with many different approaches rising up concurrently and all gaining various levels of community support. A mixture of jsonnett, helm charts, straight yaml, templated yaml, layered yaml, and good ‘ol sed commands are used in the wild to help tame the yaml hungry Kubernetes monster.
When tackling this problem for our own use we evaluated a bunch of different solutions with the following requirements in mind:
Consistent - We want a single solution across all our workloads. Whether we are deploying a third-party operator or our own application we want to use a single deployment pattern. Consistent packaging allows us to gain expertise with our tooling so we don’t have to spend time learning deployment patterns when jumping between projects.
Declarative - We believe in the benefits of the infrastructure-as-code and GitOps movements. This means that our code should be the source of truth for as many parts of a project as possible. Kubernetes is a perfect match for this approach by using its built-in
applypattern to specify the desired state of the cluster from a set of yaml files. We want to store as little state in our clusters as possible with the goal to be able to quickly spin up replacements for all our infrastructure.
We use Github to manage the full lifecycle of our applications - merging the software development and operational aspects of a service. A project isn’t complete without the deployment configuration and any operational changes are run through the same code review and test processes that we use for application changes.
Customizable - We both need to be able to make modifications to vendored third-party configurations as well as our own in-house configs depending on our environment. Values like environment variables, container tags, scaling values, resource requests, and more are often unique to the needs of a particular cluster. We need a way to manage these per-cluster overrides without losing our ability to track upstream changes (eg directly editing vendored configs is off-limits).
After comparing a bunch of different options we found a simple solution that meets our requirements. While we spent some time evaluating Helm, the pattern of storing state in the cluster isn't ideal for our needs.
Keep it simple, use YAML (mostly)
One thing that we avoided was any form of fancy templating logic or abstraction layers (a la jsonnett). Kubernetes is already complicated, fighting that complexity with more complexity doesn’t magically yield a simple solution. By keeping our configuration in yaml we have a single language to use for all-things Kubernetes.
We found the excellent Kustomize project which provides a simple and effective model for us to use when composing and customizing yaml configurations. I like to think of it as a Cascading Yaml Files model as it enables us to override properties of our configuration just like CSS. With Kustomize in our toolkit, we can think about our yaml like a dependency graph, enabling us to extract common components between different environments.
In projects where our deployment pipeline involves building Docker images to push to our image repository, we add in Skaffold. This tool enables us to build and tag our docker images based on the git commit hash, run tests against the container, push that image to our repository, run our Kustomize build, and replace our image tag in our Kubernetes config - all with a single command. This brings a consistent deployment workflow from development builds to our production CI/CD pipeline.
Now that we have selected our tooling lets take a look at a simple example to see how it all fits together.
Kustomize is a super straightforward tool that allows you to "overlay" patches on top of yaml files without modifying the base file. This allows you to create multiple versions of a config file without a bunch of duplicate code.
For example, here is a simple Kubernetes ConfigMap that configures some settings for an application in production.
Now when you are running this app in your staging environment you may want to override
ENV_NAME value while keeping all your other settings the
same as they are in production. First, we create our patch for this file, using the
name so Kustomize can find the base to merge.
Now we create a
kustomization.yaml file which specifies paths to the base resources
and any patches we want to apply for this environment.
Finally, by executing the
kustomize build command we will get the merged yaml. Notice the
value is replaced with
> kustomize build ./
The most commonly we'll want to actually apply our yaml to a Kubernetes cluster. Luckily you can do this with a single command!
> kustomize build ops/envs/prod | kubectl apply -f -
Our repositories have an
ops directory that contains the configuration
required to operate the application in our various environments (dev, staging, prod, etc).
Here is a quick overview of the anatomy of what a simple service deployed through our
standard structure might look like.
kustomization.yaml # points to our base resources
kustomization.yaml # patches base with env-specific config
kustomization.yaml # patches base with env-specific config
Not all vendored projects use the same packaging approach, unfortunately. We often find ourselves working with projects that use Helm, Jsonnett, or custom scripts to generate configuration. To keep our configuration maintainable and upgradable in these cases we generate the base configuration for that project getting everything down to the common denominator of pure yaml config. Then from there, we will write Kustomize patches to make any changes to the default configuration we may need.